Book Review - Jessica: The autobiography of an infant, by Jeffrey Von Glahn, Ph.D. - iUniverse Books, 2021 Pine Lake Rd., Lincoln NE, 68512, pps. 235

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

"I could take a million smacks. I could be thrown down 100 times.
But I couldn't take the throught that they didn't love me."


"I thought I was going to die before I could get out." (be born)

As far as I know this is the first book in the regressive psychotherapies field devoted to a single case study. Dedicated to Harvey Jackins (discoverer of Re-evaluative Counseling), Jessica, The autobiography of an infant traces the life events and progress in regressive therapy under the guidance of the author, Dr. Jeffery Von Glahn. The analytical account of Jessica's therapeutic voyage of discovery increased as Jessica's story unfolds. But perhaps that was because the approach is recounted from both the patient's and therapist's viewpoint and is rather complete.

The reader accompanies the therapist and his client through a multiplicity of traumas, ranging from before birth, birth itself and from maternally derived traumas. The book details the detailed efforts used to enable access to Jessica's traumas. Much psychological resistence was encountered along the way to that goal. The client's sufferings added to her determined efforts to get release from her pain. Her extensive early abuse made her determined to resolve her compounded hurts. The determination of her therapist, Von Glahn, combined with Jessica's courage enabled the uncovering of her multifaceted abuse.

Jessica's birth seemed to have been a normal one until her and her mother's body's efforts were thwarted. On the cusp of entering the world she felt constantly "pushed back in" due to a bad presentation. At the time, Jessica had felt that she was close to dying even though the beginnings of her birth process had seemingly been inauspicious. Jessica's wash-up just after birth felt indifferent and rough. Amazingly, she had re-lived viewing the facial features of those obstetric ward nurses who had welcomed her into the world. To her they had seemed to be without sympathy or feeling. Some reception! She had worked hard in the birth canal but to no avail. They didn't care.

She had absorbed her mother's thoughts and feelings and had known very early in her mother's womb that she was just a nobody who didn't merit attention. She felt neither entitled to nor expected to be given proper care and love. Jessica became insightful about how her birth had influenced her life-long attitude of dutifully bending over backwards in an attempt to make everyone else happy, thereby neglecting her own needs and wants. She felt that she didn't even have the right to live after the uncaring attention by the nurses who supposedly were to "care" for her. In the womb those same feelings had been present. Her birth had reinforced those early inutero conclusions. Even then, she had felt inadequate and unwanted and besides that, believed that she had merited such a bad reception. It was what she had been used to while inutero. Jessica was to spend an inordinate amount of time, later in life, trying to do for others so that they would accept and like her. However, Dr. Von Glahn, was to learn that Jessica's inutero and birthing experience was only one part of the misery she was to face.

The real source of her misery was much closer to home. The next morning after her birth, her mother had welcomed her with the words, "You're a girl, but you'll do." Never crying, never wanting anything and serving others soon became the crux of her lifelong behavorial personality. She soon understood that love and being desirable was not in her future. Baby Jessica had felt loved by no one. She figured it was because she was simply not a lovable person and that non-acceptance was an early and continual given. But it was not until her regressive experiences with Von Glahn that she learned why she always had that feeling. She had figured that her negative conclusions about herself were so powerful simply because they represented reality.

Jessica was not to learn the truth about the origin of her painful inadequacy feelings until many years later. Even then it was a relatively long time before she progressed in cathartic therapy as she was reticent and hesitant about discussing her feelings and even could not say what she wanted from the therapy. Von Glahn must have felt like a dentist would feel if his patient would not open her mouth for the examination!

Her body would say one thing but her spoken words said another. She would become tearful and still not acknowledge having a feeling and perpetually excusing everything her mother had done. She had even been thrown down by her mother. When she had relived that trauma, it was so real to her that she had the imperative need during the therapy session to determine if any of her bones were broken! She had felt in the feeling what she had felt when the "throwing down" trauma had occurred.

