Letters To The Primal Page
July 24, 1997
I'm happy to finally let you know that we have our mailing list ready to go and are officially opening it up.
Here are a couple of details:
* * *
Concerning catharsis: Indeed, Jean Jenson's form of self-regressive therapy does seem to be based on catharsis. I got the impression that she was not much experienced with Stettbacher's therapy when she wrote that both therapies were essentially the same. However, she had only read his book, Making Sense of Suffering, and had just started to try to combine it with her own therapy in her work with clients, when she wrote Reclaiming Your Life
My experience is that Stettbacher's therapy certainly isn't based on catharsis, and I think this is the main difference between both therapies and the reason why I find Stettbacher's a better and more complete therapy In some aspects, however, the two therapies are very similar. I even think that, if done very carefully, one also could be able to go beyond catharsis with Jenson's method.
* * *
I suppose that all people on this mailing list (Editor's Note: The Odyssey mailing list) are intelligent and thoughtful and capable of asking questions. After all, isn't that what Stettbacher's method is about? But, no matter what the subject or who the people addressed are, let me do a little critical reasoning on Alice Miller's recent about-turn concerning Stettbacher's method.
Starting 12 years ago, I read all of Miller's books and I appreciated them for being clear, helpful and although written in a somewhat polemic style (which I enjoyed), logically argued. I even had the pleasure to talk to her on the telephone when she called me answering a letter I had written to her in which I asked for good primal therapists in Europe.
I recommended her books to all my fellow psychologists at our university and everybody else who was interested or planning to have a child. Needless to say, most of these, especially the students of psychology didn't understand her books and soon stopped reading them, because they complained that she writes "too one-sided", or was "too simple", . . . or possibly because they got afraid which, naturally, they wouldn't admit!
My impression changed in 1994 when A. Miller wrote a new foreword to the American version of The Drama of the Gifted Child. Then, when I read an interview with her in Psychologie Heute (German for Psychology Today) and finally her so-called Communication To My Readers on the Primal Psychotherapy Page, I wondered where her logical argumentation, openness, and truthfulness had gone?
I think Dr. Miller owes her readers a good explanation for her change of mind. What she has offered so far is insulting for every intelligent reader.
In order to understand why this is a reasonable question to ask, all one has to do is carefully read her books (especially the last three of them) and her former pre- and postface to Stettbacher's book and compare its contents and argumentation with what she wrote afterwards.
A person doing this will find lots of contradictions. I will name but a few, because I don't have the time to go in greater detail now.
Since I do not have the English versions I will cite from the German versions and translate them myself. (I apologize for that, but I think it should be no problem to find the correct corresponding passages in the English books).
In both Banished Knowledge and Breaking Down the Walls of Silence she writes that Stettbacher's method has helped her to "come from vague assumptions and premonitions, which I owed to my spontaneous paintings, to unambigous facts and with the help of my feelings and the inner confrontation to check them again and again" (Ban. Knowl.p 209 of the German paperback edition). She also says on the same page: "I got rid of bodily symptoms from which I suffered since my childhood and I lost my fears which also accompanied me during my whole life." And on page 212, "It wasn't until I could feel it (the reality of her early childhood) with all the belonging memories that the buried possibilities of my life opened at least those who had not been irrevocably destroyed."
In the above mentioned interview she was asked the question whether both of her primal therapies (she did a mock therapy before Stettbacher's) had enabled her to dissolve her childhood amnesia?
"Not really," she replied. "All of the time I searched for confirmation of premonitions and assumptions I had long had, at least since I started painting. But nowhere did there arise full evidence, which only a memory can bring. To faint memories came intense feelings, but to achieve this it would not have been necessary to undergo this painful and for me, misleading therapy. It (which one? ) has brought me serious problems which I had to solve outside of this therapy (which, mock or Stettbacher?) during the last years in order to set free my genuine possibilities of development."
Compare and think !
While in her last three books and in their prefaces, she says that J. Konrad Stettbacher has found a natural law (which she exemplifies on a small child being educated (mistreated) by her grandmother, see Ban. Knowl.) and developed a clear, checkable, transparent method based on this law, while she got all her questions answered, concerning Stettbacher's therapy, by reading his book carefully (postface) now according to her "communication to my readers."
Alice Miller writes that she had endorsed a very fragmentary and unsystematic text. She now compares Stettbacher's method to the use of cortisone in medicine. But the metapher doesn't quite fit because using a medication means to incorporate an artificially produced substance which earlier was outside of it. But my questions come from within. Has asking questions become poisonous recently ?
While earlier she explained very convincingly and stringently that several forms of psychotherapy, especially psychoanalysis, are harmful because of the pedagogical techniques they apply, but from her we now receive not the slightest bit of a reasonable analysis of the fallacies of Stettbacher's method.
