Thoughts On Alice Miller's Communication

December 24, 1996


Thank you very much for this Primal Page! I am very glad I found it, last week, when I, for the first time in my life, used the Internet. I do not have a computer myself, so I am writing this letter now on the computer of the local library. I can send mail from here, but not get mail, so don't use the address the computer gives you.

My English is a bit (much) Dutch orientated, I hope you will understand me. Don't judge me on grammar and wrong words.

Like most people, I was shocked to read about Alice Miller rejecting Stettbacher's therapy. At first I felt scared, betrayed, abandoned and hopeless - primal feelings coming up! Like Bill Spencer wrote, she also had become a symbol for me, and Stettbacher, too. Alice Miller has been my "enlightened witness" for a long time.

I do not understand the reasons she describes in her "Communication" for rejecting Stettbacher's therapy method, she does not mention anything wrong with the four steps, and I myself don't have the experience that something is wrong with the four steps. I do not understand why she blames Stettbacher for the 15.000 people that asked him for help, I think it is perfectly understandable they asked him. To be honest, I am one of them, also, and I am doing fine, although I am having a hard time at the moment. I asked him to recommend a therapist when I couldn't go on with the therapy, but he couldn't help me. But he gave some extra information that made clear for me what I had been doing wrong when I used the therapy before. That made it possible for me to go on with the therapy, without a therapist. The four steps are for me a very good therapy method, it has changed my life enormously, in fact, I would no longer be alive , if I had not had found this method.

I first started with self-therapy six years ago. Immediately I had very good results, but did not really understand the therapy and did several things wrong. After about six months, I still didn't know how to do the therapy and began using it less and less. I now regret very much that I didn't ask for more information then. Sometimes I used the four-steps again, but mostly I focused on other therapies and groups. This made things only worse, but it took me several years to find out what was going on, and to finally realize that I had to return to the four steps. I then wrote Stettbacher and left the therapist I was seeing, started doing the therapy alone again, and that has worked out well.

That doesn't mean that I find it easy to do the therapy - it is extremely painful and the memories that come up are causing a lot of fear -- mortal fear. But, that doesn't stop me anymore. I know now that my fear belongs to events that happened in the past, and that I am safe now, although it doesn't feel that way. So, I can deal with the fear, and deal with the memories, even in moments when this seems impossible. Jenson's book, Reclaiming Your Life has been a great help for me to realize this! By the way, this horrible fear even existed before I began the therapy, so I can't blame the therapy for it, not even if I wanted.

When I started the self-therapy six years ago, I misunderstood many things, like believing that is should not be used daily, but instead, only now and then. Stettbacher writes that one should use the therapy over and over and that it should become daily behavior. Somehow, I had not read that, although I read the book several times. I misunderstood this because I was influenced by other therapies and therapists, because his book was not detailed enough for me, and also because the four-steps had been so immediately successful the first time I used them.

My main symptom was being very, very desperate, not feeling able to live, and being preoccupied with suicide every minute of the day. This symptom had diminished very much then, and I had relief for a long time. I was very surprised by that, because when I had originally read Stettbacher's book, I didn't find it a fantastic therapy at all. I thought the regression therapy I was doing was more intense and better for me.

The only problem was that my symptoms did not become less at all, even though I was doing this regression therapy already a long time -- several times a week. So I had been very much looking forward to Stettbacher's book. But when I read it I was disappointed. I didn't believe his four-step method would work, and I only tried it because I trusted Alice Miller, and because I was desperate.

And then it worked spectacularly! It was nice that it worked so well that first time, but that stimulated me into thinking that I could use the therapy now and then, and that I would have big changes every time, that that was the way this therapy works. That happened a few times more, but of course, it didn't continue to go on that way. I think, John, you are very much right in telling people that they should do the exercises over and over and not give up. In the end, it works.

The most important things that I learned from the extra information that I got from Stettbacher, and later also read in Jenson's book, were that I should use the therapy every time that I have negative feelings or find myself avoiding feelings that I have (for example while watching TV); that I can't expect changes to happen immediately; that I can't expect changes to stay when they first occur; and that I should use the four-steps also for everything that makes it difficult or seemingly impossible to go on with the therapy. That can be fear, but also being disappointed, no longer having trust in the therapy , feeling hopeless, pushing myself too hard, feeling that I can't help myself, and needing someone to help me, etc. Those moments are hard, but my experience has been that I can manage to handle these feelings when I use the four-steps method. I am making steady progress doing the therapy this way.

The insight that I got in my first session six years ago is still of great importance to me. It was then that I realized that as a child I had problems with guilt feelings. I had never felt this feelings of guilt before. Now that I had the courage to see them for the first time, with the help of Stettbachers third step, I could also see that I had not been guilty as a child, and that this unconscious feelings of guilt had caused my problems with staying alive. As a child, I thought that I was responsible for what people did with me, but neither I, nor my therapists, ever recognized where the guilt feelings came from when I started having problems later on. Now that I finally saw how these feelings and ideas originated, I could also really see that they were not true, that I hadn't been the one who caused all this.

