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Primal Therapy and the Medical Model

Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz is a researcher in the field of neuroplasticity and its application to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). His method combines cognitive-behavioral tools and insights gleaned from Buddhist meditation techniques.


He cites evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI , which shows the primitive, defense-related substructures of the brain “lighting up” in the presence of OCD symptoms. fMRI measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow. When a brain area is more active, it consumes more oxygen, so blood flow increases in that area. He assumes from this evidence that a genetic defect [a disease entity] is responsible for activating the defensive subsystems of the brain, causing them to generate “false brain signals”. The signals then force the OCD symptoms. While acknowledging how difficult it is to ignore these signals, he has shown that willfully learning new behaviors, over time, can ultimately create new nerve pathways on which new behaviors can be fashioned, because of brain plasticity.


Fear Memory Integration assumes that fear conditioning, and the chronic activation of the sensorimotor memories it establishes, is the source of the anxiety disorders. The causal argument for the OCD symptoms then becomes this: an environmentally triggered fear memory gets activated, the activation “lights up” the primitive, defense-related substructures, and the re-experienced “false brain signal” (fear memory content) forces the disordered behavior.


Both Schwartz and FMI correctly assume that a faulty brain message is forcing the OCD symptoms, but they differ in the causal assumption of the false message.

We see here, two competing explanations for why the brain structures “light up” in the presence of symptoms…one medical and one naturopathic. Both could be true.


I use one of the scientific and logical principles of Occam’s razor to argue that the naturopathic FMI hypothesis is more logically elegant than that of the medical model. Occam’s principle for choosing among competing arguments is this: that explanations of unknown phenomena be sought first in terms of known quantities.


The science of fear conditioning has been established for over a century. So, a mechanism of explanation already exists for the presence of the “false brain message”. That mechanism is the fear conditioned, sensorimotor memory or Imprint, of traumatic experience. Therefore, there is no need to hypothesize a new ‘faulty genes’ explanation.

Whenever his patients begin to use his techniques to establish healthier behaviors, Schwartz laments about how hard it is for them to ignore the false message in the old behavior. The reason it is so hard is because the false message is related to survival. The messages that trigger anxiety disorders cannot be ignored. They are like alarm clangors. So, it makes more sense to bring that false message under conscious control, using the FMI skillset, rather than attempting to learn a new behavior while the clangors are drowning out all conscious thought. Once the message is processed…once the clangors stop…, it becomes much easier to apply the techniques of cognitive-behavioral therapy.


Both the genetic and Imprint hypotheses of anxiety disorder make us victims to unwanted behaviors. But, the Imprint hypothesis presents the opportunity to become free of this victimhood. Through a strongly intentioned participation in primal therapy, we can begin to permanently neutralize the driving content of the Imprint.

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