Shirley Ward M.Ed., Dip.Ed., M.F.Phy.
This article is a general introduction to Primal Therapy with an emphasis on the work of Dr. Frank Lake and the importance of Cellular Memory and Foetal Consciousness.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Dr. Frank Lake was the first psychiatrist in England to recognise the importance of the birth trauma, in the development of the personality, and of the importance of the mother’s attitude towards the growing foetus during pregnancy. He worked on what he called, after Mott (1), Negative Umbilical Affect and in his own terms, the Maternal Foetal Distress Syndrome. He was pioneering the effects on the foetus in the womb from a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual point of view.
At that time, Bill Swartley was working in America on similar material, and he came to England with his discoveries which he called Primal Integration. After meeting Bill, Frank also adopted the term Primal Integration. Bill explains (2) that the term was adopted by the Board of Directors of the Centre of the Whole Person which he founded, as a descriptive term for the experiences provided by the various branches of the centre. He suggests that those who wish may find the term useful for describing growth experiences based on primal techniques. Frank developed his ideas and skills within the framework of Primal Integration Therapy (3) (Peters 1989 pp 175-86, 203-4). The exciting developments of the last ten to fifteen years in primal work stem from this.
I do not intend to spend much time in this article referring to the early psychologists and their references to primal work. Freud writes the word ‘primal’ in a letter in 1897 and writes of ‘primal repression’ as the ‘first phase of repression’ in a paper in 1915. Otto Rank refers to the term ‘primal’ in his early classic (4), The Trauma of Birth, 1929. Full of Freudian jargon, it is not very easy to read, but as Ridgway states (5) in The Unborn Child, 1987, there is some fascinating material and Rank’s book is well ahead of its time.
Arthur Janov’s work and books have done a great deal to interest people in experiencing primal work, but his insistence that only people who have trained with him are qualified in any way as primal therapists has isolated and segregated him from some of the most exciting work in the past years. In his latest book (6), The New Primal Scream – Primal Therapy Twenty Years On, 1990, he states emphatically (p387) that he cannot honestly recommend any centre doing primal therapy as he is no longer associated with any of them. He goes on to say that what has compounded the problem is that some therapists have had a smattering of training by him and then gone on to practice. But he does state that he would like to offer Primal Therapy to the world!
John Rowan has an excellent chapter on Primal Integration Therapy in the book he edited with Windy Dryden (7) in which he spends some time looking at the work of the early psychologists. The reader is well advised to peruse this chapter, if not the book, to see how each individual in turn has taken the ideas of these pioneers and developed them further. Whether he realises it or not, Janov has certainly developed Freud’s ideas on repression. He writes (p290 op.cit.): “The number one killer in the world today is not cancer or heart disease. It is repression”. I am sure many therapists in this field of work will agree with this statement. It is not only Janov who has discovered this.
An Educational Model or a Medical Model?
Confusion reigns as to whether primal integration is primal therapy. Is rebirthing the same as primal work? Is pre- and perinatal psychology all about therapy or is it educational? Clarification is and will be difficult in the future particularly if people try to put primal work (in whatever form) into little boxes! There does seem to be a synthesis of the medical model and the educational model. With the educational model, which works on learning and change, you do not have to have something dysfunctional. The educational model is learning, and change is the result of learning. The medical model assumes you have something wrong to put right.
Historically, early Freud and early Reich and possibly Janov adopted a medical model of mental illness which primal therapists such as Bill Swartley rejected and Spich his students, Richard Mowbray and Julianna Brown, also reject. If one interprets the medical model as being based on working with sick people and the educational model as a learning model, then obviously one does not have to be sick to learn. Frank Lake was a medical man and although he was used to working with sick people, he practiced primal work with ‘normal’ people who were having difficulties with life. He helped to heal them by relating their difficulties to pre- and perinatal trauma. I do not believe it is necessary to argue about whether primal work is based on an educational model or a medical model. I believe that the results are more important than the model and the model does not influence the way I work. Susan Lindsay writes (8) that real integration is part of the individuation process. Continuing to learn from other approaches and integrating that which fits to form a new synthesis is also part of my own philosophy – to develop an eclectic approach.
