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Alice Miller - Communication To My Readers

I should like to inform my readers that I no longer, in any way, support or recommend the therapy developed and practised by Mr. J. Konrad Stettbacher. The reasons for this are the following:

When I gave this form of therapy my support, I was proceeding on the justified assumption that, like myself, Mr. Stettbacher was a fully trained psychoanalyst and was in possession of a normal licence to practise psychotherapy. Only in 1994 did I learn that he had no formal qualifications in psychology and that, while years before he had indeed been granted a provisional licence to practise, this licence was conditional upon the fulfilment of a number of essential requirements, notably that within a period of five years Stettbacher must provide proof of having undergone the necessary basic professional training (not merely further training).

As Stettbacher failed to conform to this requirement, his provisional licence was withdrawn, and as of June 1995 he has been formally prohibited from conducting a psychotherapeutic practice in Berne, Switzerland, his place of residence.

Every association of professional psychotherapists will require its members to have studied psychology, to have been through a period of therapy training, and to undertake the treatment of their first patients under supervision. Thanks to these regulations clients can be more or less reliably protected from any blind spots or unconscious acting-out tendencies that their therapists may have. It is my opinion that such protection via supervision is of particularly crucial importance in cases where a therapist adopts the setting of classical primal therapy (a setting that a number of therapists have now abandoned) and still insists on working in darkened rooms. The effect of this - particularly during the intensive phase - is to bring about dramatic regressions in the clients and to make them profoundly dependent on the therapist, a state of affairs that can easily be exploited for a variety of purposes. Arthur Janov was sensible of these dangers from the outset, but he was not able to guard his discovery against abuse.

I tried Stettbacher's method out on myself. At first I was impressed, and when I gave it my recommendation, I saw no reason to doubt that it might be helpful in other cases as well, as was apparently confirmed by case studies reporting major initial successes using this method. But here we only need to recall the spectacular results initially achieved with cortisone; it took a number of years before the undesirable side-effects became apparent.

In the meantime a number of years have passed and I now have access to further information that has made me more sceptical about primal therapy as a form of self-help. The quick successes have not always had a lasting effect, and in many cases massive anxieties set in, so strong that clients found it impossible to cope with them without therapeutic support. The danger of an addictive dependency on pain also became more and more clearly apparent. This is a phenomenon that many therapists are now familiar with, but in the early stages there was no way of anticipating this development.

There was too much faith in the relief caused by cathartic discharge. But temporary relief of this kind is no substitute for genuine therapy, it is not strong enough to dispel the repeated compulsive urge to act out, be it on the part of patients or therapists. In the many discussions I had with critically-minded primal therapists, at the London Institute and elsewhere, it was borne in on me more or more clearly that regression to the stage of early infancy may be sometimes even a hindrance rather than a help in integrating one's feelings and coming to terms with the past, a view that I substantiated in various articles, interviews and other publications.

Today I also have a very critical attitude towards the intensive phase and the original primal therapy setting. As it stands, this setting provides unscrupulous therapists with the opportunity not only to sexually exploit their patients with impunity (there being no witnesses), but also to indulge in all kinds of acts of perversion and physical and psychic duress, on the pretext of repeating traumatic birth experiences. As such, this setting provides an ideal medium for all kinds of abuse. Even the most sympathetic outsider will find it difficult to imagine the degree to which a patient in profound regression is susceptible of manipulation.

My misgivings about the intensive phase were strengthened when I was confronted in 1995 by articles and interviews (cf.FACTS 26/95, Zurich and DER BUND, 4.7.95, Berne) reporting on accusations of sexual interference with patients. For instance, in an interview given to the Swiss newspaper DER BUND, one of Stettbacher's earlier clients, Ms. U. Sch., went into considerable detail on the accusations she had filed against Stettbacher as early as 1978 and the legal proceedings that took place in 1983. In the interim, her only witness, a medical student who was also said to be a patient of Stettbacher's at the time, had committed suicide.

I am frequently asked what made me endorse and help to publicize an obviously very fragmentary and unsystematic text, given that today there are so many therapy concepts that can point to significant success in working with dependent patients and are hence deserving of support from reputable sources. My answer to this is that 10 years ago this was not yet the case. Today it has become received and accepted wisdom to attribute much greater importance to the feelings and to childhood experiences.

Psychoanalysis has also begun to take an interest in the new research on very early infancy and the realities of child abuse. When I advocated the editing, translation and publication of the text Stettbacher had sent me, these other concepts had either not been so fully elaborated in America, or else I had no knowledge of them where I was in Europe.

I have the impression that, of the models before us today, the ones that will outlive their novelty value are those whose creators have the courage and the ability to incorporate new insights and to turn their own errors and failures to account, by which I mean facing up to those errors and failures with a view to improving the techniques they have developed.

Today there are, for example, a number of primal therapists who are much more clearly aware of the dangers and limitations of primal therapy than they were a few years back. They try, partially with the help of their patients, to elaborate new ways of help. It is this capacity for ongoing development that I would regard as the defining characteristic of any form of psychotherapy with prospects for the future. But where rigidity and subjection to ritual run rampant, I see the danger of empty, meaningless dogmatism, of the kind to be observed in the present-day proliferation of quasi-religious sects, where the recruitment of brain-washed cohorts of members exclusively for the personal enrichment and self-aggrandisement of their gurus has assumed the proportions of a contagion disfiguring the age we live in.

The main reason for my interest in a safe and effective self-help concept was the large number of readers' letters that I had been receiving daily since the appearance of Drama in 1979, many of them revolving around the abuse of patients during therapies of various kinds. I hoped that an effective form of self-help would be a way of counteracting this abuse. But when, in August 1994, I heard from Stettbacher that thanks to the publication of his book he now had a waiting list of some 15,000 people on his files, I realized that the aims being pursued here were very different from my own concern, that of genuinely helping people to help themselves. Subsequently I gave an interview to the German journal Psychologie heute (issue 4/95) in which I went into all these points in detail and distanced myself very clearly from Stettbacher's activities.

Naturally, I do not believe that a course of formal training is any guarantee of a therapist's infallibility and integrity. But I do think that such training is absolutely indispensable. Without supervision and membership of a reputable professional association defining the ethical standards it expects its members to live up to and empowering an ethics commission to uphold those standards, therapists can indulge more or less at will in the abuse of the patients dependent upon them. Therefore I will never give my support to the activities of therapists evading professional accountability by refusing to undergo the necessary training and supervision. My publishers were informed of my decision in August 1994 and instructed to delete all passages from my works containing recommendations for Stettbacher's therapy. But new editions take time. In the interval I am making this attempt to spread the new information at my disposal via the Internet.

Any form of advertisement or recommendation for Stettbacher's activities that makes reference to my name and my former support for this therapy is anachronistic, inaccurate and misleading. I reserve the right to take legal steps against any such publications.

Alice Miller

Author of Drama of the Gifted Child and other books

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