The First Three Weeks by Nicholas Barton
An initial three-week period of intensive therapy was already in operation by the time The Primal Scream was published in 1970, and it has remained a feature of Primal Therapy ever since. In fact, it is one of the aspects of the Primal method that sets it apart from other forms of therapy. Although it has been informally reviewed from time to time, it has never come into serious question. The reason three weeks was chosen was to take into account the needs of both therapist and patient. The patient would get an extended introduction to the therapy, which would help to make decisive inroads into his neurotic defenses while it allowed therapists one week of a month. It was clear that the concentration required for daily attention to one person in open-ended sessions for weeks at a time would be wearing and that both parties would need a break from such close contact.
The Primal Scream gives the impression that defenses are under constant and vigorous assault in the three weeks, with the steady use of isolation, sleep deprivation and deep breathing techniques, and, in the pioneering days of the therapy the approach was more along those lines. However, modifications in technique have inevitably occurred over the years, and the interventions are less forceful and the therapist's manner less dogmatic than is suggested by chapter eight of The Primal Scream. It became evident that a strenuous impatience with defenses often strengthened resistance, exposed some patients to too much pain at once, interrupted natural sequences in opening up or persuaded patients to rely too heavily and too passively upon active interventions by therapists that sometimes showed itself in a ritualized approach to therapy.
There were those who got the impression that blasting their way through defenses was a way to cut corners and shorten the difficult process of feeling repressed pain. It began to look as if some people viewed so-called Primal techniques as a sort of behavioral LSD. This also tended to promote the abreactive or performance style of primal. It further contributed to the belief that meaningful change would only take place within the walls of the therapy room. Although firm defense-countering interventions are still made when appropriate, the approach is generally more one of encouraging people to let go rather than demanding that they do so, remembering that pain, by its very nature, is always straining to become conscious. The helping hand doesn't have to be a pushy one.
The patient spends enough time and energy defending against his pain that he doesn't want to have to defend against an overly intrusive therapist either by passive resistance or by jumping obediently to his commands. He also needs to realize that there is plenty to do in responsibly confronting the defenses inherent in the conduct of his daily life. In the end, people will let down their guard with someone they can trust and on whom they can depend to remain on their side while telling them the truth.
As with many other features of the Primal method, the three-week format is not rigidly adhered to for everyone. There are occasionally people who benefit from stretching out their sessions over a longer period. This is not usually discovered until the intensive period has begun. Alterations are at the discretion of the therapist, who will normally discuss them in advance at staff meeting. The three weeks are obviously useful for establishing a rapport between therapist and patient. They also make it harder for defenses, once disrupted, to reform as they do in cases where a patient has to wait a week or more for his next session. (As I've indicated, with some people you may want this to happen because daily confrontation with the painful truth is too much for them.)
The therapist can get to know his patient more easily and more thoroughly and earlier on in the process than if he were to drop in for 45 minutes once a week. It's important to consider that therapist and patient are going to be spending a lot of time working closely together over the following months. It's as well to give plenty of time to getting the communication off to a good start. This special period of concentrated individual attention inevitably provokes transference, which is neither deliberately promoted nor actively discouraged. It is used for what it is: the displacing of reactions, feelings and needs from the past into the present. The transferred feelings are turned back into themselves.
"By the time he (the patient) begins, he already knows what to expect," writes Arthur Janov in The Primal Scream. This may be true to some extent, but we have to remember that his expectations have also been fueled by his neurotic hope, inaccurate press reports, rumor, gossip, fear, out-of-date or incomplete literature and possibly by reports from friends who have already had the therapy. So the three weeks involves education to counter myths and unreal expectations surrounding the therapy and to allay fears and doubts. It is also a time to iron out inappropriate habits and approaches to the therapy. This is when the patient is helped to get to know himself and to recognize defenses so that he can gradually become his own therapist. And of course, primarily, it is a time to begin self-discovery and recovery through feeling buried grief, bound reactions and unattended needs.
Primal Therapy: What's the Difference? by Nicholas Barton
At the time that Dr. Janov was writing The Primal Scream there was, in fact, a genuine need for something new in psychotherapy. The therapies extant were not doing the job, partly, I believe, because nobody was quite sure of the job they were supposed to be doing. Dr. Janov represented the frustration and gave it voice as well as action, and once he had pinpointed the inherent failing of conventional psychotherapy he spoke with the emphatic confidence and revolutionary zeal of the newly enlightened.
