by Barbara Bryan

"I don't know what to do. I've tried so many therapists and then I found you on the Internet," a recent client told me.

I greeted him and we sat down to talk and become acquainted. We exchanged some basic information and then I asked him what had prompted him to come to the Primal Center. He said he had been in therapy with several different therapists and although he felt he was helped by the work he did with them, there was something else that he couldn't quite get to. He'd been feeling depressed lately and sometimes anxious and panicky.

I asked him if he had been able to work on his feelings in his therapies. He said they talked a lot about feelings and what he could do in the present to change the way he was feeling. But he was seeing them in an office and it really wasn't OK to let anger out or make too much noise. One therapist told him to focus on the present and let the past go. But he thinks some of his problems are coming from his childhood and he doesn't know how to access them. He remembered reading about Primal Therapy years ago and thought maybe he should check it out. He couldn't find any other Primal places nearby so he called me.

He asked, "Can you help me?"

I replied that I believe I can help him. I've been working with people and their feelings for 31 years. I believe his anxiety attacks may be caused by repressed feelings striving to be released. They have been held in because of the fear of facing them and yet his body and psyche wants to heal. When people are allowed to express their feelings on a deep level, they will often get to the origin of the problem causing the anxiety. Primal work focuses on "cleaning out the wound, not just putting a bandage on it."

A "Primal" is a natural phenomenon. The body needs to heal, to release the tensions and pains it is holding inside. Over the years we have learned to repress and suppress our feelings and natural tendencies. We are told, "Be polite, be quiet, don't be angry, there's nothing to be afraid of, don't be a crybaby." Our reality is denied over and over until we don't trust our own feelings or experiences. We lose our real self and become what everyone else expects us to be. So we have layers of defenses to work through to get to our core self. In each person, there is a benevolent Force within that will guide you through your healing process.

He had a number of concerns including how we differ from Arthur Janov's Primal Therapy. I replied that Janov's theories were very important and groundbreaking in 1970. Primal Integration is a parallel development occurring at about the same time. It was pioneered in the USA by William Swartley, PhD (my mentor and teacher) and by Frank Lake in England. They both considered it to be an educational process. Janov had a very limited and rigid view and didn't focus on integration. Primal Integration rejects the authoritarian medical model of treatment, and prefers the humanistic and educational approach.

We draw upon a variety of techniques to facilitate a Primal or growth experience. These include breathwork, bodywork (Reichian, bio-energetics, massage), artwork, Jungian sandplay, gestalt, psychodrama, role-play, dreamwork, transpersonal work, guided fantasy and music.

His next question was, "What is a 'Primal'?"

Briefly, it is a "letting go" of conscious controls of the body and emotions and allowing yourself to "go with" the feelings as deeply as you can. This opens up the unconscious to awareness and allows insights to emerge which have a healing value.

A Primal can be described as a feeling experience that may start with a here-and-now distress, such as being upset and angry at an authority figure. As the client is encouraged to express their feelings of anger, etc., they may find the feelings really taking over. During that process, there may be a flash or vision from the past. In this case, it could be a parent figure and maybe a memory scene. Then, if the client feels safe enough, he/she may re-experience a traumatic event and release the feelings from the past. A connection is made between the scene and the present. This generally will release the energy from the current situation and the client is able to function better. The more we can release our angers and fears, the more we can open up to love and our personal power within.

The goals of Primal Integration are to accept, work through, and then leave the painful, regressive feelings. This emotional unburdening expands awareness, opens one up to new life feelings and the joyful creative self. Integration of the experience and connection to the present behavior and then working on changing the behavior is essential. The process is basically self-directed so each person will open up and progress at their own pace. This maintains safety and also provides support for those who are not ready or willing to go into the deeper parts of their psyche.

My new client replied that he was satisfied that this was the right place for him. He decided he would start with individual sessions and we set up an appointment.


In my belief, Primal Integration is the fullest and most integrative form of psychotherapy, because it covers all the four functions which Jung spoke of: sensing (bodywork and breathing), feeling (emotional contact and release), thinking (analysis and insight), and intuiting (guided fantasy, artwork, dreamwork, sandplay and so forth). It covers the pre-personal (biographical and perinatal experience), the personal (adult life in the here and now), and the transpersonal (spiritual experience and visions of the future). This is surprisingly rare in the field of personal growth, counseling and psychotherapy.

The biggest limiting factor of most therapies is that they depend on what you can remember. Primal capitalizes on its ability to get in touch with emotions and memories, repressed and stored in the subconscious mind, and uproots them. Some traumas that were physical, such as sexual abuse or pre-and perinatal, are difficult to reach with "talking" therapies. We believe the memories are cellular and Primal helps open up the body to release the withheld pain and begin to integrate the trauma.

The major premise on which Primal builds, is that the subconscious mind never forgets. All the emotionally disturbing things that have ever happened to us are like slow poison, secreting their toxins into our psychological system. The major deep feelings that may affect your life profoundly are: Rage, Terror and Need. Our goal is to release this pain, this poison, freeing you of the neurosis it may have caused, thus making room for Love, Joy and emotional health.

The primal process consists of five phases: Commitment; Abreaction (catharsis); Insight (cognitive-affective restructuring); Counter-action (fresh behavior in the world); and Pro-action (making real changes). So the later phases are just as important as the earlier ones. Working through is just as significant as breaking through. The controversial part of our work is the "primal," the cathartic breakthrough; but in reality the process of integration is necessary and equally exciting in its quieter way.

Primal is very effective with depression, anxiety, panic disorder, grief, withheld rage, sexual abuse, rape, incest, pre-verbal traumas, pre-and perinatal issues, abandonment, rejection, and other issues that clients are able to work with, express, feel and release. The people who come to the Primal Center have tried other avenues before coming here. They are highly motivated and intelligent clients and often will continue to see their regular therapists in addition to the Primal work. In the group work, they are there to do their own process and share their stories and they are also very supportive of each other.

Primal Integration must be experienced personally before it is practiced as a facilitator. One must undergo many hours or even years of Primal work before he/she is qualified to help others effectively.

Barbara Bryan, MA, LLMSW, has been the director of the Primal Integration Center of Michigan since 1974. She trained with William Swartley, PhD, and with William Smukler, PhD. Barbara participated in a 40-day live-in intensive training program called "Noah's Ark" as a trainee in 1977 and as a leader in 1986 and seven more Arks. She is an active member of the International Primal Association (IPA) and is a past president. She contributes to their publications, workshops, conventions and subscribes to the IPA Code of Ethics and Standards. She is the chairperson of the Certification Committee for Primal Integration Educators and Training Program.

Please call for information:

Primal Integration Center of Michigan
23011 Middlebelt Rd.
Farmington Hills, MI 48336

Website: www.primalcenter.com

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