January 21, 1997
Thank you for sending me Alice Miller's Appendix to her Communication. I want to try to give a reaction to it now. I hope I can make myself clear in English, and if not, I hope you can give some help with "translating" again.
Reading the Appendix made me realize that this subject of sexual abuse by Stettbacher probably makes up a greater part of the reasons for Alice Miller to reject Stettbacher and his therapy than I had understood when I read her Communication.
When I read her Communication it was not clear to me what these charges of sexual abuse were about, and I decided to let it rest until I would know more about it. I, also, did not very much like having to deal with this subject because it triggers my own history, and I was grateful to have a good reason to postpone thinking about it.
The Appendix indeed triggered very strongly my own experiences of abuse and of being threatened not to tell about it, and I became very scared. I had a hard time and felt "nobody" (!) in the world could be trusted. I needed some time to deal with the past before I was able to find out how I think and feel about this Appendix.
I condemn very strongly that Stettbacher abused a patient, or even more patients. Even if he really believed himself that he was having a love affair with U. Sch., like he told in court, he should have stopped himself. He should have known that this is never allowed and that this always means abuse. He should not have done this.
I feel very sorry for U. that he did this to her. I also strongly condemn that he threatened her not to tell about it and suggested that she wouldn't be believed.
Some things I feel really puzzled about: What puzzles me most in this entire affair is the extreme contrast between U. Sch.'s story and Mariella Mehr's story, that she described in her book Steinzeit. As far as I know, U. Sch. and Mariella Mehr were Stettbacher's patients during the same period, but their experiences seem to be opposites.
While U. writes about being abused and threatened, Mariella Mehr writes about the therapy and the therapist as being very safe and supporting. While U. writes about being totally isolated during the first weeks of the therapy, Mariella writes about a friend visiting her there. While U. writes about getting injections to calm down, Mariella seems to deal with the horrible events of her past by just doing the therapy. While U. writes about being forced into memories in a rough way without her fear being taken into account, and as a result of that, about having to deal with too much at once, it is clear in Mariella's book that she has been treated with great care and respect and that she deals with the past that comes to her consciousness bit by bit.
While U. describes the therapy room more or less as a room of torture, Mariella writes about it in a very tender way, and calls it a "warm belly". While U. tells that she became very ill because of all this, Mariella tells that this therapy saved her life.
Why these totally different stories? Did they get such different therapies from the same therapist? I don't know. I can't make these stories fit together. I don't manage to make sense out of these two stories. I feel really puzzled and confused since they both seem to be telling the truth. Am I right or wrong with believing them both?
I have, also, my own very positive experiences with helping myself with the four-steps that Stettbacher describes in his book. For me, it is the first therapy that worked well, and the first that was not abusive. So I am really puzzled how the man who found and described this therapy could abuse patients. Why did he do that? His book has such integrity and it shows such compassion for abused people, so how is it possible that he abused people himself? This is really a mystery for me. I do not understand this. But U.'s story made clear to me that he did do this and I condemn it.
When I read the Appendix I was a bit irritated by the statement of the Psychiatric Polyclinic that U. went to, that they already had had to take over more of Stettbacher's patients. Of course, I am not acquainted with this hospital, but I presume that it is not that much different from Dutch hospitals, and with them I am very much acquainted.
I presume that the results of this hospital will not be better than the results of hospitals in The Netherlands, and that means that they are regularly having their own patients back again in hospital in all sorts of regressive states. I think it is a bit of a cheap shot to suggest that this especially happens to Stettbacher's patients. Even when this hospital's treatment is comparable with the best treatment that I experienced myself in a hospital, it is nothing to be proud of.
When I look at myself, I see that I have been in psychiatric hospitals six times before I started working with Stettbacher's self-help therapy six years ago. After that, I have been in a hospital only once, about five months after I started working with the four steps. Then I was on a ward where I had been before, and the staff was very positive about the progress that I had made since the last time that I had been there, and they advised me to go on with the therapy that I was doing. So far, it has been the last time that I was in a psychiatric hospital.
