Should Therapists Continue Their Own Psychotherapy?
by Chris Wright
I believe there is something important that seems to be missing
among us collectively, yet it is something that we have and offer that is
actually unique to our primal community. And that is a strongly-held, shared
understanding among ourselves of the value of emotional processing as the key
dynamic for restoring our inner center.
Everyday I am thankful for knowing about emotional processing in my life.
For me it is such a precious knowledge. It is something that is so natural and
effective, that I can do anytime I am getting depressed, sad, upset, afraid,
in a bad mood or even falling apart.
The experience is like night and day
for me. I can get triggered or be completely at the affect of my stuff,
and then after 30 minutes or so of emotional processing feel connected to my
natural Self again. Cleansed. Silent. Open. Alive. The problems and
challenges in the world certainly remain, but I got my Self back now to face
them. This makes all the difference, even apart from making me a more effective therapist.
So when I'm in the face of darkness or upset the most important support you
can give me is to be sure to caringly guide me to a safe place where I can open up and experience the inner churning to its resolution. This is appreciated whether the care is from a friend or in our discussion group in e-mails.
The empathetic feelings of support and inspiration are important
also. Even suggestions concerning the problem that triggered it are helpful.
But solace alone, however well-meaning, has the effect of simply pumping me
up so that I disconnect from the churning inside. It may sometimes make me feel
better, but, like Novocaine, I think it inadvertently anesthetizes me from
what is stirring deep within which is calling for conscious and biologic resolution
This knowledge of safe emotional processing of inner stress to resolution and
the value system of processing whenever you are off your center is missing
in the world. By and large, even self-improvement groups and the
therapeutic community lack this insight or the tools to facilitate the
process. From being on the International Primal Association board and in the community, I believe that at times we also miss it in the IPA.
In thinking about it, I wonder if it is because we have compartmentalized this
innate process as some form of "therapy," something that you wait to do only with
We even call it "primal therapy," which is really a misnomer.
Something so natural to being human, that babies do it innocently in the face of
distress to restore equilibrium. When does it become "therapy?
Also, calling it "Primal" tends to frame emotional processing as a tool that is
designed for regressing. When I cry from loneliness, or angrily storm at my
current frustrations and fears in a structured process, alone at home, am I
necessarily "primalling?" Do we say the infant is "primalling" when he or
she cries out? And does it have to be a "primal" to be healing or healthy?
Isn't crying a natural biologic resolution of internal stress?
Certainly we all believe that regularly regressing back and re-living early,
repressed emotions is healing and important for each of us to do. But is
this shared understanding our basis for coming together in community? What
about valuing the process of experiencing to resolution the build-up of
current inner tensions?
Of course, Janov never formulated or taught this
(but then he never used emotional processing in his own life anyway). I
actually believe that it is more important to harness processing of current
stress in our day-to-day lives. That's where the rubber meets the road --
that's where the most action is.
We all know that healing deeply repressed
imprints is a life-long process, that there is no quick fix for getting
healed. But we can do something to purify the tension and restore our Self
each time those wounds get triggered or when we build up too much internal
pressure in our lives. And that is the most powerful and healthy use of this
technology -- for yourself and for everyone around you.
Knowing this makes our community unique in the world. It is quite a gift.
Yet, I wonder if we are aligned in our appreciation or understanding of this
process, and if we live it in our lives and guide others in it. I say this
because It doesn't show up in our e-mails although all sorts of other advice does.
Nor is it a basis of how we live our lives evidenced in the IPA board meetings.
To offer this guidance to someone in an e-mail, I suspect might even sound
offensive, like a subtle put-down. Yet, I would hope that we all would
welcome such input whenever we get triggered -- that we want to be reminded
to be sure to go hit the mats and process it completely through. And, if the
person is unable to, the most helpful support you can provide someone is to
call to emotionally process over the phone. To do that, I believe, is to
You would think in such a community there would be no shame in being reminded. For
when we are thrown into these deep wounds the darkness skews our reality.
It is not always so easy. Awash in feelings, the negative appraisal all seems
so real. Surely, we need to be understood and validated when we are upset, but
shouldn't we want to be lovingly guided where we need to go?
I will always appreciate a psychologist friend for her integrity in this.
When she would get overwhelmed she would sometimes call some of us to process
over the phone. It was an honor to share in her process. And I felt such
respect for her ability to reach out and be so healthy in the face of her
pain. It was wonderful modelling for us all.
So my question to our primal community and leaders is, how often do you
process? I know we all give lip-service to emotional processing. But do you
set up a safe structured process whenever you are triggered and off your
center, instead sitting on it or acting it out?
How often do you really do it? My experience when teaching this around the country was that most people needed to cleanse the build-up of tension about once a week. It is something like taking a shower to remove toxins. Certainly we need to primal in a safe structure when toxic stuff gets triggered and comes up.
Now also, ask yourself, do you have a formal support system for structured
emotional processing? If not, why not? Clearly, it is useful to be efficient
in processing alone as well as with someone facilitating. Are you able to
process alone and get a release effectively? Do you know how to facilitate
someone in their process?
I believe that systematizing this knowledge and
these tools, and promoting it among ourselves and in the world would be a
worthy function of the International Primal Association. And gaining such knowledge provides a healthy basis for then being a responsible part of our community.
Also, though rarely talked about in the IPA, and maybe even more important
is to share a systematic framework of tools for safely processing upset feelings
when we trigger and upset each other. I strongly suggest that we lack
these tools in this community and organization. When we trigger each
other, we act out hurt and angry feelings offensively or we shut down and
Amazingly, what I have witnessed is that we tend to act just as
dysfunctionally as everyone else in the world when upset at each other. The
tools for emotionally processing charged conflicts to resolution safely
together exist, and I believe such tools should be part of what we stand for
in joining together in this community and organization.
I would like to envision the International Primal Association as such an organization -- to be a place in the world where safe emotional processing is modeled and promoted. By being a part of the organization we strengthen our resolve in practicing peer
processing. The organization could even offer workshops around the country
teaching systematic peer processing tools, such as, how to process alone effectively,
how to facilitate a partner, and how to process charged conflicts safely.
Members could sponsor a workshop in their town and thereby develop a support
network using these tools. Setting up local peer process groups not only
fulfills a natural human need that is not being met in our culture, but it also
strengthens the fabric (and sustainability) of our unique primal community.
I believe this type of thinking necessarily involves a fundamental shift in how
we see Primal within the IPA community. Whether we view it as a narrow, potent
therapeutic tool (the old school) or whether we experience it and live it a useful
day-to-day peer process, we can share and support each other in what is vital
to our health and well-being -- individually, socially, and spiritually (a new
Chris Wright is a licensed therapist and Director of Programs at The Center
For Holistic Therapy in Alexandria, Virginia. He has been teaching primal for over 15 years around the country. He offers workshops and individual sessions on how to safely process emotions.
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