The Primal Mind

Exploring the primal roots of mental health

Archive for the ‘Bruce’s posts’ Category

Addiction: It’s Not about the Brain

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by Bruce Wilson

Two items crossed my attention this week, both of them related to addiction.

The first was a WSJ article about a study looking at the adolescent brain: “Are Some Teenagers Wired for Addiction?” Using fMRI, the researchers identified a particular pattern of neural activity in teens who had a tendency to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Specifically, these teens had lower activity in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), a region that mediates impulsive behavior. (More on the OFC in a future post.) The implication is that faulty OFC activity causes poor impulse control which in turn causes kids to become easily addicted. A different pattern of faulty networks was found in kids with ADHD, also related to impulse control. In other words, the brain is the problem.

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May 2nd, 2012 at 9:47 am

Abreaction Part 2: Abreaction vs Connected Feeling – What’s the Difference?

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by Bruce Wilson

In my last post, I described the history of abreaction and why it was abandoned in mainstream psychotherapy. But modern therapists who model their treatment on primal therapy often facilitate abreaction without even knowing it. They may encourage an anything-goes approach to feeling, allowing the client to go wherever they will without intervention.

The result can be an undetected slide into abreaction because it’s often easier to feel something out of context rather than face the original feeling that was triggered in the session. I asked France Janov of The Arthur Janov Primal Center to describe abreaction and how it differs from a connected feeling. She explains it as follows:

Abreaction is an emotional release that looks like a feeling, sometime sounds like a feeling, but isn’t a feeling. It is the discharge of a  feeling, disconnected from its source, making it in fact a defense or reinforcing a defense.  It can be the release of a feeling from one level of consciousness into another level of consciousness – for example, first line into third line, or first line disconnected from any other level, taking on a life of its own to the exclusion of any other levels.

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March 6th, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Abreaction Part I: What it is and why it was abandoned in psychotherapy

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by Bruce Wilson

Looking at the state of psychotherapy today, one might be forgiven for thinking that it’s always been about talking, analysis, and cognition. Psychoanalysis is focused on…well…analysis—examination, interpretation, and explanation with words upon words upon words, but it wasn’t always that way.

Before there was psychoanalysis, there was “cathartic therapy.” Freud and Breuer experimented with catharsis after being influenced by German philosopher, Jakob Bernays, who advocated Aristotelian catharsis in medical treatment. They called it  abreaction — “to react away or to react off…. the act of giving vent in speech and action to repressed experiences, and thereby disburdening one’s self of their unconscious influences.”

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November 28th, 2011 at 12:01 pm

“I’ll have a cup of enlightenment, please.” “Will that be with or without feelings, sir?”

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by Bruce

If you follow Art Janov’s blog, you may have read his scathing essay on mindfulness therapy. While I agree with his basic argument—that mindfulness therapy is too often a form of mindLESSness therapy—I’d like to provide a broader perspective. In short, mindfulness is not all that bad if you use it to be mindful of feelings, rather than detach from them.

Mindfulness meditation is the current zeitgeist in psychotherapy. Not surprisingly, it fits hand-in-hand with the other dominant therapeutic modality: cognitive behavioral therapy. In fact, there is now a hybrid of the two called MBCT – mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Both techniques are based on the same mechanism—detachment from feelings and thoughts. The “how” of mindfulness meditation can be summed up simply: sit still for 30 or 40 minutes, keep your eyes slightly open, follow your breath, and pay attention to whatever is going on in your mind and body but don’t do anything about it. Just sit there. When you catch your thoughts drifting, get back to the breath. There are variations on this theme, such as walking meditation and meditation while doing yoga or manual work. In a word, meditation is about paying attention. Be here now! Nothing more, nothing less.

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October 24th, 2011 at 3:25 pm

If you have to ask, you’ll never know.

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by Bruce Wilson

I’ve often told Arthur Janov that primal therapy needs good evidence from well-designed outcome studies before the psychological community will accept it as a valid therapy. I tell him this is the only way his colleagues will come to believe that the therapy works. His response is usually something like, “they won’t believe it even if you prove it to them. With scientists, the distance from the left brain to the right cannot be crossed.”

In a way, he’s correct. To those of us who have allowed ourselves to let go and drop deeply into feelings without inhibition or control, the concept of “feeling” takes on a whole new meaning. From that point forward, the common notion of feeling held by most psychologists is revealed as a pale facsimile of the real thing. Rather, it is only the tip of the iceberg, the bare beginning of what’s needed to connect with our deepest selves and reclaim our birthright as fully feeling human beings. And as Janov repeatedly reminds us, this process must be done slowly and carefully, with a constant focus on insight and connection, otherwise we can get easily get lost in empty catharsis with few insights or bizarre ideation. Janov calls this “abreaction.”

