Now, let us look at how a Primal Therapy session is supposed to work.
A patient comes in for his session feeling anxious and not knowing why. “What does it feel like?” we ask. He doesn’t know. It is all agitated and “jumpy” and cannot sit still. And here we do not make any effort to get him into a feeling. We spend a lot of time just on understanding the feeling: when it is worse, how it affects work and sleep, etc. What it feels like. He cries a bit and we let it happen; he is overwrought. We embed the current feelings solidly before we travel back in time and deeper in the brain. The present becomes the platform from which we work. We want to establish as much as we can in the present and embed the feeling in the present. No going back right away unless the patient leads us there. But we want to take easy steps with the feeling going back to childhood later on, and in each stage settle the feeling deeper. The patient begins to feel more deeply; this can go on for many months and then, after a year or more the feelings will take him down to first line if there is a traumatic first line, and if the feelings are very disturbing. It is not always necessary. Then the patient may alternate first- and second- line events for reliving which get deeper and more powerful over time. We keep the pace even and not too overwhelming; otherwise we get abreaction due to overload. It is an ordered process as much as that is possible. We help keep him on track when he diverts from the beginning feeling so he doesn’t get grooved into a new channel of feeling. That is our skill, knowing when and how to keep patients on track. We follow evolution in reverse at all times.
Remember, each level of consciousness is an entity unto itself. If someone is reliving something emotional and then begins birth movements, it means to us that there is intrusion from another level; it may be that it is a defense against too strong emotions. And of course, if any words leak out we know it is not a preverbal imprint we are working with, another sign of abreaction. Similarly, if the patient doesn’t have her feet and arms in a specific position during a first-line Primal, we know it is abreaction. Defenses are tricky and we need a long training to pick them up correctly. In Primal Therapy we make it safe not to block pain. Since each higher brain level elaborates the same sensation/feeling/need differently, we can ride the top level down and it will eventually take us to the bottom—to origins. Once down there, the system on its own will move upward toward connection automatically, following the paths of evolution for connection. That is, we then move back up toward the right orbitofrontal cortex, around the orbits of the eyes, and then to the left prefrontal cortex for final connection.
How do we go back in time? Good question and the answer is simple. We don’t deliberately decide to go back and visit our early lives; that is a recipe for abreaction. We cannot engage the higher- level cortex; we must disengage from it. Cede to feelings. And that is our scientific mission: to provide access to feelings and let the whole organism proceed in an ordered, slow descent into the deep unconscious. As odd as that seems, feelings are the vehicle that take us where we need to go. Deep feeling has little restraint and flows effortlessly. There is no such thing as trying to have a deep feeling; it flows and pours like the well-known salt.
Again, it is not for the therapist to determine what the patient should feel. Our system has a biologic sensor that knows not only where we have to go in the past, but also how far, and above all, when. During therapy, when the body temp reaches a low of 96 degrees it often means that there is a first-line component. The patient has touched on the brainstem part of the feeling and therefore it drops inordinately. So the patient feels depressed and his vital signs indicate that he is close to the original imprint. Otherwise, we would not get such low readings early in therapy. This physiological reaction gives us a clue about the beginnings of depression. Some life-and-death threat during womb-life forced the system to a last- ditch defense to conserve energy. All systems slowed down and went into energy conservation mode. Worse, that mode gets stamped in. Then we spend a lifetime depressed and have no idea why. To end depression – notice, I did not say “to treat” depression – we must address those origins fully. It means going back a long way. In our therapy, we have patients reliving remote deep pains, those with no words nor tears, and we see it over decades.
In Primal Therapy, we seek access to those deep recesses of the brain, where ultimate healing lies. First-line is always more powerful than later imprints; so the insights that flow from first-line feelings are widely encompassing because they are the basis for so much later behavior. There are fewer words in these insights to match the preverbal pains that give rise to the insights. But they have weight and importance. Reliving on the brainstem level means complete connection as the driving force of impulses are experienced at last. We connect, in short, on the level of the trauma and in that context only. Here we are dealing with the shark brain: no shouts, no words and no tears. Evolution has taken over. It means the patient has gone back in time and is living again what went on decades before. Then it was too overwhelming for a naïve and fragile brain to integrate. Now, perhaps, he is ready for it. This is the true meaning of facing yourself and accepting yourself; not in the booga-booga, new- age sense but in the biologic evolutionary meaning of it where the feeling is now integrated into the physical system. It is ego syntonic. (Excuse my use of old Dr. Freud for this contribution he made which expresses exactly what I mean to say.) As the reliving goes on, the feeling is fully integrated and there is a continued drop in vital signs, arriving below baseline. The body temperature lowers to real normal, rather than “average” normal. In this sense, “integration” is a new biologic state where the whole system can re-regulate itself. Blood pressure drops and heart rate slows.
But a word of warning: vital signs are a symptom, not the problem. Treating the symptom alone is a mistake, one that can make matters worse. So when doctors see someone with very low vital signs, they look around for a good diagnosis. They work on his blood pressure, for example, in a medical effort to “normalize” it without understanding that the patient is already in his normal, life- saving mode. In Primal Therapy, we do nothing to address vital signs directly. We work to change the whole neurobiological system by addressing the repressed pain which vital signs only reflect. The difference is between a temporary effort, which has to be repeated into infinity, versus a basic biologic change which lasts.