What is Primal Therapy?

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  • Written By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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Primal therapy, also known as primal scream therapy, was developed by Arthur Janov, PhD. Janov believed that people can only make therapeutic progress by accessing psychological pain through an emotional experience.

Janov believed that talking therapy, or psychological treatment involving talking about a situation or a problem are not effective. He said that this is because the part of the brain that performs higher reasoning, the cortex, cannot affect the actual source of psychological pain which resides in other areas of the brain. Primal therapy does not target the cortex, but instead, the nervous system and the lower brain.

Unprocessed input, or "Pain," capitalized by Janov, is thought to be stored in the human nervous system for later processing. According to primal therapy theory, people can only determine their real feelings and needs by experiencing all of their Pain. In some of his writings, Janov states that Pain doesn't actually hurt, because it is only feeling. He says that actual suffering comes from blocking or repressing feelings.


This type of therapy got a great deal of attention in 1970, when singer John Lennon went to Janov and his wife Vivian for treatment. Lennon later talked about how much the therapy helped him, and said that it influenced his John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album. Some people think that the band Tears for Fears was also inspired by the therapy, as seen in the lyrics "shout, shout/let it all out." In addition, other Tears for Fears lyrics contain references to primal therapy, and band members have mentioned Arthur Janov in many interviews.

Primal therapy has fallen out of favor, but it still exists. Beginning with five individual sessions per week for three weeks, the patient can then join group meetings one or two times a week, and go to private sessions when needed. Unlike traditional talk therapy, appointments do not last for a set period of time, but go as long as is needed by a patient.

The goal is to get patients to "Primal," or relive a past painful feeling. The Primal can be measured by rising body temperature, pulse, and blood pressure leading up to the actual feeling, and then lowering to below the starting point. After Primaling, patients report having new insights.

Arthur Janov has written extensively about primal therapy. He recommends that people interested in it carefully check a therapist's credentials. A therapist must be trained at The Primal Institute or The Primal Foundation in order to be a trained Primal Therapy. Arthur Janov currently directs The Primal Foundation with his second wife, while his ex-wife Vivian Janov directs The Primal Institute.


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Post 2

If this website is really written by "wise" intelligent types, perhaps they should have seen past the surface advertisements of primal therapy and realize that it is an unsupported therapy that involves the reliving of birth and the re-experience of "repressed" memories.

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