Interviewed by Arnold Buchheimer at Appel Farm, New Jersey (Sunday, August 31, 1986)
AB: My first question is, this is awfully deterministic stuff and I was wondering how you address yourself to the question, if it were alI fixed at conception what happen to the free will, the voluntary, the sense of the control that people have within themselves?
GF: What I was trying to describe this morning the way she perceived my contribution and she used her hands to begin to demonstrate what she meant and it's a useful way of beginning to answer your question. It's as if you visualize the two gametes as circles, one slightly bigger than the other as indeed the egg is, and the sperm fits inside very neatly and there's a closure and it's comfortable. If one of the gametes is off-center, then the lock doesn't go quite right. If just one part is out of synch, the rest of the circle is fine, but as there is growth, that one piece that's out of place gets bigger and bigger in its ramifications.
AB: So the consciousness is both cellular, in that sense genetic, and modifiable as we work on it, but there is a given there.
GF: There's a given. There's an imprint, there's a trace, there's a remnant. These are words but there's an imprint. I think that's probably the most useful word, and like a clock going round, every time it hits that piece that's out of synch, it makes a indentation as a bigger groove and it gets sore because it's hurt all the time. Then that vulnerability as sensitivity ramifies to the surface as we develop, but all on the way there are ways of modifying it and ...
AB: And re-working.
GF: ...and re-working so, like what Zell says from England, it's not instinctual anger, it's innate and that if the conception is rape but the raped woman is loving and incredibly aware of the fetus being damaged in some way, she can maybe stop smoking, stop drinking, eat well to try and nurture and make up for it.
AB: So it's not only modifying, it's also expansive but there is a basic material that probably is fixed.
GF: Yes. I would say that and also, the state of consciousness of both parents affects the gametes profoundly. Our second child is dramatically different from our first because I'd just been appointed to Harvard, got a lot of income, English instead of French. Boston was more British. We felt at home. He was created there. He's a very expanded person compared to his brother who is constricted, literally in his conception, so that's another factor that makes for a difference.
AB: That's the point Verny makes a lot in his book. The next question that I've been pondering about for a very long time, it came up strongly again, is the resilience of the fetus and the embryo. Do you want to talk about that?
GF: As you saw in the Swedish documentary, 65% of fertilized eggs don't reach the womb wall. They die in the tube, so that certainly the ones that survive are strong.
So that we're already by the time of implant a selected species. You might say it's the survival of the fittest, the entire syndrome, but even then there's a weaning out of the damaged ones in the form of miscarriages, deaths before birth, still-borns, and sudden infant death syndrome. Some of the SID syndrome are a consequence of an additional trauma like reaction to pertussis injection in an infant made vulnerable by an anoxic birth. There's been research that William Emerson did that seems to show that.
AB: What's your opinion about these prenatal interventions to save a fetus that may be in fact defective, rather than to let it die naturally?
GF: Well I personally have very strong feelings about this. For me the quality of life is more important than the numerological number of beings. We have enough beings on the planet. That's difficult for a sterile couple who want to adopt or want to have a test tube baby but I've said it publicly, academically, in university, at home, that a test tube baby isn't necessarily the treatment of choice for infertility, that the woman especially, may still have on-going, unresolved issues over her sexuality and femininity, and that a baby doesn't resolve that issue. The quality of life of that baby is going to interact negatively with her, so that she's going to be less fulfilled, and, indeed, we've had three women in Melbourne who've rejected their test tube babies despite their saying how much they wanted them in the first place. I'm against all these interventions where they save six-month babies or one-parent babies who grow up to have a very difficult life.
AB: This is basically a psychiatric question. All these symptoms that appear as conversion symptoms and when you prod them primally, you just let hysteria be full-blown. Is it better to have an hysteric on our hands or somebody who's got a rash?
GF: Well, my clinical experience is that that type of hysteria is a transition to hopefully something healthier. The criticism which you just heard me apologize for which was levelled at me, that it was categorically damaging, what I did yesterday, unprofessional, in that I ought to have taken people very, very slowly to where they wanted to go, and that that's the only way that this process is valid or works or should be permitted ... and I've got to look at that.
AB: I think you do have to look at it. But I want you to know that I do not feel that anything that happened was irresponsible.1 felt there were enough people there who could help. No one was left unattended. In fact it would have been lovely to have a feedback session where people could share what experiences . . . but we would still be there.
GF: That's right, exactly.
AB: If the press had walked in on this primal workshop scene, how would you have explained what was going on?
GF: If I knew the press were coming I wouldn't allow the scene.