These feelings and ideas of guilt were responsible for me being so desperate every minute of every day, and for feeling that I could not go on with my life and even for my attempts to kill myself. I had never understood this before and no one had helped me recognize it before. By then I had already had a long history of therapies and hospitals, without any benefit.

Stettbacher let me ask the questions about the third step and I had immediate insights. At that time, I thought that this issue had been dealt with forever, but later, I experienced that it doesn't work that way! So, I've had to deal with it, again and again, when memories come up.

Seeing what is true about responsibility in a memory, makes it possible for me to say no to what happened, to really know that it was wrong and to stand up for what should have happened. This has restored my integrity. I am very grateful for this therapy, and I want to go on with it, with or without the blessing of Alice Miller.

I would have liked for Alice Miller to have given more information about self-help, to help and support me (us), instead of rejecting Stettbacher's therapy. I very much agree with Bonnie Dodson who also wrote this. What I understand of it, Alice Miller seems to think no one has turned out to be able to do this therapy, in the end, except herself. The words she chooses in the new edition of The Drama of the Gifted Child (the Dutch translation that I read) suggests this. But this is not true and this false information is making people unnecessarily scared. She also seems to overlook the fact that (at least a part of the) people on Stettbacher's list maybe were able to go on with self-help and are doing fine, like me, just because of some extra information and Jenson's book.

(And even, if a moment would come that I couldn't manage to do it alone and would have to see a therapist for a short time or be in a hospital to have a "safe" place for a week or so that, wouldn't be a disaster, it wouldn't make the therapy a failure, and it wouldn't mean the therapy is worthless and dangerous. The only risk would be that I could be abused again by a therapist or a hospital. But, I don't think asking for help which may arise at a certain point in the therapy is a failure, as she does.)

Also the reasons that she gives in The Drama for herself having success with self-help and "other people" failing, namely her insight in the subject gained by writing her books and the painting she did, point to the need for more information for people doing self-help, instead of rejecting the therapy.

Maybe I am wrong, but from what she writes, I get the feeling that she is disappointed, that she had expected that this therapy would solve the "therapist problem" of the people writing her for help, and she had not wanted this waiting list. I think being disappointed is something one should deal with in the therapy, in order to find adult solutions for the problem. As I see it, withdrawing is not a adult behavior. And I think the same for being scared for your good name when someone you widely recommended turns out not to have the right certificates. Even being trained as a psychoanalyst, suddenly, seems to be better than having no education at all! I am perplexed, and think she is totally wrong, as she herself wrote, too, in the past.

I have had some experiences with psychoanalysts. They almost killed me, exactly the way she described in her books, although I only went there three times.

I know it is risky to speculate about someone else's reasons for doing the things he/she does, since I might be mostly wrong. But after I had dealt with my first feelings, I started wondering why Alice Miller reacts as she does, and the points in this letter are the things I came across while wondering. I am not saying I know the truth. I don't know the truth. I only guess what I would feel and do in her situation with the limited knowledge that I have of that situation. Most important, is that my explanation enables me to go on with my therapy, which is of life importance for me, especially at the present moment.

I think Alice Miller is right in trying to find improvements in therapy and supporting a place for good education of therapists. On the contrary, I have nothing against that. But I think that those objectives can exist together with good self-help, with more information and moral support for self-help.

I myself would not advise someone to have a session with a therapist, as you do, John. I think a good therapist can be helpful, but I never met one. I have had only bad experiences, and I had many therapists. They were (most of them), nice people. They really wanted to help me and give me the best and they were convinced of their own integrity and competence. Some were even partly willing to learn from mistakes they made that I protested against, so they seemed to have the necessary integrity. But they only made things worse. They all manipulated me, either consciously or unconsciously, or they even right away abused me. They interfered in my process with their own unsolved and unconscious childhood pain and they used abusive methods.

I myself have had negative experiences with therapists using Janov's primal techniques and with breathing/bodywork. Being forced in a regressive state triggered very painful memories without having tools to deal with what came up, but only experiencing it, made me almost feel as though I was drowning in it, and forced me to shut down even more, creating more and more severe symptoms.

I think the tool of the four-steps is very, very important, to have control over the situation. Of course, I can't control what happened in the past, but I can and have to control of how I handle it now, and be aware of all aspects of it: what happened, how I felt, why it happened, say no to what happened and stand up for what I needed. For me, it is also very important not to "become" a child again, as I did in former therapies, but to realize that I am having memories and that I am presently still an adult and to use my adult thinking and adult point of view and knowledge in the therapy, especially in the third and fourth steps. The steps help me to do this.

I experienced that it can be harmful to be brought into contact with the past by force or manipulation like in Janov's primal therapy and in bodywork. I experienced that it is much better to do therapy in Jenson's/Stettbacher's way: to learn to recognize when you are in contact with the past as you live your daily life.

As you write, one's dreams and fantasies are also useful for that; that is my experience, too. For me, no more Janov and no more bodywork! AndI again, I agree with Bonnie, that what Janov described in his books was abuse.

