yes, therapy helps!
Arthur Janov's Primal Therapy

Arthur Janov's Primal Therapy

June 20, 2024

Imagine that a thirty-year-old man arrives at a clinic, who has obvious symptoms of an anxiety disorder and manifests the impossibility of relating deeply with anyone. As the session progresses, the therapist asks about his childhood, to which the patient tells him with apparent normalcy that he suffered abuse and sexual abuse from his uncle, who raised him after the death of his parents in a traffic accident. .

The subject, then a minor, indicates that he forced himself to be strong and resist the attacks of his tutor to not give him the satisfaction of seeing him suffer. It is also mentioned that at the time he did not comment on it with anyone and that in fact it is the first time that he comments it in public. Although the comment has arisen spontaneously and does not seem to arouse an emotion in the subject, the therapist observes that in fact that fact caused him a deep suffering that has prevented him from trusting others.

At that moment, he decides to apply a type of therapy that can be used by the patient to be able to externalize his pain and work on it in order to improve his symptoms and his difficulties of interrelation with others: the primal therapy of Arthur Janov .

  • Related article: "The 10 most effective types of psychological therapy"

The primal therapy and Arthur Janov

The primal, primitive or cry therapy of Arthur Janov It is a type of psychological therapy which starts from the basic idea that the suffering of the human being in the face of not satisfying basic needs needs to be expressed in a symbolic way. For Janov, the symptom is a defense mechanism against pain.

Throughout childhood and development the human being can suffer severe traumas derived from the negation of primary needs like those of love, acceptance, experimentation and sustenance. Likewise, in cases in which the expression of those needs is punished so that the individual can not be loved if he expresses what he is, he will end up developing ways of replacing them, but blocking what he really wants will generate an elevated level of anguish.

Such psychological pain should be expressed . However, this pain and suffering tends to be repressed and separated from our conscience, with which little by little it is stored in our unconscious. This repression is accumulated according to basic needs are being denied, which means a great increase in tension for the body that can generate neurotic difficulties. For example, there may be fear of intimacy, dependence, narcissism, anxiety or insecurity.

The objective of primal therapy would be none other than that of reconnect our suffering with our body , so that we can relive the pain and rework it, expressing it. What Janov calls primal reaction is sought, a reexperimentation of aversive experiences of children both mentally and emotionally and physically.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Cognitive Therapy based on Mindfulness: what is it?"

Classifying primal therapy

The primal therapy of Janov can be classified as one of the body therapies , a subtype of humanistic therapy whose main function is based on the use of the body as an element to be analyzed and through which to treat various disorders and psychic problems. Thus, in the set of so-called body therapies is the body itself that is treated under this approach, awakening or focusing on the various sensations perceived bodily.

Despite being considered humanistic, it is possible to detect in its conception a strong influence of the psychodynamic paradigm , considering that the main objective of this therapy is to reconnect our repressed and unconscious part with the body, so that it is possible to externalize the pain. There is talk of repression of pain and reexperimentation, as well as the fight against neurotic defense mechanisms. In fact, there have been many subsequent efforts to modify and integrate the advances of different currents such as the humanist.

  • Related article: "Types of psychological therapies"

Application phases

The application of primal therapy or the cry of Janov, in its original version (later reworkings have been made that reduce the time required), requires the follow-up of a series of steps that we will explore below.

The therapy must be carried out in a padded room and preferably soundproofed , and the patient is asked to temporarily cease their activity at different levels for the duration of the treatment.

1. Interview

First, it is necessary to establish whether or not this therapy is appropriate for the patient and their problem, not being suitable for psychotic patients or with brain damage.It is also necessary to take into consideration whether the patient suffers from any type of medical problem for which an adjustment of the treatment or its non-application could be required.

2. Insulation

Before starting the treatment, the subject who is going to receive it is asked to remain isolated, without sleeping and without any action to release the anguish and tension the day before said treatment. Is about that the subject perceives and can not evade the anguish , without being able to repress it.

3. Individual therapy

The primal therapy begins with individual sessions, in which the subject must be placed in the position that supposes a greater degree of vulnerability for him, with the extremities extended.

Once in that position, the patient must talk about what he wants while the therapist observes and elicits the defense mechanisms (movements, positions, babbling ...) that the former manifests, and tries to stop them from acting in order to express and immerse yourself in the emotional and physiological sensations that cause his repressed feelings.

Once the emotion arises, the therapist must favor this expression by indicating various exercises, such as respiratory or through expression through shouting.

It can be necessary establish rest periods between sessions , or else the subject is re-isolated to further weaken their defenses.

4. Group therapy

After individual therapy it is possible to carry out several weeks of group therapy with the same functioning, without there being interactions between patients within the process.


The primal therapy of Janov has not received widespread acceptance by the scientific community . His focus on the repressed painful aspects has been criticized, ignoring the possible presence of other sensations that may be associated. Also the fact that the original model does not take into account the effect that the therapist has as a transferential element. Another criticized element is that it supposes a demand at the level of time and effort that can be complex to carry out.

It is also considered that There have not been enough studies to demonstrate its effectiveness , as well as the fact that its effects are limited if they do not occur in a context of unconditional acceptance and therapeutic work beyond expression.

Bibliographic references:

  • Almond, M.T .; Díaz, M. & Jiménez, G. (2012). Psychotherapies CEDE Preparation Manual PIR, 06. CEDE: Madrid.
  • Janov, A. (2009). The Primal Scream Edhasa.

What is Primal Therapy by Dr. Arthur Janov (June 2024).

Similar Articles