Primal integration is a form of therapy brought over to Britain by Bill Swartley, one of its main originators, although it was also pioneered here by Frank Lake. It is not to be confused with Primal Therapy, coming from Arthur Janov; it is a parallel development occurring at about the same time. It lays the major emphasis upon early trauma as the basic cause of neurosis, and enables people to regress back to the point in time where the trouble began, and to relive it there. This often involves a cathartic experience called a "primal." But some people using this approach do not like this language, and instead call what they do regression-integration therapy. It is strongly influenced by the research of Stanislav Grof, who pointed particularly to the traumas often associated with the experience of birth.
In primal integration therapy the practitioner uses a variety of techniques taken from body therapies, feeling therapies, analytic therapies and transpersonal therapies, because a lot of stress is laid on the unity of body, feelings, thought and spirituality. Grof has recently written very well about this, and his holotropic therapy is close to what we call primal integration.
Because of the emphasis of primal integration on early trauma, people sometimes think it is going to put all neurosis down to one trauma, happening just once in one's life. but of course traumas are seldom as dramatic as this. The commonest causes of neurosis are simply the common experiences of childhood -- all the ways in which our child needs are unmet or frustrated. This is not necessarily a single trauma, in the sense of a one-off event -- that is much too simplistic a view. Rather would we say with Balint that the trauma may come from a situation of some duration, where the same painful lack of "fit" between needs and supplies is continued.
The goal of primal integration is very simple and straightforward, and can be stated in one sentence. It is to contact and release the real self. Once that has been done, enormously useful work can be done in enabling the person to work through the implications of that, and to support the person through any life changes that may result. But until the real self has been contacted, the process of working to release it will continue.
Obviously the main technique is regression -- that is taking the person back to the trauma on which their neurosis is based. Laing has argued that we should also talk about recession - the move from the outer to the inner world. Primal integration agrees with this, and finds that recession and regression go very well together. One of the clearest statements of the case for doing this comes from Grof: he talks about the COEX system, a set of emotional experiences which hang together for a person, and appear or disappear as a whole. It is a gestalt which keeps on reappearing in the person's life.
If we believe, as Michael Broder suggests, that the primal process consists of five phases: Commitment; Abreaction (catharsis); insight (cognitive-affective restructuring); Counter-action (fresh behavior in the world); and Pro-action (making real changes); then it must be the case that the later phases are just as important as the earlier ones. In other words, working through is just as significant as breaking through. The glamorous part, and the controversial part, of our work is the "primal," the cathartic breakthrough; but in reality the process of integration is necessary and equally exciting in its quieter way. For example, it is a great thing to finally deal with one's parents; it is another thing to start treating people equally in daily life, as a result of this.
In my belief Primal Integration is the fullest and most integrative form of psychotherapy, because it covers all the four functions which Jung spoke of: sensing (body work and breathing,) feeling (emotional contact and release,) thinking (analysis and insight,) and intuiting (guided fantasy, art work dream work and so forth.) It covers the prepersonal (biographical and perinatal experience,) the personal (adult life in the here and now,) and the transpersonal (spiritual experience and visions of the future.) This is surprisingly rare in the field of personal growth, counseling and psychotherapy.