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Both Daniel and Vicki sent me numerous articles and interviews with Vivian with a suggestion to post. I am grateful for their idea and thought this would be a good start. The interviewer was Bill Van Doren who edited our newsletter. Gretchen
BILL – I wanted to ask you what is it you do around here, because most people see you for the initial interview and you’re not that visible in the therapy process afterwards.
VIVIAN – That’s true. Probably the greatest part of what I do is the interviewing. I Interview those people who want therapy, as well as those who have been in therapy six months to a year or more and want to talk about their progress. I also see people who just want to talk about things instead of having a feeling session with a therapist. Otherwise, I just work on the whole patient intake process, handling the applications and helping to make judgments about whom to accept. There are also many facets of the administration I get involved with, helping plan everything concerned with the institute.
BILL – Is it painful to interview prospective patients who you know just aren’t going to be accepted?m
VIVIAN – Yes, that is very bad sometimes, when I’m convinced, for example, that a person is too fragile and too much in need of hospital care. I know that what they need ultimately is Primal Therapy, even though at the moment they come to be interviewed they can’t handle it. And they feel hopeless. I really worry about what’s going to happen to them.
BILL – Are your standards changing, as far as whom you will accept?
VIVIAN – Yes, I think they’ve changed over the years. I think that in the past we excluded a lot more people than we do now, because experience showed us that a lot of people that we took a chance on – and who took a chance on us, succeeded. I can think of a few cases where I actually told people, “This is going to be a gamble, because in our opinion the therapy might work for you and it might not. It’s a fifty-fifty chance. Are you willing?” And in most cases where we made that deal, the people did wonderfully. I t amazed me.
BILL – Is it because they were so close to their pain, do you think?
VIVIAN – Yes, and also because they were able to use some hidden strengths.
BILL – Do you have any idea about what makes the therapy work when it works and what makes it not work when it doesn’t?
VIVIAN – I think it works best when people are in a crisis situation. The crisis could be anything from a divorce, to a death in the family, to a sudden realization that they are just not the person that they want to be. Just having read The Primal Scream can create a crisis for a lot of people. It gives them a gut-ache for two weeks, and they know that someone has pushed the main button.
BILL – And when people don’t make it, is it because they’re in a dead place with nothing going on?
VIVIAN – When people don’t make it? I’m not sure why people don’t make it. There aren’t that many don’t make it, really. I think that everyone in varying degrees does make it. The real question is why does someone make it in a big way, and why does someone make it in a smaller way? I’m not sure, I think it has a lot to do with the original wounds. I mean we don’t all start at the same place. Everyone comes to this therapy in a very different place. There used to be a sort of magical thought that all you had to do was put your body in the Primal Institute and the miracle would happen. But the bodies vary. And a body that has an extreme amount of torture is starting in a different place than someone who has a medium neurotic life.
BILL – So the differences wouldn’t be accounted for by, let’s say, what a person does when he gets up off the floor?
VIVIAN – How you handle your present life is very important. Someone who by habit, whatever training, has decided that the world owes him a living or that things will sort of happen no matter whether he makes an effort of not – those people aren’t too successful.
BILL – I mean it’s not just a matter of feeling is it?
VIVIAN – No, not at all. I think that that’s an early Primal myth. I think we all thought that at the very beginning. The early Primal patients thought, well, feelings will do everything, as I said before, just put your body in the hands of a Primal therapist and nature will take its course. Which is true to some degree, but you have to use the feelings. You have to put your life together. The feelings put some of the pieces of your life together through insight and through connecting why you act in your worst interest now. The feelings help to correct that, but then you’ve got to take the ball and run with it. You’ve got to make your life something worthwhile based on what you know about yourself.
BILL – Do you have an idea what cure means, if it means anything?
VIVIAN – Yes, I have a very good idea of what cure means. I think that what the Primal Institute means by cure, what Primal Therapy affords as a cure is the ability to take care of the crazy, tense, unreal feelings that you have and translate them into real feelings, whether they are old or new. That’s the cure, to take your crazy feelings and behavior and not act them out, but feel what is under them and always have the ability to do that. So the cure is a constant clearing-house of tension and craziness. I keep on using the word “crazy” and I think that psychiatrists historically don’t like that word or all the jargon that people use, but I think that crazy is a good word. I think it doesn’t just mean you’re in a state mental hospital. I think that a lot of very so-called “put together” people do destructive things in their lives. So I’m talking about that kind of crazy behavior, I don’t mean the kind where you’re locked up somewhere.