I have been looking for errors in Stettbacher's method for 7 years now and still haven't been able to find any. And I have found no one who could tell me what's wrong his therapy. If Dr. Miller really knows them, I plead with her to tell us.
Dr. Miller talks about gurus, the dangers of abuse in primal therapy, and the possible dangers of the intensive phase (the first weeks of primal therapy with daily sessions). All this has been well known for a long time. Why is she not clearer about Stettbacher's errors? Does she, for example, think Stettbacher behaves like a guru ? Of all the people I know and have heard of who did therapy with Stettbacher not one has said this.
There is something terribly rotten in this Miller-Stettbacher drama, but I don't think it's on Stettbacher's side. As I said, I could go on in much greater detail and precision, if I had the time and if I felt like doing so, but I have to stop now to do therapy because feelings of nausea are coming up !
Even if Stettbacher was guilty of the accusations made by some severely suffering women, the molestation accusations, by themselves, would not be an argument against the therapy, at least not if the therapy is done alone. Many others have said something quite different about their experiences with Stettbacher, and my personal impression, and that of a friend of mine (a woman) who did therapy with Stettbacher for 6 weeks, is that what has been going on in Bern, Switzerland, is an evil smear campaign. (By the way, most of the letters to the editor of "Psychologie Heute" after Miller's interview, were in favour of Stettbacher).
I want to finish with a little speculation on the possible reasons for Dr. Miller's strange behaviour. As long as she doesn't give a reasonable answer to what's wrong with Stettbacher's therapy, this is all one can do, although for me it's no longer really important.
It is obvious that Stettbacher's therapy failed Dr. Miller, but why did it fail? There may be several reasons, one being her rather advanced age (although she said that the therapy was even possible for a person of her age in Ban. Knowl.) What I find more convincing is the idea that she finally didn't want to see the truth and all of its' consequences any more (Wasn't this also Freud's problem ?).
I got suspicious when I saw that in both Ban. Knowl. and in her preface to Stettbacher's book she writes that for those who WANT (in italics) to know their truths, that this is absolutely possible. Maybe in the end she herself didn't want to, or couldn't stand it any more because she saw and felt clearly not only what her parents had done to her, but also what suffering she caused her real children (see the former preface to Stettbacher's book) because it was the tragedy of her life that she could not have read Stettbacher's book before she became a parent.
But all this is not really our concern and after what she's done recently I don't feel too much pity for her. What I dislike about Dr. Miller, now, is that she, for whatever private reasons she may have, completely discards the therapy, which as she knows (and says in her postface), has helped and is helping some individuals (more and more as I hear) but now, with the help of her publicity, has confused many who were and are still looking for help.
Why didn't she just say: "I changed my opinion about this and for (good!) reasons, the therapy didn't work for me, but I heard of others whom it has helped. Look at it carefully and make up your mind?"
I cannot take Dr. Miller seriously anymore until I get my questions answered in a reasonable and honest way, something she is very well or has been capable of doing and what has made me an admirer of hers for many years.
A world famous psychologist who has propagated a therapy method and recommended it unconditionally to every suffering person should have a little bit more responsibility than she has shown.
What about all those readers and future readers who haven't heard of the interview or the "Communication?" There are thousands of copies of books out there with your extravagently praising pre- and postfaces, Dr. Miller. What do you do to rescue those readers ?
Is Dr. Miller's statement that "there is no salutary alternative to seeing and knowing the truth" (postface) still valid or has she changed her mind and feels that it's better to flee into some creed?
Either she should prove me wrong or be silent about therapy in the future, lest thousands of help-seeking people's hopes be so negligently deceived again.
The world is not the stage for Dr. Miller's private drama.
P.S. Talking about integrity: I forgot to articulate my questions about another of today's great psychotherapists or inventors of methods of psychotherapy.
Until recently Jean Jenson's book contained an appendix called: Regression therapy and Stettbacher's Primal Therapy: A complementary relationship. In this chapter, one could read: ..." I am recommending Stettbacher's therapy because it is the only other self help process of which I am aware at this time that is specifically designed to lead to the truth of childhood and to the healing of your own, personal abuse experiences."
In the new edition, this chapter and all references to Stettbacher have been deleted !
1. Does she no longer know of this other process ?Would somebody please tell me what integrity really means ?
* * *
August 3, 1997
I understand that I was wrong with thinking and writing that Alice Miller no longer recommends Jenson's therapy, so I want to apologize for having said this, since it seems not to be true. Since Alice Miller did remove all references to Jenson and Jenson's book in her latest version of The Drama of The Gifted Child and wrote in the Afterword to this book that she can't recommend any therapist anymore, I concluded that she doesn't recommend Jenson either. Now I heard that she still is good friends with Jenson and still supports her therapy, so I was wrong. But then, if that is so, why doesn't she write about Jenson's therapy in The Drama?
