Primal Therapy FAQ's
Following are some of the questions that people have asked us over the years. If your query is not answered here in the following frequently asked questions, please feel free to email or call using the contact us page.
Please note: These questions and answers are provided for general information purposes only. They are not intended to minimise the pain and suffering that you may have experienced in surviving your childhood experiences and managing the symptoms of its aftermath.
These answers are not in any way intended to be a diagnosis. If your specific questions are not answered here, please consider making an appointment to speak with a therapist in person or by Skype or phone.
None of us are trained Arthur Janov. Our training was under the supervision of Dr John Spensley and Gillian Nikakis (OAM) who were in turn trained by the psychiatrist Dr Graham Farrant. We understand Janov’s work, and we are trained to guide people down through third and second line pain to the first line imprints.
Although we have not worked with Janov we have worked with a therapist who has partially trained with him. Despite there being differences in how we run intensives and groups the feeling process is the same. It must go back from the present to childhood, to birth and in-utero traumas in a sequential way.
Yes, all therapists are required to have university health care degrees. Some of these programs provide theoretical and practical training. However, this is viewed as an extension only to the main primal therapy training each therapist undergoes.
Therapists have a minimum of at least eight years’ intensive experience as a primal therapist. Before training each therapist is required to undertake a sufficient amount of their own therapy (current therapists have all done more than ten years) and attend supervision.
It is correct that we are not trained or recognised by Janov. And the question of does this matter is an important one. We are aligned in that feeling the deeper first line pain provides the most healing. We agree with Janov that expending feeling energy without actually connecting to the deep pain can provide superficial relief, but nothing fundamentally changes. We have found this to be true with many people.
So the question of does this matter is yes! If working with a Janov trained therapist makes you feel more secure and safe then you'll do better in the therapy. You will not do well if you don't trust the training of the therapist. It is imperative that you build safety and confidence in the process and the therapist, especially for access to your deeper feelings which is what primal offers.
Due to the depth that primal therapy can go, Janov’s concern for the integrity of primal therapy as a reliable therapeutic modality and the safe passage of individuals through the process is just and necessary.
However, it’s difficult to ascertain if all primal therapy conducted by those not trained or recognised by Janov is mock therapy. Unless Janov has personally met and worked with therapists who are not trained by him, it’s more likely that this decree is an assumption rather than a fact.
Although there is much research supporting the emotional processing of painful past experiences as an effective method for reducing unwanted symptoms related to early childhood trauma, there is scant evidence for primal therapy as a clinical method other than the books written by Arthur Janov.
Janov has attempted to rectify this by gathering longitudinal data on vital signs (i.e. pulse, body temperature) and brain waves to support his work. However, his findings are still somewhat shunned by mainstream mental health.
Some of this has to do with the lack of accurate replication by peers (this guide’s mainstream mental health field) as well as the debate that continues to shroud primal therapy itself.
The vast majority of licensed practitioners including psychologists and psychiatrists consistently view primal therapy as a relic from the 70’s that refuses to die.
Professionals and clinicians seem to have a significant number of barriers to using the primal approach for trauma-related responses. That means that many people who could benefit from this therapy are missing out.
Barriers to using primal therapy by practitioners and clinicians might include not fully understanding what primal therapy is or how it works. Not being trained or comfortable in delivering feeling based treatments or not having personal experience with the feeling process is also a hindrance to the mainstream acceptance and use of primal as a valid healing modality.
Some therapeutic modalities and therapists believe that helping a person to re-experience painful feelings associated with past trauma can re-traumatize them.
It’s true that if you don’t feel safe with your therapist or you’re not ready to feel certain emotions and feelings from the past, being pushed too quickly into these feelings can increase anxiety levels. It can also cause disconnection and dissociation. Being flooded with too many painful feelings at once makes the feelings difficult to process. When this happens there is a risk of the person defending against the therapist and therapy process itself.
Even when primal therapy proceeds at your own pace, different stages of the therapy can result in increased anxiety levels for some people. It’s at this point that people (non-primal therapists) become fearful and say it does not work or that it is re-traumatising the person.
