Facing the Wolf: Inside the Process of Deep Feeling Therapy by Theresa Sheppard Alexander, Dutton Books, N.Y.1996, pp. 176 $21.95

"You can't run from the Wolf,
because the Wolf travels with you."
-- Danish proverb

". . . the wolf of my childhood -- my fear, pain and rage -- was always with me, always lurking, ready to pounce at any moment."
-- Theresa S. Alexander

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

This beautifully written book is a diary-type narrative of the defanging of the wolf of the author's past. Like many of us who eventually went into primal-type therapies, Theresa S. Alexander spent untold hours reading psychology books trying to figure out what was wrong with her. Even as a National Achievement Scholarship finalist, she was unable to attend college because of fears that she could not do the work. But, at the age of 20, she read Arthur Janov's The Primal Scream, applied for therapy at the Primal Institute and eventually became a therapist and later director of the Primal Institute of New York.

Facing the Wolf gives us the opportunity to listen in on eight sessions of the author's three weeks intensive therapy. The sessions are very interesting, and are presented both from the perspective of the patient and from that of the therapist. Her therapist was Ellen Janov, daughter of Arthur and Vivian Janov, who died from smoke inhalation in a dreadful house fire in the middle 1970s.

Theresa Alexander was a severely abused child. Oldest in the family of twelve children of a career Marine Corps serviceman, she received from him many violent beatings. She credits the unequivocal love and support from her great-grandmother who, created during visits, a safe zone which allowed her to function as well as she did. It led the author to realize that her dysfunctional family was not universal and that there were other, kinder ways of living.

I cannot decide which of her therapy sessions were the most interesting. I particularly enjoyed her recounting of her first therapy session, which was both touching and amusing. She writes what was really on her mind, but filtered by fear, her responses to her therapist's gentle probings were quite different. Each chapter tells another story of the abuse she suffered during childhood and the insights received as a result of her facing the painful feelings of her past.

A most poignant story was her recounting of the occasion, when on a trip to a neighborhood grocery store to make a purchase for her father, she spent a penny from his change on candy for herself. Even though the purchase had been made with her mother's understanding, her father used the occasion to again beat her unmercifully.

The book contains many examples of the techniques used in primal therapy to both trigger and intensify feelings which arise during therapy sessions.

Alexander has been practicing primal therapy for twenty years. She writes that the therapy she practices at her northern California center is different from standard primal therapy in both its theoretical approaches to homosexuality and to the transference question.

She believes the former is not a neurotic symptom and feels that continued weekly private sessions is preferable to group primalling. She calls her therapy, Deep Feeling Therapy, and keeps her post-intensive groups small. She also feels that often it is preferable for the patient to have the same therapist from beginning to end, since a committed relationship encourages growth and healing.

She does not discuss the possible therapist blind spots, which some claim, can impede therapeutic progress from on-going therapy with the same therapist. But, apart from the transference question, is her brand of therapy so different from regular primal therapy so as to warrant a separate classification? I do not believe so.

Who would benefit from primal-type therapy? The author believes that there are two such classes of people. Those with painful feelings who suspect that their feelings are inappropriate and those who are so shut down that they have lost their ability to feel.

Those of you who have back copies of the Journal of Primal Therapy may be interested in reading an interview with the author which appeared in the Spring, 1975 issue.

And yes, after primal therapy, Theresa Alexander was able to attend college. She went on to earn her Master's degree, unhampered by her previously incapacitating fear.