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What Is Primal Psychotherapy?

By Erik J.J. Goserud
Updated May 17, 2024
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Primal psychotherapy broadly describes a popular yet controversial method of psychological treatment. This method is particularly concerned with revisiting past experiences, which are thought to have been suppressed to some degree throughout one's life. This suppression is, according to primal psychotherapy theory, the cause of many psychological troubles.

The goal of primal psychotherapy is to bring back any old thoughts that may have been stowed away for years in a person's mind. The idea behind this is that any type of trauma not addressed can potentially be harmful. By bringing back hidden thoughts or experiences, they can at last be dealt with and hopefully lead the the cessation of psychological pain.

Primal psychotherapy was brought to the forefront of psychological treatments by California-based psychotherapist Arthur Janov. Although controversial, this treatment gained popularity partially due to its acceptance among psychological professionals but also in part due to the celebrity backing it once experienced. Though still popular, lack of scientific-based results have caused many number-based clinicians to veer from utilizing primal psychotherapy.

One of the many difficulties in the field of psychology is the fact that the mind is so subjective in nature. This basically means that many thoughts and feelings are immeasurable, which makes it difficult for therapies in this area to gain legitimacy with number-based scientists. Many scientists and psychologists have cleverly developed methods to semi-quantify the mind, but this lack of pure objectivity will likely plague the science of the mind well into the future.

This subjectivity is one aspect of primal psychotherapy that certainly holds it back. Not only this, but it is also difficult for recipients to articulate their previous or current experiences clearly. A person could be healed, for example, but have a hard time explaining it or realizing this better state after years of mental illness.

To further complicate the issue, people who are mentally ill do not make ideal subjects for study. This is one difficulty with establishing the effectiveness of primal psychotherapy and other psychotherapy methods. A person too confused or traumatized to answer a questionnaire about his or her state of mind is likely not in the best shape to be giving data toward proving scientific effectiveness.

Like other treatment methods of the mind, there are believers and naysayers. Believers range from psychology professionals to celebrities to patients, while naysayers also likely include people from these categories as well. While primal psychotherapy may never be proven effective or deemed a scam, there are plenty of people out there who have benefited from this practice, which in the end, is the goal of any type of emotional support.

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