What Is Primal Therapy?

Crying young woman

Yuichiro Chino / Getty Images

Primal therapy is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on helping people connect with their deepest emotions and feelings. The goal of primal therapy is to help people resolve psychological issues by allowing them to express their emotions and feelings in a safe and supportive environment.

Primal therapy was developed in the 1960s by Dr. Arthur Janov, a psychologist and psychoanalyst.In his book "The Primal Scream," Janov outlined his theory of primal therapy.

Janov's theory is that psychological issues are caused by repressed emotions and feelings. He believes that these repressed emotions can cause a variety of psychological problems, including anxiety, depression, and rage.

Janov's theory further asserts that repressed pain from a person's life can be converted into physical symptoms, such as ulcers, headaches, and asthma. According to Janov, psychological pain goes back to incidents in people's lives that were too traumatic for them to fully accept or integrate into their conscious selves. Incidents could include physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or a traumatic event such as war.

Janov believed that the only way to resolve psychological problems is to express repressed emotions and feelings. Janov's theory is that people need to release these repressed emotions in order to heal and resolve their psychological issues.

In primal therapy, people are encouraged to express their thoughts and feelings freely in a safe and supportive environment. This can include talking, crying, shouting, or making sounds. During this process, people in therapy are encouraged to pay careful attention to the release of any repressed emotions they may be experiencing.

Techniques of Primal Therapy

While there are no formal "techniques" for primal therapy, there are certain stages that you will likely work through. These stages include the following:

1. Regression: In Regression, you will re-experience past traumatic incidents in your life. You may experience some of the same feelings and sensations that you had during these incidents. During this stage, it is important to allow yourself to feel whatever memory or sensation is coming up for you at the moment.

2. The Release: In The Release, you will be encouraged to express your emotions and feelings as they surface. This can include talking, shouting, crying, or making sounds. At times it may feel uncomfortable or even scary during this stage. You will likely experience the release of repressed emotions that have been stored in your body over the course of your life.

3. Integration: In Integration, you will begin to put together the pieces of your life story. This can be a time when you make connections between different events in your life and how they have affected you. You may also begin to forgive yourself and others for the things that have happened in your past.

4. Resolution: In Resolution, you will have a sense of closure around the issues that were addressed in primal therapy. You may find that you are now able to live more freely and without the burden of unresolved emotional pain.

What Primal Therapy Can Help With

Primal therapy is used to help people with a wide range of issues, including psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, and rage. Primal therapy may also be used to treat physical symptoms that are thought to be caused by repressed emotions. Symptoms treated with primal therapy include ulcers, headaches, back pain, asthma, hives, and even cancer.

Primal therapy may be used to help people recover from childhood issues, especially cases of abuse. This can include physical or emotional abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect. Primal therapy may be used to help adults resolve memories of incidents that they have kept repressed since childhood. This could include things such as the death of a parent, physical or emotional abuse, or neglect.

Primal therapy may also be used to help people process traumatic events in their adult lives. This could include major life changes, divorce, the death of a family member or friend, job loss, or any other traumatic event that may have happened recently. Some people engage in primal therapy to help them cope with emotions they are experiencing during these stressful times.

Benefits of Primal Therapy

The benefits of primal therapy have generally not been evaluated in the scientific literature. For this reason, it's important to understand that the proposed benefits of primal therapy listed below are theoretical in nature, and haven't been supported with adequate research evidence:

  • People who undergo primal therapy may report feeling a sense of relief after expressing their emotions and feelings. They may feel that they have finally resolved some of the issues that have been causing them pain for years.
  • Some people may find that they are able to resolve traumatic memories that they have been living with since childhood. This could be helpful for people who haven't felt comfortable talking about specific incidents before primal therapy, or who haven't fully processed the emotions surrounding them.
  • Primal therapy may also help people process recent events that may have caused pain in their lives, such as divorce or the death of a loved one. This type of therapy can help people to cope with the emotions they are feeling and begin to move on from the event.

Things to Consider

Primal therapy is not for everyone. Some people may find the process of expressing their emotions and feelings to be too difficult or uncomfortable. It is important to remember that primal therapy is a personal experience and that what works for one person may not work for another.

If you are considering primal therapy, it is important to speak with a therapist who can help you decide if this is the right treatment for you. Not every therapist is skilled in primal therapy, so you will want to make sure that the person you choose is experienced with this. You can also discuss how much time a session might last and what to expect from the experience.

Primal therapy sessions typically last for around an hour. People who engage in primal therapy may notice a release of tension after each session. This is because the process of expressing feelings and emotions has an effect similar to physical exercise.

How to Get Started

If you are interested in primal therapy, your best option may be to speak with a therapist who specializes in the process. They can help you get started on your own personal journey of emotional release if this is something that feels right for you.

You may also choose to do more research on the process of primal therapy before working with a specialist. This can help you to understand the basics of the therapy and what to expect from your own personal sessions.

A Word From Verywell

Primal therapy is a unique form of therapy that can be beneficial for some people. Remember to take things at your own pace and never feel rushed into anything. The decision to do primal therapy should be a thoughtful one that is made with caution and care.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Primal Center. What Is Primal Therapy?

  2. Ehebald U, Werthmann HV. Primärtherapie--ein klinisch bewährtes Verfahren? [Primal therapy--a clinically confirmed procedure?]Z Psychosom Med Psychoanal. 1982;28(4):407-421.

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."