Letters To The Primal Page
April 1, 1997
Dear Self-Primalers, dear John,
First of all, I would like to thank you, John, for your effort and good work with Primal Psychotherapy Page. I really enjoy reading the discussions on your site.
Sometimes I clap my hands with delight and sometimes I am really angry. Your page pushes me a lot and give me support for my own way of self primalling. Thank you very much, John.
Next I would like to introduce myself: My name is Andras and I live in Germany near Heidelberg (about 60kms away). In 1991 I started the therapy of four steps after realizing, I was sexually abused by my mother and my two brothers. It was a triggering reaction like it was described by Bonnie. I watched a television program about male children sexual abuse I cried a lot and started to write pages and pages of what I was thinking. Finally I stated: "I am mentally ill."
The search for "professional" help was terrible and humiliating. After talking to a "good" therapist, I felt so bad and the therapist was of no value at all. (A friend of mine had the same experience). Before this trigger experience I read the book Drama of the Gifted Child. With this book I made the acquaintance with the therapy method of Stettbacher. What I really appreciated with this kind of help was that I could do it by myself and I didn't need anybody else for this. During my exams I went to Hungary for six week and started the therapy with the intensive period. A friend of mine came with me, so I wasn't alone. It was the best time of my whole life!. There was no horror, no confusion, like Alice Miller describes. I started to look ahead when I walked around. (I used to always look down.)
I realized many good feelings inside me, although I had to realize how bad my childhood was. My childhood was pure horror. But with realizing how bad my childhood was, I could also see how good I actually am. It was the first time in my life I experienced somebody caring for me. And this somebody is me!! This was really marvelous. Since then I do therapy continuously.
Now to the discussion of Alice Miller condemnation of Stettbacher and primal therapy. First of all, I would like to express my admiration of Janneke and Bonnie. I think they are completely right in saying that something in Alice Miller's childhood must have caused such an overreaction by her. When her interview appeared the first time in Psychologie Heute my friends and I were completely confused. One of my friends reacted like you, Ruediger. He thought Alice Miller was right to condemn Stettbacher. We quarreled a lot.
I wrote a letter to Psychologie Heute (part of it was published) and to Alice Miller. She never replied which seems to be usual. In the end we decided something must have happened between J. Konrad Stettbacher and Alice Miller. She argues with so much arrogance and anger, that it does not help anybody. She doesn't give any information at all. She is just accusing. She never said anything about why the 4-steps are bad or dangerous. Nothing at all. She is always saying: "If you have a bad therapist then it is dangerous, bla bla bla."
But Stettbacher's method was developed for self-help. We don't need any therapist at all. We can help ourselves. And if this is not true then please tell me exactly what the arguments of Alice Miller are. I really can't find any. The best thing is the following: She is saying better therapy methods exist. But she never tells us which one. From whom can I find the new therapy method? If I would read Alice Miller today, I would have been completely without help. She doesn't say what I can do with my horrible experiences. She herself says that she will not get cured from her horrible childhood. (It can be read in the new German paperback edition of Drama of the Gifted Child).
In this edition she killed all quotations referring to Stettbacher. She must be really angry. She is still using the examples of people who helped themselves with the 4 steps, but she is not mentioning the 4-steps at all. Is this honesty? The truth is that people could help themselves with the 4 steps and not with a certain kind of revealing therapy. She is torturing the reality. And this makes me so angry. I think Janneke is right: the condemnation of Stettbacher is a result of something private. That's Miller's problem. Fine or better not fine. But she has a responsibility to the public and the to her readers. And she cannot take her private problems to the public. It is the wrong place to express the anger and disappointment which resulted from something private.
She should go in a dark room, look inside herself, look out for the inner child and give her a hand. It is the complete wrong way what she has done. She doesn't give any help. She just condemns, that's all.
Janneke: By the way, as far as I know, Miller doesn't recommend Jenson's therapy either.
A short comment to you Ruediger: But, please remember that discussion and sharing experiences are two different things. They are not. Arguments are based on experiences. I agree with Janneke in this point.
Andras: Thanks for telling us your personal story of how you came to be in the 4 steps therapy. Like Janneke you also had bad experiences with therapists. And also thanks for your analysis of the Miller/Stettbacher controversy. Janneke now has an internet connection. I am sure she will send you her e-mail address. -John-
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April 5, 1997
I just read your review and comments of Alice Miller's interview in Psychologie Heute. Your comments are really surprising. I would like to give two short comments on your and her conclusions. By the way, Stettbacher wrote a letter to Psychologie Heute which was published in the magazine in July, 1995 referring to this interview.