It would be interesting to do research on how often people end up in a psychiatric hospital, comparing people who are and who are not working with Stettbacher's self-help therapy. In my case, the result is clear and positive for Stettbacher.
To be correct, these self-help-Stettbacher-patients are in another situation than U. was, because they have not been abused during the therapy, like she was.
And, as I wrote in my earlier letter, I want to stress that I do not find it a failure to ask for help when one is doing self-help therapy. What I want to say is that I am irritated by the somewhat suggestive tone of this remark in the Appendix, because of my own bad experiences with hospitals and because of my own bad experiences with hospitals and the bad experiences of other patients that I met and saw there.
And especially because of my best friend who did not survive these wrong treatments and died, a "natural" death out of exhaustion, despair and hopelessness. Her heart just stopped one night. I loved her and I still miss her. Maybe she would have stayed alive with Stettbacher's/Jenson's therapy?
Back to Alice Miller. A lot of questions are going on in my mind, considering how negative she is about Stettbacher's method now, as she writes in her Communication.
I wonder if she regrets, now, having worked with the four steps herself? Does she regret the healing it gave her? Would she like to again be in the condition she was in before she did this therapy? Does she have "negative side-effects" herself? Is she still dealing with her past? If so, how does she do that if she does not perceive, feel, think and articulate needs anymore? How does one do therapy when one leaves out these four elements?
I would very much like to have honest answers to these questions. I really would like to know these things since I do not get any idea of this from her Communication, nor from the Appendix. I do not understand her anymore.
I, also, wonder if she is only rejecting Stettbacher or rejecting Jenson, too, or rejecting self-help and Stettbacher in particular. If she rejects Stettbacher's four steps but still supports Jenson's therapy, I would like to know how she explains this with the fact that these therapies are almost the same.
As I see them and as I experienced them, they are just two different descriptions of the same process. When I read Jenson's book it was clear to me that I was reading about what I was already doing using Stettbacher's method. For me, Jenson only added (very valuable) extra information to this, that helped me a lot in doing the therapy.
I myself use both methods together. The description in Stettbacher's book did not give me enough information, but I miss some information in Jenson's book, too, that I find more fully described in Stettbacher's four steps.
But Jenson's method is certainly not "another therapy" at least, as I see it. And I was surprised by that, because when I read Alice Miller's new edition of The Drama of the Gifted Child, I got the impression that she suggested it to be quite another therapy.
As I see it, neither Stettbacher nor Jenson "invented" this therapy. It is just a natural process that nature gave to human beings. Jenson and Stettbacher noticed and described this process, both of them in their own way. And I think they did a wonderful job with that and they must have had a lot of courage and integrity to succeed in this. I am very grateful for it.
But that brings me back again to the sexual abuse. How is it possible that someone who had the courage and integrity to find this healing process, sexually abused a patient? How is it possible that someone who did such a wonderful job with some patients, like Mariella Mehr, made such serious mistakes with others, like U. Sch.? Why didn't he use his therapy on himself to stop himself from doing what he did? As he writes himself: strong longings are a reliable guide to childhood pain! It continues to be a mystery for me, and I feel disappointed with him. I can't make these things fit. I hope Stettbacher himself will comment on this.
But I see no reason for myself to stop with the process of dealing with the past by using the four steps. I am still having a lot of benefit from it and I cannot find any abuse in the four steps.
I do not understand why Alice Miller throws away a natural process because someone who described it made serious mistakes as a therapist. Nature does not change because of mistakes of a man, not even by very serious mistakes. I agree with what you wrote, John, that one should not throw away the baby with the bathwater.
Alice Miller wrote about the four steps being a natural process herself in her book Abandoned Knowledge. Why did she change her mind?
