In Banished Knowledge, Alice Miller abandons her traditional
use of case histories of the early childhood lives of famous authors, philosophers
and tyrants to show how early abuse results in lasting emotional damage
and anti-social behavior. Her earlier works were critical of her profession
of psychoanalysis, but in this book she makes the break complete in favor
of primal therapy.
Dr. Miller admits that her own writings through the
years reflected the abuse she received from her mother, but it was not
until she began a series of free association water color paintings that
her own repressions began to lift. After reading Arthur Janov's books she
realized that he had discovered a "crucial path" to the unconscious.
In the second half of the book she describes her own journey of discovery of primal
therapy and purports to explain why she turned down therapy at the Primal
Institute for primal therapy with a relatively unknown therapist.
After finding out that it was possible to do so, Alice Miller wanted
to confront the repressed memories of her childhood, but did not know how
to accomplish that work. She wanted to feel her pain, but did not want
go to Los Angeles and become subjected to "pedagogic opinions."
She noticed that Janovian techniques of getting someone into feeling their
early traumas had spread rapidly among therapists but she felt that Janov's
version was only partial therapy and was perhaps dangerous because sometimes
there was a lack of resolution after repression was Iifted.
Miller felt that the therapy should be more than just feeling one's
pain and thus was not, just by itself, curative. Furthermore, she felt
that some primal therapists, in their attempts to help their patients avoid
the dangers of suicide or psychosis, oftentimes combined the therapy with
psychoanalysis, religion, or other forms of psychotherapy, sometimes with
Moreover, she believed that Janov's explanations were incomplete since
he did not give instructions on how to actually feel one's pain. She had
spoken with him in Paris in 1985, and he had explained to her that the
details of primal therapy were not given in his books in order to prevent
misuse of its techniques.
Alice Miller concluded that Janov's omission had encouraged
"dangerous experimentation.", but, even so believed
that the reading of his books had pointed her in the right direction. Janov's form of regression therapy, she felt lacked some crucial elements.
After speaking with primal therapists in different countries, Miller
concluded that Janov's therapy was imperfect, since steps on other levels
were not undertaken. She complained that too many patients in primal therapy
were in states of unresolved feelings and had become primal junkies since
they were being led by guru therapists. Thus, she was suspicious of
primal therapy. A good therapy, she reasoned, should make one more independent
of the therapist, and the appeal of cults by some in primal therapy was
incomprehensible to her.
But one day, she read Mariella Mehr's Stone Age . The
book described a therapy which involved reliving early childhood experiences
and Miller noted that the experiences of the author were without "empty
pedagogic phrases, without lies" and "without traditional morality."
Since the relivings described by Mehr were free of her complaints of Janovian
therapy, she contacted the author's therapist, J. Konrad Stettbacher, a Swiss primal therapist. She successfully tested Stettbacher's techniques on herself and found that it agreed with the conclusions
she had reached of what an ideal primal therapy should be.
She felt that a patient should not have to experience the sensation
of being violated by the therapist. Such a therapy, she believed, can provide
some relief, but is not enough to eliminate one's neurosis. Alice Miller
believed that Stettbacher had succeeded In solving this problem. What problem?
Is she resurrecting the concept of directive versus non-directive primal
therapy? She is not clear on this point. (Note: The author no longer recommends Stettbacher's therapy. See Communication From Alice Miller.)
In this book Alice Miller writes that Stettbacher's form of primal therapy does not
ignore reality, is free of lies, without cliches, free of pedagogy, free
of moralizing norms, free of spiritual mystification and free of all agendas.
That Alice Miller is enthusiastic about Stettbacher's form of primal therapy,
there is no doubt. But I question whether her excitement is due to her
use of Stettbacher's techniques or because of her connecting with her own
Is the difference between Stettbacher's and Janov's primal therapies
the difference between tweedledee and tweedledum, or is there an essential
and important difference between the two?
My opinion is that they are the
same. Self-primaling is not the cure-all which some of its proponents claim. All self primalers need periodic
access to a therapist. Without a primal therapist, or better yet, a number
of primal therapists, many traumas will not be accessed or accessed incompletely.
Let's face the truth. Who but the richest amongst us could afford to see a therapist each time we need to primal? It is essential to learn to primal with a buddy and even alone.
One can be one's own worst enemy. It should not be a surprise for self-primalers
to learn that their own defenses can keep them from accessing crucial
material, or accessing it incompletely. Lawyers hire attorneys when the need arises, rather than be their
own attorney and "have a fool for a client." All primal therapists
have therapists. If they don't, they should!
Do Stettbacherian and other self primalers have lower
defenses or know techniques that professional primal therapists don't
know? Hardly. There is a limit to self primaling and that limit is reached early
in one's self therapy.