A comment to the following quotes from your article:
"When the interview took place she was more beholden than ever to the opinion that more than abreacting is needed for trauma resolution. The cathartic track is the wrong track, she asserted, for the reason that too many defenses are lowered than what is necessary. More emphasis, she said, should be placed on the here and now and less on abreacting."Alice Miller has never understood Stettbacher's therapy. See page 62,63 of Psycholgie Heute:
"Only gradually I realized that it is not enough to go through the trauma of the past to free oneself permanently of their effects. I realized that it needs a viable therapeutical relationship to pay off the trauma."In the above mentioned letter Stettbacher, himself stated:
"The opinion, in the therapy the pain must be felt once again, is not only wrong, it is absurd."Stettbacher never said anything that somebody should be resuffering the pain once again to solve the trauma. People have problems in the here and now, because of their traumatic history. To solve the problems, you start with the current problems and end up by realising where the problems come from. Of course you will get in touch with the pain, but this is not the aim of Stettbacher's therapy.
It is not the aim to feel the pain, cry, sit down and give up, - not at all. The aim is to find out where all the problems come from and then to fight for a better life, against the people who did you such horrible things, to fight for yourself and protect what is worth to be protected.
My second comment concerns the recommendation of Stettbacher's therapy and your comment:
"So how could Alice Miller have anything good to say about primal therapy after she suffered so much during her three weeks' intensive? How could she in all honesty, speak favorably about primal?"She recommended Stettbacher and primal therapy after she experienced all this pain during the three weeks. She had recommended Stettbacher until 1994. This means that her condemnation was years after her very bad experience. Her condemnation of Stettbacher had nothing to do with her awful time during those three weeks.
By the way, Stettbacher has trained therapists. I know of one who practiced in Bielefeld, Germany.
Andras: Thanks for your letter. You were not the only one who was surprised! The quote of Stettbacher you supplied hardly sounds like the primal therapy of which I am familiar. When I read Stettbacher's book I did not come to the conclusion that "cure by insight" was the goal of the 4-step therapy. Even the book's subtitle is: The Healing Confrontation With Your Own Past. I always thought and still believe that insight is simply a bonus which results from the connection of the old feeling with one's consciousness. I believe what "cures" is the connection to one's repressed traumas which occurs during the deep feeling abreaction. Perhaps Stettbacher has revised the theory of his 4-step therapy method. According to the quotation you furnished it would seem as if J. Konrad Stettbacher believes that his therapy method is actually a form of insight therapy!
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April 6, 1997
I realize that my last letter to this Primal Page about Alice Miller's interview in Psychologie Heute, was based on Ruediger's summary and not on the interview itself. Now that I have more information, I want to write again. My opinion of Alice Miller is even more negative now.
I realize now that her statement that self-help doesn't work and that a therapist is always needed, is based on letters from people who wrote to her to ask for a therapist. But how can she be so sure that what these people need indeed is a therapist? I wrote to ask for a therapist, too. But it turned out that the problem why I couldn't do the therapy of the four steps had nothing to do with lack of a therapist, but with lack of information. It turned out that I didn't need a therapist at all at that moment.
This could be the case with more people. I thank God that I didn't write to Alice Miller then, but to Stettbacher. Alice Miller would have added me to her list of people for whom self-help was a failure and would have done nothing to help me. Stettbacher sent me information that enabled me to continue the therapy. Alice Miller did not do research to find out what exactly was the problem of the people who wrote to her. Her statement that self-help is impossible has no sound basis, as I see it. She says that ("only") a few people did manage to help themselves. Why doesn't she find out what is the difference between people who do and who don't manage? I think she is dealing with this subject in an inadequate way.
As I understood, Alice Miller totally rejects self-help now, she doesn't recommend Jenson anymore, either. But as far as I know, this has been different. I myself have an edition of Jenson's book in which Stettbacher is recommended, but I heard from others that there is also an edition in which Stettbacher is not mentioned anymore, but in which Alice Miller still supports Jenson and still supports self-help. (If I am wrong about this, tell me.) Then she rejected Stettbacher before she rejected self-help. This also would suggest that problems with self-help are probably not the cause for her rejecting Stettbacher.