If one simply looks at the techniques of the therapy, it is with one or two exceptions easy to come to the conclusion that there is very little new in Primal Therapy — not, as I have indicated, that newness is a confirmation of value. People look in isolation at superficial similarities and wonder if Primal Therapy is different from other psychotherapies, but to keep one's eye on superficial similarities means that one may very likely miss the profound difference. Though I also feel that staking claims to priority is of doubtful value except to the historian, the practical features of Primal Therapy that, to the best of knowledge, had not been seen before were: the open-ended session, the initial three-week intensive period, the group format, the unfurnished, padded, soundproofed rooms. All these aspects of the Primal method stem from and serve the premise that the neurotic suffers from repressed pain, which - if he is to recover in a complete way, must be felt consciously. All techniques employed in Primal Therapy (which incidentally, tries to avoid techniques wherever possible) are geared toward allowing and thus helping a person ultimately to feel the grief, anguish, hurt and other emotional torments repressed in childhood and now finding their expression in neurosis.
This, above all, is what separates Primal Therapy from the self-identifying psychotherapies that, in a variety of ways, try to deal with the effects of repressed pain, not with the pain itself. Some come close, some take a few steps in this direction, but in the final analysis they do not open the ultimate door. Pain remains forever unacceptable and therefore inaccessible. What is more inadmissible is that it can be felt and its effects ameliorated through this natural process that has been harnessed in what we call Primal Therapy. As has been pointed out in previous articles, in the early days of psychoanalysis Freud still believed in real trauma and by use of hypnosis facilitated what he called abreaction's in his patients. At this time he was close to what is Primal Therapy, and Primal Therapy in many respects picked up the lost threads of Freudian thought.
Some of the specific elements of Freud's methods are still retained in Primal Therapy. The patient is usually made to lie down facing away from the therapist and encouraged to free associate or to say whatever comes into his mind. Listening carefully and watching closely, the therapist looks for clues to the pain (those usually appear very quickly) and by questioning, reflection, observation and confrontation follows what we have come to call "the chain of pain".
The therapist helps the patient to concentrate on his unraveling, self-revealing chain of pain, partly by preventing the patient from digression, distraction or other forms of voluntary or involuntary defense against feeling. In other words, he helps make way for the pain.
It is important to point out that the therapist does not always follow the same approach. That would be a foolhardy, rigidly mechanistic approach. He is aiming to help the patient to discover the repressed pain, and if it seems at all possible to elicit a specific painful feeling he will aim for it. He must be able to recognize that this may not be immediately attainable and that strenuous zeroing in on the pain might in fact produce the opposite result, with the patient shutting down.
While keeping alert to possible openings into specific hurt, the therapist will work to increase the patient's general degree of openness while helping to set aside defenses. He must, however, at all times be aware of what effect surrender to a particular painful feeling will have on the patient's general state of mind. For this he has to take into account all aspects of the patient's life and psychological constitution at the time. It is often that he will work to reduce access or to slow down the opening up to avoid the person becoming overwhelmed to the point that he is unable to integrate the painful feelings he is discovering.
Psychoanalysis became "the talking cure" and thus ensured that it was unlikely to cure very much. The essence of neurotic suffering is repressed feeling, not suppressed talk. Talk is only a beginning, but important for that nonetheless. The trouble is that it is often used defensively, with words scattered about like so much obscuring chaff. When Freud had helped his patients to recall the trauma with "all the feelings which belonged to the original experience," he was - apart from the fact that he was using hypnosis - essentially practicing Primal Therapy. It was a great loss, or delay, when Freud discarded the theory of real trauma in favor of drive theory because with it went the full range and depth of feeling and the associated non-verbal expressions like crying, sobbing, raging, gesturing and yes, even screaming.
In many instances clues or traces to the predominant feeling of the moment appear early on in the patient's conversation, though neither he nor an untrained ear might recognize them for what they are. In any conversation in which a person is talking almost exclusively about himself and his life - as he expects and is expected to do in therapy, he will touch upon areas that are distressing to him. Inevitably, by this means, primal pain will begin to reveal itself. It may draw attention to itself quite early on in a seemingly innocent, dispassionate remark. The therapist notes this as a thread to the past and takes hold of it, either by his line of questioning or by keeping it in his mind as something to come back to if the conversation seems to be wandering into unproductive areas. The neophyte sometimes pounces over-anxiously on the first sign of pain, triumphant at having spotted his quarry. The over-eagerness can often cause the pain to run for cover. Assuming that all is well and the interventions are appropriately timed, the therapist will tug persistently on the thread until the associated feelings intensify, the symbolic manifestations dissolve and the primal feeling breaks into consciousness so that the patient can no longer hold back.
Pain is present and shows itself in more of less subtle ways — choice of words, tone of voice, facial expression, behavior, posture, attitude, opinions, sensations, subjects of conversation and so on. At the same time that it shows itself it attempts to conceal itself. Often we are presented with the emotional equivalent of an optical illusion. Viewed one way the pain is there. A slight shift in focus and it is gone. It is the job of the therapist to prevent his eye from being tricked away from the pain and to help the pain to come so sternly into focus that the reflexes that normally work to conceal it are overwhelmed. In a sense (or perhaps in all senses) he forms an alliance with the pain against the defenses.