To psychologists who haven’t gone deeply into their own feelings, this is terra incognita. Most consider deep feeling as dangerous – something to avoid lest it “retraumatize” the client. Even the most well-meaning of therapists who say their approach is “all about feelings” miss the point. The loss of control needed to descend to the level at which the trauma occurred cannot be avoided. Without it, you remain at a distance, apart from the trauma. You must go into the center of the pain to resolve it, and when done properly, the pain dissolves into feeling and the insights flow. Left brain and right brain connect to create a wholly functional, feeling being.

But in today’s trauma therapy, the client is usually led part-way into the pain whereupon the therapist intervenes with advice on how to “appraise” the feeling. The cognitive brain stays firmly in control while the feeling is observed from afar, as though on a stage. A variation of this is EMDR – eye movement desensitization therapy – where the client witnesses the trauma from afar, as though in hypnosis, and then talks about it. She remains detached from her pain because to go deeper into it risks retraumatization.

And herein lies the difficulty in encouraging the scientific community to consider primal therapy seriously: unless you’ve been there and dropped to that level yourself, the concept of primal feeling is foreign and usually confused with loud screaming, crying, venting, flailing or flopping about, or some other display of extreme emotion, but with no understanding of what is happening on the inside. More often than not, deep feeling is avoided because most if not all psychologists have some degree of past trauma they are defending against. They may have touched on it in talk therapy, cried about it even, but very few have let themselves go to the depths because after all, it is painful, and most talk therapy situations don’t allow full expression of feelings, lest it disturb their professional neighbours. Also, later trauma often connects to earlier trauma underneath, a phenomenon Janov refers to as the chain of pain. There is a general fear of losing control, despite the fact that primal therapy has mapped this territory well over its forty plus years of development.

This is why the science of primal therapy must be done by researchers who have gone through the primal process, preferably all the way through therapist training. Otherwise, there will always be the question, “just what are primal feelings?” And as Louis Armstrong said when someone asked him what jazz was, “if you have to ask, you’ll never know.”

 

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June 25th, 2011 at 7:52 pm

The Dalai Lama had a kind mother

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by Bruce Wilson

The Dalai Lama is often held up as an example of what human beings can be: kind, loving, compassionate, even in the face of adversity. One of the reasons he is so healthy is because he had a loving mother.

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May 31st, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Why Past Life Therapy is Not Primal Therapy

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by Bruce Wilson

On a previous post, I was asked why I neglect “past lives” in my discussions of primal therapy. The short answer is that I am not convinced that past lives or past life memories are real. If someone were to produce convincing evidence for this, I might change my tune, but the evidence would have to be extremely powerful and incontrovertible.

In scientific terms, the claim for past lives is extraordinary, and as Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I’m not saying I am certain that past lives don’t exist, only that the current evidence doesn’t support the idea. In fact, psychiatrists highly dedicated to the scientific method have produced suggestive evidence to support past life phenomena, but its relevance to psychotherapy is questionable. I explain why below. Read the rest of this entry »

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May 21st, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Primal Therapy and the Limits of Science

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by Bruce Wilson

A comment I hear frequently is that primal therapy can never be proven by science. As Phil states in his comment to my last post:

“…the actual practice of primal therapy can never really be scientific, in my opinion. How could it be when it is based on feelings? Adding blood pressure measurements and brain wave readings might help a little, but not much. What is critical is what the therapist says and does, and has the patient say or do. That can’t be scientific, I am afraid. It is based on feelings and intuitions on what will work or not work, based on experience and the degree to which a therapist has done his or her own feeling work.” Read the rest of this entry »

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May 11th, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Primal Therapy on the World Stage!

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by Bruce Wilson

Today, Peter flies off to Athens, Greece, where on May 18 he will present a talk on primal therapy to an international audience of psychiatrists and psychologists. The title of his talk is:

Primal Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapies, and the Early Life Determinants of Mental Health

The conference is the:

16th International Conference of the Association of Psychology and Psychiatry for Adults and Children

At this point, it’s unclear whether Peter’s presentation will be recorded, but we look forward to hearing all about it on his return.

Good luck, Peter!

 

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May 9th, 2011 at 10:46 am

Baloney Detection Kit

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by Bruce Wilson

While doing some research on science versus pseudoscience, I ran across this great video: Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine talking about the ideal baloney detection kit – science. Ask yourself as you view this, are these principles being applied to primal therapy?

 

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May 7th, 2011 at 3:52 pm