Anxiety levels can be reduced with the temporary use of medication, supplements. Timing the frequency of sessions until the underlying drivers of the anxiety are felt and integrated can also help. But, it must be noted that resolution of anxiety does rely on being able to engage the primal process which not everyone can do.
We have found that most people who start out self primaling and continue to primal in the absence of a therapist can become stuck in a feeling loop. That is, at some point, they end up feeling the same feeling repeatedly without dropping into deeper levels (abreacting).
Feeling the same feeling becomes comfortable (a feeling rut) and provides a type of cathartic relief, but no real healing progress is made. The feelings and symptoms persist as the deeper feelings are avoided. Certain emotions and feelings are just too frightening to access by yourself without a therapist.
Some people who prefer to self- primal never realise that it’s more often than not a way of avoiding. An ongoing therapeutic relationship is too frightening, unsafe or confronting for them.
They are happy with the relief they can gain from self-primaling, and they often continue to feel as a way of coping but may stay in less than ideal life situations as a result. The real changes in life come from feeling and integrating the core pain.
Nevertheless allowing yourself to process your feelings at home safely is a great tool if you’re very experienced in the primal process and have done a significant amount of feeling work with a therapist. It can help you to resolve problems and gain lasting insights far faster than any other method.
In our experience, antidepressants may slow the process down. Sometimes this can be helpful, especially when emotions and feelings are very painful and overwhelming.
Feelings that are too much and too overwhelming in the present can make it difficult to feel the pain from the past. In this situation, medication can help to release the pain gradually. This allows you to process and integrate your emotions and feelings in a more manageable way. Later the medication can be gradually reduced and stopped.
Other drugs can also have an effect on your therapy. For instance, alcohol and cigarettes are a very effective way of aiding dissociation of mind from body, and nicotine seems to persist in the brainstem and be evident for up to three weeks.
Thus the body is busy "remembering", but the mind does not comprehend what the body is doing which interferes with the emotional processing component.
At the Jamillon Centre, we do not offer primal therapy intensives or individual sessions to anyone who is currently drinking heavily or using recreational drugs. We request that you be drug and alcohol-free for a minimum of 6 weeks before the commencement of therapy.
We do support the attendance to belief-based groups like Alcoholics Anonymous to support you in this process so you can begin therapy.
How long therapy takes or when improvements are noticed depends on -
The type of pain and trauma you experienced;
The age you were when you experienced the pain and trauma;
How long the pain and trauma lasts for;
Your individual personality characteristics combined with your early history;
Your ability to consistently go into feeling (engage the primal process) over an extended period of time;
It is our experience that most people we work with require a couple of years of regular therapy before they begin to notice improvements. For some people, this will vary from 4 - 8 years.
Although this seems a long time, studies in the field of early, chronic childhood traumas have shown that part of the brain involved with emotions is smaller than normal and it can take at least eight years of therapy for it to approach normal size.
So it's important to be aware that a trauma based therapy like primal does require more session over a longer period of time. It also requires a higher level of motivation, commitment and cooperation than most other therapies.
Nevertheless, the length of therapy is up to you and will depend partly on how far you wish to go. Some people want to deal with specific issues while others want to fully understand what happened to them and why they feel the way they do. They are the ones who continue with primal therapy as a vehicle of self-discovery.
While the residential primal therapy intensive can be an effective way to engage the process for some people it is not advisable and may even be contraindicated. Janov starts all his therapy with a 3-week intensive, however, we find that for some people this is too long. They start to shut down.
Some people do best with individual therapy sessions first while they explore the therapy and learn how to use the techniques. By doing this they can work with their therapist to determine if a residential intensive would be beneficial and if so, what length of time would be best.
For people who live interstate, it is recommended that you have some individual Skype sessions first to determine if the residential retreat will be helpful.
If the residential primal intensive is right for you, it provides a wonderful opportunity to fully engage with the emotional processing component of your treatment, free from outside distractions.
The first step is to contact us by email or phone.
A time is then made for the initial session in which the assessment process will begin prior to starting feelings sessions. This allows you to meet the therapist and discuss whether primal therapy is right for you.