Primal therapy is a trauma-based psychotherapy created by Arthur Janov, who argues that neurosis is caused by the repressed pain of childhood trauma. Janov argues that repressed pain can be sequentially brought to conscious awareness for resolution through re-experiencing specific incidents and fully expressing the resulting pain during therapy. In therapy, the patient recalls and reenacts a particularly disturbing past experience usually occurring early in life and expresses normally repressed anger or frustration especially through spontaneous and unrestrained screams, hysteria, or violence. Primal therapy was developed as a means of eliciting the repressed pain; the term Pain is capitalized in discussions of primal therapy when referring to any repressed emotional distress and its purported long-lasting psychological effects. Janov criticizes the talking therapies as they deal primarily with the cerebral cortex and higher-reasoning areas and do not access the source of Pain within the more basic parts of the central nervous system.
Primal therapy is used to re-experience childhood pain—i.e., felt rather than conceptual memories—in an attempt to resolve the pain through complete processing and integration, becoming real. An intended objective of the therapy is to lessen or eliminate the hold early trauma exerts on adult behaviour.
Primal therapy became very influential during a brief period in the early 1970s, after the publication of Janov's first book, The Primal Scream. It inspired hundreds of spin-off clinics worldwide and served as an inspiration for many popular cultural icons. Singer-songwriter John Lennon, actor James Earl Jones, and pianist Roger Williams were prominent advocates of primal therapy. Primal therapy has since declined in popularity, partly because Janov had not demonstrated in research the outcomes necessary to convince research-oriented psychotherapists of its effectiveness. Proponents of the methodology continue to advocate and practice the therapy or variations of it.