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

Safety to Express Feelings: The IPA Spring Retreat

Harriet Geller Updated: Apr 22nd 2011

In my first blog, I gave a sketchy overview of what happens in deep-feeling therapies. I focused on philosophy: the ability to have our feelings gives us access to a large part of who we are that too often remains unconscious. I also made some key distinctions: defense mechanisms can sometimes look like authentic feelings, but need to be identified for what they are - behaviors that are covering unconscious early feelings. Is this of any use to you? Maybe a more practical approach would help.

IPA retreatFor about a decade, starting in my early twenties, I experimented with various therapists for what I recognized as depression. In some areas, as with my job, I was functional, but without structure I was unhappy and immobilized by unrecognized fears. One of my favorite defenses was intellectualization, using my brain's abilities to cover over the acute anxiety under the surface. Still, I recognized that there was some vital information that my big brain (as Kurt Vonnegut is fond of calling it when it is more of a problem than an asset) was not giving me, information that I needed to be able to care for myself and others.

I understood that I needed to get in touch with my feelings. But it wasn't until I started Primal Therapy and participated in a feeling group with others that it became possible. Seeing my fellow sufferers daring to breach their defenses and experience the terrifying feelings underneath, supported my own journey into those deep places. They taught me not only how to do it, but that it is permissible to do it, despite the many internal and external voices to the contrary.

The International Primal Association presents an opportunity for a similar experience at our upcoming Spring Retreat, Wednesday, May 11 - Sunday, May 14 at Kirkridge Retreat Center, a scenic haven (see photo) on the Appalachian Trail in Bangor, PA, 1 ½ hours from New York City. The retreat features a daily feeling group, led by experienced facilitators, where you can observe, talk, move about, or go into feelings at your own pace. You usually have a personal "buddy," a partner who is there for your support, in addition to the facilitators who are available to all. To provide further safety for our feelings, each morning begins with a Men's Group and a Women's Group, forums for expressing pertinent issues, participating in a group structure, or doing whatever else the group decides. In the Women's Group, we have a tradition of passing a "talking stick," a Native American custom that gives each woman free rein to express herself with the group's full attention.

The schedule for afternoons is made up of workshops presented by retreat participants and "peer groups" - the same four people meet for an hour each day to support one another in whatever way they choose. Memorable workshops from past years have included primal theater, Yoga, painting, silent hikes in the woods, Non-violent Communication (NVC or Empathetic Communication), Psychodrama, poetry writing, and excursions to the pond and meditative stone garden a mile down the hill. In the evenings the whole community of about 20 gather together, and then we are free to make music and sing, have a snack and chat in the Dining Room (or play Charades as we hilariously did one night), or take some time to be alone. On Friday night, we organize a Cabaret, an occasion for presenting your "talent" for singing, comedy, silence, music, dancing, chicanery, poetry, philosophical ranting, whatever, to an enormously appreciative audience. And on Saturday, we dance and revel into the night at a farewell party.

I want to emphasize that the IPA does not offer psychotherapy-we are charged with exploring, studying, researching, and promoting deep-feeling modalities. Yet it is difficult to come away from a four-day IPA retreat without an awareness of renewal and being on a healing path thanks to the power of a community forged on authentic communication and acceptance of the whole self.

Please go to the IPA website and click on the link to the Spring Retreat Flyer for more information. The retreat is only three weeks away, and the deadline for the early bird rate, a 10% savings, is April 26, next Tuesday. Note also the additional savings for IPA members. I would be very pleased to welcome some of you who are reading about deep-feeling therapies for the first time.


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.

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