Very important guides for the Primal therapist are the physiological concomitants of rising emotions. He is thus attentive to changes in breathing, rapid movement of the eyelids, swallowing, coughing, throat clearing, fidgeting, changes in voice tone, hand gripping, bodily discomfort, postural defensiveness, tearing and so on. Rather than taking these as warnings to back off and stimulate cognitive defenses by offering interpretations, the Primal therapist uses them as signposts. They show that he is on the right track, and they show him where to help the patient to go next. (He leads by following). His interventions are designed to help the patient into his pain. Obviously this requires a great deal of sensitive, skillful monitoring and concentration, but it is important for the therapist to be relaxed and confident in his manner while being acutely alert to all the emotional nuances. One might think this impossible, or at least unnatural, but it is achieved partly through experience and partly by the therapist's attention to his own feelings, which help the clarity of his perception.
The patient talks about his life, usually something in his present situation that is troubling him in some way. Without turning it into an interrogation or an inquisition, the therapist asks him questions designed to clear away mental obstructions to feeling that will, in turn, through full experience improve insight, perception and awareness. Often when a person talks about his feeling he finds that he does not know what to say next, how to take it any further. He thinks that he has said all that there is to say on the subject. So many times this is not so, being part of unconscious resistance or avoidance, and the therapist probes for sensitive areas, much like the doctor who, when trying precisely to locate an injury, presses upon the tender surface until the patient's sudden outcry tells him that he has found the exact spot. Unlike the conventional doctor and many psychotherapists, the Primal therapist does not withdraw or dispense palliatives. He goes on helping the patient into the pain. He encourages the patient to follow a particular tack and stresses the need to explore fully, to follow through and to surrender to any feeling that might be rising within him as a result of their talking on that particular subject. He is helping the patient to move from the generality of suffering, which is the state of being incompletely defended, into particular repressed, painful scenes, events, memories and reactions. He backs up his direct questions with expressions of plain human empathy either in speech or sometimes by touch. The less mechanical and more plainly human the therapist can be, the more effective all his communications will be. It is important to stress that although the therapist is guiding the patient toward his pain, he is not hurting the patient but helping to bring out the hurt that has already been caused.
Often there appear to be two stages in the therapy session: firstly, through conversation, removing or neutralizing whatever obstructs awareness of pain and then letting go to drop below awareness into the pain itself. (Sometimes conversation is protracted and sometimes extremely brief). We may have given the impression in the past that we do not think very highly of awareness as a therapeutic agent. What we are in fact saying is that awareness on its own cannot undo the deep binding of neurosis. But, for instance, we have always recognized that books like The Primal Scream open awareness in a way that brings readers much closer to their feelings. It adds a quality of insight. The person recognizes in the Janovian depiction of the origins of neurosis the truth of his own life and in do doing instinctively appreciates the rightness of the therapy based upon it. The recognition is not solely an intellectual one but an emotional one as well. When I am aware that something is hurting me I am closer to feeling what it is. And to feel is to know.
Empathy by Nicholas Barton
Empathy is the single most important attribute of a therapist. His ability to put himself in his patient's shoes, to feel along with the patient, to appreciate at a "gut level" what the patient is experiencing is of far greater value than any learned skills. He can more than get by on it when his learning lets him down, which it inevitably will at some point.
Empathy builds that all important sanctuary of trust. It tells the patient without any sales pitch having to be made that the therapist is on his side, serving his interests and, although he is not experiencing exactly what the patient is going through, he understands it as far as he is able in a complete way. It is much easier to open up to someone if he understands the language you are using and the language of feelings, needs and pain is no exception.
Empathy not only conveys the support but also creates the impression of having someone on one's own level and not someone standing over one with the short-sighted condescension of pretentious authority. The empathic therapist responds from true feelings. He uses the truth of his feeling to help the patient uncover his own as yet unfelt truths.
Clever students of therapeutic technique can learn to simulate empathy, and quite convincingly, but because it is always counterfeit it lacks the easing power of an honestly felt appreciation of the patient's experience. Most patients can detect the difference. It is certainly not as effective. A therapist who knows what his patient means because he knows the meaning of his own feelings can get through at a level that the pure technician cannot. The technician may rely too much on words, and though they may be the right words they may come at the wrong time or be said in a way that is devoid of true feeling. The empathic therapist knows his proper feeling for the patient is conveyed not in words alone, just as feelings themselves are not; it is in the very presence of a person. Empathy is demonstrated in listening, which is a passive occupation. One can learn to listen to a degree, one can be trained to look out for certain signals, but even the most advanced training will not be able to cover all the ground. The ability to listen comes from having a mind not deafened with one's own fractured pain not cluttered with needs impatient for the opportunity to project. The patient is confident when he feels that his therapist is not distracted by some agenda of his own and is not off somewhere else attending to it - possibly through him.
