Should we Expand the Mission of the IPA?
by Chris Wright
It must have been exciting times when the IPA was launched in the 1970s. It was a major breakthrough, this new form of therapy that did more than just talk. Finally we had a process for consciously healing the underlying, repressed emotional charge that creates havoc in our lives.
However, we've learned much since then. In those early days emotional
processing was considered "therapy." It required the supervision of a licensed professional therapist who was specially trained. Arthur Janov, the originator of Primal Therapy, even to this day, will go to his grave believing that you can't regress into your repressed feelings unless you're facilitated by someone trained professionally by his Institute. The rest of us are "mock primal therapists." And heaven forbid that peers ever try to process together.
But how could a process as human and natural as consciously experiencing tension to resolution have become so "therapized"? Why do you have to pay someone to provide a safe structure for you to cry in, or angrily storm? Or even regress? Are the facilitation tools so specialized, so difficult to master for most people? Is this really rocket science? What we have discovered is that most people can easily be trained to facilitate and support someone processing safely through their charged issues.
Is emotional processing something to only be done in therapy? If I'm in a bad mood or feeling upset, can't I simply release the emotional tension inside that's throwing me off my center? Do I always need to "regress" to "First Line Pain" for the process to be cleansing and feel my old self again? Am I wasting my time if I'm "abreacting," simply crying until I feel better and get a release? For me personally, I process every week—whenever too much internal pressure builds up or when I get triggered. I process alone, and at times with a "buddy" facilitating. Sometimes I regress deeply. Other times, the crying and storming simply discharges the internal pressure. Anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes later, I feel completely free of any tension or charge – at peace, alive, open in my heart. Pleasurable "vegetative streamings" (Reich's term) flow through my body and being. It's wonderful. I hate feeling any other way. The difference from before the process and afterwards is like night and day. The alternative of sitting on the internal pressure, and then acting it out in some way, is unnecessary suffering for me.
Shouldn't people know that this process, these tools, are available? And what about in our relationships? Husband, wife, our children –don't we all need a safe structured process we can use together for clearing the air of charged feelings that, otherwise, can harm each other? Unfortunately, the safe tools that enable that have been missing. And the results are devastating. Over half of all marriages end in divorce, and children get scarred as people act out their charged feelings on to each other.
I believe the IPA is positioned to champion the cause of promoting this technology and building communities that process together. We could become a leader in this area, offering resources in how to set up communities in your local area to provide the knowledge and support to make safe emotional processing a part of people's lives.
In this vision, for example, the IPA could systematize these tools in easily learned programs. Then provide training for people to lead workshops teaching these programs – how to process with a facilitator (and how to facilitate), how to process effectively alone, and the tools that make processing in your close relationships safe when you've triggered each other.
In the early days, I used to teach traditional emotional processing weekend workshops. People came and had a powerful emotional catharsis. But I saw that what people really needed was to learn systematically in the workshop how to do it themselves – when alone as well as with their own network of support. In this way, they didn't have to rely on me or another therapist, as their only resource, to process tensions that came up. So that they could use it in their everyday life, as I did in mine.
I'd like to see the IPA take leadership in this domain. As an organization it is uniquely qualified to do so. It could promote among its members introductory workshops on learning to process in their community. A member can bring an IPA trained leader into his or her local area to teach such a workshop over a Friday night-Saturday day. And from there, develop a regular peer process group in the community, using safe standards developed by the IPA. Once a group is formed, the IPA can then offer advanced local or regional workshops on topics such as processing mother issues, father issues, advanced facilitation tools, how to process conflicts safely, processing birth trauma, sexual abuse, and more.
I believe that therapists and skilled laypersons would jump at the chance to get such training and be able to offer these tools and processes in their area. This knowledge is so precious, the tools so invaluable. The IPA would generate increased membership and income as leaders are trained and as more people learn to process. And, more importantly, the IPA would become more relevant to peoples lives, making a difference in the world. A real difference.
A Cautionary Letter to the Editor
I am a psychotherapist in private practice in Australia. I specialize in Guided Imagery and Music (according to the Helen Bonny method). I have had a long association with Primal Therapy and was an Ark participant in 1998.
I'd like to respond to an article in the march issue of the IPA newsletter - "Should we expand the mission of the IPA" by Chris Wright. I, like Chris, need the primal process to keep myself feeling fully alive and wish that more people would avail themselves of what seems to me a simple and natural way to become and stay emotionally well. I have always admired the IPA's openness and willingness to share its philosophy and its therapeutic techniques with the community at large. It somehow demystifies the therapy and draws people to it.
I would, however, introduce a word of caution. For many people, including myself prior to my first primal intensive, the expression of deep, often long repressed feelings was very frightening. I would not have gone into primal therapy without knowing that I had trained and experienced therapists by my side and monitoring my therapeutic progress.
In my own training as a psychotherapist I was taught the importance of screening people to assess their ability to undertake deep feeling work. This modality was contraindicated for people suffering psychoses, schizophrenia or in some cases, even those suffering severe
emotional damage. For these people another form of therapy may need to be recommended. Close monitoring of their ego strength was stressed and adequate support systems were
established throughout the course of their intensive therapy.
If we create more primal communities and invite everyone to join us what happens to screening, safe environment and follow up? It seems to me that we need our qualified primal therapists and our intensive centres, not only for people's emotional safety but also to
maintain our reputable professional base at a time when many suspect therapies are being promoted indiscriminately.
Thank you Chris for a stimulating article! I admire and
share your passion for the primal process.
Renate Marek, Urunga, Australia
Chris Wright is a primal therapist in the Washington, D.C. area. He offers workshops locally and around the country.
This article appeared in the Winter 2001 IPA Newsletter. Renate Marek's response appeared in the Summer 2001 issue.
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