The Psychotherapy of the Deepest Self, gushes a recent reviewer,“stands in a class by itself as the best book ever written on primal therapy.” It is “an excellent reference that belongs on the shelves of every experienced primal therapist.” “This is the book many of us have been waiting for during the last 25 years. This is the primal book of the century.” Amazingly, Vereshack’s own evaluation is even higher. “I expect this book to be very significant” he notes in an interview with John Speyrer from the Primal Psychotherapy Page. “I sound a bit megalomanic, trying to offer a way of raising the consciousness of our species over many years. . . I have very strong feelings about wanting this to be a major turning pointfor the human race.”
Before we begin building a shrine, let’s take a closer look.
Who is Dr. Paul Vereshack? Vereshack is a 60-something, Canadian, unlicensed physician and psychiatrist who, as a defense against charges of sexual misconduct, has written this book. Vereshack admits that he “experimented” beyond accepted standards, and has resigned his license to practice medicine (but somehow retains a private psychotherapy practice). Surprisingly, Vereshack is “not that interested in primal therapy itself at this time except insofar as it needs to be taught, as a consciousness-enhancing device for humanity’s evolution.”
Clearly, Vereshack has done several things well. First, he is generously sharing his book over the Internet, and says he’s willing to talk with readers who call him, and even to work with those who come to Toronto. He has honestly informed readers both that he failed to qualify for his certification in psychiatry and eventually resigned his medical license.
Vereshack has written very well at times about important matters, and has incorporated ideas and techniques from bioenergetics, focusing, gestalt, psychodrama, psychosynthesis, Rolfing, Rogerian counseling, transactional analysis, and Zen. He has correctly characterized depth therapy as a long and disciplined journey. Patients have been encouraged to proceed at their own rate, and attempts have been made to achieve a reasonable level of completion at the end of every session.
But wait--there’s more.
In Part I of the book, Dr. Vereshack is a legal defendant on trial. Consider the following: “I ask her to let her fingers do as they wish. Slowly, over several sessions, she undoes the buttons and, even more slowly over many more sessions, places her lips against my nipple and begins to suck. She suckles at my breast, lying beside me with my shirt removed, for three years, her hands kneading and squeezing my arms and back.” Vereshack adds that later “she asks me if I will lie on top of her in a sexual position.” Still later: “After three years of suckling, she developed a compulsion to fondle my penis . . . Once again I decided to let her go ahead and do what she needed to do. In feeling my penis, and in this case feeling it respond to her touch through my clothing . . .”
Vereshack’s defense? This case demonstrates the principles of “regressive therapy,” the way to complete the unfinished traumas of childhood via the “search for congruence” and “body necessity.” The suckling was a “corrective learning experience.” The sexual positioning helped the patient realize that she had been trying to expel her mother from her body. And the fondling of Vereshack’s penis helped her to recall alleged sexual abuse by her father. This patient never cried, screamed or raged once in all her years of “therapy,” yet reportedly was healed. She was not among those pressing charges, but instead came to his legal defense.
Interesting case. But since this patient wasn’t pressing charges, why does Vereshack put himself at further risk by presenting a case that’s so provocative? Why offer admissions so legally incriminatory? He admits that holding, touching, and direct therapeutic nurture are experimental techniques that come with mistakes. “This area of experimentation, admits Vereshack, “is so dangerous and so easily misinterpreted that it should never be undertaken.” “I do not feel that I could ever risk using sexual touch again,” he notes, and finally concludes that “sexual touch from the therapist must be denied.” In the future he would have the patient touch a penis-like object or a male doll. “I was half my age and hadn’t yet lost my trust in my fellow man/woman.” Wow!
Dr. Aletha J. Solter (cf. Vereshack’s March 1998 column on the Primal Psychotherapy Page) has expressed clear discomfort with this case.The suckling seems to her to be “a compulsive attempt to meet an unmet childhood need that cannot possibly be met as an adult, rather than a regressive healing experience.” Concerning the fondling, she asks “is healing really occurring while feeling the therapist’s penis?” And regarding it all, Solter’s sage advice is that patients “benefit more from clear boundaries, and heal more quickly by learning that a loving, supportive relationship can exist without sexual contact.” Sexual impulses arising in therapy sessions should be felt and not acted on, and compulsive traumatic re-enactment is counter-therapeutic.
Vereshack may be right that therapists must use courage and intuition. And readers may be right if they balk when he admits that his own early needs were sexualized, and led to an endless pursuit of women (cf.Vereshack’s October 1998 column on the Primal Psychotherapy Page). We would be naive not to ponder the purity of motivation of any therapist who performs “tummy hugs” (bare abdomen-to-abdomen contact, carefully avoiding sexual movements of the pelvis) and “full body holding” (used during the last 15 minutes of all regressive therapy sessions).