As Anthony Storr wrote in his succinct book, The Art of Psychotherapy, true empathy manages to remain objective. Empathy without objectivity is as little use as objectivity without empathy," wrote Storr. "The therapist has to walk a tight-rope between over and under identification with his patient. If he so over-identifies with him as to lose his power to criticize, he will not be able to see how the patient should change. If he remains as detached as if he were performing a scientific experiment, he will not be able to understand his patient as a person or appreciate the difficulties that he faces. It is because of this that the practice of psychotherapy will always remain more of an art than a science." Thus the therapist maintains his parallel relationship to the patient rather then merging with him. When he has unconscious primal motives the therapist may over-identify and thus collaborate in prolonging neurotic defenses. In this situation the therapist has allowed himself to become part patient. He may influence the patient to avoid or even to deal with problems that are more the therapist own. It may seem like a delicate balancing act, as Storr suggests, but it becomes much less so the more the therapist deals with the hidden influences from his own unconscious. It is this that frees him to have genuine empathy and true objectivity. With fewer and fewer primal needs to cater to or to pacify and with fewer hurts to defend against, he can play his part as an authentically free agent. Walking tight-ropes comes from not being able to trust one's feelings fully, knowing as we do that there are dark pitfalls waiting for one to slip into. The more open the therapist becomes, the more he knows he can trust his intuition and this sense of confidence is conveyed to the patient, who in turn begins to trust the therapist and himself more freely and more deeply.
The objectivity of empathy arrived at through feeling allows a therapist to help people he may not initially like. It usually helps him find the likable qualities that everyone has somewhere within. Many neuroses have objectionable faces at first and someone without the objectivity of empathy may be blinded to the wounds behind the off-putting defenses. His own inner clarity will enable the therapist to see through t the real hurt self, which in turn will give the patient the feeling that it is finally safe to reveal himself.
This is not an argument against training the intellect for the practice of psychotherapy. Some things have to be learned. Empathy, however, is founded upon experience and not on the collection and digestion of data. You cannot teach someone to feel. It is not a craft or a skill. You can teach someone to apply what he feels and to understand what those feelings mean in the context of therapy. The long and the short of it is to empathize you need to feel and the more deeply you feel the more scope your natural capacity for empathy will have.
Crying Behavior in the Human Adult by Barry M. Bernfeld, Ph.D.
Several years ago, a study was completed by William H. Frey II, Ph.D; Carrie Hoffman-Ahern; Roger A. Johnson, MD; David T. Lykken, Ph.D; and V.B. Tuason, MD, on the "Crying Behavior in the Human Adult." Specifically, crying behavior was studied in 286 females and 45 males with regard to crying frequency and duration of crying episodes. In addition, a study of 99 monozygotic (identical) and 46 dizygotic (fraternal) twin pairs was investigated to determine if any genetic contribution to crying frequency could be demonstrated. The following review is based on abstracts and personal conversations with Dr. Frey.
Crying behavior was studied in 286 females and 45 males ranging in age from 18 to 75 years (mean of 30 +1 years). Men volunteered for the study much less often that women, and monozygotic twins volunteered more often than dizygotic twins. Subjects kept records of all emotional and irritant crying episodes for a period of 30 days. Information such as date, time, duration, reason for crying, thoughts, emotions and physical components, such as "lump in throat," watery eyes vs. flowing tears, etc. An emotional crying episode was defined as "increased production of tears as a result of emotional stress." Irritant crying episodes were defined as the "increased production of tears as a result of direct eye irritation such as chemical (onions) or physical irritants (foreign objects)."
The study was conducted with five different subpopulations, each differing in its demographics and method of selection. The first group comprised of 35 females (29 + 2 years old) and 10 males (27 + 6 years old), university students and employees who responded to an advertisement for volunteers in a crying study. The second group comprised of 90 females (36 + 1 year ) and 5 males (34 + 8 years), hospital employees who responded to a verbal invitation to take part in a crying study. The third group consisted of 50 females (24 + 1 year) and 19 males (28 + 2 years), paid subjects who responded to a newspaper ad to "participate in a behavioral study" for money. No mention of crying was made in the ad. The fourth group was composed of 99 females (30 + 1 year) and 10 males (30 + 7 years), twins who responded to a written invitation to participate in a crying study. The fifth group comprised 12 females (33 + 4 years) and 1 male (26 years) who learned of the study from news media and offered to participate.
