Alice Miller and Primal Therapy

by Sam Turton

In the International Primal Association Spring Newsletter, I presented a summary of quotes from the work of world-renowned author Alice Miller. Since the 1981 debut of The Drama of the Gifted Child, she has published eight other books outlining her search for prevention and resolution of childhood abuse and trauma. During these years, she has both been a champion and critic of primal therapy. The following are my conclusions on her position.
-- Sam Turton

When we were children, our parents did things that we liked and things that we didn't like. One did not cancel out the other. When I look at the work of Alice Miller I feel the same way. I agree with some of her statements about primal, but I disagree with others. This does not diminish her important and ongoing contributions on behalf of the children of the world.

Though Alice Miller's involvement with primal seems conflicted, I cannot really know her experience. But I do know mine. I have enjoyed a totally positive experience with primal process, and made tremendous personal gains, both physically and emotionally. The entire time, I never doubted that I was being moved by a natural healing function, like my immune system, that was independent of therapeutic definitions, labels, and techniques.

When I stumbled and became stuck and afraid, I never doubted the process, I just worked with it. If my therapists made errors, I didn't blame the process, I just worked with it. If a doctor doesn't set a bone properly, it isn't the body's fault if healing is impaired. Similarly, if psychotherapists are inept or abusive, it does not deny the truth of the healing process. It just proves what we already know-that for eons, people in positions of authority have been abusing others. In spite of regulations, training programs, and degrees, there are doctors, dentists, psychiatrists, priests, teachers, professors, politicians, gurus, and dictators who manipulate the normal state of neurotic regression to abuse children and adults. Why blame primal?

Primal facilitation is relatively new and has been through an intense phase of experimentation. There have been some grave errors, but that's how we learn. Even though the first automobiles blew up, the inventors didn't quit - they worked out the problems. The same development is occurring in the primal community - if we do not become scapegoats and get driven out of practice first.

I find it puzzling that Miller made such positive and definitive statements of her own success with primal, only to state later that it had been coercive and incomplete.

In any case, without a complete experience, she cannot speak as an authority on primal. One person's bad dental experience does not logically make all dentistry bad -- or make them an authority on dentistry.

Why was the Titanic a disaster? It was a disaster because of the unrealistic enthusiasm of the ship's designers. If they had supplied an adequate number of lifeboats, very few people would have died. When Arthur Janov made unrealistic claims that he had the cure for neurosis, some people were led astray, others got hurt - and the professional community turned their backs.

Miller's initial glowing endorsement of J. Konrad Stettbacher, and her unrealistic claims about his primal method, set the stage for the same type of hurt and the same type of backlash. Sadly, many casualties of the backlash are responsible primal therapists and clients - and the natural healing process itself.

Responsible therapists have known for years what Miller has "discovered" namely:

  • that self-primalling is unpredictable;
  • that the intensive phase is not necessary and can be overwhelming;
  • that safety, not defense-busting, allows feelings to be integrated;
  • that the adult part of consciousness is necessary;
  • that a steady, trustworthy therapist relationship is ideal; and
  • that some unstable professionals take advantage of patients.

Herman Weiner, Ph.D., the first President of the International Primal Association, stated many of these conclusions in the very first IPA Newsletter in February 1974 (reprinted on page 2 of this issue). It's unfortunate for those influenced by her writings that Alice Miller took so long to come to these conclusions.

I applaud Alice Miller's fiery defense of children - the world's most oppressed minority. I applaud her continued campaign to enlighten the establishment about repressed trauma. I applaud her continued support of emotions in healing.

In the midst of her efforts, I would like Dr. Miller to recognize that the natural healing process we call primal is an innate part of our physiology. In most of the five billion people that inhabit this planet, repressed feelings wait for their chance to emerge. They will not go away.

With a healthy, responsible primal process, these feelings can be released and integrated. Without this, repressed feelings will continue to be acted out in neglect and violence, and contribute to the continued cycle of child abuse - the very thing Alice Miller is fighting against. Responsible primal is essential to the solution she seeks.

Sam Turton practices Primal Integration in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, and co-leads therapist training programs at the Primal Integration Center of Michigan. His primal website can be viewed at

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