BILL – So, crazy means that you’re being driven by an old feeling you haven’t connected.
VIVIAN – Right, and just ruining what could be a perfectly good life by being hung up in the past.
BILL – Do you feel that there’s too much emphasis on theory in the Primal literature these days, the first line, second line, third line kind of thing?
VIVIAN – I probably think that more than most people around here. However, I never can put down the value of understanding. I think there are different parts of the therapy appeal to different people. You know, I’ll interview somebody, and I’ll say, “Did you read Primal Man?” And they’ll say, “Oh, just fascinating. I loved reading about the hypothalamus and how the kneebone connects to the thighbone.” But then I’ll interview somebody who’ll say, “I just couldn’t understand a word of that. I’m interested in reading about the case where the guy had the exact same problem I have and how he got through it. That’s what I want to hear about, the practical thing.” I’m sort of in the middle somewhere, I value the theory because it allows us to move ahead. Otherwise, you know, it’s like tennis – you can hit the ball for ten years but if you don’t learn the correct stroke behind it you will never be a good player. And if therapists don’t know the correct strokes behind what they’re doing, then they’ll never be able to be innovative therapists. They’ll just be hitting an odd ball here and there.
BILL – So you’re saying really there are just other areas of the therapy that you would like to see written about in addition to the theory, to kind of balance it out.
VIVIAN – Yes, possibly.
BILL – You interview people who are leaving the Institute, right, who are going off to Saskatchewan or something like that. Is there a common denominator about them? What have they done that enables them to leave the institute?
VIVIAN – I think they leave for various reasons. They should leave because they have learned the process and can do it on their own or with a buddy, a friend, husband, whatever. That is something a lot of people don’t understand. I always explain it to new people, that this is a therapeutic situation but what you are really doing is learning a new way of living. It is like a process of life that you’ve never experienced. No-one in the world who is unaware of Primal thinks, “I will cry about that situation and feel why it hurts me so deeply, from earliest times.”
Most people don’t think that way. Most people think, “I will swallow the pain,” either literally or figuratively; just swallow and turn the other cheek, or literally swallow two valiums. What people have to learn is this new process that doesn’t swallow pain, that expresses pain. I’m really oversimplifying the whole thing in a way, but I really think that’s the bottom line of Primal Therapy, you’re learning another way of living. I think internally all Primal people are different from non-Primal people because our way of life is to go to Pain instead of finding ways to escape it. And that’s what they have to learn to do here. So they’re leaving, I hope, having learned that.
BILL – Do you interview many people who are hanging on, who are staying longer than they should?
VIVIAN – Not many. There is a small percentage of people who feel the comfort of the Institute, and are a little bit afraid to be away. And that, you know, is not so unnatural. Because to go back to everyday surroundings, it is probably hard to find a padded room that is sound-proof and someone who is going to understand when you are pounding on the wall. .
In fact my mother had sent me something funny – clipping from The New York Times. It’s just a little squib. It’s about a man who is walking down Fifth Avenue and suddenly he starts screaming which is not so unusual in New York and everyone turns around and says, “What’s wrong?” I don’t imagine New Yorkers would do that, but the article says they do. And they seem upset and want to cart him away or something, so he turns to everyone and says, “What’s the matter with all of you? Haven’t you ever heard of a Primal scream?” So maybe our influence is spreading farther than we think.
BILL – One hears the term, every now and then. You can see the influence. Do you think that the therapy in the future will become widely accepted or is that an imponderable thing?
VIVIAN – I’ve thought about it a lot. I remember the original person who read the first draft of The Primal Scream, who worked for a book company and who later became a patient. He read the book as a reader for a publisher. He was “turned on” immediately. He left the company in New York, and came to Los Angeles, had the therapy and felt as strongly about it in the therapy as he had after reading the manuscript. And I remember him saying, “Art, someday Primal will be a household word.” But at that time we felt so isolated from the regular community and the psychiatric community I couldn’t even imagine that ever happening.
BILL – Talking about the early days, you’re known as co-developer of the therapy. What was your role? Is there a particular niche or specialization that you had during those days when the whole thing was developed?