Each of these five subpopulations was then divided into two groups - those subjects who met all the psychiatric status criteria and those who failed to meet one or more of the criteria. The criteria were as follows: no diagnosed psychiatric illness, no medication for psychiatric illness or no mental health counseling in the last six months; no episode of depression lasting at least one week in the last six months; no evidence of depression as indicated by the Zung depression scales; no evidence of labile or histrionic personality disorder as indicated by answers to 11 questions taken primarily from the current diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association. Of the 331 subjects, 62 percent met all the mental health criteria and represented the "normal population" (quotation marks mine). Data from the other 38 percent were described separately. Interestingly, although each of the five subpopulations differed in demographics and method of selection, the mean crying frequency and mean duration of crying episode did not differ significantly among these subpopulations.
The mean emotional crying frequency for normal females (5.3 + 0.3 episode per month) was significantly greater than (1.4 + 0.4 episodes per month) of "normal males." While only six percent of the females had no emotional crying episodes in the 30 day recording period, 45 percent of the males had no crying episodes.
That women cry five times as much as men does not seem surprising, given the social taboos associated with crying that many men feel. Although this study is representative of the adult, primarily white Minnesota population, it is reasonably clear that the trends reported can be generalized to a much broader population, both in the United States in other countries.
No significant correlation of emotional crying frequency was found with regard to age. This is a particularly encouraging and important observation, for it seems to indicate that humans, regardless of age can continue to - and rediscover the ability to cry in an emotional way.
In my own study of ACTH (Adrenocorticotrophic Hormone), there was also shown to be no correlation between ACTH content of tears and age. These observations are encouraging to me because I think they speak of the human ability to cry in a curative fashion, without any loss of frequency, intensity, ACTH content, etc., as a result of aging.
Interestingly, of the "normal" female subject, 41 percent reported that they were under some unusual stress during the recording period. However, the mean crying frequency of these subjects did not differ significantly from those female subjects who reported no unusual emotional stress. Females who reported that their general feelings about emotional crying were positive amounted to 73 percent as compared to males, 58 percent who felt positive about emotional crying.
A crying frequency of (8.0 + 1.5 episodes per month) was obtained for 24 females whose scores on the Zung scale indicated current depression. While this is a significantly higher crying frequency the "normal" group, the range of crying frequency for the depressed group (0-31 episodes per month) is quite similar to the normal population ( 0-29 episodes per month). I cannot agree more strongly with Dr. Frey when he says, "the considerable overlap suggests the usefulness of crying frequency as a diagnostic symptom of depression may be quite limited." In my experience, the ability to cry in most cases is an important diagnostic symptom because it indicates that repression has broken or is breaking down. The return of affect and intense feeling I take to be a sign of health.
In spite of the clear difference between sexes regarding emotional crying frequency, the average duration of crying episodes of "normal" females ( 6 + 1 minute) did not differ from that in crying episodes of "normal" males (6 + 2 minutes).
Female crying increased twofold between 7 and 10 p.m. I find this particularly interesting because the 7-10 p.m. time period is exactly when groups are held at the Primal Institute. For most people, this represents the end of the work day, as well as the end of many other responsibilities, which in my opinion is conducive to "letting go" and allowing oneself to cry deeply. The pressure of having to "structure up" and return to work generally strengthens the defenses and prohibits deep crying. That this trend was observed in a "non-patient" population supports our view that psychotherapy sessions of limited time, usually one hour or 45 minutes, fitted into the work day, do not, by their very structure, encourage deep feeling.
Flowing tears occurred in 47 percent of all female crying as compared to only 29 percent of male episodes. Sobbing, the convulsive inhaling and exhaling of air, occurred in only 14 percent of female crying episodes and in 10 percent of male crying episodes. No correlation of emotional crying frequency with any of 11 substantive personality scales could be demonstrated for 65 females who completed the Differential Personality Questionnaire. Also, a study of estimated crying frequency in 99 monozygotic and 46 dizygotic twin pairs and a study of recorded crying episodes in 26 monozygotic and 9 dizygotic pairs failed to demonstrate any genetic contribution to crying frequency.
85 percent of the females and 73 percent of the males reported that they generally felt better after crying.
The purpose of psychogenic lacrimation is unknown, although many theories regarding its functions have been proposed. Ashley Montagu had pointed out that the intake and expulsion of air that occurs in sobbing would quickly dry out the sensitive mucous membranes if tears did not keep them moist. He suggests that mucosal dehydration in the absence of tears could increase the risk of infection. While this may be one of the functions of emotional tearing, Dr. Frey's clinical experience as well as our observation at the Primal Institute indicate that sobbing is not present in all crying and tearing episodes. Frequently tearing occurs in the absence of sobbing. And lastly, humans do not excrete tears while running or engaging in other forms of rigorous exercise where rapid breathing is increased. It therefore seems unlikely that tears are required to protect against the effects of rapid breathing.
