Reaching For The Pain With Stettbacher's Method of
Self Primal Therapy

By "G"

I have never even seen a primal therapist before, much less used one. But, for about 15 months now, I've been making steady progress in primal therapy using Stettbacher's method for self primalling. Since I know very little about Janov's methods and the methods his followers use in self primalling, I'll restrict this writing to my own experience at applying Stettbacher's method. I'll leave any comparisons of methods up to the reader.

The essence of Stettbacher's four step procedure is to start with a perception or a sensation, generally one which is painful or is associated with causing one's life to be less pleasurable than it could or should be, and then to systematically allow associated feelings and needs to come to the surface of awareness. I call the core of Stettbacher's process for resolution of effects stemming from early pain and trauma, ``Feelings Analysis''. Feelings are the only connecting pathway between one's neurotic reality and the primal trauma that is responsible for that reality. So I have found, after access is established, that there are two distinctly different ways for getting a primal to come to fruition; Let it erupt from within or methodically go in and get it.

The beauty of Stettbacher's method is that once a person is well established in primalling, the analysis work is not restricted to any particular place or time. It can and should be conducted whenever there are feelings present to explore and analyze. What a person must truly look at are the elements of his own psychological defenses. Very few of us have any fondness for the debilitating characteristics these defenses give us. And when our defenses fall short of doing their job of adequately protecting us from primal pain, we suffer. The questions we set out to answer, then, are why are we the way we are and why do we act the way we act? So, as in Janovian primal therapy (with my limited understanding of it), Stettbacher's primal therapy also sets out to assault one's defenses. But it's done by thoroughly understanding ourselves, our feelings and our unfulfilled primal needs.

Once a person has recognized the undesirable outward projection or irrational behavior of a psychological defense the next step is to feel the feelings behind it and to analyze those feelings to determine their origin. In my opinion, the feeling analysis process is not unlike insight therapy except that it ultimately progresses all the way to the root of the issue, the primal pain. In conducting the analysis a progression must occur which takes the person from recognition of a psychological defense to connecting with feelings about the importance of that defense. Once these shallow feelings are established, the progression is toward deeper understanding, deeper feelings and deeper meanings. In the early stages of the therapy this can be a lengthy and time consuming process. The pay off, of course, occurs when the process finally connects with the earliest feelings and the pain of unmet needs resulting from the primal issue.

I didn't connect with a primal until nearly six weeks of working the Stettbacher procedure, working it generally three times a week for anywhere from one half hour up to perhaps 3 hours per session. That initial six weeks was very productive time even though I never experienced a primal until around the sixth week. Six weeks of analyzing and expanding my awareness and knowledge of my feelings had gotten me close to connecting with issues associated with several unmet emotional needs of early childhood.

Prior to my first primal, I knew absolutely nothing about primal therapy. I had never heard of Arthur Janov. Consistent with my basic nature, I had hastily read the procedural parts of Stettbacher's book and began doing the procedure without studying his book in detail. I was eager to begin the procedure because of the enthusiasm Alice Miller had shown for Stettbacher's technique and also because I felt desperate. All of Alice Miller's works that I had read had been right on target. As a result of that, I naturally felt that Miller obviously knew what she was talking about in her recommendation of Stettbacher's book and methodology.

That first primal caught me completely off guard. It began with a feeling that my mother was angry with me. The crux of that first primal experience was that she had picked me up out of my crib, smacked me on the bottom, then placed me back down in the crib and left me there. The greatest feeling was that I needed her. I cried, calling out to her and telling her how I needed her. The feelings were so real and so profound. Within minutes the intensity of the feelings dropped off. Only a residual effect remained. I NEEDED MY MOTHER. It was such a good feeling, even though it hurt, and I wanted the feeling to last. Low intensity feelings of need for her did last for perhaps an hour to an hour and a half. Alice Miller, once again, had shown me that she was on the mark. ``Stettbacher's therapy'' had done something that none of perhaps 75 self help books I had read had been able to do for me.