AB: But supposing you didn't know the press were coming, suppose some stranger, or the thing was set up so you didn't know. Essentially I'm asking for you to elaborate, how do you explain what you do to the layman?
GF: Well, once a month at home I run workshops for professional people, spouses of clients in therapy and the press and frequently someone will come along like Blanch Delfugee who's the biographer of our prime minister, and she stayed for therapy. The ABC, our broadcast commission, "Sixty Minutes," have all approached me to do a documentary and my answer has always been: "I'd be delighted to do that but you send your cameramen, your producers, and they must do a workshop with me. They must be on the floor and have an experience. They must hear my didactic presentation, see the film 'Long Ago Hurt' and lie for at least two hours and have myself and my seven staff sit with them for at least half-an-hour each, and then have a go-around, post group, and then we'll consider the production."
There was an article recently in Sydney. I did a public lecture. The press came and again I said to the reporter "no interview unless you lie down and at least have an experience that you don't ordinarily have," slightly deeper, obviously not birth or whatever. Actually she went into birth by only knowing that there's a Sydney therapy center and with the names and addresses of therapists given to her to carry on. But she had the Knowing rather than the Knowledge. There's no way you can write about this stuff until you've had the experience. So I ask the press would they like to take their shoes off and lie down? Obviously, not knowing them, I would sit and talk to them for a little while and ask them astute questions as to who they are, what their dynamics are and I feel with all these years of experience I can do that fairly quickly. And if I found that someone was prepsychotic or borderline, I'd say, "How about you sit up again? This is not something that you'd enjoy doing." It's a challenge. But I think that's one way I've found over the years to deal with it. If I were to write something for the New York papers I'd have to ask,someone to lend me their center and have the person come and lie down. Reporters write beautifully if you give them the experience. An article that came out in The Sydney Morning Herald was quite exquisite, accurate, succinct, erudite, appropriate, not exaggerated or distorted.
AB: A couple of questions about going to birth and beyond, before. Do you see that as a necessary part of the primal work?
GF: Well, over the years, in my intensive, the client has 6 hours of therapy a day and we're on 24-hour call, and in the first week my staff knows that they're just to sit and observe, by and large, and allow some opening up and letting go and the client just finds his or her way with transference, with the situation and the new process and themselves, but everyone seems to primal like their thumb print, it's very individual. The subgroups and categories, a lot of people go sequentially back through time. Others go right back to some initial event and some of them even connect it. But then they'll come back up to second line or birth for a long time but that very first descent is to where the trauma is. They may not be able to get back to it for weeks or months but it's a clue as to where they eventually have to go back to.
AB: So you see it as an up and down kind of thing, not as peeling?
GF: Some are like that. The people with longer labors and with drugs that interfere with the process, they tend to do that, people that come up into their heads. They have to because of the forceps or anoxia or whatever. They tend to do it very onion-peeling,very slowly back, but the majority of people do this,and they can say "I was on various levels. I felt distinctively I was in the crib and then for a moment it was birth. Even, I think, I was something earlier and I watch it but. . ." It's that kind of triple level experience.
AB: What about so-called adult traumas, intense recent stuff and relatively natural beginnings?
GF: What do you mean natural beginnings?
AB: Untraumatized beginnings.
GF: Yes, well I don't tend to see those people, frankly. I've always said that if the trauma happens after the acquisition of language, the clients will instinctively find their way to an analyst.
AB: That's an important point. I happen to agree with that and I happen to believe that our people, the people we can help best, are the preverbally traumatized people, and I'm very glad you're saying that because I think that's a very important issue.
GF: In fact, I often tell them that they're too well for primal and refer them to a colleague whom I know is very good at that sort of talking therapy. I don't accept everybody who comes for therapy. It actually damages the schizophrenic and the manic-depressive, I feel, makes them worse potentially. The borderline state I don't take any longer because I'm getting too old. It takes a lot of energy. William Emerson is brilliant at it. He's exquisite with borderline people. I saw him work. He's magnificent. I have a lot of love and compassion but I don't have the patience.
AB: A couple of things: A lot of what I heard you say yesterday, what I even heard you demonstrate, was metaphor.
AB: The way you refer to your struggle to be professionally accepted as a tight cervix; the relationship of the hands; the way you primal your conception, is not necessarily a real happening but rather a metaphoric, symbolic expression executed through movement.