Her therapy was not rapid. The thawing process continued as the months rolled by. Nothing seemed to be happening. As her pain was screaming to come to the surface, Jessica got a job as a waitress and used the opportunity of working longer and longer hours at the restaurant to stifle her ascending feelings. Jessica had become so 'out of it' that in the final exams of her senior year of high school her answers were mostly gibberish, but, because of her earlier grades, had graduated.

The singular event which seemingly caused her defenses to break was during a drive-in movie accompanied with a couple whom Jessica and her date knew. The film was a 'cut and slash' movie about a creature who attacked and killed teenagers. She so identified with the brutality of what was taking place on the screen that she began feeling increasing amounts of panic and despair. It was as though she was completely "at one" with what she was viewing. The screen violence had triggered in her an uncommunicative withdrawal and an imperative need to return home. At home, she remained very pensive, would not talk, and was in an almost psychotic state. In a few days of rest she recovered.

Understanding that needing her mother was strong on Jessica's list of needs from her infancy, Dr. Von Glahn concentrated his attempts to overcome Jessica's insistent evasion of his prodings about this subject. Role playing efforts involving touch between the two continued until finally a breakthrough happened. Jessica began shaking. Twitchings joined the shakings which continued for over an hour. Even her appearance had seemingly changed. An earlier sexual assault at age six was becoming uncovered as she was able to talk about what had happened. [Dr. Arthur Janov, discoverer of primal therapy, in a recent blog (11/06/2010) wrote about shaking in regressive work: "Very often, when my patients are on the verge of tremendous feelings, particularly the feelings that predate verbal abilities, they begin to shake and tremble enormously; they thrash and writhe as the force of the pain almost lifts them off the ground."]

Progression in therapy was not linear, as in many sessions Jessica was becoming stubbornly uncooperative. Her unconscious mind would not surrender its secrets easily; some sessions being so difficult for Jessica that she told Von Glahn to "Go Home." She even threatened to call the police to make him leave, but those were more expressions of the frustration she was feeling than her actually wishing his departure.

Jessica had been insufficiently touched as a baby; she cringed when others touched her. The unconscious memories of her mother not touching her enough had been awakened by the touches of others. For that reason, touch was an important part of her therapy.

Jessica had also felt that along the way she had lost her sense of self. The loss instilled in her a sense of terror. One of the biggest problems, Jessica presented to Von Glahn was helping her restore her sense of selfhood. Ever since birth she had felt responsible for others. Quite early, her selfhood had not been acknowledged or counted as anything of importance. She lacked a sense of "me-ness."

The earliest moment of life which Jessica worked on was intrauterine and was about her own need for survival as a developing fetus. As she recounted her womb experiences, she frequently qualified her story because she felt that her inutero memory was possibly incorrect. But she also went even further back in developmental time as she explained that "There was just life, and it didn't have a body yet." She continuously cautioned Von Glahn that perhaps she was just fabricating these memories, but she was encouraged to continue expressing her feelings. She felt her development as a fetus and knew that "every minute, I was growing." There existed an imperative need in her to keep growing.

As recounted, even inutero, as a developing fetus, she had felt unwanted. She was recounting very early feelings, on occasion, speaking to her therapist from the emotional safety of being behind a piano, perhaps feeling the necessity of shielding herself from the truthful but somethings devastating revelations of her unconscious mind. Her concerns during that early time in development, she felt, were affecting her growth and changing her sense of what or who she was and why she was alive. She even began feeling numb, possibly reliving pre-birth anesthesia administered to her mother.

After therapy Jessica attended college and graduated with honors, and yes, once again had worked as a waitress to pay her expenses. Therapy sessions continued through that period but at a diminished rate. She chose as her degree program the early education of children. Many of her teachers had shared with her that she possessed special abilities in communicative skills with children.

The author ends his book with this observation: "People like Jessica, and others as well, deserve our deep respect for persisting with their pioneering work and for opening a window into an unexplored, so vitally important realm of human experience. They are the true pioneers. They are providing us and future generations with the most important information human beings can have: how to grow a human being from the start."

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