Dr. Frey has emphasized that psychogenic lacrimation is an exocirne process. He has hypothesized that like other exocrine process of urinating, defecating and exhaling, emotional tearing may be involved in removing waste products or toxic substances such as ACTH from the body. From this psychobiochemical view we can understand why so many people, "normal" as well as "patient populations," report feeling better after crying. Not only is the venting of emotions liberating, but the actual chemical composition of the tears themselves may be involved in increased feeling of well-being. This theory suggests that tears of emotion may be chemically different from other types of tears; i.e., irritant. This has been shown to be the case regarding some substance, specifically protein concentrations but no chemical found in emotional tears has been shown to be associated with emotional stress. However, in my study of ACTH in Emotional vs. Irritant Tears, a dramatic but not statistically significant trend indicated that there is strong evidence to support this theory and that an increased sample size may have resulted in statistical significance.
To summarize the findings by Dr. Frey, et al., we see that:
(1) Women cry five times as much as men.
(2) Typical crying episodes last 6 minutes for men and women.
(3) Tears are more often shed between 7 and 10 p.m.
(4) No correlation of age with crying frequency exists.
(5) 85 percent female and 73 percent male report they feel better after crying.
I find it exciting that research from any areas seems to support the work at the Primal Institute. That crying is natural, healthy and curative has always been our position, and I feel confident that more and more research will shed light on the natural healing abilities of humans in the years to come. It is ironic in a way that science seems a step behind "common sense." Every animal knows that its infants are fragile and need nurturing and mothering. In the past years we have seen the recognition that babies need their mothers, birth should be more gentle, etc. Crying, which should be the most natural, accepted way of coping with pain, stress, sorrow - but which, for many reasons, has been swept under the carpet, is hardly mentioned in psychiatric literature. Now we seem finally to be recognizing that crying is good for people; a uniquely human response to pain, an ability we can retain regardless of age, sex or race. That science is showing that tears differ chemically, that people feel better after crying that toxic substances may be removed via tears is exciting. However, we seem to be in the position of having to rediscover so many of our basic truths that it make one wonder how we forgot them in the first place.
John & Yoko Remembered by Vivian Janov
I was recently browsing in the bookstore and came across the January publication of "Uncut", an attractive London magazine. What caught my eye was an engaging black and white glossy photo of John Lennon on the cover and in large print 'WORLD EXCLUSIVE! Lennon - The Untold Story by Yoko Ono.'
I turned to the article by Carol Clerk. There are pages and pages of wonderful photos and a question and answer interview given by Yoko.
In it, Yoko discusses some of their experiences in Primal Therapy and it's impact on John's songwriting, especially "Mother" from John's first post-Beatle album.
The following is an excerpt from "Uncut" magazine:
John's songs are just as significant now as when they were first released, influencing successive generations of musicians. What do you think it is about his work that's so enduring?
"I think that John was almost devastatingly honest. His songs are still giving something to people, the songs have a kind of eternal energy and it's not an illusion. It's a real energy that he acquired through a very hard life. And I really like the fact that John's spirit is growing in each one of us - in many different ways, I think - but it is growing. That's something that we share."
'MOTHER' from John's first post-Beatles album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, release in 1970. More vividly than any other track, it shows the effect on his work of Janov's Primal Therapy. How readily did John take to the idea of Primal Therapy?
"Very readily, he was very quick."
He had a lot of pain to get rid of?
"Of course, of course. He was a very pained person, so that's why I was just joking and saying he was a moaner. He's got this side because he had a terrible childhood. Well, some people had worse childhood's I'm sure, but what counts is how he felt and he felt terrible about it...mother and father splitting and both of them too busy to think about John."
"Many books were sent to him, and one day there was this Primal Scream book and he was saying, 'Oh, that's like what you do on-stage to me,' and he went on to read it and said, 'This is incredible'."
"And then we both decided that we had to invite this guy over to England, and Arthur and Vivian Janov came to Ascot and we discussed this and it sounded like it was legit. So later we went to L.A., and the Primal Therapy that we went to was really good for both of us, but especially for John."
What does it involve?
"It's just a matter of breaking the wall that's there in yourself and come out and let it all hang out to the point that you start crying, and of course, for men it's very difficult, especially in those days - men were not supposed to cry. And so he didn't want to cry. And at one point he had to, and he started crying, which is very healthy and so it's good that he released some anger and the repression he had and he felt very good about that. For women, crying's slightly different, but for men, especially - it's very important that he went through that. I think that made a big difference with John and he relaxed more..."
"We went away, we did the sessions and everything. And that's where the main ideas of many of the songs came to him, in L.A., that so-called primal album (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band). The main bulk of it, he was already writing it in L.A."
