Walking into a room during your lunch hour to have a good shout may seem like a helpful way to blow off some steam, but experts say there’s little evidence the approach offers long-term mental health benefits.
Primary Scream Therapy (PST) was created by psychologist Arthur Janov in the late 1960s. It is based on the idea that repressed childhood traumas are at the root of neurosis, and that screaming can help release and resolve the pain. With a best-selling book and high-profile patients including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the approach became popular in the 1970s.
However, modern experts say the therapy has little evidence to support its use.
Professor Sascha Frühholz of the psychology department at the University of Zurich, whose research includes the cognitive and neural mechanisms of voice production and emotional processing, is one of them.
“In my opinion, there is no scientific evidence that primary scream therapy has positive effects in the treatment of mental and psychological disorders. Since modern psychotherapy is an evidence-based treatment approach, no serious school of psychotherapy uses elements of primary scream therapy today,” he said.
“PST is also based on the partly erroneous assumption that traumatic early life events are stored as mental and bodily complexes, like a prison, that can only be resolved by ‘exploding’ during screaming,” added Frühholz. “There is no scientific evidence for this.”
Frühholz also pointed out that primal screaming therapy predominantly uses angry screaming, which could backfire.
“We know that such constant expressions of anger as a therapeutic method have no effect or even negative effects on the therapeutic outcome,” he said. “Our own research shows that positive yells (joy and pleasure) are much more relevant to humans and induce social bonding as a positive effect.”
Dr. Rebecca Semmens-Wheeler, a senior lecturer in psychology at Birmingham City University, said she too has concerns about the long-term benefits of yelling for mental health, although she said little research has been done.
“The current state of things is that we don’t really know, but based on what we know, it’s not likely to be useful,” he said.
Among their concerns was that yelling, or hearing others yell, could activate the body’s “fight or flight” mechanism, increasing adrenaline and cortisol levels.
“[That] it’s kind of the opposite with what you’re doing with things like meditation or yoga, which generally activates the parasympathetic nervous system which helps you slow down, take stock, let the prefrontal cortex get some glucose again. .. and it helps us make better decisions,” he said.
Semmens-Wheeler added that if yelling becomes a habit, it could also get in the way of other actions that might be more helpful when it comes to dealing with emotions.
But, he noted, context is important, and yells may help if they’re done in groups and allow people to bond.
“I am quite skeptical about the potential benefits, especially in the long term. [But] If you want to do it for laughs, why not? she said. “Maybe you’ll feel fine for a few minutes. But I don’t think it has any potential as a long-term, ongoing treatment. I think it’s more of a novelty.”