VIVIAN – Well, I sort of got drafted into it. The first thing that ever happened, of course, is that Art brought home that tape. I was working as a counselor, a sort of therapist with young people, and Art had this practice with regular neurotic people. He had this group, and one of the boys that I saw as a counselor was in college. He started attending Art’s adult group, and he is the person spoken about in The Primal Scream, whom Art called Danny and who talked about Ortiz, and that thing. So Art taped all his sessions, because that was the way he worked. He always took notes, he always recorded everything as a matter of course. And so he came home and said, “Something extraordinary happened tonight”, and he played it to me. My reaction – partly because it was so extraordinary, was to cry. And I was not used to crying. I said, “That’s unbelievable.” I was not involved with those people yet , as a group. I didn’t work with them. Then Art began developing the theory. I began listening to tapes with him, and I began to feel my feelings because they were being pushed. One night something happened between us, and I started crying, and Art was sitting with me. When I got through he said, “I think you should come to some of the meetings with these people who have been having Primals.
BILL – Was he calling them Primals already?
VIVIAN – I don’t think so. That name did get started soon, but maybe not right then. What they would do is they would all have the experience of having a Primal, either with him or in the group which was very tiny, you know. It seems funny now. Then, because they were so perplexed and excited about what was happening to them and the other people, and they were comparing and talking and there was so much going on, Art began having theoretical discussions with them. “What do you think happened to you today?” Or, “What do you think is happening to so and so?” And he said to me, “You’d better come because it’s starting to happen to you.” Well, when it started happening to me, I started trying to understand it from my point of view and theirs. What I began to realize was that some of those early patients were being too much influenced by each other and by Arthur, intellectually. And I just felt like they were getting a little mystical about it. They were starting to say things like, “That’s the death Primal; that’s the death of the Pain.” And they sort of had the idea there were three Primals. And they had names for them. I mean they were groping around. And naturally so, because no-one knew anything. Months after the first Primal, I began attending some of these discussion groups, and in the middle of one somebody really broke down and started screaming “Mama,” very soulfully, and for the first time I broke down in that group – which sort of changed my position from “big shot therapist” to just one of them. And that, by the way, is one of the hallmarks of Primal Therapy – that all therapists are always patients, that makes all of us keep learning, keep changing with the people we deal with.
I guess I had more courage than they did to say to Art, “You’re wrong, there is no death Primal, and here’s what’s really happening.” In fact I have a tape of that which I am proudly preserving in case there is any doubt. (Laughter.) It’s funny, actually. I was just listening to it for the first time in at least five or six years. I’m saying on the tape, “I’m discovering that there’s more than two or three Pains down there, you know it’s like a whole big storehouse, a big ball of Pain with a lot of different labels on the ball that you just have to keep on hitting.” I said that I visualized it as a ball of Pain with stickpins in it that represented as many scenes, as many Pains as you’ve had in your life, like, “Let me talk, please hold me, don’t spank me,” or whatever. I felt like you had to go to each one of those.
And while I’m listening to this tape the other day, I hear this scratching in the background, and I realize, as always, that Art was taking notes as I was coming out of this Primal. I’m coming out of this Primal, but I’m not just feeling. I sort of always tried to figure out what was happening while I was feeling…
BILL – You were theorist and…
VIVIAN – Right, and patient. And a therapist, probably long before I should have been. I don’t know. We had to be therapists because there was no-one else around. So I did some of that by having Art sit for me when I was having my Primals, and then sitting for him when he started feeling and having a lot of ideas also.
BILL – Ideas that came right out of his feelings, right?
VIVIAN – Right, and other people’s feelings too. I don’t think there was ever a meeting or session or anything that Art didn’t take copious notes. In other word, he always has respected the conclusions that people came to as a result of their feelings, and has always tried to make sense of it. He had thousands of scrawled notes. Pages and pages and pages from any event, from anything. From as session, from a meeting, from his own Primals, from my primals. And that’s how The Primal Scream actually got put together.
BILL – And that’s how it could continually change as it was coming along.
VIVIAN – Exactly. That’s why some things in The Primal Scream may seem different now. But that’s really how it was then. People had this tremendous euphoria from Primalling and believed it would stay. You know, after a very short time they thought, “Well, here I am, one month and I never felt so good in my life.” And they thought, that’s it! I think they were all afraid at the beginning. Everyone was so excited and exhilarated I think they were afraid to burst Art’s balloon by telling him that they were starting to feel bad again after they were supposed to be “cured.”
But because of our relationship, I wasn’t afraid to say, “Hey, this bad feeling just came back and it’s been six months, and I want to scream and cry again.” And so we all began to realize that it isn’t over that quickly. But my own belief now, you know, is like, so what – every time you do feel you’re one step ahead toward being ok. It’s like an active process. You’re not just talking about something and hoping the talking will help. You are actually changing your body all the time. Something real is happening. You know. sometimes I will interview somebody , and they’ll say. “Not too much has happened.” And then I’ll look at their original complaints : heavy allergies, sleeplessness, no satisfaction in sex – all body function things. And I’ll say, “How’s your sex life?” “Oh God, it’s so different, it’s so much better.” So you see their body is changing, but emotionally they’re still in turmoil sometimes, so they don’t realize that they’re changing very much.
