For us 'Primal' means first in time, early, but also first in importance - that which is central, core, deep.
'Integration' refers to the integration into awareness of the fruits of primal exploration, a 'gathering together', a healing, a becoming more whole. It also refers to the active application in daily life of what is being learned about oneself. This ensures that the primal work is connected, grounded, and relevant. Attending to the present and keeping a balance between the need for exploring the 'past' and the need for strengthening, maintaining and developing one's sense of the 'present' form an important part of this work.
Primal Integration addresses the issue of how to live with deeper aspects of oneself in play. Often this will involve allowing unfinished traumatic experience from the womb, birth and infancy to emerge, since this is frequently what awaits when one attempts to live more deeply. However this is but one element of the more fundamental process of learning to live from one's core, from one's deeper Self, in whatever way that may be presenting at the time. Experiences from later periods in life also emerge, as well as transpersonal and mystical experiences, and creative urges.
The 'regression' that we facilitate in Primal Integration is not about going back in time, but rather about becoming aware of your existing state of regression - about realising that parts of you have not grown up and moved forward into the present. In our view, most people are living in two time-scales simultaneously - past and present. Part of them will be living in the here and now. Other parts of them will be reacting to present events as though they were still 'back then', thereby confusing aspects of the present with the past.
With time, both practitioner and participant develop a sense of these two worlds. They learn to recognize signs on the surface - in feelings, language, actions, gestures and imagery that betray the presence of unconscious 'memories' that are still playing an active role in present life. It is not really accurate to refer to these as 'memories' since at this stage they are felt to be in the present and have yet to be appropriately re-classified as 'past', 'over' - as memory rather than current reality.
This recovery of aspects of one's personal history involves an opening that can also involve an expansion of one's awareness to embrace the transpersonal. This is particularly true of memories of pre- and peri-natal experience.
Central to the practice of Primal Integration is the understanding that it is carried out under the rubric of a personal growth or educational model rather than a medical model. We do not refer to Primal Integration as a psychotherapy or therapy (or 'Primal Integration Therapy'). We are conscious that many activities that are identified by such labels (including no doubt many of those described in this book) would also be considered to be of a growth rather than a medical nature. However, we believe that these labels, psychotherapy and therapy, are significantly compromised by their common usage to refer to activities that are implicitly or explicitly operating within a medical model. Their use to refer to growth activities confuses the models, serves to support an already dominant model rather than promote an alternative one, and distorts the expectations of people who may undertake the work. We are aware that the term 'therapy' has classical roots more in keeping with a growth model, but regard the term as having been largely co-opted by 19th and 20th century models of scientific medicine.
It's easy to forget that different models are not different realities but rather offer different perspectives on the same reality. They show you different parts of the same elephant, to borrow from the Sufi tale.
A key aspect of the medical model is the social status conferred by being defined as 'sick' or 'ill'. This is a role that carries the privilege of being allowed a partial relief from adult responsibilities (Parsons 1953). In the case of physical illness this may be entirely appropriate, however applied to psychological matters it poses problems. There are parallels between the status of being 'ill' and the status of being a child that can lead to confusion when working with processes involving 'regression'.
Under a growth model such as we are employing, the clients retain full adult responsibility for themselves - for their feelings and actions - that is not something they relinquish. They do not have the privileges of the sick/ill role but nor do they have the loss of autonomy, temporary or otherwise, that is concomitant with that role. Thus a basic requirement of those who undertake Primal Integration is that they are willing and able to accept this responsibility for themselves. We interview everyone as a matter of course to assess this.
This brings us to the principle of self-regulation. This has two aspects:
1) 'self-regulation' as an outer responsibility. - the outer form of 'self' in the sense of adult or 'ego'. In terms of this aspect clients are responsible for abiding by the agreements they have made with the practitioners and group members. They are also responsible for being self-directed in the sense of both taking initiatives to further their growth e.g. deciding what to 'work' on, when, how, and with whom, and for exercising a veto over the initiatives of facilitators directed at them - as allowed for in the ground rules.
2) 'Self-Regulation' as a form of inner guidance - where 'Self' refers to the centre of our being and 'Self Regulation' involves attending to, and following the lead of inherent, spontaneous processes of development that determine what emerges into consciousness, in what order, when and how.
There are parallels here with Carl Jung's process of 'Individuation' (Jacobi 1942), Caron Kent's 'Growth Forces' (Kent 1969), Tony Crisp's notion of 'Coex' (Crisp 1987) and Wilhelm Reich's ideas about energy and motility in the body (Boadella 1985).
The cause of suffering
Suffering is part of the human condition. Experiences such as separation, loss, physical pain, and death are part of life. However, some suffering does not seem commensurate with the life circumstances at the time. In our view this is often indicative of a part-emerged memory of an early traumatic situation without the context to make sense of it and without the expression necessary to complete the 'gestalt'.
The suffering referred to above assumes an ability to feel. For some people suffering means not being able to feel and experience - even pain. An alienation from one's feeling self can be experienced as worse than any 'feeling'. This too often has deep roots in unintegrated traumatic experiences.
Frank Lake applied Pavlov's concept of 'transmarginal stress' to traumatic pre- peri- and post-natal experiences, Frank Lake showed how these could result in a splitting of the psyche (Lake 1966, 1980).
"The neurophysiological effect of trans-marginal, ultra-maximal, supraliminal, or quite simply, unbearable stress, is, as Pavlov showed in dogs, to produce reversals in the responses to ordinary stimuli. What gave pleasure now gives pain." (Lake 1971)
Lake likened this to the effect on a steel spring of stretching it beyond the limit of its elasticity. It can no longer bounce back.
Primal Integration addresses the suffering involved in these experiences but is not 'Primal Trauma Integration'. We believe that dealing with these types of experience should not be 'split-off' from other more joyful aspects of deep living. They should be welcomed in a setting that is inclusive of them, not exclusively focused on them.
In our view many social and political sources of suffering such as war, oppression, racism, and other forms of social injustice, have roots that extend down into primal levels and in part represent an acting out on the group level of repressed traumatic experiences from pre- and peri-natal life. Lloyd de Mause (1982) has suggested that a group fantasy in which the group as a whole is regressed to the foetal level ('foetal trance state') is an active factor underlying such 'crazy' events as war.
© Juliana Brown & Richard Mowbray 1994