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The Existential Moment: Primary Vs Secondary Process

A “Dirty Thunderstorm,” also called “Volcanic Lightning,” is a lightning storm created by a volcanic eruption plume. Rock, ash, and sometimes ice collide and produce static electricity through frictional charging. The process is similar to a typical thunderstorm, which occurs through ice charging in the collision of crystals.

A description of Volcanic Lightning goes as far back as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, as Pliny the Younger says, “There was a most intense darkness rendered more appalling by the fitful gleam of torches at intervals obscured by the transient blaze of lightning.”

That’s fascinating stuff. But, it is a world of difference between a historical account or a scientific explanation and the experience of the event or phenomenon. Because then there is this awe-inspiring encounter!

dirty lightning created above a volcanic eruption

Or, what of the feelings that arise thinking about ancient Roman parents and their children huddled in terror in their homes at the foot of the erupting Vesuvius? That’s chilling and heart-wrenching.

Existential-Humanistic theory emphasizes the distinction between primary and secondary processes. Primary process is a lived experience, such as emotions, bodily sensations, body language, and so on. Secondary process or meaning-making interprets primary process, creating a notion of reality, together a lens crystallized in a self-world construct. It is the “what” versus the “how” of primary process.

Both primary and secondary process matter in therapy. However, historically, psychotherapy privileged interpretation to enlivening experience. That can be challenging. For instance, it’s easy to “talk about” something and, in so doing, fail to discover, learn, integrate, heal, and grow.

E-H therapy flips the script. It prioritizes nurturing the expansion of primary process while acknowledging the importance of greater awareness and understanding of meaning-making. In so doing, the hope is to unleash powerful forces for healing and growth.

Links to Related Blog Posts:

Read The Existential Moment posts about “primary process” on EHI’s blog.

Read all the Existential Moment series posts on EHI’s blog.

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The Existential Moment: Micro-skills: Reflecting

Reflection is a bit like the work of the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. We mirror or reflect our client’s experience—the content presented, the process or experience in the moment (e.g., nonverbals, tone, pattern of speech, etc.), self and world constructs (e.g., “I am…”), protective patterns and inner tensions, and core vulnerabilities or wounds.

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