Time for a new page ! G.
This page is for comments …..page 2
Over the years I have heard many appalling stories of childhood trauma; for example, children witnessing a parent killing the other parent, relentless alcohol-fuelled beatings and abuse, children locked in dark cupboards and horrendous neglect.
These events are truly horrific and as a result I have found myself asking “ So why am I in therapy? Nothing so shocking or horrific happened to me”.
I now believe this to be an effective defense, this little voice in my head that says “my stories are not important compared to……” Little did I know.
After all, my early childhood appeared idyllic, middle class, ‘privileged’, set in a beautiful, tranquil, unspoiled part of England, I had enough to eat and beloved pets.
My behaviour consisted of being shy, the proverbial good girl, with the occasional act of willfulness (my father’s word) bursting through. As a teenager this all translated into a mix of behaviors. At once silent, sullen and rebellious coupled with neediness and people-pleasing. It wasn’t too long before a new phase of my life began. It consisted of young married life and raising my children . This for some time became my main focus.
Eventually however grandiose thoughts and behaviors began to surface. Looking back I see clearly my impulsiveness and depression. It was all punctuated with a wild phase of drugs, alcohol and nymphomania not to mention an inability to be employed for any length of time and a lack of trust within my relationships. It may be difficult to understand but at the time I was unaware that any of the above might be act outs. From my late teens onward I was ( and still am) a mixture of outgoing and introspective. As a result I did have reflective moments, moments when I realised I was suffering, hurting or fearful as these act outs wove in and out of my everyday life.
These were the clues (ha! ) that lead me to think that all was not so idyllic. Eventually these revelations led to my decision to begin Primal therapy. I grabbed that opportunity about 15 years after reading ”The Feeling Child”.
What began to unfold over time was the true impact of specific events in my life. A very early hospitalisation that I was told about, two subsequent hospitalizations that I vaguely remembered, and being sent to boarding school at seven years old just to name a few. I began to feel and remember that I had experienced terrifying trauma after all…
(Note the various definitions of trauma in a thesaurus…agony; anguish; blow; confusion; damage; injury; ordeal; shock; strain; stress; suffering; torture; upheaval; wound; collapse; derangement; disturbance; hurt; jolt; outburst; upset)
I found that I could name at least 12 of the above definitions that were relevant to me.
…I thought mine was (merely!) the normal middle class somewhat ’subtle’ trauma that results from communication by a myriad of facial expressions, disapproval, some direct anger, sadism, and being sent away to school stood out. This was all true and clearly painful but still I had no real sense as to how deeply damaging it really was.
What has, at times, felt like snail-paced progress created an awareness that “I’m not important” is actually a feeling , a memory and that to eventually feel “not important” in my case means “I am someone who my mummy and daddy did not want”.
Now in my 70’s, I feel I’m a work in progress, still some of the layers have peeled away. Thanks to persistence with Primal, I am more able to realistically look back at my life. I find I have far more access to my memories and the feelings attached to them.
The experiences I have of suffering emerges frequently in the present. They remain profoundly hurtful as I feel pieces of my trauma and with that I gradually become more in touch with the terrifying reality of feeling unwanted and alone.
I’m not diminishing the feelings from my past so readily any more, especially now that with the pain, I can also and often experience moments of real joy, contentment, hilarity, creativity, and receptivity to love.
The following is a personal view of some of Arthur Janov’s ideas. It does not proport to be a survey or an accurate description of his thinking but rather how his ideas were used by me, both personally and professionally. It is my own tribute to the man and his teachings.
When we meet or hear of an arrogant person strutting around, exploiting others, putting people down, singing his own praises, controlling others; or a very suspicious person seeing lies and conspiracies in each and every corner, constantly feeling maligned or exploited by powerful forces beyond his control such as foreigners, the hostile media or Jews; most of us are likely to become moralistic and say something like: “He thinks only of himself”, or “He’s completely paranoid” and “He needs to constantly control others”. It takes a Janov to say: “He has suffered a trauma”, that what we see and experience on the outside is the debris – or some other outcome – of a psychological disaster.
