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  • Writer's picturejimpullaro3

Primal Therapy and Erik Hoffmann

Doctor Erik Hoffmann is a man who "became insatiably curious to understand how brain functions are related to consciousness". He worked at Copenhagen University as an assistant professor at the Psychological Institute. His work involved stress management using biofeedback. And, he conducted EEG studies of brain functions in psychiatric patients. His research results have been published in scientific journals and presented at international brain conferences.

From 1994-1996 he conducted EEG brain mapping of clients at the International Primal Center in Los Angeles, California. He wanted to scientifically study the effects, if any, of emotional release therapy on the human brain. The results of this research were presented to the Californian Psychological Society in La Jolla, California in 1995. I will write about those findings in future blogs.

In his latest book: New Brain. New World, he describes primal therapy as a method of removing energy blockages from the brain. This strengthened my belief that this therapy is best thought of as energy medicine, as it is understood in Chinese literature: living beings possess an energy body, and illness is a consequence of blocked energy flow through that body. Emotional illness, then, is best understood as blocked energy flow in the nervous system.

And, I agree with Hoffmann’s views on consciousness. This belief, called panpsychism, postulates that consciousness is not confined to biological entities, but rather that it is a fundamental feature of all matter…from sub-atomic particles to the human brain. So, what is consciousness? Neuroscientists and philosophers talk about the 'easy problem' and the 'hard problem' of consciousness. A great number of brain functions such as perception, language, learning and memory can all be explained in terms of natural brain science. This is the easy problem of consciousness. At this level, consciousness is what is called high-road sensory processing. However, Australian philosopher David Chalmers has posed the 'hard problem' of consciousness: how do we explain how a physical system can cause a personal experience of itself? Why don’t brain processes go on 'in the dark' without any subjective quality?

Yet, we all experience self-awareness. And, a large number of meditation masters, throughout the world and in many eras, have studied and reported upon this hard problem.

Not unlike those meditators, when we participate in primal therapy we are experimenting with this mysterious thing called consciousness. We first attend to the thoughts and problems we have. What brings us here? As we hold this question up before our mind's eye (something so common…so simple. Yet, a total mystery!), we then start having feelings about what we’re talking about. At first, we might not even be aware of this. But, our therapist recognizes small changes in physical/emotional affect and brings them to our attention. We’re asked to stop talking about them and to “feel the feeling”. Now we draw our attention into our bodies. There, we might feel a tightness in our throat. Or, we feel our gut begin to signal us. We notice a movement in some part of the body. Etc. Each of these things might be a small artifact of a response we once had during a traumatic incident in our lives. These re-experiencings have been happening to us unconsciously for years, causing us to be uncomfortable and afraid, without our knowing why. We then act out, in response to those feelings. This distorts present interactions. Now, primal therapy presents the opportunity to bring these things into the light of our awareness. We are watching them occur. Staying with this activity allows the traumatic information they contain to enter the high road of sensory processing (consciousness), where that information can be examined against real time events. If nothing is happening in real time to warrant the emergence of that activity, the brain shuts the primitive response off…we stop feeling it. The previous discomfort and fear begin to dissipate. A connection, or primal happened. A piece of useless traumatic information got shut down. A little of the energy that was driving our neurotic fears dissipates. In this way we begin to heal, incrementally.

The rare opportunity that primal therapy presents us with should not be underestimated. For those of us who have been traumatized, our emotional lives have been stunted. Our unconscious fear reactions....the physical evidence of our trauma.…prevent us from living self-actualized lives. Primal therapy is a call to examine that evidence, thereby dis-assembling the energy blockages that are preventing our growth.

I call this opportunity rare because, more and more, we are dominated by a mental health system that ignores the importance of the personal quest. Instead, it confuses the numbing of our distress with emotional wellness. Numbing down our distress and personal growth can be diametrically opposed to one another. As in all symptom management there is little curiosity as to what’s causing the symptoms. Yet, processing the information that is trapped in those symptoms is the way out of emotional distress and frees us to travel the road of self-actualization. How different that is to medicating our distress, so we can be more comfortable while "smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo."

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