What I find, if possible, even worse than not recommending Stettbacher nor Jenson is that she now says that it is the human encounter with a therapist, that is healing, and that the chosen therapy method possibly plays a role of second importance. In my opinion this is the most dangerous opinion that one can have about therapy. In the first place it is my experience that her supposition is not true. I tried an endless long list of therapy methods and none of them worked, except for Stettbacher's four steps, and Jenson's method that I later used together with the four steps. I know different people can be different, but I myself think that this differences are not that big. More important is that a therapy that is based on the "curing" effect of the human contact with a therapist makes the patient really totally dependent on this therapist, more than any other therapy "method". And it makes it almost impossible for the patient to have a clear idea of what is going on and to have control over the situation. It is, as I see it, also the form of therapy that can be used most easily by a therapist to feed his narcissistic needs (since the cure of the patient is based on the contact with him or her as a person) and that can make the therapist be the central person in the therapy instead of the patient.
I had such a therapy that was based on such a human contact with the therapist and in which the methods played a role of secondary importance. This therapist was a very warm and loving man and the therapeutic relationship seemed to give me a lot of new and valuable experiences. It seemed to give me everything that I had missed in my childhood and this seemed to be a reliable base for dealing with the horror of my childhood. But it wasn't. None of my symptoms diminished. It was a most dangerous track. In the end I felt I had been exploited. I still hardly can believe it, but I did this therapy for a period of almost nine years! It was so difficult for me to see what was going on and to escape from this. It seemed to give me so much warmth and honest human contact. And it was such an addiction. I don't understand how Alice Miller can advocate a therapy method that makes a patient so extremely dependent. For me the only result was that I lost nine years of my life.
I think a therapy should always be self-help, also when it is guided by a therapist. This is, as far as I can see, the only possibility to avoid the dependency- and exploiting-trap.
Then there is the problem of this Basis-therapy. (Editor's Note: The early or intensive phase of the therapy) When I read Ruediger's summary I thought that Alice Miller based her rejection of Stettbacher's Basis-therapy on experiences from people with his Basis-therapy. It seems to me now that this is not the case, but that her rejection is based on her own experiences, with primal therapy. But Stettbacher's four steps and primal therapy are two different things.
I agree with Alice Miller's rejection of primal therapy. But this opinion of her about primal therapy is not new, she already wrote about that in her book Abandoned Knowledge. Then she seemed to know the difference between primal and the four steps. Now she suddenly does as if they are the same and always have been the same. I think this is an unacceptable maneuver. I agree with Andras that her rejection of Stettbacher cannot be based on this three weeks Basis primal therapy, since they took place long before she recommended Stettbacher's therapy.
I experienced myself very clearly the difference between primal and the four steps. My experiences with primal were exactly the same as Alice Miller's: being forced into old feelings, experiencing and expressing intense horrible, unbearable pain and fear, and drowning in it. The four steps are, as I experienced them, not based on experiencing pain but on saying "no" to pain. The four steps are a way to handle the old pain that disturbs my life, to come to see that the abuse was wrong, to protest against it and to fight for a better life. I do find out what happened in the past, and I do feel the old feelings, but dealing with and protesting against this is totally different from experiencing and drowning. I experienced that feeling and expressing pain does not cure, I did this for years and years without any benefit. But the four steps are also not comparable with traditional insight therapy.
The most healing sessions that I had with the four steps were not the ones in which I felt the most pain, nor the ones in which I had rational insights. It was the sessions in which I was able to really see that I as a child had not been responsible for the abuse that was done to me and in which I could lay the guilt where the guilt belongs; it was the sessions in which I was really able to feel that it wasn't true that the abuse was done because I needed to be made "better" this way - this man told me that, I believed it, but I could see and say now that these were lies; it was the sessions in which I could see that all the reasons that my parents possibly had to abuse me and that I tend to see as excuses were no good reasons and no excuse; it was the sessions in which I could truly stand up for myself and could say "no" to the abuse and could feel this "no" with all my feelings; it was the sessions in which I could really stand up for what I needed and deserved.
This is the way I do the four steps. I do not know for sure if this is my own version or if this is exactly what Stettbacher does. But this way it does work well with me. When I feel the old pain in daily life, I protest against it. I say I don't want this. I tell how terribly this pain disturbs my life. I feel and tell what I want and deserve and should have. I fight for that. I find out, feel and tell what caused all this pain and feel and tell that it was wrong.