The various "therapies" that I did also made me addicted to pain. I sometimes realized then that I was only feeling alive and feeling "good" when I was in a session and having pain and that that was not the result that I wanted from the therapy, that something was terribly wrong. I do not have that feeling now, doing the Stettbacher/Jenson therapy. The result of this form of self-therapy was immediate and very soon I knew that I didn't feel empty anymore, and now I feel alive when I am not doing a session and not having pain. And I do not intentionally evoke pain anymore - I only recognize when it is there, and use the therapy only for dealing with that, to protest against the pain, against what happened.

Maybe I overlooked a subtle addiction, but it is definitely very different from the clear addiction that I had when doing bodywork, primal therapy, regression, Gestalt etc. I even had a therapist who said he worked with Stettbacher's therapy, but he had changed something in the steps that makes it less confronting - but it also was no longer effective, even harmful.

So my experience is that the safest way to do the therapy is to do it alone. For me it was a big relief not to be manipulated anymore, not to get wrong information anymore, not to get wrong advice anymore, not to be abused anymore, not to have to defend myself against their problems anymore,---just finally really doing the therapy, and having good results.

I also like not being dependent anymore. For many, many years I have been dependent, on therapists, hospitals, pills and groups, and it was and is a relief to be able to help myself.

Sometimes it even helps me not to have a therapist. When I would have the possibility, I would use the therapist to make things safe for me when fear of the past comes, and then I would go on mixing up past and present. Now that I am doing it alone, I am forced to see reality: that I am safe now and that horrible, really horrible, things happened in the past and that I have to use the therapy instead of running to a therapist.

Ten months ago I tried to find a therapist again, I became scared and thought I couldn't manage alone. I contacted one, wrote to her, but in the meantime I went on with self-help. When she wrote me back (negatively) after some time, I had already solved the problem and could go on alone. I learned a lot from this.

But nevertheless, well, yes, I think a good therapist or friend doing the same therapy can be helpful. I just never had that experience. I think we should at least share our solutions for dealing with moments when one feels not able to go on with the therapy, as for example, on this page. Again, I very much agree with Bonnie! In a way I did not feel totally alone doing the therapy without a therapist. The story of "G" was very important for me. It was a big support to know about someone else who managed to do this therapy alone. Also Mariella Mehr's book Steinzeit helped me very much, I identified so much with her story that for a long time I carried her book with me everywhere I went, both day and night. Her ability to give words to what I could not speak about and her courage to deal with it even though it felt impossible, has been extremely important for me. So in a way I felt supported, I felt lonely but not totally alone, because I knew I was not the only one in the world dealing with this.

Maybe a moment will come that I will not be able to manage to go on alone because I can't see the future. For a week I have been having awful, horrible memories about very cruel, sadistic, and devastating abuse when I was about 4 years old, happening regularly for (I think) about a year. I think this is the main cause why I became so terribly ill. In fact, I am having these memories already most of my life, but I always thought that they were fantasies. Tthat was partly right: I let it happen in another place with unknown people. But what was done to me in these "fantasies" was no fantasy, it was true, even in detail. One time before, when I had several dreams about it, I started thinking something like this might have really happened, but the therapist who I was seeing then (the only one with whom I ever felt safe enough to tell about the subject) discouraged this and I returned to thinking that these were macabre fantasies, symbolic for other forms of abuse. They couldn't be true, I thought, that such things perhaps might happen to other people, but not to me, not in my family.

But the feeling persisted that something was wrong with this "symbolic" explanation. Things didn't fit. It is clear now that it had really happened. It fits also exactly with the huge physical problems that I have been having for 30 years. It is awful. I am terribly scared and having severe physical pain for hours every day now and I am fighting very hard to cope with this. But at the moment I am still able to handle the situation quite well. I will see how things develop. At least knowing and having symptoms is better than not knowing and having symptoms. Sometimes, I am even in my nightmares aware that these are memories, and then I start using the four-steps to fight for my life while I am asleep!

I am grateful for the therapy, but I also hate that I have to use it. I am very angry and sad that I have to fight so hard for even the slightest bit of a normal life, and that I lost so many years of my life.

A question: If Stettbacher's new book is not going to be published, is there a chance that he will provide us with the information from the book via the internet? I would like that. Even though I experience that I manage to deal with what is going on with me, I can use bit of information and moral support that I possibly can get.

A tip that maybe can help other people as it helped me: When I had problems with finding my needs and gave words to them in the fourth step, I found help in the book The Continuum Concept" by Jean Liedloff, and in the books from Thomas Gordon (P.E.T., P.E.T. in Action and others). These books made me see that other options exist than what happened with me and taught me about the needs and rights of children to be treated as people.

I would very much like to write with other people who are doing Stettbacher's/Jenson's therapy and I hope your Self-Primaler's Cafe can help me with that! As I do not have a computer I need some people who are, in these modern times, willing to write old-fashioned letters. I hope they still exist. I will try to find them. John, thank you very, very much for this Primal Page, I found here. It was something I was looking for!

The Netherlands