John Rowan considers that primal integration can be said to be the Rolls Royce of psychotherapy (9). In an interview with John Rowan in 1977 (10), Bill Swartley states that he never uses the word ‘therapy’ and on all publications and letterheads, he disclaimed the word. This may have been due to Janov’s Primal Therapy and his attempt to patent this in order that other people would not use the word. It must also be remembered that in the 1970s, in the early days of the Human Potential Movement of Fritz Perls and Esalen in Big Sur, California, it was a time when the medical model was seen not to be working and other methods of self healing were beginning to come to the fore. This is what the ‘New Age’ or the ‘Age of Aquarius’ of which we hear so much today, is apparently all about. Self healing, self responsibility and synthesising of many different disciplines in order that we might learn with compassion to help our human race strive to live in harmony and peace. The cultural differences are vast and disharmonious, as our present crisis in the Gulf shows.
Bridging the Therapeutic Gulfs
My personal interest is in the synthesising of the work and research by people in the field of pre- and perinatal experiences in the last ten to fifteen years. The most interesting research has developed since the early days of the 1970s from Fritz Perls, a great innovator, and from the people living and working in Esalen. I am sure that none of these early pioneers would ever want their work departmentalized and would be thrilled to see how academics and professional people have built upon their early ideas and skills.
I often teach that we have to be careful that by the year 2000 AD we have not developed an elitist system of therapies. In other words, therapeutic wars could take the place of spiritual wars! Therapies can take the place of many people’s religions - they become the person’s way of life. Already creeping into discussions on different types of therapies are the spoken words, “This is not how you are supposed to be doing this therapy”, “My therapy sounds better than yours,” “This is not how its originator meant it to be”, and often there was more than one originator of the work in various countries where someone was developing similar work but with a different aspect as in the case of Bill Swartley, Frank Lake, Arthur Janov and Stan Grof. In later years, the work of Dr. Graham Farrant, Dr. William Emerson, John Rowan, Alison Hunter and Shirley Ward is constantly being updated, based on the theories and experiences of these earlier pioneers. Today there are also great discoverers working in different countries throughout the world. They are developing their discoveries, sharing and synthesizing in order to achieve healing techniques for the future wellbeing of the human race. These researchers according to the pre- and perinatal Psychology Association of North America include doctors, therapists, nurses, midwives, scientists, writers, philosophers, educators, psychologists, psychotherapists, teachers and many others (11).
Frank Lake was a doctor and he had problems with the medical model. His Dynamic Life Cycle Model (12) was the nearest he could come to normal people and in it he speaks of acceptance, sustenance, status and achievement. He believed that most of us live these the wrong way round, and this was the cause of much depression. In other words, most of us tend to live our lives by achieving in order to feel sustained and to be accepted. This has become very much part of our bureaucratic society. The educational institutions all foster this method. The Church in theory does not but in practice it does. It is a matter of doing and achieving rather than being accepted, because if you do not conform then rejection is inevitable. It is no wonder that so many of us are depressed! Frank taught that the normal way was for each person to know that they were accepted and sustained. If we know who we are and feel good about ourselves, then achievement will automatically flow out and no longer will it be stressful. So we have to get back into a deep inner acceptance and sustenance, knowing that when we feel good we will achieve without stress. Part of stress is not spending time to get that part of us healed or not taking in deep acceptance and sustenance.
Christ as Model
Frank Lake’s Dynamic Life Cycle Model was based on the life of Christ. When he saw that none of the psychologists to date, neither Freud nor Jung, had any model for a normal person because they were all working with illness, he took the life cycle of Christ as a model of normality and for ordinary people.
My business colleague, Alison Hunter, worked as a pastoral consultant with Frank Lake for three years in the late 1970s in Nottingham, while he was researching some of his finest work. On my frequent visits, I saw Frank regularly at this time. I was delighted and always amazed at Frank’s enthusiasm to want to share with me his most up-to-date theories and recent findings from his work. Alison and myself regard it as a great privilege to have worked so closely with him. The pity is that although he developed his work in a Christian context, many fundamentalists and evangelicals have turned against him and dismissed both him and his work (Peters 1989, ppl61- 86). A pity that few of them had, as Frank himself used to say, the courage to lie on the therapy room floor and experience for themselves. A typical example of ‘heady academics’!
