I want to live

processing abuse with the therapies of Stettbacher and Jenson

Appendix 1: Konrad Stettbacher, the four steps


A summary of the therapy of Konrad Stettbacher

Based on information Stettbacher sent to me, and on my own experiences. Quotes translated from the German text by myself.

Painful and frightening experiences that happened in your childhood could not be processed back then. As a child, you were not able to defend and protect yourself since as a child you were dependent and weak. You learned to expect pain in several situations, but you couldn’t allow yourself to notice. So you created defense mechanisms to survive. These defenses still function now that you are an adult, and this causes a lot of suffering.

Situations and people in the present carry signals that in the past meant: “danger!”, and your old defense mechanisms start working without you noticing this. As a child, you learned not to notice, and you still do not notice. Now that your are an adult this is no longer necessary, since you are not weak and dependent anymore.

To stop this old pain interfering with your present life, you must learn to recognize the connection between your current symptoms and your experiences in the past that caused them. Next, you have to set four steps with these experiences: perceiving, feeling, thinking, and articulating needs. Or in other words: what happened, how did you feel, why did it happen and what ought to have happened.

First you set the steps in the present situation. If you feel awful, if you are scared, if you panic, if you are angry, lonely, or upset, if you feel a need for distraction or numbing like watching TV, taking sweets, or drinking alcohol, if you want to hurt yourself or someone else, if you can’t sleep or whatever else is wrong: you describe what is happening now and what consequences this has for your present life (first and second step), you examine your thoughts and longings (third and fourth step). Why does this happen now? Why do you feel this way? What are these needs about? Is this part of the present or is this part of your childhood?

You carefully look if sometime in the past you had similar experiences, feelings, thoughts or needs as you have now. If you come across a memory (or something that you know that has happened because you have been told about it), you take the four steps with this memory. If you do not have a memory at all you can nevertheless acknowledge your feelings as “old” and set the steps in more general terms because you feel exactly the same as in the past. It is essential to always set all four steps. One, two or three of them will not do, that does not heal.

It is important to speak or write in the form of a dialogue: you address yourself to the person(s) in your memory.

1. In the first step you describe the situation and what is happening, right now or in a memory. You tell what you perceive, what you see, hear, what is being said to you, what you feel in your body, what people do to you, etc.

2. In the second step you tell what this is doing to you, what the consequences are for you, you tell how you feel with this and you express these feelings (crying, for example).

3. The third step is about understanding the experience. You ask questions about why it happened: “Why do you do this to me? What purpose does this serve?” You look carefully within yourself what you think or thought that the answers were to these questions: “Is it because…? Is it because you…? Is it because I ….?” You look carefully what ideas you have/had about yourself being guilty: “Did I provoke it by…, because I did, because I was…, because I said…?” You look whether you think now that these ideas are right, and if you find they are wrong you say so. You put the responsibility where it belongs. (A child that is being abused always blames himself/herself for this. In reality he/she is never the one to blame for the abuse. It is important to discover this in your own history again and again, what you were accusing yourself of and to really realize that you were not the one who was guilty. As a child you couldn’t see this; now that you are an adult, you can.) You also look at other ideas that you have, that you see or saw as being good reasons for abuse or that you see or saw as an apology for the perpetrator. You try to examine the reality of the past and to deal with the lies that were told to you or that you had to tell yourself.

4. In the fourth step you say what you want and what you don’t want. You express a powerful “no” to what happened: “I don’t want this, it was wrong what you did.” And you tell what should have happened so that you could have grown up healthily, the way you needed this person to act in order for you to have felt cared for and about: “What I need is…”

You can do the therapy aloud, but also in writing, or even in thought if there is no other possibility at that moment. What works well is to do it aloud and record it on a voice recorder or MP3 player. When you listen to this, more can come up, you can add things you forgot earlier and you can check whether you did set all four steps.

Quit habits that you are using to suppress feelings, such as smoking, sleeping pills, alcohol, watching television, etcetera. It is important to work regularly with the therapy. It has to become daily behavior: every time that you come across problems that are caused by the past, you use the four steps.