Another thing that puzzles me is the difference between something that Alice Miller writes in The Drama of the Gifted Child and her reaction now. At the end of the book she gives an example of a therapist who sexually abuses a patient and denies it afterwards, telling the patient that she was having a memory. Miller says then that the harm of the lies is mostly worse than the harm of the abuse in this situation, because the patient is an adult. And she makes a clear distinction between the concept of the method of the four-steps that is without manipulation, and the therapist who can manipulate and abuse in spite of the integrity of the therapy-method.
She seems to be pretty calm about the subject and doesn't reject the four steps because of this therapist.
Now that this is not about "a therapist" but about Stettbacher, her reaction is quite different. She reacts with total condemnation and rejects both Stettbacher and the four-steps, without telling what is wrong with the four-steps. For me, her reaction has signs of overreacting. It looks like Stettbacher is a symbol for her.
I do not really know this, of course, maybe I am totally wrong, but to me, her behavior looks like overreacting, and I feel like maybe there are already signs of her overreacting to Stettbacher in her book, Abandoned Knowledge,in her preface to Stettbacher's book, there in the way she writes positively about him.
I do not claim to be right about this. On the contrary, I feel pretty much unsure about it. But it feels like overreacting to me because I tend to write and talk in the same way as she does in these books at moments that I overreact. I am sure I do overreact on these moments. I can't say she does, I just say: maybe.
Besides Stettbacher perhaps being a symbol for her, I come to a similar supposition as in my earlier letter - that Alice Miller is probably scared for her good name, because of the charges against Stettbacher. And as I understood, you feel this way, too. If this is really the reason for her behavior, I think she should deal with this in another way than she is doing now.
Again - I do not know about this, of course, I just guess, based on a similarity between her behavior and mine when I myself am in somewhat comparable situations.
I want to be clear that I really admire Alice Miller for her books and the courage that she shown by writing them. She saved my life with that. Without her books I would have died long before Stettbacher's book was published. She gave me hope and (some) understanding of myself, and this made it possible for me to stay alive until I would find a good therapy. I am really grateful towards her and I owe her a lot.
But what I am most grateful for, is that she brought me to Stettbacher's self-help therapy. In the end it was this method that saved my life. So I am having a strange situation with my thanks to her at the moment.
I, also, feel that her rejection of the four-steps could have had most serious consequences for me if I had known about it earlier. At the moment I feel strong enough to do the therapy without her support. I feel able to judge a therapy myself that I am doing, and I feel able to deal with it when I feel confused and "abandoned" by her.
But that was different a couple of years ago. I couldn't do without her support then and I don't know if I would have survived. I wonder if Alice Miller realizes such consequences of what she is doing at the moment.
I am not suggesting that she would be responsible if someone would kill themselves after having read her Communication. The fact that I give her the honour of having saved my life in the past because she did write the right things then, does not mean that I would blame her for someone's death when she writes things that I think are wrong. I think everyone is himself responsible for a decision about suicide.
But I do think that Alice Miller should reconsider carefully what she is doing. I do think that she is responsible for writing the truth, and I have some doubts if she is writing the full truth in her Communication.
I would very much like it if she would write clearly and honestly about her true, and maybe personal, reasons for rejecting the four-steps as a therapy method, and if she would make a distinction between the four-steps and Stettbacher as a person and therapist. What she writes now is at least not clear. I feel disappointed with her, too. I thought she could do better than this.
So a lot of questions that I have towards Stettbacher and Alice Miller stay unanswered at the moment. But I think I can go on with my therapy in spite of all those mysteries.
For me, the four-steps are a good therapy method. I needed more information than Stettbacher's and Alice Miller's books gave me, but I am doing fine with it now that I have the information that I needed. I do not find it easy, am still having hard times, but for that I blame my parents and not the therapy.
I regret and condemn the abuse of U. Sch. and the other woman by Stettbacher, but that does not change the benefit that I get from his self-help method so I have decided to continue helping myself.
John, thank you again for sending me the Appendix, I had a long struggle in dealing with it, but I feel I can live with it now.