Facilitating Primal Therapy
Before discussing how to help others primal, let’s look at the suppositions of the primal healing model. All healing methods presuppose a model. Fear Memory Integration is a primal model. I’ve strived to make this model more understandable by exploring it within the context of fear conditioning. The science behind this is well established.
· According to neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux , the major branches of psychotherapy agree that traumatic experience drives the anxiety neuroses. Janov called trauma’s driving factor “Imprinted Pain”. What is imprinted pain? It’s a memorized, physically expressed complex of sensorimotor reaction to trauma. LeDoux describes imprinted pain in this way:
“The ability to rapidly form memories of stimuli associated with danger, to hold on to them for long periods of time (perhaps eternally), and use them automatically when similar situations occur in the future [fear conditioning] is one of the brain’s most powerful and efficient learning and memory functions. But this incredible luxury is costly. We sometimes, perhaps all too often, develop fears and anxieties about things that we would as well not have.”
Defining Janov’s Imprint as a (highly complex) fear conditioned response makes his concept more understandable. And, it explains how something that happened to us in the past can negatively affect our entire lives. It does so, because we keep re-experiencing the physical effects of our prior traumas…with little, or no, consciousness of the traumas. Fear conditioning is possible because we possess a very primitive way of memory making. It starts recording experiences midway through our time in mother’s womb and is our prime way of remembering experience through our 5th year on the planet.
This system remembers experience by re-generating the feelings we felt during that experience.
Doyle Henderson and others have speculated that the reservoir of these early feeling-memories (both pleasant and painful) form the basis of our emotional lives. To put this another way: because we possess this kind of memory, we are capable of feeling emotion. We also know that this memory system survives as a primitive artifact, and is resurrected by our nervous system to help us survive later childhood and adult traumas. Bessel van der Kolk assumes that it (the nervous system’s ability to re-express traumatic feelings) is responsible for the symptoms we see in post-traumatic stress disorder.
· Our nervous system is two-phased and sequential. It makes us physically respond to experience before we become conscious of it. Traumatic experience interrupts the second phase, preventing us from ever becoming conscious of what happened in phase one. And, the blocked information gets sequestered in the subcortical structures of the brain, where they continue to exist as unconscious survival reactions. This is a purely defensive action taken by the nervous system to prevent damage to higher brain structures (from information overload). This action is called repression. Whenever these trapped reactions get reactivated, we feel that we are in danger, when no danger is present. This causes us to behave in defensive ways, such as seen in the anxiety neuroses, chronic anger, and emotional withdrawal.
· Consciousness, when the meaning is used in it’s most basic sense, means high-road (cortical) information processing and is well studied and understood. Scientists have mapped the brain areas through which information is cortically processed. When information reaches the cortex it gets automatically organized, associated with other accumulated information, and our initial primitive reactions get fine-tuned to the reality of the environment. In this way, gross primitive reactions can get adjusted to match present reality. When information makes it to the second level of processing it is said to have reached consciousness.
· Only then can the medial prefrontal area of our cortex exert control over our “faulty”, primitive, fear conditioned impulses via direct neural action on the amygdala (a site of fear memory storage).
· Whenever a natural process is blocked, an oppositional force is generated to try and unblock it. Two-phase, sequential information processing is a natural process. When trauma information is blocked from consciousness, neurotic “pressure” is generated, which , forever after, pushes the lost information toward consciousness. But repressive forces (which blocked the information initially) block those signals from consciousness again and again. We experience the cyclical approach of traumatic information to consciousness, and its repeated repression, as anxiety and depression.
· Clinicians ignore 100 years of fear conditioning research…they ignore the concept of imprinted pain… in favor of a medical treatment model, which assumes that, as-yet-unproven genetic pathology is the cause of neurosis and that the resultant pain signals, since they represent something “bad” or “defective” , must be further repressed (via medication). This process is called symptom management. With few provable exceptions, the faulty gene theory is unproven, unneeded (because those erroneous signals can be explained by assuming the activity of a fear conditioned memory), and results in the dangerous medication-oriented psychotherapeutic practices.
· Rather than repressing pain signals, the restoration of mental health requires helping people release their trapped traumatic information. When this happens there is an automatic, incremental resolution of the neurosis. Arthur Janov referred to this event as a primal.
· Psychotherapy has been heavily invested in the intellectual…the universe of words. We are only now remembering the ancient wisdom: that trauma creates “lost children” or, displaced sensorimotor information. The ancient shamen felt that these “children” ran away in fear to “the cave of lost children”. Those caves can be thought of as our subcortical brain structures, which are not accessible by words. The subcortical brain is a feeling brain. Access to the “lost children” requires strong personal commitment, lots of unconditional non-verbal support, and the opportunity and willingness to feel (allow into consciousness) our uncomfortable trauma-generated feelings. Rather than a discussion, a personal journey or vision quest is required.
· Yoga, T’ai Chi, sweat lodge practices, soul retrieval, drumming, chanting, meditation, Somatic Experiencing, sensorimotor psychotherapy, primal therapy, and Fear Memory Integration can all help us to gain entree into the “space between words”…the place where our sensorimotor trauma artifacts hide. Therefore, facilitators can learn valuable practical techniques by studying and applying the wisdom inherent in these practices.
· These practices have one thing in common: they create a space in which trapped traumatic information can complete its journey to consciousness. Therefore, they stand in contraposition to most psychotherapeutic practices, which act to further repress this information. Chemically augmented repression, while sometimes necessary, can only give temporary relief from imprinted pain. It can do nothing to heal the effects of trauma.
Healing requires becoming conscious of our unconscious survival reactions…the primitive artifacts of our traumas.
· Our symptoms, however uncomfortable, are not our enemy. They are messengers, which are trying to lead us back to emotional health. This is a naturopathic principle.
Subsequent blogs will explore some of the different resources and techniques used to facilitate the primal.