Improvements may at first be only temporary. Persistence and patience with yourself are important to finally arrive at a result. Very painful experiences can not be dealt with in one go. You have to work through this memory with the steps several times.

Anything that is preventing you from doing the therapy can itself be used as starting point for the therapy. These are things like fear, feelings of hopelessness or disappointment, pressuring yourself too much, having the feeling that you can’t do the therapy without help from others, etcetera.

Becoming aware of the extent of the old pain and of its consequences can be overwhelming, and can give you feelings of hopelessness, especially when you see how easy the suffering could have been prevented. It is important not to give up in despair, but to continue to protest and stand up for yourself in the therapy, for your rights as a child and for how you could have been as an adult if you hadn’t been harmed. In the therapy, you are the lawyer of the child that you were.

Re-experiencing old pain is not the goal of the therapy. Stettbacher writes: “This would be a very harmful principle, since suffering that does not end, will in the end destroy life.” In the therapy, you will encounter old pain, but the goal of the therapy is to protest against this, to reject this pain. The aim of the therapy is to maintain life: to acknowledge that deeds that cause harm are incompatible with life, and that it doesn’t feel good to feel pain. “In the therapy, any abuse, in the present or in the past, has to be denounced as well as acknowledged to be wrong. Also, the abuse has to be rejected with all your might and with total expression of one’s feelings, and description of all the negative effects on one’s whole life. When by doing this again and again — and finally with one’s total consciousness — the nonsense is understood of the inconceivable suffering, the last feelings of guilt will leave that were caused by the abuse. This person then is not afraid anymore and no longer willing to suffer meaninglessly and without guilt.”

More information you can read in Stettbacher’s book Making Sense of Suffering, and on


10 thoughts on “Appendix 1: Konrad Stettbacher, the four steps

  1. I used these methods in the 90´s. They saved my life! I am very grateful.

  2. I used Stettbacker’s method back in the 90’s also. So helpful. Just picked the book up again yesterday. I’m going back in. Wish me luck. Joseph

  3. I’ve done so many therapies, took so many medications and used so many drugs / drinking looking for relief, and nothing helped me. I’m 45 and live in fear, anger, anxiety and guilty and often just want to die, which makes me feel more guilty. Reading this gives me some hope, but scares me so much to dive into these memories. I will also start seeing a psychologist, here in Sweden it’s mainly CBT that they do. Do you think that can help, parallel to self therapy? Or maybe you have any other suggestions? Thnak you for your writings, I’m reading your book also and my heart goes out to you.

  4. Janneke….i communicated with you years and years ago in the 90’s. The 4 steps have been the source of all my recovery from pain. I have Jensons book too. The therapy changed my life. How are you doing these days?

    • Dear Shiloh,

      Thank you for contacting me. I am glad that the four steps and Jensons book helped you to recover from pain, too, like it did with me. For many years, I have been doing great after working with the four steps. My PTSD disappeared, my life and even physical health improved. I could start working and studying, got a relationship and children and felt well.
      But 8 years ago, I got cancer, serious colon cancer with metastases. It developed more slowly than the doctors had expected, luckily, but at the moment I am doing really poorly – the cancer is growing fast and doctors told me I have only months to live left…. And my children are not even adults, yet, so this is very sad….


      • Omg. I’m sorry Janneke. Your children have family help though I hope?I am often worried about dying as it is much closer than it used to be. My husband and I adopted my granddaughter who we have raised since she was 2. She is 14 now. If I recall you are a strong woman. I don’t know how I would react in your place. Death scares me.

      • Yes, death scares me, too. But somehow I will have to deal with it… And my biggest worry are my children. Although they are much older than they were when the diagnosis came 8 years ago (they were 6 and 9 years old then), they are still far too young to live without their mother. They have a good father, luckily, but still I know I am needed. But life and death don’t take into consideration whether you are scared or being needed. Thing go as they go…

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