The Grinberg Method
Painting by Al Burian.
I saw a flyer advertising a free trial session of Grinberg Therapy, which was described using phrases such as “energy flow” and “holistic healing.” Intrigued, I looked for more information on the Internet. According to a brief entry on German Wikipedia, the Grinberg Method is an “esoteric pseudo-medicinal practice” created by an Israeli health practitioner named Avi Grinberg. That sounded pretty good to me--anything that western medicine derides as “pseudo” is worth looking into, since western medicine is clearly bunk (despite thousands of years to get it right, mortality rates in the west steadfastly remain at 100 percent). Dialing the number on the flyer, I spoke briefly with a pleasant sounding woman named Sandra, and we scheduled an appointment.
Walking through Kollwitzplatz a few days later, on my way to the appointment, I stopped for a moment to take in the yuppified splendor that surrounded me. This area of Berlin boasts the highest birth rate in Germany, and the ensuing atmosphere is highly annoying: There are stroller traffic jams in the parks, and arrogant parents shuttle past you huffily, as if the act of procreation gives them eternal right-of-way on all sidewalks, while they push along prams that cost literally as much as a used car. All this harmonious family existence has given rise to a veritable cottage industry of stress management coaches, marriage counselors, acupuncturists, shamanistic migraine healers, and other parasitic manifestations of too much disposable income amongst the newly parental. There was actually not just one but two Grinberg Therapy offices located on the block that was my destination.
Sandra was waiting for me outside of the building. She wore the typical uniform of the esoteric healer: a flower-print dress over jeans. Her warm smile, nervous laugh, piercing blue eyes and close-cropped hair all reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t place exactly who. (Later it came to me: my friend Jake’s little sister, a frolicking neo-hippie who once told me that she lived on a commune with a bunch of “burners.” “You mean burn-outs?” I clarified. “No,” she explained, in a soothing tone meant to indicate that my spirit was hopelessly misaligned but she didn’t hold it against me. “Burners, you know, people who go to Burning Man?”)
The Grinberg Method, it turns out, is based in reflexology. I wish I had known this in advance, so I could have been better prepared. (Helpful hint: wear clean socks.) Sandra sat me on a massage table, naked feet forward, and proceeded to ask me the standard opening questions of psychotherapy. Instead of meticulously taking notes, she responded to my answers by squeezing my toes and kneading my feet. This was weird, but not entirely unpleasant.
“Why did you come here today?” she began.
I didn’t want to give the obvious answer, because it was free, so I went with, “I have some issues with managing anger.”
“What makes you angry?”
“Oh, I don’t know... anything.... everything. All those self-satisfied parents pushing their million-dollar strollers around, for instance. Their bourgeois sense of entitlement! Do they really need to further over-populate the world just to pass on their precious genetic material? Fuck them!”
“And you’d like to feel less angry?” she asked.
“Not really,” I admitted. “Actually, I’m sort of on a health kick right now. I’m trying to cut down on drugs and alcohol. The only relaxation activity I have left is listening to insanely aggressive music and being consumed by rage.” I went on to explain to her that I considered myself reasonably sane and not in particular need of psychiatric help, and beside the occasional debilitating nightmare, the panic attacks, and of course the unrelenting pain between my shoulder blades that just fucking killed all the time, I was actually pretty healthy and stress-free.
“Hmm,” she said. “Well, let’s look at that pain between the shoulder blades.” She had me lay on my stomach, and the Grinberging began in earnest.
The Grinberg Method, as far as my experience goes, is basically a combination of back-rub and therapy session. It’s a pretty good combination, to tell the truth. Sandra asked me questions about my life, my anxieties, and my childhood, all the while paying attention to the physical reactions of my body. At one point I got aggravated, thinking: here I am trying to relax, and she keeps asking me about my relationship with my mom! But then she stopped abruptly, and asked me to take note of how I was holding my shoulders. I have to admit, the chronic pain between the shoulder blades began to make a lot more sense.
I left the office feeling a lot better, physically and mentally, than when I had arrived. In fact, I felt good enough to sign up for four more Grinberg sessions. These happened weekly, and were pretty similar to the first one, although the focus shifted to breathing exercises of the sort you learn to do in yoga classes. As it turns out, these exercises feel a lot less goofy when done in a clinical, pseudo-medicinal environment than when done in front of a bunch of middle-aged ladies in leotards.
But meanwhile, some other unsettling events transpired. Attempting to research the subject a bit further, I found that the fairly negative Wikipedia entry I’d seen had now been mysteriously removed. Looking around a bit further, I found an entry on the Grinberg Method in a “cult education forum.” Nothing conclusive (a cult, after all, is merely a religion that hasn’t yet gathered enough clout to get a decent Wikipedia entry), but it was all a bit unnerving. Was I being indoctrinated into something weird? I felt like I was mentally strong enough that I would not be susceptible prey, but still, these small revelations colored my next few visits.
By the last Grinberg session, I’d had my fill. Sandra was nice enough, and her behavior never suggested any sort of sinister motivation. The breathing exercises were pretty useful, and I think will come in handy the next time I feel an anxiety attack approaching. Like all forms of therapy, though, Grinberg is easily subject to abuse by the therapist, because it plays on a fundamental human weakness: it feels good to have someone totally focused on you, to spill your secret fears and primordial aches without expectation of reciprocity, without ever having to say, “So, uh... how are YOU doing?” This is the difference between friendship and purchased attention. My experience with therapy is that it doesn’t take long for it to start feeling self-indulgent. I get bored of re-hashing my issues, and my problems start to seem like not such a big deal after all. Walking home through Kollwitzplatz after my final visit, through the throngs of harried parents, past office upon office advertising some luxury healing process, it occurred to me that perhaps I just don’t fully understand the importance of “me” time. That’s one of the luxuries of not having a kid.