With the exception of spontaneous birth primals, the majority of my primals have had a lingering feeling of needing my mother. I should have recognized that this would be my major primal theme. I didn't find this out until I had been doing Stettbacher primalling for nearly 14 months. Until that time, any mention of the fact that my mother was killed in an auto accident when I was three years old, was nothing more than a trivial, nonfeeling statement of fact. During that 14th month, I finally felt the real emotional impact of losing her. For the period of several weeks during which this series of primals occurred, I acquired the feelings of an anxious little child who had lost his mother. My vision tunnelled down, I couldn't concentrate, I could think of little else but how I needed her, I lost my appetite and with that, over 10 pounds of body weight. The feelings came on each morning, reached peaks of intensity in response to feelingful thoughts, and then subsided late in the day. During the times of greatest intensity I was able to readily enter heavy primals with crying, pleading, occasional violent physical outbursts, and simply calling out in desperation for her. During the lengthy periods of lower intensity feelings, I merely was hurting because I needed her so badly.

I was involved in the accident that had claimed my mother's life. I suffered head injuries and a broken left wrist and remained in a coma for three days. In the course of primalling, I experienced occasional to sometimes frequent head pains from about the eighth month through perhaps the twelfth month. Sometimes these occurred during intense primals and at other times they occurred when primalling wasn't even in my thoughts. I always had a good idea that the head pains were related to the accident, but the broken wrist feelings surfaced in an alarming fashion. While gardening, I suddenly lost almost all control of my left hand and wrist. My first thoughts were that I might be having some kind of a stroke or other neurological problem. But over the course of several hours, the feeling in my hand and a limited amount of its use returned. About a day later, soreness set in to the muscles and skin between the thumb and index finger, that area subjected to irritation by the bridging part of the wrist cast I wore (presumably) after the accident. On the second day my strength had increased to perhaps 35% of its capacity. About three days after it began I had regained complete, painfree use of my wrist and hand.

Like I said previously, Stettbacher's primal therapy isn't confined to a specific place or time. The feeling analysis is an almost continuous process. Deep analysis works best while reclined and relaxed with the eyes closed, especially during the earlier months of using the therapy. Later on, much of the analysis can be conducted while going about normal routine activities. The primals themselves, come on whenever they are ripe and you are ready to feel them. An exception to this is that some physical pain primals don't wait for an invitation to drop in.

Stettbacher mentioned susceptibility to cramps as being one result of psychic injury. I recall having a significant number of leg cramps around the ages of about five to ten years old. It was about eight years ago that I began having leg pains, especially in the lower leg muscles. These pains were a mere subtle tightness of the muscles which increased with stress and decreased during periods of relaxation. Once I became well established with self primalling, the leg pains would often become pronounced. It wasn't until a group of leg muscles suddenly and excruciatingly contracted and remained so, that I recognized the leg pain phenomena as cramps. This particular cramp remained for several days until primalling alleviated the problem. Even as I write this, the problem with leg cramps continues. Like a reservoir fluctuating with its supply of water, the leg cramps rise and fall with my level of distress.

In his book, Stettbacher briefly mentions the ``Life Maps'' which have proven to me to be invaluable in helping connect myself with feelings associated with my distant past. His implication is that by studying family history and records, drawing floor plans, etc., primal feelings can be more readily accessed. I didn't learn the importance of all of this until over a year into the therapy.

A few photos of my mother that someone had given me a number of years back had provided me with no feelings of familiarity with her at all. But since I did remember a few incidents and issues which occurred before my mother's death, I recognized that I had something to build upon.

We lived in Boulder, Colorado at the time of the automobile accident. I could remember a few occurrences in and about our house and so I had a vague idea of what some of our floor plan looked like, what the immediate neighborhood looked like and even a notion that we lived near the west edge

of a residential part of the city. To probe deeper, I wrote the Boulder Chamber of Commerce and asked them for a city map and anything else they could send me such as brochures with photos of the city, etc. When the materials arrived, my first look at the map of the city promoted an eruption of memories. I could readily identify a north-south route my parents had used many times. This main artery is now an Interstate Highway, but I recognized and recalled that the orientation of this route and a U.S. Highway, running east-west, corresponded with the majority of our travels. I vividly recalled that we had used a main east-west street to travel from our house to that north-south artery. The restoration of conscious memories brought up feelings of what life had been like when we lived there.