Beyond this single case and the many issues surrounding it there is, of course, a broader danger. “It is doubtful to me,” notes Vereshack, “and to almost every patient and therapist with whom I have ever spoken, that depth therapy can be pursued without the presence of a depth therapist. ”And yet he has written and released a book that encourages people to attempt just that--and made it available over the Internet to anyone in the world.This in spite of his admission that regressive therapy is “not a safe option” for a percentage of people, and that “there is a real possibility that some people who try to use this book might end up needing the services of a psychiatrist or a local psychiatric institution.” These are grave consequences, and not to be taken lightly.
In sum, Vereshack has generously shared many ideas that are insightful, if not always new--that people act out unfelt feelings, that repression leads to distortions in cognition, that one must merge with and embrace pain in order to get rid of it, that therapists feel fear, and that patients deserve and require considerable respect. But as much as we would like to establish general laws of human experience and behavior, Vereshack’s Laws, Corollaries, Congruencies, Paradoxes, Purities, and Immaculate Processes are merely interesting assertions, nothing more. There are, however, some well-established principles in psychotherapy and in medicine, such as “first do no harm.” For all the good he may have done in his long and earnest career, Vereshack has apparently violated this principle, even while seeming to defend and glorify such actions.
Every religion has magic and miracles, martyrs and saints. Primal therapy is a science when with discipline we study and learn about phenomena, and then objectively verify our observations and systematize our knowledge. But primal therapy becomes a religion when there is unquestioning ardor, commitment, conformity, devotion and faith to a person or a process, a doctrine or a declaration. Perhaps in his legal trials Vereshack seemed like a heretic or a martyr to his medical inquisitors. To most of the rest of us he is likely to remain the author of a provocative book, one that is alternately inspiring and incriminating, not an important historical figure.
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This article is from the Spring, 1999, issue of The International Primal Association's Newsletter. Reproduced with permission.
Dr. Paul Vereshack's Response To The Review of His On Line Book, Help Me - I'm Tired of Feeling Bad ( in hard copy as, The Psychotherapy of The Deepest Self ), by Dr. Stephen Khamsi.
I have been debating inside myself for a week whether or not to make a public response to your review of my book. I have decided, for reasons that will become obvious, to do so.
First, a few errors of fact.
Nowhere in my book do I state that my therapy hours inevitably end with any kind of holding. In fact, Chapters Six and Seven, in which these discussions occur, are at great pains to warn readers that these techniques must be meticulously client centered.
Chapter Six, paragraph twenty five, "Clearly great care must be exercised in these nurturing experiences."
Chapter Six, nine paragraphs from the end, "Touch and holding must be needed, wanted, and requested, within a self that comprehends what is being asked for."
Your choosing not to include in your review these vital statements with their accompanying explanatory paragraphs, of course, would slant the understanding of your readers toward seeing the author as highly irresponsible.
The examples that you give of the woman in the deep touch and holding discussion, are in fact two separate cases. Each, you may be interested to hear, is a seasoned mental health professional as are many in the book's examples. Should you choose to access the confidential court records you will find these people speaking on my behalf. They do not represent a gullible and easily led segment of the population. If anything, they pride themselves on their critical abilities.
I also notice that the explanations which give real substance to these examples, and which would generate real critical thought in your readers, have conveniently for your rhetoric, been carefully avoided.
I could go on in this vein but it would take a great many pages, and there is something much much more important to be addressed.
The most heart breaking thing for me about your "review" of my book, is that you have in fact avoided reviewing it.
The main issue in Help Me - I'm Tired of Feeling Bad is not the few paragraphs which lend themselves most easily to the journalistic sensationalism, by which I fear you have been seduced.
The heart and core of this work lies in another direction altogether.
The book is a manual of Depth Therapy Instructions.
To the best of my knowledge, no other book in the world offers a complete aid to anyone who wishes to do deep work on either themselves or another.
Its real essence are the instructions, which in this case, are complete, simple, and meticulous. In addition to this unusual feature, they are set within a comprehensive and integrated body of thought. Anyone who is lying in a dark soundproof room for the purpose of achieving a deep inner journey (at primal levels), now for the very first time in history, has a book which will answer every question about technique, that one could possibly ask. Readers have a road map to the deepest levels of personal work
After reading my book, you have said that it is of no historical consequence. Yet you have completely failed to review its essence. This is rather puzzling.
You have spoken of my unproven assertions. You forget that I have placed them squarely in the world, and that every day, in every corner of our earth these propositions are being tested by therapists and clients alike. So far in a year and a half I have not had so much as one report telling me that these observations are not in fact the truth.
The offering of my observations to the world, which then give rise to reproducible results everywhere, when tested, is not a religious experience, Stephen. It has another name. It is called the Scientific Method. I'm extremely surprised that you do not recognize it.
