Does it work?
Most pitfalls of Primal Integration stem in some way from a state of imbalance between the process of emergence (the primal process) and the integrative process. The Self is capable of regulating this if allowed to do so by an alliance with the adult (self), and there are natural points of 'closure' that prevent consciousness being overwhelmed. Being able to allow this is in part a learned art that develops as one's adult here and now self learns to trust the guidance of one's Self and to trust those with whom one is working.
However, if some other part of the personality, motivated by other goals, has been allowed to take control of the endeavour , an imbalance results in which the client may for example feel swamped with primal feelings that are felt to be too much to 'digest', or lose contact with present reality in some other way . Conversely the client may experience little happening at all. This 'inner usurper' may be an inner child, a punitive parent or some other subpersonality. In the extreme this may become, to use Michael Balint's terms (Balint 1968), a 'malignant regression' rather than a 'new beginning'.
These other goals that may be pursued often involve the projection and acting out of some sort of fantasy expectations derived from the primal level. So long as these are worked with, they remain 'grist for the mill'. It is only when they become the driving force and are acted out that they pose problems. Some examples of these may be helpful by way of illustration.
One fantasy expectation that may occur is that what is on offer is a chance to rewrite one's history. The Primal Integration setting can appeal to a desire in some people to go 'back in time' to where things went wrong, and do it right this time. 'This time my needs will be met.' The fantasy is that positive experiences in the here and now can somehow be transplanted back in time to a time when something good was well needed but not there, the effect being that the positive experience cancels out the negative one and makes things 'all right now'. The resources offered in Primal Integration are thus used in an attempt to hide the person's true experience, much in the way a drug would be used to treat pain. This method can have a palliative effect and appeal for a while, but eventually breaks down when the truth of that person's original experience breaks through these attempts to suppress it. There will be a rude awakening and the full force of the feelings about the original situation are likely to burst forth, now directed towards whoever has now 'failed' them. The person has a choice at this point: To draw on the resources available to help them complete their experience of their past, to integrate it and be able to move on, or to seek another 'drug'.
Sometimes there is a situation in the deep feelings where 'going forward' poses the underlying threat. For example when the umbilical cord has been entwined around the neck during the birth process - so that the more one progresses the less oxygen one receives ('to grow is to die'). When in contact with this sort of memory in the feelings, safety may be sought in regression.
Some people may unwittingly attempt a repeat of how they did survive a situation experienced as a threat to their existence by using this as the model for the recovery of those parts of their psyche that were split off at that time. Thus an attempt may be made to act out a fantasy of being 'rescued' by the practitioner - seen as obstetrician. In other cases expectations deriving from primal associations with medical ('cure') or religious ('salvation') models may be the driving fantasy.
Pitfalls for the practitioner include taking on these expectations in the hope of fulfilling them as part of her/his own fantasy - the practitioner as 'heroic healer' or fulfiller/gratifier of primal needs - appearing to do things for people rather than supporting the adult to adult alliance and the sense of the present.
For the practitioner also, the intense, and sometimes chaotic, 'hot house' environment involving periodic expression/transference of intense primal level emotion on a face to face basis can be very challenging - and exhausting. There is a need to pace oneself, to not overload oneself and 'burn out'. There is a need to self-regulate - it comes back to the same issue in the end.
As far as we know, there has not been any objective research into Primal Integration as we have described it. Given the nature of Primal Integration, this would be rather difficult to undertake meaningfully, whilst respecting the spirit of the endeavour. The work is in a sense a subjective 'research' not the same as but akin to, an artistic endeavour, a meditation or a contemplation - self 'research' - an enquiry into who one is.
Roger Moss has undertaken a study of Frank Lake's work by means of an 'ex post' questionnaire of participants in Lake's intensive workshops between 1979 and 1982. A preliminary report (Moss, 1983) yielded a rating of clear or moderate benefit for 71.2% of respondents, benefit with some negative features in a further 14.7%, and 9.4% reaped little or no benefit. The full report is forthcoming.
© Juliana Brown & Richard Mowbray 1994