Essay 31: Bigger than the Beatles

by rosalyster

Primal scream therapy is when you hark back to your shitty childhood and just scream it all out. The way it is supposed to work is that the patient re-experiences past Pain (the word is usually capitalised in the literature) in a safe and healing environment, expressing fully the feelings relating to the Pain, and thereby resolving the Pain. I don’t know. It is supposed to be the full-on cathartic experience.

I write “is” when really it should be “was”: no one does primal scream therapy anymore. It was huge in the seventies, all these tormented upper middle-class people bent over double in therapy sessions, their chunky silver medallions banging against their shins, screaming their absolute heads off. Everyone was doing it. John Lennon was, briefly and very publically, a believer. He said at one point that the therapy was “more important to [me] than the Beatles”. You know that song Mother? Stop what you are doing and listen to Mother right now. Isn’t it insane? Isn’t it the best? Listen to him howling away at the end there. That’s primal scream therapy. John Lennon wrote it after he’d been living for four months at the Primal Institute in California. Four months! He sounds like a man who has worked through a thing or two.

Primal scream therapy has been savagely and fulsomely discredited. Mainstream psychology washed its hands of it a long time ago: too weird, too obviously based on total bullshit, too much a man in a turtleneck and a waistcoat telling you what is up. Also: in 1973, there was a “birth simulator” introduced at the Primal Institute: “a 10-foot-long adjustable pressure vinyl tube. The patient was covered with a slick substance to simulate birth.” That about did it, in terms of primal therapy’s credibility. Grown-up people pretending to get born out a vinyl tube. That about put the final nail in the coffin. But I don’t know. Birth simulators aside, surely all that screaming must have done something? It surely must have had some value. Patients would have walked out of their sessions feeling all watery and light, at the very least. I’m not saying it’s anything other than pure, high nonsense. Of course it is. All I am saying is that I can see why people got into it. Rolling around on the floor, having a good scream. I bet it felt excellent.

I went to normal therapy twice a week for a year and felt nothing. Not even watery and light. I can’t remember a single thing we talked about, or a single way I felt, and really I am not sure I would recognise my therapist if I bumped into her in the supermarket. It wasn’t a “bad experience” or anything. It just didn’t work, if that is a thing you’re allowed to say.  It didn’t work, and the other problem was that it was extremely, extremely expensive. My god. I could have spent all that money on clothes, and been so happy, if that is a thing you’re allowed to say.

I left therapy for no good reason – I was just bored, as well as increasingly aware that a moment of catharsis was not going to show up anytime soon. Therapists have told me that this isn’t how it works. Therapy isn’t like that. Most people don’t get the big breakthrough, where they roll around on the floor and get born out a tube and go home and write Mother. I know that. I’m not an eight year old. Wouldn’t it be lovely, though? I for one would welcome it.