Let us use an example. A young man does everything he can think of to please his therapist. He tries to be an exemplary patient, admits readily to all resistances, produces insights with great mental clarity, shows concern for the therapist's own feelings, finishes early to avoid being boring, and so on. Clearly there is an underlying feeling. Now therapist and patient could sit and discuss what is going on between them. They could even uncover the fact that the young fellow never could please his father and is, through his relationship with the therapist, still struggling (symbolically) for parental blessing. Further, the young man might wind up with insight into his relationships with men in positions of authority.
From the Primal perspective, however, we feel that he has still only shaved the issue. His behavior represents an act out of a need. Until it is felt no amount of insight is going to eradicate the motivating force behind it.
In Primal Therapy we may use a head-on confrontation of the behavior. "You seem to want to please me and impress me," the therapist might say. Since the therapist has so openly put his finger on the sore truth, the patient might admit it with words like, "Yes, I want you to think I'm a good patient." The next step depends largely upon the patient, but one course open to the Primal Therapist is to request that the patient say exactly what he does want from the therapist. He would be encouraged to use words that really express the pleading displayed in his behavior: "Please think I'm a good patient. Please think I'm a good boy. See how much I do for you. Give me a word of praise. Say you see how much I do just to please you. Please like me." And so on. The therapist doesn't choose the words. The patient finds the ones which help to evoke what he is already feeling. And the words usually become that of a young child as does the tone of voice.
This type of direct speech serves a number of purposes. It gives direct, succinct focus to the feeling, expressing it without distance or elaboration. It enhances vulnerability to the feeling and thereby helps to diminish the time barriers. The patient finds himself a child pleading for love. The time dissolve is not complete but it has begun. Often at this point the patient is swept into deeper feeling (which means deeper into his past), without any additional interaction with the therapist, who now sits back and watches quietly. At other times the dissolve into the past can only occur after steady probing by the therapist. "Who did you want to please so much?" might be asked, along with similar questions which lead to previous experience.
Through his response to the therapist the patient now may find his father clearly and vividly in his mind's eye. The symbol (the therapist) has faded into the real person. The Pain and need previously transferred onto the present is returned to its original target. It is no longer the therapist the young man is trying to please, but his father. He is right back in the old situation. His body and mind are beginning to respond with all the reactions he sat on for so long and which he rechanneled into a never-ending struggle to please.
At some point it may be appropriate for the therapist to interject an instruction for him to speak directly to his father. "Tell him what you need," might be suggested. With the emotion welling inside him, the patient speaks to his father. "Please see how good I am, Daddy." He might repeat it, or try several different ways of saying it, as the feeling moves him. The feeling will put the words into his mouth if he gives into it. He will not have to search for words. They will literally come to him, riding on the waves of Pain which now engulf him. "Daddy I need you, can't you see. Please love me Daddy, please." There is a simple, heart-wrenching quality to the expressions of grief which rush through and out of him. This finding of the real voice can be one of the most moving events to observe.
I do not suggest that one such experience will cure transference. The needs which promote and sustain it are strong; they have been there a lifetime, embedded in the body and bound by defenses of all kinds. But this "inside-out" experience of the underlying Pain does in time fade the filter of symbolism so that the patient comes to see the therapist much more as he really is.
It is not the place of the therapist to provide any corrective emotional experience. He is there to help the person liberate his own innate corrective processes. Sometimes it is helpful if the therapist reveals an aspect of his own life. For example, one therapist tells of a patient who was recounting how he never did anything with his father. The therapist remarked how much it had meant to him that his own father had often taken him to baseball games. This contrast opened some inner door; the patient broke into tears and was able to feel his own loss.
Does this mean that a Primal Therapist be himself totally? Obviously not. The session does not have the equality of a social setting. The therapist implicitly agrees to keep his personal business out of the way. He agrees to be there for the patient, using his skills, sensitivity, and the intuition honed through his own Primal experiences to help. In real life there are no guarantees against being exploited or threatened by the reactions of others. The formality of the therapeutic setting provides those guarantees. Knowing that there is someone competent in charge makes it safe to give in, be little, and feel the Pain of a suffering child.
The authentic corrective experience is the correct experience. It means a "matching up" takes place on all levels of consciousness. Thought, emotion, and sensation realign, not separately but wholly and simultaneously. The patient now not only thinks he needs a father to love him, he feels it and succumbs to the sensations which are inherent in that feeling. This is the vital point. He is not just aware of the sensations, nor simply made uncomfortable by them, he is overtaken by them. Sensation and cognition meet at the point of emotion.
In sum, modern analysis departs from traditional methods in several basic ways:
- Although early life experience and repression of trauma are seen as causative of ongoing psychological conflict, therapy is centered around the patient's functioning in current life situations.
- The neo-Freudians downplay Freud's theories on infantile sexuality and libidinal drives while focusing on the patient's present intellectual (ego) defenses, interpersonal relationships, and particularly on his interaction with the therapist, which is seen as the key to providing a "corrective emotional experience."
- A therapeutic course is typically much shorter, because a) it aims for observable change in "adjusting" to current circumstances, and b) much of the past, and particularly repressed experiences, are excluded from therapy.
- There is less free association and more "directed talking." The neo-Freudian therapist is more active in guiding and evaluating the patient's thoughts and words and in supplying "insights."
- Therapists are more apt to encourage patients to explore what they feel, but only up to a certain point. Freud and early post-Freudian theorists better saw the importance of both uncovering "forgotten" memories and of permitting memory's feeling component to surface simultaneously.
Thus, like hypnosis and traditional analysis but in contrast to Primal Therapy, modern analysis is non-dialectic and non-curative. Analysts do not see that it is in feeling utter, abject hopelessness that the patient can finally achieve real hope for himself. That in feeling his fears he can become courageous, in feeling rejected he will no longer have to isolate himself. In feeling small he can finally grow up and leave the past behind.