Interview with Jean Jenson

This is an interview with the American therapist and author Jean Jenson, who wrote the book ”Reclaiming your life”. The interview was done in September and October 2010. I who ask the questions am Daniel Kraft, a psychologist in Stockholm, Sweden. I presently work according to the method that Jean and Ingeborg Bosch has developed together. You can find more information about me in other posts on this blog.

I do this interview on the occasion of my republishing Jeans book in Swedish. I also felt that it might be interesting for her readers around the world to hear from Jean 15 years after her book came out.

[note to Swedish readers: you can find a Swedish translation at]

Hi Jean, would you please tell the readers a little bit about how your life is today?

I have been mostly retired since 2004. I returned that year to my home in Idaho from the Netherlands, having moved out of the apartment I had there in Utrecht.

Because my daughter lives in San Francisco and I was used to traveling between two residences, I found an apartment there and again have two residences. I am looking forward to being a grandmother.

I still work as a therapist when someone contacts me for sessions or wants to go through the ”5 Day Intensive” treatment program I developed before going to Holland.

Can you tell us a few words about how you came to be a therapist?

I had no idea of what kind of work I wanted but went to college because my parents wanted me to. At first I wanted to work with young people, teaching them recreational skills (tennis, basketball, etc). During ”field placement” in various agencies I found many people who were Social Workers with Master’s Degrees. I admired them and the work they did. So I saved some money and went back to school at the University of Minnesota School of Social work to get an MSW Degree. (1963)

Can I also ask you about how you developed your approach?

After moving to California, I found a book by Arthur Janov, Ph.D, called Primal Therapy. It sounded good to me so I became a patient there. After some time, I was invited to enter his Training Program to become a Primal Therapist. I did that. (1970)

Which were the most significant influences and how was the process of integrating these different approaches?

The answer to the last question feeds into this one. I was not integrating Primal Therapy with any other approaches and I never have. I have explored other approaches, including those that describe their approach as ”feeling work” but they all stopped short of what my time as a Primal Therapy patient taught me needed to be experienced. Primal Therapy training, on the other hand, taught the necessary feeling work, but did not help the patient to integrate it into their present life realities.

A few years later, moving from California and starting to work privately, I found the importance of the integration work. This importance was later better understood and further developed when working with Dutch clients in the Netherlands with my colleague, Ingeborg Bosch.

What is integration more exactly? Why is integration so important?

Integration refers to the process the client goes through following a regression experience, after coming back into his present reality consciousness and seeing how the childhood experience that he had been repressing and denying by using defenses, had been influencing his behavior. This awareness makes it possible for him to change his behavior if he wishes to do so which is the integration of what he just learned. In other words, only after realizing how previously repressed experiences had been influencing his behavior, is it possible for him to behave differently, thus integrating into his daily life what he has just learned.

It seems to me that you and Ingeborg chose to focus more and more on defence reversal instead of regression. Is that a correct observation? If so, why did you chose to move in this direction?

Yes. The answer to this question is lengthy. At first I was influenced by Janov’s book to think that the regression experience is all that is needed to “heal.” (The definition of “healing” is to stop behaving in ways that are unconscious attempts to change the past through the present.)

What I found out while working with Ingeborg is that more is needed. In other words, healthy behavior does not automatically happen because of the regression experience. That only tells a person the source of their unhealthy behavior (now the word to describe it would be “dysfunctional.”)

So conscious efforts to change the behavior are needed and the most difficult part of that is to overcome the defense/defenses we employ to avoid bringing childhood reality into present awareness.

How would you describe the difference between your approach and mainstream psychodynamic approaches to therapy?

For years I have not continued to keep abreast of any ongoing developments in the psychodynamic approach, so my answer may be not relevant at this time. But my experience at the time I began my own approach was that the psychodynamic approach was to help the client gain insight into his or her behavior in terms of how those behavior was influenced unconsciously by past childhood experience and, once understanding this, the behaviors can be consciously changed through cognition.

In my approach, this understanding was only part of what needed to be done. The other part was to allow a regression into the consciousness of the child the adult was to feel what was pressed at the time so the experience could then be integrated into the present reality of the client.

How is it for you as a therapist to work with this method?

Very satisfying, because it works.

What do you feel is most difficult in working with your approach?

Being willing to go through it yourself.

The stepwise approach by Pia Mellody that you describe in your book ­ to what extent have you been using that in your own practice?

I don’t use it at all.

Mellody seem to be involved with the recovery-movement. Did you have any contact with that movement when developing your approach?

