by Bruce Wilson
On November 15, the LA Times published an article on “four psychology fads,” one of which was primal therapy. In typical fashion, the journalist reported the same tired old errors about primal therapy that have been around since its creation. Peter and I each wrote a letter to the editor, but the paper didn’t publish them. Here is a longer version of mine. The copy I sent to the Times was cut to 150 words, as per the requirements for letters.
I wish to point out several errors about primal therapy in this article.
First, the journalist cites a 1999 book stating that children are unable to form memories until they are about 8 months old. This applies only to explicit memory and later research shows that it exists in infants as young as 6 months and perhaps earlier.  Implicit memory, on the other hand, starts to develop in the womb. Newborns have been shown to implicitly remember rhymes, vowels, and even language dialects they were exposed to in utero.  Also, there is extensive evidence that neonates remember painful experiences such as circumcision. [3, 4] It takes no stretch to conclude that implicit, emotional memories of early life trauma may be recalled later in life. These are exactly the emotional memories that primal therapy accesses.
Also, the survey of 101 experts consisted of psychologists who obviously had no knowledge of primal therapy.  When asked to assess “primal scream therapy,” more than 95% of respondents indicated they were familiar with it. Of course, there is no such thing as primal scream therapy, so how credible can their assessments be when they don’t even know the correct name of the therapy they are assessing? As Arthur Janov has stated for years, the therapy has nothing to do with screaming. It was the name of a book.
Finally, the many so-called “spin-off” therapies have little or nothing to do primal therapy and are in fact a misuse of techniques used in the therapy, as Janov has frequently stated in his writings.
Admittedly, there is dearth of independent research on primal therapy, but the large body of evidence emerging in the area of prental and perinatal psychology points to the importance of early life experience in adult psychopathology. Janov observed this correlation over thirty years ago in his patients. Rather than misrepresenting the therapy with outdated research and uninformed mental health “experts,” it should be examined intensively with the best scientific tools we have.
This article was a sloppy piece of work and the journalist only discredits himself by failing to do the proper research.
Bruce Wilson, Science & Medical Writer
1. Barr R, Marrot H, Rovee-Collier C. The role of sensory preconditioning in memory retrieval by preverbal infants. Learning and Behavior 2003;31(2):111-123.
2. Lagercrantz H, Changeux JP. Basic consciousness of the newborn. Semin Perinatol. 2010;34(3):201-6.
3. Weber F. Evidence for the need for anaesthesia in the neonate. Best Pract Res Clin Anaesthesiol. 2010;24(3):475-84.
4. Taddio A, Goldbach M, Ipp M, Stevens B, Koren G. Effect of neonatal circumcision on pain responses during vaccination in boys. Lancet. 1995;345(8945):291-2.
5. Norcross JC, Koocher GP, Garofalo A. Discredited Psychological Treatments and Tests: Delphi Poll. Professional Psychology 2006;37(5):515-522.
The Bruce’s letter to the LA Times by The Primal Mind, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada License.