What scientific evidence can be offered for Primal Therapy’s capability to benefit people’s lives?

Science demands some level of evidence. The usual practice is to develop one or more explanations – hypotheses – of a situation, and experimentally test them.

An experiment’s findings are usually presented as evidence that each explanation of the tested situation may be either true or false. The findings often numerically express the probabilities of committing the main two types of errors – either we accept a lie or don’t accept a truth.

There are many points to consider when evaluating the truth of an hypothesis. Numerically speaking, for example, a Revised standards for statistical evidence study suggested less tolerance for errors, which provoked responses such as this Reproducibility issues in science, is P value really the only answer? comment.

A scientist’s analogy in a podcast An overdependence on P-values shows a common problem with using numbers as a proxy for understanding truth:

“There’s this very fundamental disconnect between the question the scientist is asking – what’s the strength of the evidence – and the answer that the frequentist statistician gives: the P-value.

Those things have much less to do with one another than anybody realizes.

We can think about what we mean by evidence. For example, that when you see dark storm clouds overhead, that’s strong evidence that it’s about to rain. If you smell a certain scent, that’s maybe weak evidence that it’s about to rain. And if we see the dark storm clouds and then we smell the scent, the evidence doesn’t get weaker: if anything, it gets stronger.

But P-values in a circumstance like that, where you have a very small P-value in one dataset and a not-so-small P-value in a second dataset, you put the data together and the P-value will tend to sort of average.

So the P-value is not behaving like evidence.”


All of the explanations of Dr. Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy that I’ve mentioned on this blog have been termed hypotheses, views, fundamentals, or principles. None of them have been expressed with numerical levels of significance.

Let’s go through one hypothesis that I put on my Welcome page, the origins of a person’s need to feel important. I described how Primal Therapy provided a view that perhaps better explained the referenced study’s data than did the study’s explanation.

I cited research that had supporting evidence for part of the hypothesis. I showed reasoning on why standard scientific methods such as:

  • Replicating the original situation,
  • Using surveys of the responsible parties,
  • Using questionnaires of the subjects, and
  • Devising animal experiments

may not be suitable for developing evidence for other parts of the hypothesis.

If someone adopted a Primal Therapy explanation of the origins of a person’s need to feel important as true, the view provides the potential for the person to enrich their life with feeling and understanding of not only their own behavior and history, but also empathy for other people. Their risk that this hypothesis is false has limited impact, so long as the person didn’t make the explanation false by exaggerating it.

If someone rejected this hypothesis, they wouldn’t have suffered from exposure to it. They’ll just remain in our world’s default mode of existence:

  1. Unaware of personal unconscious act-outs that are driven by such needs, and
  2. Uninformed of other people’s behavioral origins as a consequence of 1.

Addressing the title, Primal Therapy’s capability to beneficially affect people’s lives differs from the usual treatment. A common medical definition of efficacy is:

“The ability of an intervention to produce the desired beneficial effect in expert hands and under ideal circumstances.”

The usual idea about therapy is that it’s something designed and done to the patient by the expert therapist.

However, it’s the patient in Primal Therapy, not the therapist, who determines the parameters of the treatment. How often the patient goes, how long each session lasts, etc. are up to each patient. The therapist assists the patient with feeling and pain levels as the patient proceeds with what they need.

In our example of applying a hypothesis of Primal Therapy, if a patient determined that it was desirable for their therapy, the patient would explore what feelings and memories underlay their need to feel important. The therapist would assist, but wouldn’t dictate that the patient go down that path. Even if the therapist felt that doing so would benefit the patient, they would let the patient arrive at their needs when the patient determined it was time to do so.

From Dr. Arthur Janov’s 2011 book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” p.166:

“Primal Therapy differs from other forms of treatment in that the patient is himself a therapist of sorts. Equipped with the insights of his history, he learns how to access himself and how to feel. The therapist does not heal him; the therapist is only the catalyst allowing the healing forces to take place. The patient has the power to heal himself.”

Because what’s important in Primal Therapy is how and what the patient feels:

  • It would be difficult to set up experimental evidence of Primal Therapy’s benefits in terms of numerical levels of significance of a patient’s feelings. Per the above weather analogy, standard numerical measures don’t always behave like the evidence.
  • The use of control subjects in experiments probably wouldn’t make sense. Every person has a different history. Each patient’s therapy, as determined by them, will be different.
  • Performance measurements such as externally determined behavioral milestones wouldn’t apply because the patient self-monitors their own progress.

Notwithstanding the above, standard experimental studies of aspects of Primal Therapy have been done in the past, such as here, and are in the works, such as here.


To conclude, everyone’s initial response to pain is avoidance. A principle of Primal Therapy, though, is that a way to improve human lives goes through the pain of feeling early unmet needs.

Primal Therapy’s beneficial effects come after each patient experiences the personal applicability of this principle. The individual’s therapeutic experiences and feelings are the evidence.

I understand that many people won’t accept this evidence. And many people will balk at the pain of becoming aware that their unconscious act-outs driven by early unmet needs are sources of misery both to themselves and to those around them.

But the impacts of early unmet needs don’t go away by themselves over time. The painful conditions persist with enduring physiological changes as shown in experimental studies. Click the Primal Therapy tag or category to view some examples of such studies.

Here’s a June 3, 2015 blog post by Dr. Janov on the subject: How Do You Prove Primal Therapy?

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