The best known of the scream therapies is primal therapy which had a brief period of popularity. Organized to thaw out and to liberate fundamental “survival-based” feelings frozen within the individual by society, scream therapies prescribe a special regime for the patient and subject him or her to maneuvers to melt resistance to “letting go.” A typical example are the exercises devised by Daniel Casriel (1972).
What to expect?
A constant denial of real needs (“minor Primal Scenes”) sensitizes the individual to a precipitating traumatic event (the “major Primal Scene”), usually between the ages of 5 and 7, that produces in the child the realization “There is no hope of being loved for what I am.” The child then shields himself from this realization “by becoming split from his feelings, and slips quietly into neurosis.” Neurotic behavior becomes automatic. Primal therapy works against these neurotic behaviour.
How does it work?
According to Janov (1970), people are born with needs, a part of their “real selves.” When these needs are unmet, the neurotic process begins. When the pain of unfulfilled needs is not alleviated, the infant diverts the pain by shutting off the need that is unsatisfied; the child then separates himself or herself from the needs and feelings. Substitute gratifications ensue, usually symbolically, and become the modes of functioning of the “unreal self.” Sensations caused by unattended needs are relocated to areas where greater control or relief can be provided. But symbolic satisfactions never really gratify the needs from which they issue, which unfortunately are not available to the person because they have been buried. Tension issues from unsatisfied needs.
In a group setting the emphasis is first placed on screaming to express feelings rather than to talk about them. Casriel differentiates several types of screaming, each with different sounds and expressing different emotions. “There are basic screams of fear, of pain, of need and entitlement and four screams of anger—the deepest one accompanied by strong feelings of pleasure.” In addition, there are joyous sounds of pleasure. Confrontation, encounter methods, and marathons are utilized to loosen feelings as these come up. Progress with feeling emotion and dealing with its source, outside of therapy, is reported to the group at later sessions. The use is made of floor mats for patients to express their “historical feelings” and then to connect these with present-day problems. Character disorders as well as neuroses are said to respond readily to these methods. “Primal Pains” are so intolerable that they, and the memories with which they are associated, become disconnected from consciousness.
When is it used?
Primal therapy, constitutes a systematic assault on the unreal self “which eventually produces a new quality of being—normality—just as the original assaults on the real self produced a new state of being—neurosis. Pain is both the way in and the way out.” There can be no resolution until the “Primal Pains” are reexperienced consciously. This reduces neurosis.
Role of therapist:
The therapist encourages the patient to scream at the top of his or her lungs. If the patient gets too disturbed, he or she is held or hugged for reassurance and comfort. Once the sounds of repudiated emotions are released and accepted, the patient is encouraged to explore the reasons for them. Role playing may be utilized here to open up pockets of understanding and to reprogram behavioral habits.