Often associated with New Age ideas, a style of feeling-oriented psychotherapy pioneered by the American psychologist Dr. Arthur Janov who claimed it was a "cure for neurosis". His clients were first urged to call out loudly for one or both of their parents, after persistent efforts one of the young men spontaneously threw himself on the floor, screaming and kicking his legs and weeping profusely and crying for his mother. Janov improved his techniques for helping clients come into contact with their deepest emotions until the "primal scream" first came about, a cry from the depths of the heart bringing great catharsis. There are now Primal Therapists practising across the western world. Most who have received the therapy testify to wide reaching changes in their lives and attitudes although there are critics too.
Other schools of psychology may argue that it is in fact the child's peer group rather than parents that play the largest role in character-formation. The Janov approach may overestimate the role of parents. Also the cognitive behavioral mode of psychotherapy emphasises changing beliefs and practices in the present as the most effective means of improving your life, the Janov approach may hark back to the past too much. The therapy hacks into deeper primitive layers of the brain in its evocation of deep emotion and many would argue that these areas are best left unexplored, and that one should focus on strengthening the higher, inhibitory functions.
Many who read the book "The Primal Scream" are strongly attracted to the ideas and "ticket to wholeness" that it purports to offer, but believe that they can achieve results on their own, without a trained therapist. This approach is known as "self-primalling" and is regarded as potentially harmful by Janov, although other splinter groups including the Primal Integration tradition say it is fine. This noder tried it, and it felt great at first - a so-called honeymoon period - where I buzzed with energy and vibrancy, but then it got more painful and less focused... I eventually gave up and moved on.
Janov is founder/director of The Primal Centre in Venice, California and author of several books on the therapy and the ideas:
- The Primal Scream: Primal Therapy, The Cure for Neurosis
- The Anatomy of Mental Illness
- The Primal Revolution
- The Feeling Child- Preventing Neurosis in Children
- Primal Man - The New Consciousness
- Prisoners of Pain
- The New Primal Scream
- Why You Get Sick and How To Get Well