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Peer Primaling Groups

by Bill Whitesell

Six of us sit and chat together in the living room, waiting for a few latecomers to arrive. A new member of the group talks of her previous experiences with healing methods. We adjourn to the primal room, leaving a message on the door for the last straggler to come in. After a few introductory words, we have a go-round, indicating what we think we'll work on and who, if anyone, we'd like to work with. Then we take to our mats. Some work alone, others with a witness. Two people go into the bathroom to use the 80-pound punching bag. One couple is arranging a birthing posture. Another pair sits facing each other, holding hands, co-counseling style. One woman is lying gently on top of her partner, using a technique from bonding psychotherapy. The room is filled with crying, gasping, shouting, and writhing sounds.

After 45 minutes, a timer goes off and someone says, "Second shift." Witness/facilitators who haven't switched with their partners begin to take their turn at releasing.

On completion of the second half, we come together again. It is much different from the initial go-round. Now each person seems to be lying on top or astride two or three others, and reaching out to touch still more. Faces are more relaxed, warm, and expressive. We can't restrain our radiant smiles. Giggles and playfulness abound. We each have a chance to talk about our work and then articulate appreciation for ourselves and for others. After a round of hugs, we adjourn for some snacks and lighter conversation. Gradually, all depart.

The Washington D.C. area peer primaling group began in 1999 and meets roughly once a month. New members are allowed only if they have had experience with deep feeling therapy, are self-starters in doing such work, and do not need professional intervention. Members respect one another's processing and, as peers, emphasize responsiveness when acting as facilitators; the client is in charge of his or her own session. We began with four or five regular attendees, and now have about 12 people on our email list, but only six or eight typically make it to a session. Most of us had been working alone and in other therapy programs. It's been wonderful to develop a sense of community with each other in sharing these healing experiences. With a small group, we eventually get a chance to work with each of the others, and the closeness that develops is profound. Moreover, our members have had a diverse range of previous types of feeling work and that has added to the richness of our processing with each other.

I encourage others to begin peer primaling groups, even if at first only two people are interested. I believe that a long list of do's and don'ts is unnecessary, as individual groups will want to explore various options regarding the style of their meetings. In my view, one key aspect is to recognize that an occasional peer facilitator is not a therapist and should be rather restrained when considering whether to intervene in another's work: let the client call the shots. There is an advantage to having a large processing room so that all can work together. Hearing another's process can be helpful in leading to greater access to similar types of material for oneself. Group processing can also create a powerful sense of permission to work more deeply on difficult material. And finally, the closeness and warmth that develops with each other is absolutely priceless.

The trickiest issue for the group may be the criteria for allowing new members. We have attracted interest only by word of mouth, and then, for screening, we rely on the reputation of a possible newcomer among existing members. To get our group going, we had the advantage of several IPA members in the area, along with much larger communities of Reevaluation Counseling and Bonding Psychotherapy. A more aggressive outreach activity would presumably impose the need for interviews or some other method of screening applicants before inviting them into the group, to make sure that they are self-starters who can work safely within the mat track framework without professional assistance, and without disrupting the closeness of the peer primaling community.

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