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?
Baron-Cohen says that our view of cruel people as “evil” is misguided and rooted in obsolete, theological notions of morality. In an interview with the Guardian, he explains that people who are cruel have a low capacity for empathy because of genetic makeup and early childhood experiences. Cruel people tend to have had an insecure attachment in infancy, now recognized as a critical factor in the human development of empathy. Continue reading “Can empathy be learned?”
The main purpose of this blog is to discuss the science of primal therapy, but I want to address a question that goes beyond science: is primal therapy compatible with spirituality and is spiritual practice compatible with primal?
First, let’s define those amorphous terms, “spiritual” and “spirituality.” To scientific skeptics, they often elicit a gag reflex. At worst, spirituality is condemned as “woo,” at best, it’s put in scare quotes, held it at a distance like some stinking, dead animal with comments like, “just what the hell is ‘spirituality’?” Check out the many blogs and websites devoted to skepticism and you’ll see that spirituality is usually equated with religion, God (or Satan), magic, the occult, mysticism, new age, ghosts, souls, spirits, fairies, angels, or a number of other supernatural concepts, and often scorned as “woo,” “spooky stuff” or worse. In my former life as a hard scientific skeptic, I had this same response, and I admit, I still have a visceral revulsion to the words, “religion” and “religious.” Continue reading “Primal Therapy and Spirituality”
What is science? A simple definition is offered by George Orwell in his essay by that name. He defines science is either: “(a) an exact science, such as chemistry, physics, etc. or (b) a method of thought which obtains verifiable results by reasoning logically from observed fact.”
By this simple definition, primal therapy might be defined as a science. Arthur Janov developed his theory through observed facts by watching his patients descend into deep feelings, gain insights, and get better. He then reasoned logically from those facts and developed a therapy that obtained verifiable results. He then went further to find supportive evidence for his theory from physiology and neurobiology, both exact sciences (or close enough to it). Throughout this process, he developed a theory of mental illness based on early life trauma and a conclusion that primal therapy can be the one and only “cure for neurosis.”
Critics have lambasted primal therapy for being pseudoscientific. In fact, much of criticism on the site I mentioned in my previous post is aimed at “debunking” the therapy as a pseudoscience. But Arthur Janov often states that primal therapy is “the first science of psychotherapy.”
So who is right? Let’s start with a brief primer on science vs pseudoscience.
Anyone searching online for information about primal therapy may have come across a website purporting to “debunk” the therapy. This is an elaborate site with many pages consisting of arguments drawn from clinical psychology, philosophy of science, and the rules of critical thinking, all aimed to expose primal therapy as a pseudoscientific fraud. (As a science writer, I have nothing against critical thinking, but I do object to its improper use as demonstrated on that website.) The author is an insider, an ex-trainee at the Janov Primal Center, so he has a patina of authority that sets him apart from ignorant critics such as Martin Gardner, who wrote a horribly misinformed article in the Skeptical Inquirer called, Primal Therapy: A Persistent New Age Therapy. Despite that, the author cites Gardner’s article in his section, “articles exposing primal therapy” along with other misinformed or irrelevant books and articles, many of which have nothing to do with primal therapy. (The author of the website writes anonymously, so I will called him LP to preserve his identity.)
Isaac Newton, one of the most celebrated scientists of all time, once remarked that he could see far because he was, “standing on the shoulders of giants.” In the same way, Arthur Janov’s ground-breaking approach to psychotherapy, primal therapy, combines some of the most important elements of his predecessors while providing a deeper and more complete theory of the healing process.
This became clear to me as I was reading the second edition of Louis Cozolino’s invaluable book, The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy.
There are a number of serious problems with your characterization of primal therapy, but I will discuss only the most serious one. The author claims that a “major flaw” with primal “is that studies have cast doubt on the existence of deeply repressed memories.” The truth is the exact opposite.
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.