I don’t have a copy of my book here and I don’t remember the “Pia Mellody” stuff exactly but I did refer to her work because, at the time I wrote my book (mid-eighties…it took a while to get published) she was very important in the Alcohol Recovery movement. She headed up a alcohol recovery treatment center in the Southwest. The recovery community in Idaho where I worked was very interested in her work so I referred to it. You could find out more by Googling her.

Yes, I had contact with the recovery movement through the AA program. Years before I wrote my book I put together a workshop that I gave over three weekends and most of the people who attended it at first came from the recovery community but word spread and by the last weekend there was standing room only. I was not a part of the ACOA.

I know that there are many people who read your book, and would like to do your therapy, but can¹t find a therapist where they live. Do you have any words of advice for these people?

I addressed this a bit in the book where I presented exercises. But that is what we call a ”band aid.” Here in the United States people travelled to see me for the Intensive which was developed just for that situation.

What is your impression of how many people there are who have actually done the self-therapy suggested in your book?

I only know of a few who contacted me for advice from other parts of the country, but none since. There were less than 10. But I have no idea otherwise.

I find the clients stories in the end remarkable in that they all describe quite profound changes. Have you been able to follow any of these people and see how the they are doing five or ten years later?

Yes I have followed them because they were my clients in Idaho and still are living there. For years we had a small group before I was gone so long. Just last month while I was there I was invited to breakfast with two of the member of that group. Hailey is a small town. Unless they move away, I still see them, sometimes just downtown and sometimes in a follow up session as requested.

What are your observations when you see the impact of your therapy a number of years later?

The impact I see is that people in relationships are able to recognize when they are symbolizing on each other and avoid a lot of conflict that many couples experience. They tell me that when they see me around town.

This therapy allows for the ability to ”visit” the pain when one realizes he is reacting defensively and has learned how to overcome the defense and feel whatever pain the current situation is bringing up. It results in what I mentioned in the last paragraph; conflict is avoided and relationships last.

Do you have any thoughts regarding what can be repaired and what can not be repaired of the consequences of a painful childhood?

I wonder who used the word ”repaired.” It doesn’t sound right to me. We can’t repair pain for the past. The concept is misleading, I think. This therapy allows for the ability to ”visit” the pain when one realizes he is reactive defensively and has learned how to overcome the defense and feel whatever pain the current situation is bringing up. It is the ideal time for a regression into that pain, which can, eventually be healed so defenses will diminish. In present reality, it is the defenses that cause problems, not the past pain.

You mention with a few words in your book that you see this therapy as part of a vision for a better and more peaceful world. Do you feel that this vision has influenced you as a therapist and writer? How?

I don’t think this concept has influence me as a therapist except to make me a good one by practicing it.

I don’t think of myself as a writer. I’m just an author.

As far as the vision is concerned, It’s just a thought. Obviously, if people understood that we are unconsciously trying to meet needs from the past to avoid emotional pain by engaging in defensive behaviors of anger, hatred, resentment, aggression, false hope etc. and would be willing to feel old pain instead, hostilities would disappear. It’s idealistic.

Can you tell us a bit about your collaboration with Ingeborg Bosch in Holland? What were the most fruitful things with your friendship?

The collaboration worked really well. She saw more about how different kinds of defenses are used and we worked out the details about how and when they are used, together. We developed a a fully complete workshop course from the ideas that came from the collaboration. We spend hours discussing things to come to the conclusions we did.

What are your thoughts about the registering of a trademark for the method (today known as PastRealityIntegration(TM))?

I think it is a possessive and greedy action. It makes the therapy a business.

How is the interest for this therapy internationally? What do you see in the future regarding this method?

The interest as of today is mainly in Holland, France and Scandinavia. Ingeborg’s book that was a follow up for mine found no American publisher to be interested.

My book was translated into several languages but it only sold and was reprinted in The Netherlands, most likely because the Dutch publisher presented it to a workshop conducted by me to Dutch therapists, so the word spread. It was at that workshop that I met Ingeborg. Then she put her considerable business acumen to good use to further awareness of the book. I doubt if it would have even had a second printing without her efforts.

I think Europeans, and perhaps, Scandinavians, are populations that potentially respond better to these concepts because they don’t mind working hard for something worthwhile. After getting to know the Dutch, my theory is that, by comparison, Americans like to have things be quick and easy. We have never had a foreign war on our soil and it is only the southern states who suffered in the Civil War. As a people we have not suffered much by comparison as European have. So the therapy books that have sold well are those with simple and easy solutions and the therapy methods that are been most sought after are those that are also simple to do with ideal promised results.

By contrast, this therapy is to be practiced every day for the rest of your life, gradually helping the client to be aware of reality, stop using defenses to avoid that reality, and be able then to make good, realistic behavior choices.