Blog 9) The Psychotherapist’s Prima: Prevention is Better than Cure!

The Psychotherapist’s Prima: Prevention is Better than Cure!

 ‘Greatest Love Of All’

 “I believe the children are our future

Teach them well and let them lead the way

Show them all the beauty they possess inside

Give them a sense of pride to make it easier

Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be”

 Whitney Houston

On first discovering the Prima concept, a psychotherapist’s first (secret) reaction may well be – in a true Freudian spirit – “this concept could do me out of a job!” It’s not, I suppose, a reaction that the therapist should be proud of. What, after all, does it say about him/her? It says that they actually know how the problems, which drive people to come to them (and which they pay them to try to resolve) could be avoided. This is almost certainly true: as they sit and listen to their patients’ problems, throughout their working day, they may often reflect to themselves that this person would not be; depressed/anxious/chronically lacking in confidence, if their mother/father had not; continually said that acutely discouraging thing; had that profoundly negative attitude; always reacted with uncontrolled anger.

In their defence, it can be added that, although they see these obvious causal connections, they haven’t, heretofore, believe that there is a way in which the repetition of these negative patterns, continually reproduced across the generations, could be forever avoided. Not, that is, until Prima! As Erasmus once said; “prevention is better than cure!” This is just as true of mental as of physical illness, and I believe that Prima does hold out the hope of being the ultimate ‘prevention mechanism’ when it comes to the generation of neurosis and other forms of mental illness. As the innovative, Post-Freudian therapist, Wilhelm Reich once observed; “If the tree has grown crooked, it can’t be straightened out.”

As above, we can say, with an enormous degree of certainty, that it is the actions, or inactions, of parents relating to their children which causes neurosis and most other forms of mental illness. Why do they get it wrong and how could we prevent them doing so? The answer to the first question is fairly straightforward; because they were done wrong to as children, and in the absence  of other ‘affective models’, they simply reproduce their own experience with their own children. How to stop them? Notice above, I used the expression, ‘affective models’. The ‘cognitive-mono-culture’ in which we live in tends to assume that the answer to every problem is more information. But, in this case – and many others – the ‘cognitive-mono-culture’ is wrong!

You could fill the head of every parent with cognitive information, about adequate child-rearing practice, until it started to pour out of their ears – it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to the problem we’re grappling with. It’s an emotional problem. It’s a problem of emotional conditioning: the parents were emotionally conditioned by their parents to behave, in the ways that they do, towards their children. This happens at an unconscious level, over a twenty-year period. It cannot be undone by cognitive information. Providing ‘affective models’ means getting the adult to consciously experience how some of this emotional conditioning during their childhood felt – and feels; how it ‘works’ in the present day.

This is the job of a psychotherapist – and a mighty hard and thankless task it is! It’s very time-demanding (hence expensive) and, with all due respect to psychotherapists, a successful outcome depends far more on the willingness of the client than on their skills. Consequently, providing psychotherapy to every parent in the country is simply not a viable option. This is where Prima comes in – intervene, not twenty years after the fact, but now, at the point at which the damage is being done!

But, who is going to do the intervening – an army of psychotherapist, councillors and social workers? No, your peers, in your community – the way it always used to be in the history of our species. A community doesn’t need any training in therapeutic theory and technique. It has its own emotional values (which are ultimately biologically based) and a community can respond effectively to cognitive information alone, because its not collectively trapped in an individual web of emotional conditioning. Alcoholic Anonymous is a good example of a peer-driven, self-help, therapeutic community. The ‘all-in-the-same-boat’ principle can certainly be applied to young parents – they are the most appropriate people to help each other.

At the very least, ‘close proximity living’, plus a commitment to sharing the parenting experience with peers, has to be the best safe-guard against the very worst and most destructive forms of parenting; the physical and sexual abuse of children. In comparison, our current methods of child protection are puny and ineffective. This is sadly reflected in the constant stream of failures: a recent, in-depth analysis of the records relating to the deaths of 163 children killed at the hands of a parent or carer in the last five years has shown that thousands of children from babies to 16-year-olds are ‘slipping through the net’ of protection measures despite the knowledge that they live in households with a history of domestic abuse, drug problems or where there has been a recent separation – all factors which dramatically increase the risk of murder. In the UK currently, approximately one child a week is murdered by its parents. This single fact is a very powerful argument in favour of Prima.