As far as I know, primal therapy and the four steps are not the same. I find it a cheap shot from Alice Miller to suddenly suggest that they are the same. She could know better. I do not pretend that I know how Stettbacher works in his Basis therapy, I do not know if it is good or not. But I do disagree with what Miller does now. If she wants to criticize Stettbacher because of his Basis therapy, then she should find out what happens in his Basis therapy and not criticize him because of what happens in primal therapy.
Alice Miller tells in the interview that she did this primal therapy as a kind of self experiment in a period of her life when she felt good. She felt strong, and was curious about unknown memories. Then she did this three weeks Basis therapy and this experiment ended with broken defenses, her feelings in turmoil, not sleeping anymore, being terribly scared and thinking of suicide. She says that today she would never more enter such a risk, because one can lose too many worthwhile years of life this way. Well, I agree that it was absolutely wrong what was done to her in this Basis therapy and I would never recommend such a therapy to someone.
John, you write that her experiences are not typical. But since one does not know whether one will be a typical case or not before one starts this, it would be better if a therapist never uses techniques that can cause this.
She also states that she didn't get any memories back. When I read that, I concluded that she was not truthful. Either she is untruthful in this interview, or in Abandoned Knowledge and her later books, in which she tells so enthusiastically about finding memories of her childhood by working with the four steps. Is her memory failing her? It seems to me that she just tells what fits to her personal needs of the moment. When she wanted that other people would be helped by this four-step-method, she told what could make people start doing this therapy. Now that she wants, out of personal reasons as far as I can see, that people don't do this therapy, she tells that the therapy was a failure with her. It looks like she is manipulating. She, of all people. She, who did such a good job in protesting against manipulation, is herself manipulating. I am shocked!
And indeed, Andras, why does she only vaguely mention "better methods" without ever telling what these methods are? I am more and more convinced that something unspoken is going on with her, and I am feeling less and less compassion for her. I am angry with her.
And even more now that I looked into and read a part of her latest version of The Drama of the Gifted Child. She indeed, like Andras told, does not mention Stettbacher anymore, nor Jenson, nor self-help, as far as I could see (I admit that I not yet read the whole book, only the afterword seems to be new, the rest a matter of many things being left out). In her afterword, she tells that she cannot recommend any particular therapist. She even suggests that it could be good not to do any revealing therapy at all, she writes that one can cure by just doing things that make intense good feelings come up, like painting, playing music and other forms of expression through art and by trying to get one's present needs met. I am astonished. The old traumas can just fade by doing so, she writes, and the advantage of this way is, according to her, that one stays in the here and now.
I am a musician and know from experience that it doesn't work this way. It would be nice if it was that simple, but it isn't, unfortunately. In spite of all the wonderful feelings that I experienced during playing music, none of my symptoms diminished, and she could know pretty well why, if she would want to know. Music made my life more bearable, but that is not the same as healing.
And how can one try to be in the here and now and try to get present needs met when one is constantly mixing up past and present and has no insight in what are in fact old feelings and needs? I endlessly tried to get my old "present" needs met. It was a hopeless, endless, impossible and disastrous attempt that brought me nothing. Even when the needs were met it didn't bring healing. Old needs that come up need to be acknowledged as old and to be grieved, not to be met. One indeed has to come in the here and now, but not by thinking that everything one feels is here and now.
What Alice Miller writes about her life in the afterword of this book can be found in Jenson's list of denials. To me, it looks like she has given up the chance to live her true self and has decided for herself that she is satisfied with living a false self and feeling good. Or perhaps: "good". For someone who wrote The Drama of the Gifted Child, I find this very, very remarkable. Maybe I am absolutely, totally, mortifyingly wrong about this (then I will apologize as soon as I find out), but this is how it looks to me at this moment, from my, limited, point of view: as denial.
But she can choose to do with her life as she wants. What I am angry about is that she tries to get her readers to make the same choice. I reject strongly that she does this. I think she has no right to do this.
Alice Miller wrote a "Communication To My Readers" on this Primal Page. This is no longer directed to me. I am no longer one of her readers.
Janneke: For most people, I believe that regular primal therapy would be preferable. But one obvious advantage of Stettbacher's four-step method is that overloads of pain are not as frequent since you are removing your own defenses and a person would not push himself into such a condition. However, I believe that the chances of success in regular primal therapy (with well trained therapists!) are higher. But perhaps, not for you Janneke.