Now the question that I had in January comes up again, too: how does she explain supporting Jenson's therapy and rejecting Stettbacher's therapy at the same time, since there are so many similarities among these two therapies? Almost all her arguments for rejecting the four steps apply to Jenson's therapy, too. Even more: some do apply to Jenson's therapy, but not to Stettbacher's, like her being negative about catharsis, which seems to apply to Jenson's therapy much more than to Stettbacher's. I feel, Miller does not become more convincing by supporting Jenson.
Since her only arguments that does apply to Stettbacher but not to Jenson, is the alleged sexual abuse of patients, I guess that is why she rejects the four steps. But, as I wrote before, since this alleged abuse doesn't influence the four steps themselves, I think it is not a sufficient reason for rejecting them. I still think Miller overreacts.
But then, at the end of my letter of April 6, I also overreaced and I want to apologize for that, too. When I wrote that letter, I had just read her Afterword to her latest version of The Drama of the Gifted Child and I was very angry for that reason.. I should have known that I could have waited a couple of days before dealing with my feelings and thus calmed down before writing! But I didn't do that.
I am still negative about this Afterword, but not that much upset anymore. I ended with: "I am no longer one of her readers". In a way this is still true - although I still admire most of what she has written in the past, I am no longer interested in what she writes now, since she doesn't seem to tell the truth anymore. But I wouldn't say this today in the way I said it at the end of my letter in April. I feel what I wrote then was too theatrical, which is the way I tend to write when I overreact!
I really was upset and very, very angry then. What especially upset me was Miller recommending playing music instead of doing therapy and writing that playing music makes traumas fade away. This made me really furious. I had been doing that for so many years, before I had alowed myself to seek help and start dealing with my past. I had really loved music, was a professional musician, and I had really tried to reclaim my life by music, but the only result of my efforts was that more and more even music couldn't reach me through the fog that I was living in, and that I couldn't play anymore at all.
And Miller's words were so similar to what always had been said to me. The lies of just do nice things was the sort of advice that poisoned my childhood. "Just do nice things and don't tell about what 's really going on." Words that had been told to me later by so many people, too, when I tried to seek help, even by psychiatrists, and that had made me feel so desperate and lonely.
Then, about twelve years ago, Miller saved me by her book The Drama of the Gifted Child. I was lucky then, that I did have the old edition of that book. Her recently published edition would have been disastrous for me then. First reading a book that gave me so much hope and then at the last pages reading what already had been told to me during my whole life and discouraged me from starting to deal with the past, would have made me totally desperate. Even more desperate than before reading the book, since then I would have had the feeling that the only person in the world who seemed to understand me had abandoned me by telling me the same things my parents told me, and suggested that my parents had been right. I would have felt again that I wasn't allowed to ask about what had been done to me. It would have been these few lines that would have stuck into my mind, not the rest of her book. Even now, last April, I overreacted to what Miller writes now, but twelve years ago it really would have been pure hell !
The main problem why I was so angry in April when I read Miller's Afterword was not that I knew that Miller was wrong, but that deep inside I didn't know that anymore. She triggered old feelings of guilt; I again thought that it was all my fault, that if I had tried hard enough I would indeed have become happy and healthy by playing music, and I again thought that I was a bad child because of wanting to tell about how I really feel and why !
That's why I became so very angry with Alice Miller, to defend myself against my feelings of guilt and pain, pain of being left alone with what happened.
When I realized that I overreacted, my feelings became more subdued but I still feel Miller is very much wrong with these lines in her book and I still think that in this way she can cause damage to people and I think she shouldn't have written this. But it bothers me less now than I felt when I wrote that letter in April.
I wonder what research Miller's words are based on when she states that "traumas do fade away by expression through art most of the time and people will not feel the need anymore to deal with the past." How many people did she interview to gather this information, that she can state that this happens with people most of the time? Or is it just her own wish of this moment that things work this way and that she didn't do any research but just tells us her own wishes of what will happen with most people?
I didn't do research either, and I wonder if there is any support to my idea that many people do the same as I did and first try to solve their problems themselves when they find themselves in trouble, before they seek therapy. And that most people come to the idea to solve their problems by doing things that make them feel good, and then in the end start a therapy because all the things they tried did not make their symptoms leave. I certainly did not need any advice of how to avoid dealing with the past, advice like Miller gives in her afterword! I was already very good at that. Am I an exception?
I regret what Miller writes, since I think it is not the truth. But I apologize for my behavior at the end of my letter of April 6. The anger I felt and acted out then really had nothing to do with her.
Well, I wanted to write about this although April is already long passed and although it doesn't really seem to matter anymore and although I did already write about it in a private correspondence with you. But, nonetheless, I feel I want to apologize for my behavior.
During the past months I seldom thought of Alice Miller. I examined her words as well as I could some months ago, drew my conclusions and went on with my life. I live my life as well as I can, I use the therapy when the past is disturbing my life, and I am doing fine. I am interested in living and in therapy, not in Alice Miller!
* * *
* * *