Kanye West tried 'scream therapy' after Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint

Elise Solé
Yahoo Lifestyle

Kim Kardashian staged an intervention for Kanye West, introducing him to a controversial form of stress management known as “scream therapy.”

West told the New York Times Monday that last year — after his wife was robbed at gunpoint in Paris and he was hospitalized for nine days for a reported “mental breakdown” due in part to exhaustion — Kardashian asked motivational speaker Tony Robbins to help West. 

“He could look at me and you know, I don’t know why he mentioned suicide, but he could tell that I was very low,” West said. “Really medicated, shoulders slumped down, and my confidence was gone, which is a lot of the root of my superpower because if you truly have self-confidence, no one can say anything to you.”

According to West, Robbins advised him to stand in warrior pose and let out a blood-curdling scream. “I was so self-conscious about the nanny and the housekeeper that I didn’t want them to hear me screaming in the living room,” the rapper admitted. “I think that that’s such a metaphor of something for the existence of so-called well-off people that they’re not really well-off — they won’t even scream in their own house.”

He added, “I still felt self-conscious. I didn’t have my confidence back.”

Kanye West tried scream therapy at Kim Kardashian’s suggestion. (Photo: Getty Images)
Kanye West tried scream therapy at Kim Kardashian’s suggestion. (Photo: Getty Images)

West did not refer to his experience as “scream therapy,” however the practice (formally known as primal therapy), has been used since the 1960s, including on celebrities John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and James Earl Jones. In it, a traumatized person reenacts a negative experience through unbridled screaming, crying, or whatever their primal instincts dictate, under the care of a professional. 

According to an analysis by Vice, the late Dr. Arthur Janov, who created the method and ran the Primal Center in Santa Monica, California, described his work as “the most important discovery of the 20th century,” and a cure-all for most physical and mental ailments. The idea was, most traumas stemmed from birth or unmet needs from childhood and returning to those painful origins can be healing. While screaming may be part of primal therapy, Janov warned on his website that screaming is an individualized response.

A representative from the Primal Center declined an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle, however, Janov shared one case study in his 1970 book The Primal Scream, involving a man named Gary who writhed, convulsed, and screamed during a session. 

“Afterward, when he quieted down, Gary was flooded with insights,” wrote Janov. “He told me that his whole life seemed to have suddenly fallen into place. This ordinarily unsophisticated man began transforming himself in front of my eyes into what was virtually another human being. He became alert; his sensorium opened up; he seemed to understand himself.”

The act of screaming is largely viewed as a hysterical, out-of-control response to stress — and science shows it may contribute to cardiovascular disease — but according to a study published in the journal Current Biology, screaming also fills an evolutionary role: To warn of us of danger.

“In brain imaging parts of the experiment, screams activate the fear circuitry of the brain,” David Poeppel, PhD., a professor of psychology and neural science at New York University, told Time. “The amygdala is a nucleus in the brain especially sensitive to information about fear.”

Screaming can also relieve stress — students at universities such as Harvard and Stanford have, in the past, organized scream sessions during exam periods similar to how meditation or exercise can provide relief. 

However, screaming as psychotherapy was never accepted in the world of psychotherapy, says Jonathan D. Moreno, PhD., a professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Impromptu Man.

In fact, a representative from the American Psychological Association (APA) tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “The APA only recommends evidence-based therapies where there is scientific research supporting its effectiveness. In the case of ‘primal scream therapy,’ despite the fact that it has been around for decades, there is not enough scientific evidence to support its effectiveness as a therapy for reducing stress.” 

“The 1950s were considered a repressive time period which included the rise of these growth groups,” Moreno tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Screaming was part of that — it was rebellious and Janov made it a centerpiece of his work. However, it’s never been successfully replicated and is one reason we now practice cognitive behavior therapy, which is intellectual growth to reframe one’s life.” 

He adds, “Primal therapy was considered a cult-like form of celebrity culture and after Janov got John Lennon and Yoko Ono involved, he was hot.”

Moreno did not personally witness Janov’s work but during a primal group therapy workshop in 1973, participants sat in a circle and chanted “I hurt too” which led to screaming and crying. “I recall one observer outside the group who very upset by it,” he says. “There was no closure for her.”

Scream therapy may work for some people but it poses a larger threat. “The unanswered question is,” says Moreno, “what to do with the feelings once they’re released?”

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