Banished Knowledge: Facing Childhood Injuries, Alice Miller, Doubleday, 1990, Hardcover Edition

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

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 disastrous results.

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 primal pain.

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.

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