Reclaiming Your Life: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Regression Therapy to Overcome the Effects of Childhood Abuse, by Jean Jenson, M.S.W., A Dutton Book, $20.95, pp. 203

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

Here is another do-it-yourself primal guide which will take its place on many of our bookshelves alongside Stettbacher's Making Sense of Suffering. The two books have a number of similarities. Both have approving forewords by Alice Miller. Both are the same size and have the same publisher. Jenson's book, however, is easier to read than Stettbacher's book. That will make it more popular than Making Sense of Suffering although Stettbacher's book is a more technical and advanced work. Replete with short case histories from her primal practice in Idaho, the author proceeds slowly and carefully as she lays a foundation for developing her thesis of exactly how neurosis begins at home.

The author writes that she was associated with Arthur Janov many years ago and learned from him that healing required feeling regression to those earlier traumas of childhood. She says that she also uses some of the same terminology Janov uses. This is true, but she also uses original expressions. For example, instead of using the word ``primaling'' to mean the living of early trauma, Jean Jenson uses the term ``grieving.''

The key to beginning the grieving process, she says, is to begin to recognize those emotional events in our present-day lives which trigger our earlier repressed childhood hurts. She says that these triggers cause us to shift into childhood consciousness, which is the source of most of our present-day upsets, overreactions and underreactions. These triggers are at work primarily during close relationships such as those in marriage and at places of employment.

The first step in healing is to become aware when these shifts are occurring, both by getting feedback from others and from inner analysis of our feeling reactions. Numerous short case histories from her patient files are included as well as exercises which can help bring buried feelings closer to present-day consciousness and eventually begin the ``grieving'' process in oneself. Highly recommended.

Jenson emphasizes the importance of changing behavior. She writes, "The difficulty in making the choice to behave differently from the way you feel compelled to behave connot be overstated. The emergency you experience at the time comes from the unconscious mind's belief that your life is in danger (a result of your having shifted into your childhood state of consciousness). . . (D)efenses are most quickly broken by doing the opposite of what you want to do at the time."


I would suggest that if at first you don't succeed, read the book again and again. Trust the process; keep reading, and do the exercises conscientiously and often. It may take a months for the primal process to begin, but the results will be well worth the effort. You will need patience and faith to continue the efforts when nothing much is happening.

I wonder why neither Stettbacher nor Jenson mentioned how uncomfortable feeling reactions which are triggered by fantasies can be used in the preparatory work for the primal process to begin. Even in the absence of emotional upsets and inappropriate reactions, one can still use fantasy material to help connect a person to his early feelings.

Here is how to use daydreams and fantasies for that purpose. Instead of luxuriating in one's "bad'' feelings such as guilt, anger, inadequacy, inferiority, etc. during daydreams, one should refuse to engage in such thinking these uncomfortable thoughts. Each successful resistance to such fantasies will help to demolish the defense system and allow the early childhood material, with its original cast of characters, to surface. By refusing to engage its symbol, even on a fantasy level, you will be automatically enticing the "real" repressed memory to emerge.

This suggestion is not to be confused with thinking positive thoughts which can erect barriers against negative thoughts for the purpose of strengthening defenses. Refusing to luxuriate in negative feelings can help to lower defenses and aid in beginning the primal process in oneself.

Preparing yourself for primaling or ``grieving'' can be an emotionally painful process, and one can think of a thousand reasons to put off doing Jenson's exercises. She does not mention combining her exercises and changing one's behavior with giving up smoking, alcohol, drugs, tranquilizers, anti-depressants, keeping busy and sex. Many who have begun the primal process in themselves, by including these prescriptions, can testify that this aids in the connection to our early traumas.

Reclaiming Your Life will be appreciated and believed by many readers, but its exercises will not be conscientiously attempted (for the months required for the therapy to work) by 99% of those who read it. Very few readers will be persistent and patient enough to begin the process in themselves. The best candidates will be those who have a lot of physical and emotional pain, and who are tired of suffering. They will succeed more quickly and easily because their defenses are already low.

For any number of reasons, I believe that it is preferable to have a primal therapist, but because of Jenson's book, inadequate finances or geographical location can no longer be a reason for not beginning the trip towards wellness. And I repeat again that few readers of Reclaiming Your Life will have enough determination to make that return trip into infancy and childhood.

Remember, one does not return to the past to feel how those earlier times should have been, but to feel how they actually were. During this process one learns for the first time how one's life can actually be!