Frank’s hypothesis emphasised the importance of the first trimester, that is the first three months of life in the womb. So all problematic situations in present day life could be traced back to their roots. It is interesting that Stan Grof states that all things that have occurred in the first trimester are actually re-enacted in the birth trauma. He believes that the birth trauma encapsulates everything that has gone before. So it encapsulates the nine months of pregnancy from conception. Dr. William Emerson has specialised in the area of Infant and Child Birth Re-facilitation also developing the idea of foetal consciousness and cellular memory.
Foetal Consciousness and Cellular Memory
One of the most interesting articles on the topic of Foetal Memory appeared in the British medical Association News Review in 1981 (13). In 1950 Lake found that the curtain of repression was lifted as far back as the first-experienced scenes of infancy, even as far back as the ‘tunnel’ scenes of the second stage of labour. Commenting that we think of memory as verbal, he explained that there are pre- verbal ‘gut’ memories that do not depend on the nervous system and can go back to the first three months in the womb. And as we have found over the last ten years, these experiences happen quite spontaneously, needing no interpretation or comment from the therapist. By using Reichian techniques to recover birth and pre-natal memories, he stumbled on what he described as holograms of cellular memory. Karl H. Pibram’s holographic theory states that memory functions in a two-step process. A stimulus, such as a sound, smell or image, triggers an individual’s short term memory which then resonates through the infinite complexity of the brain’s stored holograms until an association is triggered in long-term memory. To focus attention on a pre- or perinatal trauma under the repression, Lake believed that it acted as a form of coherent mental laser that could reconstruct detailed memories with great accuracy. Even then he was saying that when you are depressed, every cell in your body is part of that depression.
It is vital for researchers of this work to understand the importance of believing or understanding the feasibility of foetal consciousness or cellular memory. Alison and I have been researching this for the past fifteen years and have many hundreds of clients who have experienced the incredible process of remembering even as far back as conception. This research is at present being documented by us for publication in the future.
The possibility of foetal consciousness is now an accepted part of the primal process for many people. But still for the majority it seems an impossibility. Readers will probably know Verny’s book, The Secret Life of the Unborn Child (14). He took the research up in 1981. Now David Chamberlain has taken up the ground-breaking work and his book, Babies remember Birth, 1988 (15) is an excellent and extraordinary account, taking the reader to the leading edge of the most up-to-date scientific and medical research of the mind of the new born and the pre-born. He supplies evidence proving that newborns are actually aware of their births and can recall them in detail when as adults they are put into a state of altered consciousness. As we have also found and have evidence for, he categorically believes that what happens to us as newborns and even as pre-borns has a profound effect on us for the rest of our lives. The amazing findings of those experiencing primal techniques to relive early trauma could have enormous implications for birthing and child-rearing practices – as Frederick Leboyer so earnestly taught some years ago, with great respect and with obvious success for those who adopted his methods. A violent birth breeds violence, gentleness brings gentleness, peace will encourage peace – and what is happening to the mother during those nine months of pregnancy will affect that new little person for the rest of their life. One of the most important functions of any human being who experiences this work is to separate their mother’s feelings from their own in order to live their own life without being unconsciously affected by mummy when pregnant.
Dr. Graham Farrant
Graham Farrant is an eminent Australian psychiatrist working in the field of primal therapy. His work on cellular consciousness and conception was launched into greater international prominence with his presentation at the 1985 International Congress on Pre- and Perinatal Psychology in San Diego. His work developed from therapy with Janov, but as he says (16), Janov’s view of the primal experience in his early years of working was primarily of the experiences derived from infancy. Janov did not include prenatal or birth experiences in his understanding of what was occurring in the primal states at that time. It is only in recent years that Janov has acknowledged birth traumas. Farrant doubts that Janov includes cellular experiences or conception experiences as part of his model of understanding.