When he was recording "Mother", did he put himself back into a therapy situation?
"It wasn't like, 'Let's do a therapy session here and, OK, this is at the right time to start screaming' (laughing). No, no. But he remembered that feeling and... it's more like he was going back to the days of when he wanted to scream, 'Mother', not the therapy itself, but, like, he was able to go back to that childhood, that memory."
Did he ever manage to resolve his feelings about his parents?
"I think he was very civil to Fred Lennon, his father. He felt like he wanted to be kind of civilized about it but he still had some anger, of course, but he came around a bit. His mother - he was never really angry at his mother. I think that's what was very difficult to get over, the fact that he lost her twice, I think. But also his memory of his mother was of a very, very beautiful and fun-loving person, and it was just painful to watch it. The pain was still there. It never disappeared..."
"He almost felt not only saddened that his mother didn't see him become the successful Beatle, but he almost felt guilty in some ways and that was really very sad."
Yoko's voice trails away quietly.
I look over her shoulder, noticing the cheerful, everyday tiles with fruit and vegetable designs on the wall above the sink and the work surfaces. The very ordinariness of details like this only serves to underline the most extraordinary life and time of John and Yoko.
The Struggle to Feel by "John"
I have been in therapy for four months and like quite a lot of other patients I have been struggling to do it right. Most of what I have read about Primal Therapy describes the remarkable results it achieves. This is a description of my own struggle in an attempt to illustrate the kind of difficulties that frequently precede the results.
From what I had read I had let myself slip into the belief that there is a magic formula which ensures success. The theory that I could reconnect with my real self by feeling the pains of my early life made a lot of sense to me. I had always felt I was only half a person, a shadow of whoever I really was, and for many years it had seemed clear that this was because of some major catastrophe in my childhood. The analytic psychiatrists I went to failed to uncover it, but my blind faith that they knew what they were doing saved me from the extremes of despair. Their approach was far too gentle and the ritual could have gone on forever. I felt I needed to explode, to have a bomb placed under me in order to really come to grips with the problem. Eventually, in my ignorance of what it really did, I requested electro-shock treatment in the hope that the violence would shake me back to life. My awareness of what effect it really had is still very foggy, but it certainly failed to make me feel much different from how I'd felt before. I began to experiment with a lot of different drugs, marijuana, LSD, mescaline. Sometimes I felt more like my real self on it, but the benefits were illusory and failed, as had everything before, to get me anywhere near to feeling like a complete human being. It was during this time that I read about Primal Therapy. Immediately I knew that it was what I'd been fumbling towards all along. It was the concept of feeling pain that I'd missed out on. But now that I knew it, it seemed the obvious way to go about things. I knew I had a lot of pain in me and that a lot of horrible things I'd seen on LSD were symbolic of it. Pain was what I'd been chasing all along, but I'd also been backing away from it because, when you meet it face to face it seems the most unlikely path to choose to eliminate it. I was convinced that all would be different now that I was aware of Primal Therapy. I knew instinctively that the theory was right and was sure that I would consequently be able to get into my pain a lot more easily.
By the time I heard I'd been accepted by the Primal Institute, I had left drugs well behind and was speculating what pain was really like and what a Primal scream was like. I began my three weeks of individual therapy feeling very uncertain about what was going to happen and constantly on the lookout for the "big pain" and the "big scream". I was like a scared but plucky boxer wanting to risk myself against the heavyweight champ. It seemed inevitable that I would put up some sort of fight, but my overriding hope was that I would be beaten, either to have some sense knocked into me or some craziness knocked out of me. I stepped into the ring feeling very alone, as if the fight was taking place in a huge auditorium that lacked an audience, and I mistook my therapist for the champ. Nothing much happened and I was very disappointed. I'd come to believe that those would probably be the worst three weeks of my life. The simple fact that my therapist was on twenty-four hour call let my imagination run riot. I half expected to be reduced to an incoherent idiot, and was scared I might not even be able to get to a telephone in time to call the Institute and let them know what was happening. I wanted the champ to show me what he was made of, I wanted him to hit hard. Instead, he hardly blinked let alone gave me any indication of making an aggressive move. Gradually I began to realize that he was leaving me to set the pace, and although I didn't want to because it felt lonelier, there didn't seen to be any choice. The intricately reasoned arguments that I showered him with were a demonstration of my strongest punches and my cleverest footwork. I began to feel that on these terms I could beat him, which would have been fine if I'd come to win the fight. But I'd come to lose. If I won, I'd still be the person I was before.
