Making Sense of Suffering: The Healing Confrontation With Your Own Past
by J. Konrad Stettbacher, Ph.D.
Reviewed by Gary Soulsman
A Dutton Book, 1991
Making Sense of Suffering comes with a doozy of an endorsement from
Alice Miller. (Note: Miller no longer recommends Stettbacher's therapy. See
Communication From Alice Miller). The author of The
Drama of the Gifted Child writes in the foreward that J. Konrad Stettbacher's
"primal therapy" helped her resolve pain that two Freudian analyses failed to
uncover. And she calls this book "an immense challenge to all existing schools
"How much unnecessary suffering would I, my children, and
their future children had been spared if I had been able to read this book when I was young and at that stage of my life been able
to become fully conscious of my childhood," she writes. "How
many wrong turns would I have been able to spare myself and
my patients. . ."
As in past writing, Miller's anger at her old discipline sears the
page. She is also blindly buoyant, ignoring the history of primal integration while calling Stettbacher's work a "revolutionary discovery with far-reaching consequences." (The Freudians might call this a fairly active transference.)
But while Miller's tunnel vision is regrettable, her endorsement of the primal process may attract the attention of therapists and clients who might previously have considered primal work kooky or dangerous. For that reason, I suppose, her enthusiasm is welcome.
Stettbacher is a Swiss therapist, but we don't learn much about how he arrived at his ideas on primal-work, how long he's been working or even how old he is. His slim 142-page book is an introduction to the benefits of deep-feeling integration so it's an easy read. It's not very academic (there are no footnotes or references to the work of others besides Miller), but a good deal of passion comes through, suggesting that Stettbacher sees the healing of people as a necessary first step to the healing of the planet.
Stettbacher is anti-eclectic. He preaches a four-step approach to therapy sessions that he insists is essential to resolving pain and rage. Initially, a client commits to him for 20-25 days, working in three-hour sessions. He suggests clients also tape their sessions so they can review and further absorb the meaning of what they've endured. He says individual and group works continue for a year or, in some cases, longer.
Starting with sensations, clients begin stream-of-consciousness talking. They bring in how they're feeling, talk about what these feelings mean in their everyday life, and attempt to relate feelings to injuries suffered in the past. The client then calls the behaviour of others into question, asking and answering questions in a make-believe dialogue with parents. Some of the questions: "Why am I doing this? What for? What good does it do? Where does it come from?" Intense feelings are expressed as the questioning draws them out.
In the fourth stage - Stettbacher says it's crucial - "you will articulate, again within the context of the same situation, your needs and your rightful claim to that which would have prevented the initial damage." In other words, the therapist helps the client reparent himself and understand what he needed as a child.
Stettbacher argues that birth trauma often needs to be experienced and resolved. He spends considerable time on this point and he suggests that people, who can't find a primal therapist, can do some good for themselves by following his four-step process in a journal. I don't know about the journal writing. I do know that I have experimented with Stettbacher's other ideas in my attempts to feel and resolve my own pain and I've found his process clear and helpful. So, while I would quarrel with his failure to give credit to others and his failure to mention the usefulness of techniques (like dream work), I am happy to say that Stettbnacher's four-step process came into my hands at an important time. For this reason, I am grateful for this book.
This article appeared in the Winter 1991/1992 IPA Newsletter.
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