When Therapy Becomes a Defence

By Bruce Wilson

So you’ve started into primal therapy. Great. You are diligent with your feelings, you go to group every week and you have frequent individual sessions. When something triggers you, you are first to book a session with a therapist and “go for it” – feel the feelings, get the connections and insights. And week after week, month after month, year after year, you keep it up. Therapy, therapy and more therapy. And yet somehow the old issues don’t seem to resolve.

We are told that some feelings that take a very long time to complete, especially first-line feelings, but if you find yourself getting into the same old jams again and again, if you keep struggling with the boyfriend who erupts in anger and gives you no love, if you keep failing to do what you really want to do, or to get the job that want to get, or find a loving relationship instead of one with endless struggle, and then go back for endless therapy, you might be using the therapy as a defence.

I’ve seen this phenomenon and Arthur Janov wrote about it a long time ago. Primal therapy is about changing your life; it’s not about endless sessions after sessions for years or even decades. But many people can retreat into the “comfort” of primaling instead of changing their life because the latter is harder to do. These people can become “primal junkies,” addicted to therapy as sure as one can get addicted to alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or sex. Things just don’t feel right without your weekly session, your weekly fix. You get antsy; you “need to feel” just like clockwork.

And of course, if that is happening then you are probably not primaling but abreacting. In my abreaction article, I mentioned that one of the signs of abreaction is a life without changes:

If there is a sine qua non of abreaction, it is in the lack of life changes made by the person abreacting. Abreaction keeps you “stuck” –  no ventures are made, no risks are taken, no changes in jobs or career, no “going for it” in a real, healthy, meaningful way. Instead, one remains a prisoner of their pain, always reacting to circumstances, always triggered, always needing to “go down” to feel every few days, and always acting out.

This is not a fault of the therapy; it’s a fault in the way the patient is doing the therapy and a good therapist will catch this and address it, usually by telling you to do what you don’t want to do or what you are reluctant or scared to do. They will tell you to change your behavior and go for life in the way you want. If you want to play a musical instrument, play it. You want to write? Write! Don’t just think about it, and don’t try to be Shakespeare or Dickens on your first try. You will never be ready “someday when I’ve felt enough feelings.” Someday is TODAY. If the therapy is working then you’ll be thrown into a pot of feelings that you’ve been avoiding; the very feelings that have prevented you from doing what you want to do. It’s the primal dialectic. As Janov observed so many years ago, it’s far easier to “feel” another feeling rather than the feeling that is really there. That’s abreaction and it’s very sneaky.

So a little bit of behavioral therapy can help primal therapy go a long way, not by using head trips or conditioning, but by facing up to what you need and want to do and DO IT. A therapist I respect very much once said he would get his male patients who (for example) were scared to call a girl out for a date to do it right then and right there because it would immediately put them into the feelings they needed to feel. I’ve been there, not with arranging a date, but with needing to express to someone that I loved them. Pick up the telephone, get the voice message, and then WHAM! Up come the feelings. “I love you” becomes “I need you.”

So don’t be a primal junkie. Not only does it not work, but it costs a hell of a lot of money on useless therapy.



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The When Therapy Becomes a Defence by The Primal Mind, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada License.

2 Replies to “When Therapy Becomes a Defence”

  1. To elaborate on two of Bruce’s points:

    1. “Therapy, therapy and more therapy. And yet somehow the old issues don’t seem to resolve.”
    True, and most often while SOME issues do get resolved, it’s usually the most painful feelings which are the most difficult to connect with, the ones most likely to use therapy as a defense. And anything, even positive feelings and actions, may be a defense.

    2. And if a person is abreacting, “a good therapist will catch this.” True – but even a good therapist may make a mistake, or misunderstand what is actually going on in another person’s mind. If so, their advice might not always be helpful. But even if a patient thinks that the therapist is wrong, how can he or she be sure?
    That’s because, as Humphrey Bogart (in “The Maltese Falcon”) understood: “It’s not always easy to know what to do.”

  2. I don’t completely agree with some of what you said in your blog Bruce, though you are on the mark with the general idea. There can be good reasons why someone is not making significant changes in there life. One that jumps out at me is if there is very early major trauma(s) holding someone back. For myself I had a large (really really large) amount of paralyzing terror at birth, and until I worked through that major changes where not going to happen. If every cell in my body is screaming don’t do it, who am I to not listen.

    I always thought the idea that, “if you are not making major changes in your life you are not primaling”, must of been thought up by a sympathetic. A parasympathetic would never come up with such a foreign idea. For the assertive type making changes is like falling off a log. It is second nature and done on a pretty much daily basis. It’s easy breezy. For the more passive type it can be a whole different story. I think the reality as to if a person is having connected primals or abreactions is more subtle (and individual).

    A better way of trying to decipher if a person is having connected primals is to ask a few questions. The first and obvious one is simply asking about the primals they have been having. If you get vague generalized descriptions of vague generalized feelings it is a safe bet it is abreaction. The other is ask a simple question, “Do you like the primal process?”. If the answer is yes then you can be pretty sure they are not having connected primals.

    The process really does suck. If someone is really feeling there pain and connecting it is no fun at all. I continued doing it because once I had access to lower levels I couldn’t stop it. Stuff kept coming up and I knew the only way to feel better was to feel it. In that moment it is all instant gratification. The charges attached to a feeling made me feel like crap and the only way to get get rid of it and get on with my life was to blow it off in a primal. Other then that I pretty much would rather be doing anything then having a primal. I never understood the idea of getting addicted to primal therapy. That alone is a sure sign of abreaction.

    The best way to avoid abreaction is to not become a primal person. You have to have something going on outside of the primal process. If you are stuck don’t try harder, walk away from it. Feelings will come when they are ready, and when they are ready you are far less likely to fall into abreaction. In most ways we are saying the same thing Bruce, I am just trying to point out that there are some subtleties that you may be missing.

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