What Is Primal Therapy?

Updated March 07, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault


If you've ever heard the term "Primal Therapy" the image of someone screaming and possibly even expressing rage may be the first image that comes to mind. While this scenario is a possibility of people who are taking part in primal therapy, this body-focused form of mental health therapy doesn't end at screaming and expressing rage. In this article, we discuss the concept of Primal Therapy including - What Primal Therapy is, The Benefits of Primal Therapy, and The Best Candidates for healing using this pain-relief based form of mental health therapy.

Let's start with a definition of what Primal Therapy is.

People who suffer from mental health issues related to childhood trauma.

What Is Primal Therapy

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Primal Therapy is a trauma-based form of therapy that focuses on healing by reliving childhood trauma in order to resolve it. The premise behind primal therapy is that neurosis and negative symptoms of mental health are caused by unresolved early childhood trauma. Primal Therapy practitioners use the empty chair technique to help guide mental health clients through the therapy process. The empty chair technique is based upon expressing anger and other unexpressed emotions at an empty-chair that represents the person or entity responsible for causing the trauma. For example, someone who has experienced childhood abuse or neglect may imagine their parent (or parents) sitting in an empty chair.

With the guidance of a licensed professional trauma sufferers are advised to remember the traumatic episode(s) that caused the trauma. As the memories of traumatic situations arise, Primal Therapy practitioners believe that the associated pain also rises to the surface. Clients are directed to allow the pain to come up, to feel it, express their feelings (toward the empty-chair) and finally to release the pain. Primal Therapy techniques allow for unexpressed anger, rage, and hurt to be released by expressing pent up frustrations toward the person or persons they feel are responsible for the trauma. These people and situations are represented by the empty chair.

This is where the more familiar images of Primal Therapy come into play. Your therapist will encourage you to express the full range of emotions that arise as a result of re-experiencing the trauma. It is not uncommon to find Primal Therapy clients kicking, punching, screaming, yelling, and crying as they release years of pent up pain and frustration around their traumatic experiences. The expression of this repressed or unhealed pain allows for trauma sufferers to become unstuck, heal repressed trauma, and move forward with their lives - baggage free.

Janov = experience the incidents and fully express the pain experienced in that moment. Janov's theory is based on the idea that talk-therapy or psychotherapy only provide cognitive-understanding of trauma but no physical relief. Under Janov's theory, repressed incidents from childhood become stored inside of the body as pain. In this theory, trauma sufferers are guided through a gradual process of re-experiencing the trauma and fully processing the experience. The goal of primal therapy is to help mental health trauma sufferers release unexpressed pain stored in the body related to the trauma.

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(3) Examples of Early Childhood Trauma

Psychology professionals believe that people who have experienced early childhood trauma are more likely to develop issues with mental health or mental illness as a result. Mental health practitioners like medical doctors and psychiatrists also believe - the earlier the trauma occurs in a child's life - the more lasting and damaging effects of early childhood trauma can be. Early childhood (in this case) is defined as the time period between birth and five years of age.

These critical years are often referred to as the "formative years." We call them this because it is widely believed that the majority of the skills and abilities that we need to survive are developed during this important time period. According to researchers, a child who experiences trauma during this early time of development will likely be affected - for the rest of their lives. The following are examples of events or situations that can trigger early childhood trauma in children.

1. Physical Abuse - Children who experience early childhood trauma in the forms of physical abuse may have effects that follow them into adulthood. Physical abuse is intentional physical harm by hitting, kicking, punching, and any other forms of hands-on-abuse.

2. Sexual Abuse - Similar to physical abuse, children who are victims of early childhood sexual abuse are likely to experience lasting negative effects that have the potential to last a lifetime. Sexual abuse involves unwanted touching, kissing, and other overt sexual advances.

3. Neglect - Having little access to proper food, shelter, water, and basic everyday living requirements can be considered as neglect when the behavior is willful, or at the hands of a caregiver who is responsible for the well-being of another. Neglect in early childhood can cause trauma to children who may form negative attachments and develop a negative sense of self-based on the lack of care received in early childhood.

The examples listed here are only a few examples of how children can become traumatized in early childhood. Early childhood refers to the time in the child's life from birth until around five years of age. Witnesses of victims of early childhood violence (including domestic violence in the household) can lead to the development of complex mental disorders like complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Another example, children who experience natural disasters can develop anxiety due to the unexpected nature of these events.

Adults and children who live in war-torn countries or those that experience or witness human trafficking and terrorism can also develop post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.

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The Benefits of Primal Therapy

A research study conducted by the Primal Institute found that at least 40% of primal therapy clients report relief in symptoms after 8 months. While Janov's controversial therapy has been shown to produce lasting results, the theory does go on to state that "no one is able to fully flush all of the pain from their bodies. Primal therapy shows a high potential for success according to this study with a pronounced reversal of the negative symptoms of mental health and childhood trauma symptoms within fifteen to twenty-five months.

People who take part in Primal Therapy report a sense of relief as the aches and pains associated with the traumatic events release and provide relief. According to Janov - Primal Therapy clients should maintain some form of the therapy in order to continue experiencing the positive results of the therapy. While there haven't been many in-depth research studies on the topic of primal therapy, the studies that have been conducted show positive benefits for Primal Therapy Clients with few (if any) side-effects.

Online Therapy for Chronic Mental Health

People who have a history of childhood trauma that are interested in taking part in therapy as a solution now have more therapy options than ever. Online therapy options are becoming an increasingly popular way to fit therapy into our busy lives. Individuals, couples, families, teens, and children are finding relief by having sessions with licensed and board-certified therapists as part of their healing process. Those who suffer from chronic mental health disorders that require medication management are teaming up with their primary medical providers and board-certified therapists online to find relief.

Chronic mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder (BPD), and other conditions often require medication as a component of treatment. Today's mental health sufferers can visit their primary medical professional in person for medication management and their licensed therapists online to supplement their offline treatment. There is a wide variety of therapy options available online that are providing results in the form of relief for today's mental health sufferers.

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Some modes of therapy that online therapists practice are primal therapy, cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and many others. People who take part in online therapy report a sense of relief and an improved quality of life after taking part in regular therapy sessions. Some therapy modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy are producing results for mental health clients in as little as twenty weeks. Cognitive-behavior therapy is another form of therapy that focuses on healing using brain-based techniques. Unlike Primal Therapy that focuses on healing stored pain in the body - cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on healing the mind from incorrect thoughts also known as maladaptive beliefs.

How Therapy Works

When you take part in therapy online you and your therapist will take part in an initial question-and-answer session where you work together to develop your treatment plan. During this process, you and your therapist will discuss what therapy options you feel will work best with your personality and goals. Based on the results of your question-and-answer sesssion, psychological assessments, and other information (like medical referrals), your therapist will create a treatment plan for you. Your treatment plan is customized to your individual needs, experiences, and goals.

You and your therapist will work together on issues like overcoming childhood trauma, dealing with everyday life challenges, and developing better communication skills and behaviors in online therapy. When you choose therapy with leading platforms like BetterHelp, you gain access to a network of thousands of board-certified and licensed therapists that are available online 24-hours a day. You can take part in individual, couples, family, teen, or child therapy options online. People can join into your virtual therapy session from more than one location - making it easier for couples and families to connect for important therapy sessions online.

If you're interested in taking part in or learning more about the benefits of online therapy with BetterHelp.com - reach out to one of our professional therapy experts online now to get started.

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