Description: When I was in high school (back in the old days of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s) I had a good friend whose mother was a practitioner of Janov’s Primal Scream therapy. Part of the basement in their house was lined with mattresses and there were bins of stuffed animals, boxing gloves and foam bats. Sessions, heard from the main and second floors of their house were full of screams, shrieks and other loud noises. There was no Primal Scream Therapy room in my house but my parents were involved in what was called the Human Potential Movement which included a number of psychologists and other “gurus” who, before many of them shifted to psychologically coaching Olympic athletes ran workshops on getting in touch with one’s inner children and one’s deeper potentials (sometimes with and sometimes without strong emotions and screaming). We lent space every other month or so to a therapist who practiced Rolfing which apparently (I found out with research later on) involves deep massage intended to reorganize the body’s connective tissue, improve posture and thus well-being. What it DID seem to involve, at least from what I heard of sessions on the second floor of our house, was a LOT of screaming that sounded like it was driven by serious pain. My friend and I would often compare notes regarding the “therapeutic” noise levels in our respective houses when “work” was being done. When studying psychology later in life I did not spend really any time at all studying Primal Scream Therapy or Rolfing. I did, however, spend a bit of time in a couple of history of psychology courses reflecting on the socio-historical context of the 1960’s and 70’s and the psychology that it produced. So, why might we think it might possibly be therapeutic for people to delve into early childhood deep emotional reactions tied to fears of parental abandonment? Why might screaming out the anguish of those feelings be good for us? Instead of dismissing theories like this out of hand as “weird” (and yes, they ARE that) have a read through Arthur Janov’s obituary linked below and, in addition to considering the theoretic foundations of Janov’s approach, also consider why and how the socio-historical context of the 1960’s can be viewed as a perfect environment for encouraging the emergence of Primal Scream therapy and Rolfing and the Human Potential Movement among many other theories, therapies and ideas. Also, be aware, that there is serious debate about whether Primal Scream Therapy should be taken seriously within Psychology at all (see further reading below).
Source: Arthur Janov, 93, Dies; Psychologist Caught World’s Attention with Primal Scream, Margalit Fox, Obituaries, New York Times
Date: October 2, 2017
Photo Credit: Ann Summa/Getty Images
We do not often think of the socio-historical climates within which our current psychological theories and our current therapy approaches have been developed. Their being immersed in our own current historical moments makes the influences harder to see because they are simply parts of how we see the world that is right in front of us right now. It is easier to see historical contextual effects when we look into the more distant past. Of course Freud and the theory he developed were influenced by the socio-historical forces that were at play in the later 1800’s and early 1900’s. Likewise, Janov’s context of the 1960’s and the profound social changes that were in the works, are reasonable accessible (even if it is hard to get our heads around those ways of seeing the world, human functioning and therapeutic needs).
Questions for Discussion:
- How would you describe Janov’s theory and therapy to someone who had not heard anything about it?
- What is the nature of the relationship between socio-historical contexts and the psychological theories and therapies that arise within them?
- Thinking about Janov’s theory and therapy what are some possible connections you could see between them and the current popularity of “Escape Rooms” (https://globalnews.ca/news/1957421/its-like-solving-a-puzzle-escape-room-game-trend-sweeping-canada/ )?
References (Read Further):
Norcross, J. C., Koocher, G. P., & Garofalo, A. (2006). Discredited psychological treatments and tests: A Delphi poll. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 37(5), 515. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/John_Norcross/publication/228663686_Discredited_psychological_treatments_and_tests_A_Delphi_poll/links/0912f508a7c65bf8fc000000.pdf
Furnham, A., Pereira, E., & Rawles, R. (2001). Lay theories of psychotherapy: perceptions of the efficacy of different’cures’ for specific disorders. Psychology, health & medicine, 6(1), 77-84. http://www.brown.uk.com/laytheories/furnham3.pdf
Kellermann, P. F. (1984). The place of catharsis in psychodrama. Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama & Sociometry, 37, 1-13. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Natan_Kellermann/publication/232577668_The_place_of_catharsis_in_psychodrama/links/567d308e08ae197583879861.pdf
Powell, E. (2007). Catharsis in psychology and beyond: A historic overview. The Primal Psychotherapy Page, 1. http://www.primalmatters.com/images/Catharsis%20.pdf