What Is Primal Psychotherapy?
by Larry King
This article is adapted by the author from material he wrote for BEHAVIOR TODAY. It was read as an introduction to his 1993 Convention workshop, "Primal 101."
Psychotherapy is the art
and science of easing emotional problems. Many forms of psychotherapy are
designed to help the client know and understand what is in their unconscious.
Very few are designed to actually change what
is in the unconscious. However, if the material in the unconscious is not
changed, it retains its enormous power to occasionally override even the most
powerful of egos. When it does that, we call it "neurosis." In one way or
another, it always results in emotional pain.
The unconscious is
primarily a record of the past and a
storehouse of past physical and emotional tensions. These tensions can be
triggered by present events so that they are felt in the present. In fact,
because their origin is from the unconscious, and we are thus unaware of their
actual source, these powerful tensions seem to originate in the present, and
the person or situation triggering them appears to be their primary cause - when
they may, in fact, be only a very minor part of the cause.
My understanding of the
object of psychoanalysis is that it helps the client discover these unconscious
origins of present-day tensions (and their accompanying but misplaced
ideations) and to analyze and use the knowledge consciously to change present
and future behaviors.
On the other hand, the
object of primal psychotherapy is to enhance one's life by first lowering the
tension levels of the material stored in the unconscious. That makes these
tensions less likely to be triggered and greatly reduces their ability to affect
consciousness when they are triggered.
In a session, I first
help the client become highly conscious of previously unconscious memories,
being very careful not to suggest anything that wasn't already there. The past
is actually "re-lived." Previously buried motivations become obvious to the
client. No interpretation or analysis is needed from the therapist.
I totally accept and,
thereby, encourage the client to accept the reality of the new discovery he is
making: that some of the pain he experienced as a child was so immense or
prolonged that it had to be buried, and that those forgotten experiences and
their accompanying emotional tensions have been the source of lifelong painful
emotions, psychosomatic illnesses, neurotic thoughts, destructive defenses, and
He may discover that, in
having to build walls to contain the pain, he not only reduced his sensitivity
to painful feelings, but also reduced his ability to enjoy pleasurable
feelings. However, by slowly confronting the old pain, he starts to regain the compassion
for himself that was diminished by the need for survival; with that, comes more
compassion for others and a greater ability to feel warmth and closeness.
I believe that most
therapists and lay people recognize the value of a cathartic experience in
connection with recent trauma (such as crying to express the grief of losing a
loved one). It vastly lowers tension levels. Long-forgotten traumas create very
high, though unconscious, tension levels as well. It is this tension that gives
such incredible power to neurotic impulses. ("I know it's self-destructive, but
can't seem to stop myself.") By doing a connective
catharsis of the past, the neurotic impulses are greatly diminished, and
some are gone forever.
At some stage in each
session, the therapy changes from an emphasis on the unconscious to an
integration of the unconscious with the conscious and then to an emphasis on
the conscious. Because the client has lived from unconscious neurotic impulses
all his life, there are areas where he is inexperienced at living in a relatively
un-neurotic way. The therapy then focuses on exploring the new relationships,
life-styles, and extraordinarily pleasurable deep emotions that become possible
when one's conscious mind, rather than one's unconscious, is truly in charge.
© 1993, All Rights Reserved, H. Lawrence King
This article appeared in the Winter-Spring 1994 IPA Newsletter.
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