GF: Yes. Absolutely, No question about that at all. None whatever, I think you're right. I don't believe, except for what I've seen as four distinct, separate sperm movements-the flipping of the legs together, the doubling up and bending in the middle, the corkscrew movement of the head going into the sperm, and the sort of rolling right around the whole body, not just the back legs, they seem to be very specific for sperm movements and this seems to be specific for sperm agitation.
AB: Very physiological in a sense but you can activate them through movement and into consciousness through movement. I think that's what happened to me yesterday in the afternoon workshop, a physical-conceptual expression.
GF: Sure, and the egg behaviorand movement seem to be very still, quiet, rounded, what looks like fetal birth but there are very tiny little movements of the fingers, finally, and the breathing is very shallow. They barely breathe at all.
AB: Let's shift to politics. You've achieved a modicum of credibility and you've talked about how one does get credibility and I'd like you to really say more about it.
GF: Well, I suppose it's been easier for me having a medical background, having a degree from Harvard, having one from McGill, having one from London, actually to have done the basic hard slog of the classic, eclectic education. I thank the five years of psychoanalysis which stood me in good stead with training analysts. In other words, I feel that I did my union membership kind of background and then I did residencies and registrarships and junior appointments and senior appointments, the first child psychiatrist in a teaching hospital in Australia. So there was that sort of basic, solid, unquestionable, orthodox psychiatry and then, of course they can't say that he's illiterate or a crank or a nut or something . . . . That's always been a help. I tried to share with colleagues enthusiastically about it and they, I think, were so threatened, looking back, I didn't realize that at the time, that they rejected me one way or the other. So then I tried to apply what I'd learned through primal in a constructive, creative way, introducing Leboyer to hospitals, enthusing the pediatricians to come work with me and help children, which John Spensley initially rejected I might say, for 4 1/2 years. But I had learnt to be patient and wait knowing that there was a very valid, dynamic reason why he waited, and when he did come into therapy in his first session he connected that he was 4 1/2 years when his father was shot by the Japanese. And 4 1/2 years is as long as he ever held one house or one appointment or most friendships so, of course, he was going to do the same thing with therapy.
I didn't know that at the time but it was an important lesson that I learned, that people will come to resolve their dynamics at a significant moment in their lives, not mine, but that if I am genuine and real and give incredibly good service, the community will let them know at the top. You know it gets back through one of my client's fathers who is a judge or an obstetrician or whatever. He goes home and has dinner and says "Hey Dad, I really feel good because of Dr. Farrant's session today," and the father, depending on his situation, will than say across to this person at that level, "What's this Farrant guy doing?" and that's when that person's wife comes into therapy, because he's talking at dinner. It's the communal, grassroots patient referral connection, eventually to the top. When someone like Carl Wood went public, the press were on my door in droves.
AB: You mentioned names. You show pictures and so forth. Do you have express permission?
GF: Oh, yes. Absolutely. Carl asked me to take the video of him.
AB: So you have their cooperation and support.
GF: Carl is incredibly grateful to me for primal therapy. It altered his life, not just his career, and he's gone public on press, radio, television, about primal therapy which is bordering on advertising for me, but because Carl is doing it, the AMA never questioned me, ever.
AB: So the advocacy is coming out of the experience.
GF: That's where I come back to saying that if I have integrity and work with my client like I would anyone else and he gets meaningful mileage out of my therapy, he's going to have a positive transference.
AB: How do we relate to our patients in the community sense, deal with the transference problems and I wonder if you have any thoughts about that?
GF: Well, I feel very strongly that there is transference in the primal situation and that indeed, there ought to be. I expect it and when it's not coming I make sure it comes. I bring it up as an issue and topic and both aspects are difficult at times to deal with. Sometimes the love aspect is more difficult than the hate. But the safety valves are in my center, from the very beginning. I think it's a credit to me and the place that I've had the same staff for 13 years. No one's wanted to go away, whatever. And this is partly because twice a week we have staff feeling groups and once a week every member of the staff has to be sat for by someone else in a rotating way. And the third thing we have every week, we take turns being the facilitator and the rest of the staff are clients and we have our own session. So three times a week we're on the floor and in the staff feeling groups, we protect each other by saying "I think you're getting a bit close to that person. You have a sexual feeling about them or I notice you haven't sat for him for 3 weeks now. Don't you like him or is there something about him that reminds you of a relative or whatever it is?" And I pick up my blind spots as I contribute to helping them through theirs. That's one way we have of dealing with transference issues and countertransference. Absolutely.
GF: Thank you very much.
This article is from the January 1987 issue of the International Primal Association's journal, Aesthema "Birth: Etiological, Developmental, Therapeutic Perspectives."