And Arthur Janov didn’t settle for that but went on to describe many of the details of the trauma, the conditions under which it comes about, its lifelong aftermath and, characteristically optimistic, its possible resolution. For this he had to dig deep, sometimes very deep, aided by a special procedure he devised (or as he would have it, stumbled upon). And interestingly, that procedure, the Primal, wasn’t only means by which neurotic resolution can come about but also, just as important, the digging shovel itself, a research tool with which to penetrate as far back as he could reach into the earliest times and origins of the psychic universe, his own giant telescope peering as it were into the endless mental space of which only the arrogant or paranoid tip, now distorted by Pain, is evident in plain sight.
Having defined his theory – like psychoanalysis defined itself – in terms of traumas and their persistence, it is striking to realize (at least for me) that underlying Janov’s focus on correcting the individual human predicament is his implied proposition that man is forever split. And thus, forever lost. Or even, to take that proposition a step further, that to be human is to be split, that this tear in our existence is part of what defines us as human beings. No one, after all, had such a perfect upbringing, such a smooth inner life, that trauma – and hence the tear, the split – is precluded from his or her life. And being split, man – as Janov’s theory articulates and practice aims for – harboursa persistent wish to reunite with his split-off part and heal the tear, to return to and regain the state of being whole, to find his way back to, and through the gates of Pain reenter, the wholesome garden of Eden from which he was once upon a time so traumatically expelled.
For this is something Janov is explicitly – and one might add Americanly – adamant about: the originating point of the split must be sought and reached. The Primal experience may take us to early childhood, but if we find that wholeness is achieved only briefly, that this is not the end of the road, we will use the Primal telescope to look further back into toddlerhood, and then early babyhood and finally even into the pre-natal life of the individual or, by extension and yet further back, the prehistory of humanity. The search for wholeness, in other words, is endless, limitless, bottomless.
For man, according to this implicit view, is divorced not only from his own personal true nature but from Nature itself. It is not surprising, therefore, that every now and then the discussion on this blog veers toward an attempt at finding the root of not only personal pain but of human neurosis in general. Customarily, such discussions land at man’s prehistory, way back when man was supposedly, hopefully, closer to and part of Nature. At that point in time, it is argued, man was whole and even though current men and women – unbearably adult, irretrievably split, tragically lost – cannot but glimpse into or imagine these ancient, pre-split, pre-damage times, they can nevertheless by such historical affiliations sense some connection to, some type of union with, this wholeness.
It is my view that this search for wholeness, rather than its actual attainment, is at the heart of the Janovian oeuvre. It is this endless pursuit of personal truth and meaning, guided by the principles of feeling and emotional life, that allows us to grow and develop. It is not a state (wholeness) we’re after but rather a process. In other words, our primary need in adult life and aim in therapy is not only to exorcise and get rid of Pain in order to complete ourselves, but even more so to develop or regain something – let’s call that something the Feeling Child – so we can encounter our personal truth, process Pain and tolerate and even make use of our incompleteness. Guided, aided and accompanied by the Feeling Child out travels and travails through life, although incomplete, will be richer, more meaningful and more real.
Wholeness, on the other hand, connotes an end, a final stage and state. And, for the sake of exercise, once this presumed but elusive wholeness is secured, where do we go from here? In which direction can we further develop? What will drive us to seek new answers for ourselves? It is almost as if an answer is the question’s worst enemy: as long as a question is unanswered it is alive, every option is potentially available and each course may be taken; but once a final answer is given all roads not taken and options not exercised wither away as does the question itself.
So, to go back to Janov, we can think of the Feeling Child itself as more than merely a state evoking static adjectives such as ‘good’ and ‘whole’ which portray that state as a condition to be in, a ‘place’ to reinhabit: It is also a function of the mind of which expressing feelings is only a part. For example, I think that by emphasizing the emotive part of the Feeling Child we tend to neglect its crucial perceptive function, its astuteness. From this perspective, we must reach and recover a lost capacity to feel because in addition to helping us to express our feelings such a capacity is essential for sensing truth and thus for creating meaning. And because the Feeling Child is first and foremost a sense organ with which we perceive emotional reality, it engenders in us a capacity to deal with and process meaningfully the constant influx of emotional stimuli from without and from within.
In summary, the Felling Child seen as a process rather than a state has three interrelated but distinct functions. These functions, in reverse order of appearance, are: To emote (feelings), to process (emotional stimuli into feelings), to perceive (emotional stimuli). And as can be seen from this description of the Feeling Child as a process, and of course also learned from actual personal and clinical experience, the ability to feel, to express a well delineated feeling, is a developmentand cannot be taken for granted. In each stage something can, and quite often does, go wrong.