The Primal Mind

Exploring the primal roots of mental health

Archive for the ‘science’ tag

The Worst Comparitive Psychotherapy Study Ever Published

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by Bruce Wilson

While reading through several newspaper obituaries on Arthur Janov, one name kept coming up over and over: John C. Norcross, professor of psychology at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. According to Norcross, primal therapy is little more than a trendy psychotherapy that arose in the fevered sixties, and Janov was “a classic instance of being the right charismatic therapist at the right time.” And to further demonstrate his ignorance, Dr. Norcross says in the New York Times, “There is no evidence that screaming and catharsis bring long-term emotional relief.”

This comment is repeated again and again in obit after obit, merely parroting the NYT review. But the review also states:

Much of the psychotherapeutic establishment now regards the therapy as marginal. A 2006 article by Dr. Norcross and colleagues in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice reported that their survey of more than 100 “leading mental health professionals” had found primal therapy to be “certainly discredited” — together with treatments including angel therapy, crystal healing, past-lives therapy, future-lives therapy and post-alien-abduction therapy.

“It’s both a discredited theory and treatment in mental health,” Dr. Norcross said. “Today, I look back at it as an unfortunate but understandable product of its time: believing that pure emotional release would prove therapeutic.”

Those are pretty strong words. After all, if you deem something to be “discredited” you should have extensive evidence to back it up, right?

Wrong.

This survey enrolled 101 so-called mental health experts to assess 59 treatments by questionnaire. “Experts” were decided by criteria such as doctorate-level education, fellows of the American Psychological Association (APA) or American Psychological Society (APS), current and former editors of scholarly journals in mental health, members of the APA Presidential Task Force on Evidence-Based Practice, and chairs or editors of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). In other words, no one who had ever practiced primal therapy was included. Overall, 66% of respondents were supporters of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or “eclectic/integrative” therapy. In other words, these “experts” represented the dominant wing of the psychological establishment, which has always been critical of primal therapy and the notion of repressed memory.

The term “discredited” was based on the following criteria:

We operationally define discredited as those unable to consistently generate treatment outcomes (treatments)…beyond that obtained by the passage of time alone, expectancy, base rates, or credible placebo. Discredited subsumes ineffective and detrimental interventions but forms a broader and more inclusive characterization. We are interested in identifying disproven practices.

The criteria for making the discredited ratings were left to the respondents on the basis of “several types of evidence: peer-reviewed controlled research, clinical practice, and/or professional consensus.”

On a scale where 1 =not at all discredited, 2=unlikely discredited, 3=possibly discredited, 4=probably discredited, and 5=certainly discredited, “primal scream therapy” was rated as 4.51, i.e. “probably discredited” and halfway to “certainly discredited.” Primal was regarded as less credible than “standard prefrontal lobotomy for treatment of mental/behavioral disorders (4.44),” “Erhard Seminar Training for treatment of mental/behavioral disorders (4.29),” and “Psychotherapy for the treatment of penis envy (3.60).”

Therapies deemed as “unlikely discredited” included “eye movement and desensization processing (EMDR) (2.88)”, “laughter or humor therapy for treatment of depression (2.83)” (I kid you not!), “psychosocial (nonbehavioral) therapies for ADHD (2.85),” and thought-stopping procedures for ruminations/intrusive worry (2.25).” The only therapy regarded as not at all discredited, by a narrow margin, was “behavior therapy for sex offenders (1.97).”

Echoing the NYT obit, the authors concluded, “experts considered as certainly discredited 14 psychological treatments: angel therapy, use of pyramid structures, orgone therapy, crystal healing, past lives therapy, future lives therapy, treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by alien abduction, rebirthing therapies, color therapy, primal scream, chiropractic manipulation, thought field therapy, standard prefrontal lobotomy, and aroma therapy.”

Stunning ignorance, I know. But take a deep breath.

In all the therapies listed, except the cognitively based therapies, cognitive behavioral therapists were more likely to rate them as discredited. Not only that, but most of these “experts” were not even familiar with many of the treatments. And yet they felt competent to judge them. With regard to “primal scream therapy,” 6% were not familiar with the therapy. Actually, I would say zero percent were familiar with the therapy because it is not called primal scream therapy!

Nowhere is the “evidence” mentioned that substantiates these “expert’” decisions. I assume they just cherry picked whatever papers fit their therapeutic orientation, or perhaps they just gathered around their virtual water cooler and made up that “professional consensus.” As for “primal scream therapy” they had obviously done no research to find out that primal therapy has nothing to do with screaming.

So this is the sort of misinformation about primal therapy that is circulating around the psychological community and the mainstream press. Decades ago, Art Janov decided to distance himself from the mental health establishment for this very reason. Despite his many efforts to convince his colleagues that his therapy worked, he was met with ridicule and outright defamation. Since then, primal therapy has existed on its own, quietly advancing as the decades have passed, and some respected psychologists, physicians, and neuroscientists have come to appreciate its effectiveness: Louis Cozolino, Justin Feinstein, Jaak Panksepp, Paul Thompson, and Gabor Maté, to name a few. And although the therapy still needs to be researched, it will be done without the participation of these “expert” clowns.

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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

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

Toward a True Science of Primal Therapy

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by Bruce Wilson

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.”

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April 22nd, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Is Primal Therapy a Science or is it Pseudoscience?

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by Bruce Wilson

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.

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April 22nd, 2011 at 11:32 am

Debunking the Debunker

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by Bruce Wilson

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.)

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January 29th, 2011 at 8:46 am

Welcome to The Primal Mind

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Welcome to our blog on affective neuroscience and how it can be applied to heal human suffering. We’re just getting warmed up here so be patient – we’ll be posting regularly very soon. In the meantime, mosey on over to the “about” page and learn more about why we are writing this blog.

Peter and I have been friends for forty years and over that entire period we’ve been involved in deep feeling therapy (primal therapy) in an attempt to heal our childhood wounds and open to a more fulfilling, integrated, and feeling life. When we met, each of us was suffering personally and searching for a more authentic, real life in a world that was, and still is, crazy in so many ways.

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