To boost the momentum behind my re-awakened feelings, I constructed a floor plan of our house from the conscious memories I had of living there and I also tabulated all pre-accident conscious memories (chronologically to the degree that I could). My efforts were rewarded by floods of primals, mostly centering around unmet emotional needs for my mother.

I'd always known that my adopted mother took the place of my birth mother when my father remarried so my primals didn't reveal a repressed truth about this as many other primals had done about other issues. What they did was unearth repressed pain and grief over my mother's death and integrate those feelings with my existing unfeeling knowledge about her death. In addition, I had always had conscious knowledge that the ties with my birth mother's family were severed when my father remarried.

In his attempt to foster a happy life for all members of his new family, pictures of my birth mother, her name, her story, and her family were no longer allowed to be a part of my life. A short time after connecting with deep feelings of need for my mother, my consciousness was jolted by a powerful invasion of feelings that my integrity had been horrendously violated. To me, the forced removal of ties with my maternal biological family and the deprivation of pictures and knowledge about my mother became the psychological equivalent of rape.

Within weeks of this awakening, thanks to a friend with a CD ROM which listed the names, addresses, and phone numbers of nearly every household in the U.S., I eagerly located and made contact with my lost family. The last time I had seen many of these relatives was as a three year old, looking at them through the bars of a hospital crib. Initially, it was contacts via letters and phone calls but it turned into a joyful, personal reunion a few months later. The reunion expanded my ``life map'' significantly and was seemingly a bonanza of primal feeling fodder.

The trip from my home in New Jersey to the reunion in southern Virginia provided other valuable opportunities for ``touching'' my life map and for zeroing in on long repressed feelings. My mother's and brother's graves (my two month old brother also died in the accident), which I had never before seen, were in north central Colorado. Boulder, Colorado, where we had lived at the time of the accident, was not very far from the site of the reunion. By extending my reunion trip by a day, I was able to visit both of these locations, bringing my early life into much sharper focus and helping immensely in connecting with repressed feelings.

Understanding one's big picture seems to be an important ingredient in the usage of Stettbacher's technique. Like putting together a puzzle, solving one portion of the picture opens up possibilities for solving other portions. I believe this might be why Stettbacher advocates taping primal therapy sessions.

I had begun the therapy using a tape recorder to record almost every word, including both my analysis of feelings and the resulting primals. Eventually I tailored my methods to include recording only significant parts of the analysis and parts of the primals. Finally, I abandoned the use of the tape recorder altogether and resorted to summarizing important work in a word processor file. Today, I occasionally scan my records and rehash my past primal work, searching for unfinished business and looking for new avenues to help me with my pursuit of new primal work.

Basic survival, one of my dominant primal themes, is seemingly intertwined throughout much of the work I have accomplished to date. Survival has always been my greatest issue and the source of much anxiety. Feelings of great vulnerability were present in my earliest primals whereby my mother had left me alone for too long, as a helpless infant.

Feelings that ``death was near'' remained throughout many later primals such as those centering around spankings as a toddler. Such feelings reached their peak in primals about the auto accident. ``I don't want to die'' describes my strongest feeling following primal connection with the force of the collision and some of the physical pain which resulted. From this, I believe that the intertwining of meanings associated with various primal data must occur without consideration for the order of occurrences. It appears that ``the theme'' overlays itself upon earlier ``emotional knowledge'' and preys upon that ``knowledge'' to lend whatever support it possibly can to strengthen major themes. In other words, had I never been injured and knocked unconscious in that auto accident (a real near death experience), I believe that I would not have unconsciously interpreted earlier and much milder issues as being such great threats to survival.

At this point in time, if nothing more were to come of my primal experiences using Stettbacher's methodology, I would have nothing less than complete jubilation for his technique. I believe that a significant portion of my personal pain has been integrated and the deeply rooted neurotic effects greatly reduced. But the deep feelings which were felt when I touched my past during that recent reunion leave me to believe that there is much more work to be done.

Here are two reviews of Stettbacher's book: Making Sense of Suffering: