What is Primal Integration?
Deep personal growth work
Everyone has an inherent potential to experience processes of inner development resulting in a continuous process of 'becoming'. These processes are spontaneous and unfold in a unique way for every individual. They have their own dynamic pressure and their own pace. Primal Integration endeavours to offer an environment that is conducive to this and that allows these inherent processes to function more fully.
The term 'Primal Integration' was coined by Bill Swartley to describe the very free-form type of primal work that he originated and which we and others have continued and evolved. The work was introduced to the UK in 1976, and a comprehensive programme has been offered here since 1979, principally through the Primal Integration Programme based in London, which runs events at the Open Centre in London and the Wild Pear Centre in Devon. In the British context, Primal Integration has been particularly influenced by the configurational psychology of Francis Mott and by Frank Lake's Pre- and Perinatal Integration (a much more focused and structured form of primal work). It has also incorporated various bodywork approaches ('Primal Bodywork').
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 (the term 'therapy' being so closely allied to the medical model) but rather as a form of 'humanology' or 'human potential work' and part of the human potential movement.
Despite having had an essentially independent development, Primal Integration is often confused with Janov's Primal Therapy due to the similarity of names. There are significant differences however. Unlike Primal Integration, Primal Therapy was conceived within the medical model and offered as 'The Cure for Neurosis'. By contrast, Primal Integration pays due regard to the spiritual and transpersonal aspects of the primal process and to primal joy as well as the primal 'Pain' that is Janov's focus. The long term financial commitment and individual intensive typically required at the outset of Primal Therapy are not usual features of Primal Integration. Intensives in Primal Integration are usually on a group basis and undertaken at a later stage in the work. Primal Integration also contrasts with Janov's work in terms of the degree of self-direction and self-regulation required and the variety of ways in which primal material is worked with such as bodywork, transference, and face to face work. Moreover the groupwork that is such a feature of Primal Integration is highly unstructured.
For us, 'primal' means first in time, early, but also first in importance - that which is central, core, deep. 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 only 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 may also emerge, as well as transpersonal and mystical experiences, and creative urges. Thus Primal Integration gives due attention to deeply traumatic experiences and the human suffering that they produce but the work is Primal Integration not just 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.
This process of allowing all kinds of deep experiences to emerge, including traumatic memories and 'difficult' feelings, is enabled by the configuration of a contained, 'free space'. In Primal Integration, we have a high degree of structure 'around the periphery' which allows the space within to be very free. This encourages the 'structures' within people to become apparent, to be experienced as in their formation, and for unexpressed feelings bound up in them to be released and completed.
'Integration' refers to the integration into awareness of the fruits of one's primal exploration, a 'gathering together', a healing, a becoming more whole. It also refers to the active application in one's daily life of what one has 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 the work.
The process of recovery and integration is not a 'one off' project, but rather forms a continuous cycle of change. When it is Self-regulating, this process seems to provide for its own furtherance. The fruits of one sequence of recovery and integration provide resources for the next, continually bringing a deeper way of living into being, and a deeper way of being into living!
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. These processes happen of their own accord when given permission, attention and time. In the group or individual setting as much space as possible is allowed for the primal process to manifest itself as it will under its own dynamic. This is allowed within the safety of agreed ground rules. Self-direction and Self-regulation are crucial aspects of this process.
Primal Integration groups generally have two phases which alternate: A mainly verbal 'go-round' phase which is partially structured by the leaders and an unstructured phase during which the role of the leaders is to 'follow' processes emerging in individuals and in the group as a whole. Unlike many other types of groups, apart from the go-rounds, general structures or exercises are hardly ever used. The flexible and unstructured environment provided readily allows a respect for individual pace and 'fit' and a delightful variety ensues.
Clients 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 (such as bodywork, artwork, music, movement, personal interaction etc.) for the most appropriate means of expression.
The method of dealing with primal material is an important learning experience in itself, in fact as important as 'dealing' with it. It is important to learn how to live with primal process in one's life in general, to cultivate an attentive, respectful and inclusive attitude towards it, to learn to live in a more creative way. Thus Primal Integration is not offered primarily as a problem-solving approach, a treatment for psychological 'disorders' nor an efficient means of 'cure for neurosis'. Its healing aspects offer a different way of 'treating' problems. It is a growth process, a personal journey that has aspects of a spiritual path. What have been perceived as 'problems' frequently resolve as a result, but this is a by-product of growth, the role of such problems having been to signal one's self-estrangement and need to live more authentically.
This is profound work that does involve a confrontation with oneself that can at times be painful, however it is also a joyful process and can be fun! It is about the adventure of life - 'Know thyself'.
© Juliana Brown & Richard Mowbray 1996
[A version of this article first appeared under the title "Primal Integration - Deep Personal Growth Work" in London and South East Connection, Dec 1996]