Primal Integration rejects the authoritarian medical model of treatment and is an education rather than a therapy
Bill Swartley

Primal Integration is a very free-form type of primal work that involves an exploration of deeper levels of experience with a view to being more alive and living more authentically. It is concerned with the recovery and re-integration of split-off parts of the self and works with very early preverbal experiences from the womb, birth and infancy, as well as later experiences, in a very eclectic way. The emphasis of the work is on self-direction and self-regulation and allowing spontaneous growth processes to unfold rather than on a highly structured or directed programme. This work is undertaken in groups with minimal leader determined structure but with appropriate ground rules for safe working, as well as in individual sessions. Primal material is allowed to emerge under its own dynamic but is not directly aimed for.

Historical development

William Swartley developed the work for which he coined the term Primal Integration starting from about 1962. He summarized this development as follows:

"Primal Integration is one of a number of primally oriented human maturation techniques which have evolved during the 1970's...The third 'new' thing about primal techniques is the adaption I have developed for use with average, maturing adults, called Primal Integration. Primal Integration utilizes regressive techniques with average adults within an educational rather than a therapeutic framework. That is, Primal Integration rejects the authoritarian medical model of treatment, and is an education rather than a therapy...Primal Integration, is a contribution of the Encounter Group Movement which began on the East and West coasts of the United States during 1962, grandfathered by Maslow and Perls. Thus, Primal Integration may be viewed historically as a child of the union of regressive psychotherapy and the Encounter Movement." (Swartley1975)

Two historical lines of development that came together in this 'child of the union' were an increasing awareness of the importance of pre- and peri-natal experience (not least, that birth is an experience - that the birthing infant is capable of having an experience) and the re-adoption of cathartic approaches.

The first line features Rank (1929) prominently, followed by Fodor (1949,1951) and Mott (1948) who were able to discern the importance of the birth experience largely from the interpretation of their clients' dreams. Much of the second line of development can be traced back to the influence of Wilhelm Reich (Boadella 1985) whose active, body-oriented and cathartic approach found enthusiastic support in the Human Potential Movement during the sixties - a movement in which one of his students, Fritz Perls, played a prominent role.

Both these lines of historical development also have roots with Freud. Rank was part of his inner circle and early on, Freud worked abreactively - directly with 'primary (primal) process' ('primarvorgang') - before relinquishing this approach in favour of the more rational method he named 'Psychoanalysis'.

Swartley was active in the Human Potential Movement and founded one of the first growth centres in the world - The Centre for the Whole Person in Philadelphia - in 1962 and later, the International Primal Association.

In 1970 Arthur Janov published his book, The Primal Scream (Janov 1970) and his Primal Therapy was subsequently undertaken by John Lennon of The Beatles resulting in widespread publicity. Swartley acknowledged Janov's influence in popularizing the re-emergence of cathartic techniques but did not have any direct contact with Janov or his Primal Therapy and had developed Primal Integration independently.

Swartley's own work was rooted in his experience in the Human Potential Movement, especially with Bindrim ('peak experience' groups) and Perls, preceded by his studies at the Jung Institute, and with Assagioli amongst others. He was also a friend of the Czech psychiatrist, Stanislav Grof, who was working nearby in Baltimore with terminal cancer patients from 1967-73. They shared a common interest in primal realms, and Grof's cartography of 'inner space' derived from his work with LSD became one of the ingredients Swartley incorporated into his eclectic approach (Grof 1975).


William Swartley and colleagues introduced Primal Integration to the UK in 1976, only a few years before his untimely death in 1979 at the age of 52. During this period he set up and ran the training programme for practitioners in which we participated. After his death, members of the training programme including ourselves formed the Whole Person Cooperative to offer workshops in Primal Integration to the public and to organize continued professional development for ourselves. This organization lasted for two years.

Since Swartley's death we and others in the UK have been developing and evolving Primal Integration. We have integrated other influences probably the most significant of these being the work of Francis Mott and the work of Dr. Frank Lake of the Clinical Theology Association (Mott 1948, 1964; Lake 1966, 1980, 1981). Following Swartley, Lake also referred to his work as Primal Integration for a while, though his form of primal work was very different - much more structured and exclusively focused on the pre- and peri-natal realm. Latterly he referred to his work as Pre- and Peri-natal Integration.

Like Grof, Lake had worked with LSD before it became illegal and thereby, like Grof, could not help but become aware of the importance of birth trauma as an influence on human development. In the last few years of his life, Lake pioneered an understanding of the role of intrauterine experience and stressing, in particular the importance of 'umbilical affect'. He had a particular 'feel' for existential positions of dread and affliction and his work was deeply rooted in his Christian faith.

We have been offering a comprehensive programme of Primal Integration at the Open Centre in London since 1979. Betty Hughes, who works with us regularly has made a remarkable contribution regarding the use of sandplay in a primal context. Other practitioners include John Rowan, a fellow founder member of the Whole Person Co-operative, who does individual sessions and occasional workshops. Dr. Roger Moss in Devon and Dr. Barbara Bapty also in Devon, are amongst those who have continued Lake's work. The Clinical Theology Association continues to publish his literature.

Where does Primal Integration fit in?

Primal Integration is distinguished by the combination of four basic elements:

1) It is a form of personal growth work, operating within an educational rather than medical model.

2) It recognizes the importance of very early life experiences, and acknowledges that the individual is able to remember pre- and peri-natal life.

3) It works with these and other memories in abreactive as well as other ways.

4) The work takes place in an unstructured setting, which respects the unique 'unfoldment' of the individual's process, and emphasizes self-regulation and self-responsibility.

Despite an essentially independent development, Primal Integration is often confused with Arthur Janov's 'Primal Therapy' (Janov 1970, 1991) due to the similarity of names. Both approaches allow for the direct expression of primal material. However, unlike Primal Integration, Primal Therapy, offered as 'The Cure for Neurosis', is conceived very much within the medical model. It is offered as a highly structured programme based largely on an individual intensive format in contrast to Primal Integration's low structured, self-regulated set-up where intensives are usually on a group basis. Primal Integration pays due regard to the spiritual and transpersonal aspects of the primal process, and values primal joy as well as the primal Pain that is Janov's focus.

A close relative of Primal Integration, with historical links (see above), is Grof's Holotropic Therapy (Grof 1988) combining controlled breathing, music and focused bodywork. We are in tune with the focus of his work on the spontaneous healing activity of non ordinary states of consciousness as well as the acceptance of pre- and peri-natal experience and transpersonal levels.

© Juliana Brown & Richard Mowbray 1994