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April 8, 1997
I am a clinical psychologist who came to psychology via religion which I now repudiate. I consider myself a critical thinker who began graduate school in psychology as a cognitive-behavioral therapist. Over the years of developing my "art" I have - unknowingly - been led to primal therapy.
As I have read the brouhaha over Alice Miller vs Stettbacher I am reminded of a cliche' "A grown-up is no man's disciple." With respect to religious writings I came to the realization we need to take what is good and right and discard the rest. I believe this is true of Miller's works. We not only don't need her approval or disapproval; it is immature of us to seek it. She has clay feet like the rest of us. Some of what she wrote is brilliant; some of it is self-aggrandizement.
I'd like to thank you for your Web Page - it is informative and provides a true service.
Gary Schummer, Ph.D.
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Alice Miller stresses the here and now in the paragraph in which she recommends music/painting etc. She says that one could do things that cause intense good feelings, and that by expressing these present feelings in art, traumas can fade, so that one usually will not feel the need to deal with old traumas anymore. This gives me the impression that she does not refer to her experiences with water-color painting. She certainly does not refer to triggers like movies. I can imagine, John, that your thoughts went that direction when youn read my letter. But in these lines of her book it seems her thoughts do not go into such directions.
I think it could be right what Andras wrote, that Alice Miller thought that Stettbacher's therapy is about reliving traumas instead of about protecting what is worth being protected. It seems like Stettbacher's ideas do even fit with some of Miller's recent ideas! So, then I ask myself again what happened that she doesn't see this, even after Stettbacher wrote about this to Psychologie Heute, like Andras told us about? Why does she now even say that it could be better not to deal with old pain that disturbs one's life, instead of telling that one can deal with the past by striving for the life one wants and saying no to abuse and the consequenses of it?
In the extra information that I got from Stettbacher he stresses that one should never put up with a symptom that disturbs one's life, never accept it. Maybe Alice Miller feels that concentrating on making contact with positive feelings, could be a way not to let a symptom disturb one's life and a way to live a rich life, filled with feelings. But my experience is that it was my work with Stettbacher's therapy that brought me the positive side of life, and that my attempts to reach that by "blissful feelings" didn't work. That way I did let the symptoms continue to exist, and they continued to ruin my life.
In the past it happened that I welcomed pain during therapy sessions, welcomed the old feelings as an oasis in a desert of having no feelings at all. I experienced that this was a dangerous trap. A trap in which I mixed up feeling good and feeling pain. Now I protest against pain, also when it sometimes still feels as a relief when I have been out of contact with myself for some time. Then I use the 4-steps and say out loud how terrible this not being able to feel was and how the old pain caused that. Aloud, I say that the pain hurts and that I want something else in my life, and that at that moment, I don't want my life to be this way. Yes, I want to feel, but I want to feel present feelings, not these old ones. I see and feel the memory that caused this and say it was wrong what happened. I say no to the pain, do not welcome it anymore. I fight for a healthy life.
With me, mixing up feeling good and feeling pain created an addiction to pain. I agree with Alice Miller's warning against such an addiction, but it looks like she does not see what possibly could be a cause (perhaps one out of more causes) for this. I think that doing things that bring up blissful feelings is not the right answer to the problem of addiction, and that Stettbacher's four steps are a better answer.
Well, this is what I wanted to add to my previous letter.
Janneke: I have difficulty in understanding this "addiction to pain," a need to want to often feel early traumas. It is an addiction I hear about often and about which some have complained. Ultimately, the only reason I want to feel the early traumas is to be rid of their effects. A more proximate reason is to be free of the tension and stress which comes before the primal re-living connects to consciousness. I also have a desire and curiosity to know my personal history, what made me what I am. For all those reasons, I welcome the re-living. Yet, sometimes I must admit, it does "hurt so good." Perhaps, for some, therein lies the seeds of addictive primaling. -John-
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April 13, 1997
Your page is just what I hoped to find (considered starting one myself some time ago). I've been doing self-primaling since 1980, and I began it after three years of professional therapy of the Janov school. I have come light years - and I had to come that far given the incredible emotional deprivation of my childhood. Over the years I developed a powerful physical technique that I believe has enabled me to enter the last phase of emotional resolution and empowerment.
I still have a need for support and understanding from others on the same path. In return I have a lot to offer them. I am also a professional psychotherapist (what a surprise!), one of the many doing this who have been seeking, struggling, and fighting to find and possess themselves.
Doug Nimtz, MS, CAS
E-mail to: TIMELORD47@AOL.com
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