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Whatever Happened To ... Primal Therapy?

1970s psychotherapy is alive and screaming in Venice, Calif.

By Stephen Ornes
May 9, 2007 5:00 AMNov 12, 2019 5:22 AM


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In 1970, psychologist Arthur Janov published The Primal Scream, a book promoting a new kind of psychotherapy. Janov argued that “repressed pain divides the self in two.” In order to alleviate the long-lasting consequences of this division, a patient must revisit the pain that originally divided his psyche. Janov claimed this experience could reduce patients’ suffering in a relatively short amount of time. While the “scream” of Janov’s first book refers to a common reaction of patients to pain, Janov’s methods are actually called primal therapy. Janov’s most famous patient, John Lennon, went through primal therapy shortly before recording his John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album. Lennon said in a 1971 interview, “In the therapy you really feel every painful moment of your life.” Although Janov’s approach never became widespread and came under fire from professional therapists and investigators, primal therapy is alive and well in Venice, Calif. Janov and his current wife, France, offer their services at the Primal Center. In 1968, Janov and his first wife, Vivian, started the Primal Institute in Los Angeles, but he has since disassociated himself from that institution.

Timothy Moore, chairman of the department of psychology at York University’s Glendon College in Toronto, points out that Janov’s assertions of scientific linkage are based on uncontrolled case histories and personal observations, and as such his work has not been scientifically validated. “In terms of value of untested psychotherapy, some of it is useless because it’s silly,” he says, “but some of it is dangerous because the intervention can get out of hand.”

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