The Primal is the Political: Psychotherapy, Engagement, and Narcissism in the 1970s
Johns Hopkins University Press
Copyright © 2018 The American Studies Association.
Arthur Janov’s best-selling book The Primal Scream (1970) announced an ambitious new psychotherapy in which patients relived repressed childhood trauma in the belief that this would free them from neurotic suffering. In The Primal Revolution (1972), Janov used the ensuing prominence to suggest that primal therapy demanded a struggle against social as well as personal repression. Nevertheless, primal therapy has been consistently held up as a symptom of the counterculture’s inward turn and part of the “awareness movement’s” deviation from the hope for social transformation represented by the radical youth movements of the 1960s. Historians have reclaimed the 1970s as a period of vibrant grassroots politics, but the role of the awareness movement is rarely reevaluated. Where Janov’s therapy is concerned, this is a significant omission, since in its early years the narcissistic elements that later came to the fore were outweighed by primal therapy’s potential for political critique. By examining Janov’s publications, interaction with other primal practitioners, and influence on John Lennon and other leftists, this essay knits primal therapy into the story of 1970s radicalism.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Johns Hopkins University Press via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 70 (1), pp. 79-100.