I met Graham in England in 1990, a great opportunity for me to share with him. It was fascinating to hear the similarities to Lake’s language in Graham’s, and encouraging that Frank’s work had been taken seriously in Australia. Graham explains his understanding of cellular memory as being a kind of pre-verbal memory contained within the physical body of experiences that occurred when we were gametes; that is to say, there is a body memory, a cellular memory, of our experience as sperm and as egg. Graham has personally and professionally had profound experiences working in the area of conception and cellular consciousness. In common with many of us working in the field, he accepts that one of the biggest questions is where we believe the mind to be. Chamberlain (17) after Sheldrake 1981 (18) states that after seventy years of intensive research, no one has ever been able to say where and how the brain stores memory. Sheldrake favours the hypothesis that brains are like television’s tuning devices, and the storage is outside the brain and body. This makes memory itself non-physical, an idea which receives strong support from research with non-ordinary states of consciousness (Stevenson 1977 (19) and Grof 1987 (20)).
Developments in primal work are obvious from the research data available over the last ten years. The proving of foetal consciousness and cellular memory is central to the authenticity of the work, and to narrow the plausibility and credibility gap of those working in the field. Those working experientially with the healing techniques of the work continue to do so knowing that deep inner changes occur after the root causes for trauma in people’s lives have been found. In a follow-up article, the research data of Hunter and Ward will be discussed. This will include how birth scripts become life scripts, how problems can be identified as having roots in conception trauma, fallopian tube trauma, implantation trauma, threatened and spontaneous abortions and maternal/foetal distress.
Shirley Ward is an experienced eclectic therapist educated at Cambridge, Leicester and Nottingham Universities and at the Lincoln Clinic and Institute for Psychotherapy, London. She is a director of Amethyst.
1. Mott, Frances L The Universal Design of Creation. Mark Beech 1964.
2. Broder, Michael S. An Eclectic Approach to Primal Integration 1976. P.I. Monographs Vol 1 May 1976.
3. Peters, John. Frank Lake – The Man and His Work. Darton, Longman and Todd 1989.
4. Rank, Otto. The Trauma of Birth. RKP 1929, Harper Thorbook 1973.
5. Ridgway, Roy. The Unborn Child. Wildwood House 1987.
6. Janov, Arthur. The New Primal Scream – Primal Therapy Twenty Years On. Abacus by Sphere Books 1991.
7. Rowan, John & Dryden, Windy (eds). Innovative Therapy in Britain. OUP 1988.
8. Lindsay, Susan. Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy from an Ecological Perspective. Article in Inside Out Vol 1 Issue 3 Winter 1990/1991.
9. See 7.
10. Rowan, John. Self and Society Vol 5 No 6 June 1977.
11. The Pre and Perinatal Psychology Association of North America. Frontiers and Front Lines of Human Development. Syllabus of Abstracts. 1989 Congress. PPPANA, 13 Summitt Terrace, Dobbs Ferry, New York 10522 USA.
12. Yeomans, Martin H. Frank Lake – Clinical Theology, abridged 1986. DLT pages 29 - 37.
13. Ridgway, Roy. Foetal Memory Fact or Fiction. British Medical News Review April 1981.
14. Verny, Thomas with John Kelly. The Secret Life of the Unborn Child. Sphere 1981.
15. Chamberlain, David, Babies Remember Birth. Jeremy **Tarcher 1988.
16. Farrant, Graham. Cellular Consciousness and Conception. Article in Pre and Perinatal - Psychology News Vol 2 Issue 2 Summer 1988. (address as in 11.)
17. Chamberlain, David. The Expanding Boundaries of Memory. Article in Pre and Perinatal Psychology Journal Vol 4 No 3 Spring 1990.
18. Sheldrake, Rupert. A New Science of Life. J Tarcher 1981.
19. Stevenson, Ian. The Explanatory Value of the Idea of Reincarnation. Article in Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases 164 pages 305 -326 1974.
20. Grof, Stanislav. Survival of consciousness after death; myth and science. In John S. Spong (Ed) Consciousness and Survival (pp 135 -164) Institute of Noetic Sciences, Sausalito, California