Tuesday, July 26, 2016

On the Difference Between Abreaction and Feeling (Part 1/15)

This is the first of a series of 15 articles I wrote on the difference between abreaction and feeling in therapy. It is a crucial point in Primal Therapy.

 The ability to distinguish between abreaction and a genuine feeling is an essential skill of good Primal Therapy. The difference between the two is stark, but in practice it still can be deceiving. Feeling is the key to cure, while with abreaction there is no chance of getting well. Yet, despite this crucial difference, the therapist is often unaware of what is going on, and certainly the patient is equally unaware. The insidious part is that abreaction feels like a primal, looks like a primal and smells like a primal, but is far from a genuine Primal. In clinical terms, abreaction is "the devil" because it doesn't allow patients to get better. They remain forever "prisoners of their pain" in an abominable, endless loop of hurt and hopelessness. Once abreaction sets in, it becomes a neurosis on top of another neurosis. And it is unshakeable. It takes months to even try to undo it. The danger cannot be overstated. We have now seen many patients who have gone to mock primal therapy and are stuck so badly in abreaction that it is almost impossible to extricate them from it. If left unchecked, abreaction can even lead to pre-psychosis and psychosis.

 It is the job of the therapist to distinguish between abreaction and real feeling. To some extent, that is a skill based on the instincts of a trained clinician and acquired by experience. For some patients who are mired in abreaction, that skill can mean the difference between successful therapy and staying stuck in mock primals that lead nowhere. The good news is that there are also scientific ways to know the difference. We can often tell how if a real feeling has been resolved by changes in cortisol levels, vital signs and other biochemical indicators.

 First, to avoid confusion, a definition is in order. Within Primal Therapy, the term “abreaction” means something quite different from its original meaning within Freudian psychoanalysis. In this psychoanalytic sense, abreaction is simply defined as the process of releasing repressed emotions by reliving an old traumatic experience(1). On the face of it, that classic definition is close to what we would call a Primal, although true “reliving” in our therapy is far beyond what Freud had imagined. In Primal terms, abreaction has nothing to do with any genuine reliving experience. On the contrary, for us abreaction is destructive to any feeling therapy because it becomes a defense against real feeling, as I shall explain in detail shortly.

 I must emphasize that abreaction is a non-feeling event. It looks like feeling, often to both the patient and therapist, but there is a qualitative difference. It produces awareness without consciousness, a difference I shall explore in detail in a moment. To a well-trained therapist there is a hollow ring to abreaction. It doesn’t “smell” right. A patient may unconsciously use abreaction as a defense against feeling, slipping into crying the minute she lies down, or simulating a birth primal. The key difference between abreaction and a true Primal, of course, is connection, which takes place in a Primal but never in abreaction.

 Before we delve into this, however, let me briefly review some of the basic principles of Primal Therapy. These theoretical cornerstones provide the framework needed to understand abreaction as a deviation from a successful coarse of treatment.

(1): Gordon Marshall. "abreaction." A Dictionary of Sociology. 1998. Encyclopedia.com. (July 2, 2015).http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O88-abreaction.html


  1. Hello Art!

    So an abreaction occurs when someone ignores hatred in their process of primal therapy. I mean if someone is with the birth process long before the road is cleared of what for example hatred is an obstacle... so one will not succeed in their therapy?

    your Frank

    1. Frank, It is a long piece, read it all and you will find answers. art

    2. Art Sorry... I find it very difficult to wait... so I'm looking forward!

      So an abreaction occurs at the gene level! To access it... we have to work our way through the consequences for it. And that means how neurotic behavior is a consequence of abreaction... which is the beginning of primal therapy as a healing process.

      The process of abreaction was developed physically to protect our lives... which made us to avoid painful memories which also is a result of hatred as a consequence of its process when it gets too close of its cause... a reaction from abreaction.

      Much has happened physically... if not it all... impossible to understand without living the process... at least with only thoughts available.

      When I live my shyness... and do not understand why... it is what I intended to understand. But although I understand why... it is far from the intensity of experiencing it as abreaction took place physically... an genetic code for life.

      Your Frank.

    3. if they would offer me an epigenetic cure for shyness, i would be tempted )). maybe the one for anxiety would do the job.


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“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
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Quotes for "Life Before Birth"

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Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University

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In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
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An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System

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His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
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