Making Sense of Suffering: The Healing Confrontation With Your Own Past by J. Konrad Stettbacher, $20.00, Dutton Books, New York. 1991

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

Here is the first book which gives directions for do-it-yourself primaling. With the foreword and afterword by Alice Miller, Making Sense of Suffering contains a number of original ideas and is recommended for anyone interested in the primal process.

The first part of the small book (143 pages) deals with the origin of primal pain and explains that it is caused by not meeting an infant's and child's early needs. At Stettbacher's clinic, the initial therapy intensive is from twenty to twenty-five days, with daily sessions lasting up to three hours. Sessions are recorded and the patient reviews the tapes during the day. There are also once a week group sessions lasting five hours.

Primal therapy as practiced at Stettbacher's clinic in Switzerland begins with a review of one's life history. The review is aided by the use of genealogical trees and house plans of childhood residences as memory aids.

The author believes that we can do the therapy ourselves. In order to allow our repressed memories to make contact with our consciousness, the author outlines a series of four steps which can aid in lifting repression:

In the first step the primaler becomes fully conscious of what he is perceiving in the here and now and what is he presently concerned about. In other words, you start with being in touch with what you are feeling.

In the second step you voice your feelings and perceptions of step one out loud, as you express what this means to you and what effect those feelings have on you.

The third step involves asking about the whys of others actions towards you and why and how you think these actions relate to you and effect you. For example, Why did the person treat you the way he did? Why do I feel guilty or angry or inferior when this or that happens? You ask the questions out loud by expressing and analyzing your feelings.

Finally, in step four, you say out loud what you need and from whom. You then go back to step one again and go through the process again and again.

The technique seems deceptively simple - almost simplistic. So much so that it will be dismissed out-of-hand by most readers. And in reality, there is more to it than that. The technique must be applied over a long period of time and the book must be read for other essential pointers. Stettbacher's self-primaling procedure is criticized by some because it makes its practitioner too introspective. That criticism is somewhat like criticizing a blind man for being too dependent on his seeing-eye dog.

I began the primal process with seemingly little introspection, but obviously it was present nonetheless. I was in a gestalt and transactional analysis group for anxiety and a myriad of psychosomatic complaints. The gestalt experiments opened me up sufficiently to allow primalling to begin spontaneously and unintentionally. My primals have continued to "happen" without any effort on my part since that October day in 1974. Nine years later the second line primals greatly diminished in force and frequency, but I still have daily birth primals. I have successfully used Stettbacher's techniques on only a few occasions but feel that it would have been helpful in my early days of primalling, when I was feeling a lot of second-line material.

Stettbacher believes that if "aloud" therapy is not practical, one may also use written primal therapy following the four step method. He feels, however, that it is not a substitute for the "saying your feelings aloud" method.

Making Sense of Suffering has an interesting chapter on birth trauma. The author believes that from a trauma and stimulation viewpoint, birth is the most important event in most of our lives. He feels that any massive physical or emotional stimulation can trigger unconnected birth memories with resultant acted out behavior or psychosomatic reaction. Interesting comments about perversions and criminality are also presented. Stettbacher's book is a winner.

Here is another (and better!) review of Stettbacher's Making Sense of Suffering