When my three weeks were over I started going to group therapy twice a week, but I went into the Institute on all the other days to try and feel my pain on my own. Not a lot happened compared with what I thought should be happening. Sometimes I cried; sometimes my body felt as if it was trying to remember something, but still the "big scream" didn't come. It was time to reassess my position. In group I continued to fight the champ. He still didn't put up any kind of resistance, and now, for the first time, I also saw that he hadn't been in any way affected by my onslaught. It was as if I'd been punching a mirage. I'd been so involved in taking care of the details of my style that I didn't notice him move aside just before each attack. I looked at him again and started listening to the words he'd been saying from time to time ever since we started. At the same time I kept up my routine of footwork and punches. Gradually it dawned on me that my therapist wasn't the champ, but my trainer, helping me with advice and encouragement, but refusing to do the work for me. It was as if I'd been trying to get him to knock down my defenses, to feel my pain for me. I was alone in the ring, shadowboxing.
My realization that I was trying to "feel" what I imagined my pain to be like rather than the pain itself, crept up on me in group one night. I felt I really wanted to love my daddy, and although it seemed impossible, it was the only thing in the world I wanted, I needed. Afterwards I didn't think it had been a very spectacular feeling. I can only think I had been feeling little bits of my real pain all along and this was a kind of culmination. For several days afterwards I felt very exhausted and heavy. Almost imperceptibly that feeling changed into a new and frightening but tremendous feeling which is too hard to describe. I felt more masculine than I ever felt in my life, I felt that my body was in one piece instead of five which is how it usually feels. I had long been aware of the tension in my body, but now for the first time I knew what it was to have less tension. The feeling was only the beginning and I was aware of a lot more pain underneath it. I enjoyed it while I could, but then later I felt all disconnected again. But it demonstrated to me what my real pain is - simply, what I've been wanting to cry about all my life but have never dared to admit, that I need my daddy. My pain and the way I feel it is Primal Therapy for me. Other patients struggle in different ways, and they also feel their pain in different ways. Everyone has his or her own therapy. I'm still not sure that I've stopped shadowboxing altogether, but I hope I can now recognize my pain and feel it as it comes instead of trying desperately to feel some abstract concept of Primal pain that doesn't exist and which I've learned no therapist can just hand to me.
Facing Truths and Coming Out by "Steven"
Perhaps the hardest thing to do in the course of therapy is to face the truths about ourselves. For me, it was acknowledging the fact that I am gay. Although I had wanted to change my sexual feelings through Primal Therapy, I found out (through many painful sessions) that a person's sexuality cannot be changed. Once I accepted myself, I was finally able to reach out and find happiness.
I read The Primal Scream just like any other patient. Naturally, I focused on the sections that discussed homosexuality. After reading the book, I became hopeful. I thought that once I felt all my pain about not having a loving father, my sexual feelings and desires towards men would change, and I would become heterosexual. This is what I wanted to believe. This is what I hoped would happen. I was convinced that Primal Therapy was the only way that I would become the "straight" boy that I had always wanted to be.
From the time that I entered the Institute, no one would promise me that my feelings would change. In fact, I was told in my opening interview, "You can only become who you are". This angered me. I thought that I was being told in a nice way that I was gay. My primary therapist and my co-therapist also told me that, in time, I would become who I am. I wasn't being told what I wanted to hear.
For the next few months, I fought the feelings. I didn't want to be gay. I even tried dating a woman, but this just made me feel worse, since I knew that I did not feel anything sexually towards her, despite the fact that she was very attractive. This, for me, was my last hope.
After six months of therapy, I began working with a therapist, Rick Janov, (Arthur & Vivian's son), who had just finished his training. All my eggs were in one basket. If anyone could help me change my sexuality, he could. Oddly (or not so oddly), his thoughts about sexuality, and specifically, my sexuality, were not different from any of the other therapists at the Institute.
There was one night at the Institute that changed my life forever. I was working privately with Rick during a group, trying to convince him that I was straight because of some feelings towards women that I had. He knew me too well. He stopped me, and replied, "It doesn't matter to me what you are, but you can't lie to yourself. You can't lie about your feelings".
I felt as if my whole world had fallen apart. I cried for the rest of the night. Rick had confronted me with my own truth. He had shown me what I was fighting so hard against. He was right. I couldn't lie to myself anymore.
Once I began facing the truths about myself, my life began to change. I dealt with my fears and concerns head-on. Within a relatively short time period, I began going to gay clubs, and even attended a group on "coming out" at the Gay and Lesbian Services Center in Los Angeles. I dated someone for three months, then met my present lover in a gay photographer's workshop that I joined. By accepting myself, I was able to seek fulfillment of my real, present needs, rather than trying to change needs I wished that I had.
The point of this article is to show that our own truths and secrets, once out in the open and felt, allow us to move on in our lives. Although this article deals with homosexuality, the principle is applicable to any issue. Once we face the truths about ourselves and stop repressing our feelings, we can move on. And, once we do that, we have the rest of our lives to look forward to.