Let's be honest — we're all facing scary and unprecedented challenges in the workplace right now. Blurred lines between work and home life. Never-ending Zoom meetings. No compelling reason to get out of PJs and into work clothes. Sound familiar?
With all of this and more, the global pandemic has put my mental health under more strain than ever before. But the coping mechanisms I used in the past may not cut it now. So I decided to learn some new techniques on how to deal with this "new normal." And that's how I learned about primal therapy.
While I don't think primal therapy should exist in isolation, I have found it to be a valuable weapon in my workspace mental health arsenal.
Developed by Dr. Arthur Janov, primal therapy became a cultural phenomenon in the 1960s and 70s. A number of celebrities became fans, with John Lennon, Yoko Ono, James Earl Jones, and Roger Williams all applauding its benefits. However, over the years, its psychoanalytical theories have been subjected to their fair share of controversy.
Decades later, primal therapy is still hotly debated, and this clearly suggests it holds some water. After some digging, I found that it may have aspects that are helpful in different areas of my life. And that includes my workspace.
What is Primal Therapy?
Primal therapy gets its name from Janov's seminal work The Primal Scream. In his book, he describes a young male patient who was able to feel and experience a serious psychological shift after screaming to release the pain that his mother caused him in early childhood.
The idea that we need to access our repressed feelings and bring all the pieces of ourselves back together is pretty intrinsic to any kind of psychotherapy. What sets primal therapy apart is that it purports to be able to do so very quickly.
Done right, Janov asserted, primal therapy could "cure" everything from hemorrhoids to (yes, he really said this) homophobia. In his theory, pain is distributed in our physical bodies and psyches if it's not dealt with. Some of these claims are outlandish, but there's growing evidence for epigenetics — changes in our cellular DNA due to past emotions – which corroborate a psychosomatic link.
The point is, the Scream can be metaphoric rather than literal. What you want is whatever will give you the most catharsis.
Janov maintained he could get the same results within a year that could take psychoanalysts up to four decades to achieve. His work has been widely criticized and questioned; with many experts saying it could make people relive their old trauma without resolving their feelings. The fact that the theories fail to consider mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder has also concerned psychologists, as sufferers have uncontrolled responses to situations and events.
Nevertheless, I know how important it is to process my emotions rather than suppressing them. Primal therapy provides a way of doing that. While most professionals agree that it shouldn't be practiced in isolation, it's hard to dispute the basic value of getting your feelings out in the open.
Primal therapy might not be the way to deal with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. But if you're a functional adult like me, still finding yourself repeating the same destructive behavioral patterns or holding onto past resentments, it could be worth giving it a try.
Primal Therapy at Work
Classic primal therapy is perhaps unbecoming of a professional in the workspace. But we can probably all agree that venting frustrations instead of letting them fester makes people more productive and helps corporate collaboration.
The key seems to be to tap into that primal space, acknowledge your feelings, and express them in ways that are appropriate for work. While you can't cut toxic people from your life if they're colleagues, it's always possible to maintain boundaries and decide how you want to react.
I know how important it is to process my emotions rather than suppressing them. Primal therapy provides a way of doing that.
So how could you do this? Well, following these steps is a good place to start:
1. Stop and Take a Breath
If something stirs anger or anxiety up in you, try to take a step back for a second. Saying that you've been affected and need to take a minute is so authentic that it's difficult for people to disrespect it. You'll get your space.
2. Remove Yourself from the Situation
This is not always immediately physically possible, although it's fantastic when it is. Primal therapy is all about getting in touch with those base, unarticulated feelings. If you can do that as soon as you experience them, you're likelier to be able to connect and process them.
So if you can get away, do so. If you can't literally remove yourself, do it figuratively by setting clear boundaries. That could be as simple as saying that you need time to think about something, and you'd like to revisit it later.
3. Find a Place to Vent in Private
Your office is good, but outside is better. Wherever you go, make sure you have the privacy you need to unleash your feelings the way you deserve to, without getting them all over someone who doesn't deserve the fallout.
4. Scream that Good Scream
And now for the primal release!
Remember, even though Janov's book was The Primal Scream, that doesn't have to be your mode of expression. Yelling at the top of your lungs (into a pillow or even silently) might be how I choose to vent my feelings, but it may not be your cup of tea.
For you, an emotional crying session may be the answer. Or even punching that pillow instead of yelling into it. The point is, the Scream can be metaphoric rather than literal. What you want is whatever will give you the most catharsis.
5. Put a Pin in the Feelings Bomb
That initial release is likely to ease the pressure as much as lancing a boil does. This is a great first step in processing – now you know what you're feeling, and the emotions aren't being left to fester. But there are likely to be layers, and you'll probably need to do a little more reflecting.
Even if your colleague behaved extremely badly and your anger is justified, it's probably going to stir up older feelings in you about things that happened in the past. The work environment is not the place to start digging into that.
6. Don't Forget to Come Back and Explore Your Emotions
Don't stuff your newly uncovered feelings back down. Save them for another time and make a conscious point of coming back to them. If you're able to release the past hurt, you're more likely to not only understand your present reaction but deal with things better in the future.
These are simple and understandable steps in theory, but as you can imagine, putting them into practice at work is complex and challenging. You're unlikely to get it right the first time but keep at it. With practice, you'll get better at pausing the situation and finding a place to express your raw reactions.
There are lots of things we can do to improve our mental health and the way we deal with past trauma and current issues. While I don't think primal therapy should exist in isolation, I have found it to be a valuable weapon in my workspace mental health arsenal. Hopefully it can be for you too.
WRITTEN BYMelony Forcier