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Harriet Geller for The International Primal AssociationHarriet Geller for The International Primal Association
Growth and Healing Through Deep-Feeling Process

Freedom to Feel: An Introduction to the IPA and Deep-Feeling Therapies

Harriet Geller Updated: Apr 18th 2011

I am a member of the International Primal Association (IPA), an organization "promoting growth and healing through deep-feeling process," as our tag line proclaims. The IPA is a community that seeks to help people understand what this process is - via an extensive website, retreats, workshops, and various other forms of communication. I hope to reach even more of you with this blog and offer information about an effective practice that therapists and clients can use in their healing work.

Harriet GellerI especially hope to raise the veil of fear surrounding the very idea of expressing feelings so that we can experience all the parts of ourselves in our daily lives. That is to say, the primal process is not only a therapy for depression, addiction, anxiety, codependence, and other ills of the psyche, but is as important a part of wellness as is exercise, a healthy diet, and meditation.

There are many mistaken beliefs about feelings, and about practicing a therapy that encourages the expression of feelings, and I would like to address them all. One popular credo is that "wallowing in negative feelings" only encourages more pain and suffering. Let me start with that one.

The basis of deep-feeling therapies, as well as many other modalities, is that adult problems are the result of infantile or childhood trauma and abuse. That trauma can take many forms, from overt physical or sexual mistreatment to chronic criticism or benign neglect. The child is physically incapable of handling the extreme pain and fear that arise from abuse and is able to survive only by repressing the feelings. We do this by adopting defense mechanisms-behaviors that we substitute for the feeling. We use these defense mechanisms for the rest of our lives, whenever the repressed feeling threatens to rear its head. These "acting out" behaviors range from the most self-destructive-substance abuse, dissociation, eating disorders, violence, suicide-to many others that we often do not even recognize as defense mechanisms and in fact can look like feelings-phobias, shyness, loneliness, anxiety, poor self-esteem, boredom, irresponsibility, obsessions, anger, laziness (and the rest of the Seven Deadly Sins)-to name only a few. We are incredibly adaptive creatures.

We come to a therapist because of the suffering that our defense mechanisms cause us. Think about it. We have never actually experienced the underlying feelings, not as babies when we were too fragile to handle them, and not as adults either. In primal therapy and other feeling-focused modalities, we are finally supported and encouraged to let go of the defense and experience the feelings that we could not access before. This is not wallowing in the feeling. We were, in reality, wallowing in the defense all along.

It is the defense - alcoholism, promiscuity, depression, sleeplessness, and all the rest - that is "negative;" it is the defense that is hurting us. The old feelings-pain, fear, rage, et al - are who we are and need to be embraced. They only feel scary because we associate them with our infantile vulnerability. As adults, we have the support, resources, and strength to allow the feelings to be conscious and expressed, maybe only a bit at a time. Our bodies will not do more than they can handle.

I don't mean to trivialize our defensive behaviors. The fact that we are so reluctant to relinquish them, even after we know what they are, attests to their importance to our psyches. In primal, we work through the many layers of the defense, sometimes described as peeling an onion, until we experience the original primal feelings. It usually takes many iterations of this process (after all, most of our infantile abuse was repeated over many years) until we learn to accept the feelings, no matter how painful, and the defense essentially fades away.

This is hardly an easy process, and I have given a bare outline of what it is about. I look forward to posting more, and hearing your comments will help me with that. In the meantime, please look at for a great deal of additional information.


Harriet GellerThe International Primal Association (IPA) was founded in 1974 as a community of people at all psychotherapeutic levels dedicated to "promoting growth and healing through deep-feeling process." Visit the website to find a referral list of practitioners, information about the organization and its retreats, and an archive of journal and newsletter articles about primal and related therapies. Harriet Geller has been a member of the IPA since 1978. She has served on the board of directors for most of those years, and has been IPA president, secretary, convention/retreat chair, and newsletter editor. In 33 years doing deep-feeling work, her roles have included client, trainee, facilitator, and workshop leader. Please contact her at with any questions or comments.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Good description! - Nell - Jun 9th 2011

This is a really clear description of feelings and Primal therapy. Thanks for writing it!


Primal Integration Therapy - Shoshannah Sarah - May 18th 2011

Harriet, this is an excellent introduction to Primal Integration Therapy. Thank you for writing it and sharing it with all of us! I posted it up on facebook at my profile. Blessings, Shoshannah

Intriguing Introduction - Elaine M - Apr 21st 2011

This is a well-written overview to Primal Therapy and gives rise to looking at our "defenses" in a new way.  I see the (metaphor of) peeling an onion as bringing tears--deep tears--that can lead to an internal cleansing and an open space from which to live with more clarity--if we are both willing and able to let the emotional pattern(s) go. Or is it that when (and if) you get to the bottom layer it simply dissipates? Can we totally let our "defenses" go and be at a place of "nothingness" or do we need to build up other (internal) resources first? It brings up a lot of questions -- but I imagine the answers are in the process itself.

freedom to feel - dianea kohl - Apr 20th 2011

Harriet, this is a wonderful clear piece about the importance of feeling in connection to the child within us a primal/marriage and family therapist, I can attest to the healing and loss of anger thru this deep-heart-connecting process that also heals physical symptoms....thanks so much for your help!

Truly, "crying makes me happy"

Very Insightful - - Apr 20th 2011

Thank you Harriet, your blog has piqued my curiosity and made me want to learn more about 'Deep Feeling Therapies' GOOD JOB!

Very clear feature article - Nanci Eisner - Apr 20th 2011

Very interesting and informative article.  Thanks, Harriet.


great intro - - Apr 19th 2011

Thank you Harriet.  Great intro to Primal - clear, concise and informative.

thank you - Karuna O'Donnell - Apr 19th 2011

this is very clear and well written, Harriet. 

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