Primal Integration is a very free-form approach that has more to do with attending to spontaneous processes of unfoldment than the application of particular techniques to effect change.
Juliana Brown & Richard Mowbray


In Primal Integration, as Bill Swartley once said, the practitioner is the 'patient', the one who waits alongside, with patience, whilst the client is the one who does the 'work' and takes the responsibility for furthering their growth. This does not mean that the practitioner's role is a passive one, it may be very active. The role is that of a facilitator. We do as little as possible for our clients. We do as much as we can to maximise the possibility of them doing the work for themselves. This is what we seek to facilitate. Thus we make suggestions and take initiatives on the understanding that these may be taken up, discarded or ignored as the client sees fit.

The relationship between practitioner and client can feel very close, and intense at times, like a friendship, or a parent-child relationship, and although aspects of those relationships are present it is neither of them and serves a different function. The practitioner is employed by the client to help them proceed with a journey they are undertaking. The client is not in the practitioners 'care', or taking their 'treatment'. The relationship to be cultivated is essentially one of mutual trust. Hopefully, the client has taken 'care' in choosing their helper in this important project!

The relationship is a contractual one, between adults. Each party is responsible for their own actions, experiences and feelings. The boundaries set by the simple agreements we have about commitment, financial arrangements and timekeeping serve as reminders of the 'here and now' nature of this relationship.

In addition to facilitation and the maintenance of boundaries, the practitioner is also likely at times to become a focus of both positive and negative projections. This phenomenon is not by any means restricted to the client - practitioner relationship. It will also occur amongst group members, and in either case can be worked with or weathered as appropriate.

The relationship between client and practitioner is usually face to face and any work on projections often begins that way. Touch is not excluded from the relationship unless either party chooses to veto it.


Primal Integration is a very free-form approach that has more to do with attending to spontaneous processes of unfoldment than the application of particular techniques to effect change. More often it is a question of not doing things that distract from these processes. They happen of their own accord when given permission, attention and time. These three 'facilitative attitudes' are our fundamental 'techniques'.

In the group or individual setting we try to give as much time and space as possible for the primal process to manifest itself as it will. Groups are long, sessions are longer than average, and people often undertake this work on a long-term, although not necessarily regular, basis.

Time acknowledges the non-sensationalist aspect of primal work. Whilst some of what shows is loud, wild and dramatic, and seemingly 'instant', it has taken time for a person to build their ability to 'be there' for the occasion. Many of the experiences remembered and re-experienced during this work were split-off and repressed in the first instance because they were too much to bear. It is important that this time around the person is able to be more fully present, to be able to take the experience on board, to bear it and integrate it.

Permission refers to self-permission - saying 'yes' to feelings, experiences and expressions and processes that have been previously denied. The practitioners and in the case of groups the other group members, are also saying 'yes' and provide a social support for things that are frequently denied in the wider society. There is permission to explore such things, and an invitation to express, with as few limits as possible on the form that expression takes.

Attention to these primal processes is facilitated by being present in a setting where methods habitually used to inhibit them are minimized. Whatever their other merits, activities such as watching TV, reading, smoking, drinking, superficial social interaction, and 'keeping busy' in general are used by many people for this purpose in their lives. In the group or individual setting these are acknowledged as likely distractions. The client is also temporarily away from work and family responsibilities which require a focus on outer activities, making it easier to attend to what is going on inside.

Work in the group or individual session is boundaried by a simple set of agreements and ground rules which provide for physical and psychological safety. These include an explicit form of client veto over facilitator intervention, a rule precluding violence and a rule that requires respect for confidentiality.

Groups are usually composed of a rough balance of the sexes, and are lead by two or more facilitators, one of either sex.

Groups generally have two phases which alternate. The 'go-round' is a mainly verbal phase which is structured by the leaders and gives each person an opportunity to tell the group about themselves, as well as to hear everybody else's' story. This is the part of the group where each member is in turn the focus for the whole group's attention. Although the format in this phase is mainly verbal, people can present their 'go' in other forms such as artwork, poetry, or song, but the primary function of the go-round is to report-in and listen-in and perhaps set up or find a direction for the next step rather than take the work further there and then. With groups of eighteen this phase of the group takes two and a half hours or so thus subtly developing the facilitative attitudes of patience and attentiveness in the group members!

The other phase is unstructured by the leaders and their role in this phase is to 'follow' processes emerging in individuals and in the group as a whole. We hardly ever use any whole group structures, exercises in pairs, or a 'hot seat'. Nor do we generally have exercises designed to 'raise the charge' or to evoke particular experiences for example that of birth. The recall of such experiences is a frequent occurrence and will often be worked with in a way that includes the body, but it is not actually aimed for. We do not use any hypnotic inductions.

Group members are encouraged to experiment, explore, and find their own way. Their 'work' is to attend to and allow out what is already going on within them, drawing on the resources available, sometimes starting with what may have been clarified in a go-round, sometimes going off in a different direction entirely. Simple things help to shift the balance in favour of the outward expression of inner processes. For example, instead of just thinking it say it out loud. Exaggerate it. Do the opposite. Breathe.

A rich variety of resources is provided both materially and in idea form, so that each group member can find the most appropriate means of expression for their experience. Ways of working in this phase of the group include: talking, vocal expression, bodywork - massage and 'primal bodywork', artwork, which can be painting, drawing, poetry and creative writing, music - listening or making, playing with toys and costumes, dancing, performing, dreamwork, cushion work - hitting or talking to or both, personal interaction, face-to-face eyes open work, dramatic reconstructions of situations, and even sleeping. During the unstructured phase people work simultaneously and a variety of ways of working may be occurring at the same time, resulting in a productive chaos.

A very large sandplay, tailored to the needs of Primal Integration, is also usually available in the group. This provides an effective means of reaching beyond art blocks, word blocks, voice blocks, often into a wiser, remembering self. It is an education in how one can be guided from within. It also provides a useful overview, a way to reset the perspective for someone who has become somewhat lost in one part of themselves to the neglect of the whole picture.

We find that a flexible and unstructured environment such as we have described readily allows a respect for individual pace and 'fit'. Although mostly described in terms of group work, the principles evident in the above also apply to individual sessions, bearing in mind the difference in the setting. People often work in a combination of group and individual settings.

© Juliana Brown & Richard Mowbray 1994