My suggestion then, to your readers, is that if they want to know the review they should read the review. If they want to know the book, they had better read it and review it for themselves.
If I have been less than completely loving with you Stephen, it is because I must confess, my heart quickens slightly with excitement, as the warrior within me enters the forest, to metaphorically stalk a man who would make of my life a casual afternoon's sport.
Should you ever really wish to deepen your consciousness, using my work, please submit your questions to the Primal Psychotherapy Page, where I will answer them with the genuine love and compassion your new attitude would deserve.
Paul Vereshack M.D.
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John Speyrer's Response to Dr. Stephen Khamsi's review of Dr. Paul Vereshack's The Psychotherapy of the Deepest Self
When I first read Dr. Vereshack's book a couple of years ago I was very impressed. I read the book three times during that first week and immediately knew that it was not just another book about regression therapy. His work was unique and I felt it contained fresh and novel ideas. Obviously, Dr. Khamsi does not agree with my and other's opinions of the book, since after quoting others' enthusiastic accolades in the first paragraph of his review he begins his polemic.
Were all of us misguided in our praise of the book? Did Khamsi see something that we were not able to recognize, or not see something that we recognized? It is unfortunate that Dr. Khamsi's wrote his book review mainly for the purpose of criticizing "Dr. Vereshack the man" instead of really analyzing his book.
I do not believe that there is anyone who recommends the use of sexual touch in therapy. I have never read or heard of such a therapy modality. The author has never tried to conceal that he had experimented with sexual touch many years ago and has emphasized that he no longer uses sexual touch. He writes, "I no longer believe that it is acceptable for therapists to touch or be touched sexually. . . "
The book was written during a period when the author had a lot of time on his hands, when he was not practicing medicine after being charged with sexual misconduct. A veteran of over 32,000 hours of work in regression therapy with over 1,000 patients, Vereshack defended himself during the four-day hearing with support from thirty-two patients who testified in his behalf.
When his license was revoked he appealed the decision of the Medical Discipline Committee. The civil court overturned the decision and Paul Vereshack was free to practice medicine once again.
It seems to me that Dr. Vereshak's main weakness is his truthfulness. He admits that only about half of his patients are able to regress into deep feelings. Does any other regressive therapist author admit this truth? He writes that for many the therapy is not a "safe option." More truth. That he has gone beyond what is accepted practice for most therapists and most primal therapists is not the argument. When he wrote: "I was half my age and hadn't yet lost my trust in my fellow man/woman," he probably meant that he would not have expected a patient whom he had trusted would charge him improper conduct. He writes, ". . . it is easier to destroy the therapist than it is to face our early molestation."
I believe that his statement, “It is doubtful to me, and to almost every patient and therapist with whom I have ever spoken, that depth therapy can be pursued without the presence of a depth therapist” was referring to the difficulties and dangers of self-primaling. It is at those points in therapy, when the patient's last defenses are being lowered, that self-primalling can be detrimental to one's physical and mental health. Thus, Dr. Vereshack writes, "the deeper you go, the more necessary it will be for you to have continuous therapy supervision."
I do not believe that his book encourages individuals to attempt self-primaling. Rather Dr. Vereshack mentions the dangers in doing so; something many other regression therapists who have written books on self-primaling soft pedal or completely ignore. In Chapter Eleven he writes still more truth: You will need a ". . . psychotherapist to companion you on your inner journey." He emphasizes: "It is not recommended that you attempt the exercises in this manual without adequate psychotherapy." He further writes: "This growth manual could be very, very dangerous if used without continuous professional help." Khamsi writes that the consequences of self regressive therapy are not to be taken lightly. However, Vereshack places more emphasis on such dangers than any other regressive therapist of whom I have read.
Paul Vereshack has shared many ideas and many of these are original and novel approaches to the therapy. After all, the fundamental theories of the regressive therapies have been explained and expounded on for years. Dr. Vereshak takes these approaches and looks at them from new, fresh, and insightful
angles. I believe that his attempts to "establish laws of human experience and behavior" have been successful and are much more than "interesting assertions."
"First do no harm," is a long established therapeutic principle, but what therapist has not made an error in judgment. Do Paul Vereshack's few choices of experimenting with sexual touch in therapy merit punishment for the rest of his life? What therapist, who at times, has not pushed too much and opened the patient into feeling some early pain which was not ready to be felt. How many individuals have ended up in mental hospitals as a result of primal therapy with wholly competent, yes, competent, therapists, who at sometimes in their careers have made errors? Paul Vereshack honestly and truthfully acknowledges the possible consequences of opening up a client's storehouse of pain.
Perhaps Dr. Khamsi should read The Psychotherapy of the Deepest Self one more time. -- John A. Speyrer