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Primal Therapy, Facilitation, and Aletha Solter

Updated: Apr 30

Aletha Solter is a Swiss developmental psychologist who studied with Jean Piaget.  She specializes in human attachment theory and trauma in children.  She has this to say:


“Not all crying is an indication of an immediate need or want.  Much of it is a natural stress- release mechanism that allows children to heal from the effects of frightening or frustrating experiences that have occurred previously.  Children use tears and tantrums to resolve trauma and release tension.  It is therefore not the caretaker’s job to stop the crying and raging, because these behaviors are, in themselves, basic needs from birth on.   [And] [i]t is best if babies and children who cry are never ignored.  Their cries should always receive a nurturing response.” (1)


This insight acknowledges the existence of Arthur Janov’s imprint.  The imprint contains “…the effects of frightening or frustrating experiences that have occurred previously”.  It is a complex, fear conditioned “feeling” memory, which is formed out of the unconscious survival reactions of unprocessed traumatic experience.  Whenever a traumatic event occurs, it takes 6 hours for the trauma responses to consolidate into long-term “embodied” memories that are, thereafter, subject to recall.  The recall results in the physical recreation of the original fear response.  And, it is this re-experiencing that results in seemingly disordered behavior.  Why is the behavior disordered?  Because the person is responding to self-initiated stress, rather than to whatever is happening in her immediate environment.  This is how unprocessed trauma creates a psychological breach between a person and his environment.


Just as a secure attachment ordered parent would attend to their child in distress...  just as they would sit with them until the crying and tantrums were witnessed and resolved, a primal therapist sits with the client and helps them witness the emerging effects of their previous trauma.  Rather than trying to suppress these natural reactions to trauma (perhaps by getting them to talk about their pain) we offer tools that serve to facilitate and expand the naturally emerging imprint.  This encouragement is subtle and non-intrusive.  The therapist must keep out of the way of the emerging imprint.  Only then can the client’s body demonstrate the effects of its traumatic experience. The demonstration gets witnessed for the first time by the client and facilitator.  In this way, our unconsciously expressed survival reactions become conscious.


For example:  you are processing an emotion in therapy and report that you cannot breathe. Your throat is constricting.  Yet, there is plenty of air in the room and you are not choking on anything.  In this case, you are experiencing a feeling memory rather than responding to what is actually happening in real time.  You don’t know this until the feeling becomes conscious.  Once the cortex becomes aware of these emerging trauma responses and collates them with real-time events, it adjusts these erroneous responses by shutting them down.  The nervous system has now neutralized one piece of the trauma related imprint, thereby permanently and proportionally decreasing the energy content of the present act out.

 

(1)   A. Solter, Tears and Tantrums: what to do when babies and children cry.   2nd edition.  (Goleta, CA:  Shining Star Press, 1998), P5.

 

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