The Amygdala and Primal

by Barbara Bryan, MA, LLMSW

The amygdala holds repressed memories of trauma, neglect, fear and anger. The noted neuroscientist, Joseph LeDoux, argues that phobias and neurotic fears -- indeed, all strong emotional memories are neurobiological indelible. Therapies that "extinguish" phobias or help patients "work through" irrational fears can stop the symptoms and gain the person some freedom from them, but whatever the conscious experience, the neuronal residue of the fear remains intact in the amygdala, and may someday return to stalk again -- a phenomenon observed by many clinicians treating previously traumatized clients in the wake of 9/11. A phobia can be in remission and then some difficult event occurs and it rises again.

Some neural networks maintaining dysfunctional behavior record fears set down at a young age in the amygdala, the one part of the brain that never forgets. That's why therapy is seldom successfully done in a session or two, and is never simply a matter of "explaining" to people how irrational their thinking is, or how counterproductive their behavior.

Emotions are powerful forces in the service of reason. Therapy isn't just about behavioral change. In brain terms, that would be incomplete. Choice, self-determination, personal freedom unimpeded by crippling fears and hidden motive -- dare one say "self-actualization"? -- all depend on a healthy appreciation of our emotional roots. It isn't that emotions are better than reason, or that feelings say more than words, but, as neuroscience suggests, the expression of emotion and the use of reason are each manacled without the other.

Scientists are now discovering more and more about the brain and the way it deals with emotions and repressed, traumatic memories. They now theorize that the amygdala holds the repressed memories and the way to release those memories and free the person is with a deep, intense cathartic experience. This usually consists of a re-experience of the original trauma. We have known this through our own experiences and working with others. This is the healing that your body desires and will allow it with proper support and safety. This is what Primal is all about.

(Some excerpts from an article in Psychotherapy Network, Sept.-Oct. 2002
The Brain in the Palm of Your Hand by Daniel Siegel)

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

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