Workbook Review: Prenatal and Birth Memories: Working With Your Earliest Experiences to Help Your Life Today by Bobbi Jo Lyman, Ph.D., Perfect Paperback, 2007, $25.00, pps. 163

review by John A. Speyrer

Bobbi Jo Lyman, PhD, is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health, an academic publication of the Association of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health. Dr. Lyman is also the Faculty Chair of the Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology Department, Santa Barbara Graduate Institute. This is the only academic institution that offers graduate degrees (PhD/MA) in this work.

The objective of the workbook is to provide information - how our very early traumas can have a negative impact on our lives and provides hands on practice on the triggering and accessing of feelings from our earliest beginnings.

While Dr. Lyman does provide the essential how-to-do-it directions she recommends the use of a supportive guide or therapist. By so doing, she recognizes that the instructions therein may not suffice in all cases. Lyman recommends that besides our understanding how traumas begin during our earliest years we should also study the workbook as a text. Unlike more superficial types of therapy, the therapy which she writes about involves returning to the time of life when one's earliest traumas first occurred. She believes that her most important help for her readers is one of education.

Invariably, the traumas which we will later experience as infants and as children seem to have their roots in the period of our development at birth and even before. Like many, the author first learned about the possibility of being able to relive these early traumas in psychologist Arthur Janov's book, The Primal Scream.

The workbook also includes examples of the author's pre- and peri-natal traumas and how they affected her well being and how she was able to overcome their influences.

Although, "these womb experiences are uncharted psychological territories does not mean we shouldn’t look inside." Indeed, progress in reducing or curing our "hangups" means that we must get to know them intimately and thoroughly.

Development of the skills necessary to bring to the fore this very information hidden from us in our conscious minds is emphasized and sufficient background help is provided.

As we live our lives the remnants of our birth traumas continue to intrude and interfere with living our lives in a contented and productive way. As one becomes more knowledgable of how our personalities came to be, it will become easier to begin to recognize their residual and sometimes powerful traces. For example, Jules Roth who was Janov's earliest director of training remarked that these remnants are so insistent that we can consider ourselves to be "walking fetuses" and therapist Doyle Henderson insisted that, "You can guess what happened to people long ago, if you'll just listen to what they say they felt during the past week." The material continually attempts to be re-experienced and make itself known to us. Following Lyman's techniques for doing self therapy will enable you to understand the sources of your own motivations as well as those of others. You can thereby become a better parent and a more effective employer or employee.

Detailed instructions are given which anticipate any problems which may arise in completing the workbook assignments. It is possible that the workbook reader may experience rising levels of anxiety as a result of following the instructions. Dr. Lyman gives many suggestions of how to deal with this development. Often feeling some level of anxiety while doing the exercises may be helpful since it may let us know that pay dirt is being struck. The author also suggests efficient methods of approaching what you fear. There are hidden feelings behind the phobias which are hidden from our conscious mind and they contain the component feelings of our earliest traumas.

Psychologist Lyman outlines a systematic approach to follow in order to arrive at the problem areas of your life. Even before you begin searching for the roots of your problem feelings you will have begun the process of knowing more intimately your own history.

When you lay the groundwork for exploring those earliest traumas by reading Lyman's workbook and doing the exercises she provides, you will automatically increase the likelihood of reliving an early trauma. The process, however, is not a fun project. It is a serious endeavor. Remember, it is a workbook! And you must do the work if you want to succeed in locating and reliving those hurts. Some of the memories which you may experience may actually have been life and death issues to fetal you. But invest the time to do the work; you won't be disappointed. Be serious as you do the exercises over and over. You probably won't get results the first time, so be diligent.

Part One is entitled, About Your Prenatal and Birth Memories. Each chapter approaches a potential problem area in two ways, - from the viewpoint of a therapist and from the viewpoint of the patient. The therapist approach details much more information about the problem. It is the level and detail of insight which the patient will, in good time, have about himself. It is worthwhile knowledge. One keeps an account of one's level of anxiety as one does the exercises. The more anxious you become is a signal that you are becoming closer to arriving at the problem feeling. If the anxiety increases sufficiently to become bothersome, the author provides exercises to dissipate some of the uncovered nervous energy. [It is to be expected that more hidden (and deeper) feelings may not arise until the earlier spadework in the garden of our feelings has been completed].

The very first step on the pathway is to decide what problem you want to work on. If you are feel clueless, there are exercises to clarify potential problem areas you may have. Exploring one's troubled relationships is a good way to begin the journey. In that case identify the problem feeling with which you want to work.

The author encourages the workbook user to uninhibitedly write about the problem issue or feeling, as writing in itself may be very therapeutic and can trigger the flowing of insights and understandings. Space in the workbook is provided, but you might feel more comfortable writing about your feelings in a notebook where your privacy can be assured.

Step by step examples of how to do this process are provided by the author. Most questions which the potential self-therapist has are answered in the workbook. The author insightfully writes about her own issues, so there's no talking down to the reader. Unfortunately, after looking over the workbook, the reader may decide that the techniques described are insufficient to uncover, much less trigger the reliving of the early trauma. Do not be deceived. Don't believe this as your unconscious mind would prefer derailing your success. It will not give up its secrets without its knowing that you are determined to succeed and willing to do the necessary work. The more determined and concentrated you become in doing the exercises, the greater are your chances of success. If you are not determined to be successful in this work, you will block yourself as your mind wants to keep its secrets. I have noticed that those who are suffering because of their early traumas have a better chance of success.

If it all seems too easy to do, then why not just do it? As you suspect, the answer is that because it is not so easy to do. You'll be fighting yourself. But nevertheless, find the time in your schedule to do the exercises. It's much easier to put the workbook away for another time when you're less busy. You had purchased the workbook to learn what the author had to say, but after you find out what she has to say, don't lose interest. Don't get seduced by excuses for inaction. If you begin feeling more miserable doing the work exercises, you'll have the proof that you are being kept away from your own personal truths.

Chapter 10 explores the relationship between your present issue and the fearful aspects of traumas of the womb or at birth. The author reminds us that after surviving those early trauma we learned what helped us to control or avoid the situations which brought up their memories. We apply those control methods too often for our own good. By forcing a change in your behavior you will be nudging those early memories into consciousness. I never said it is an easy thing to do.

She writes, "Eventually, you will be able to recall early feeling states and consciously connect your adult self with the younger you. That is, you may recall vividly the early primal scene or perhaps you may connect only with the feeling that you’ve avoided for so long. Remember, it is not necessary to recall the event in detail, only the piece that has remained intact in your unconscious and drives the behaviors you don’t want."

She recommends that we make a list of situations which make us anxious, beginning with the least anxious to the most anxious. This will help lower the defenses which are keeping us away from the early memories.

The usefulness of using feeling music to trigger and intensify our hidden traumas as well as examining older family photos of when we were children for that purpose are also discussed by Dr Lyman.

In techniques for regression, the author writes that if one brings to mind a major problem that was worked on earlier, then go back to an earlier time when the problem presented itself. One maintains his thoughts about the problem and asks himself probing questions such as "when did I last feel this way?" and "When did I first have this feeling" Healing takes place when you feel strong emotions associated with the feeling and regress in time to when you originally had the traumatic experience.

You will discover that some of the techniques work better than the others. That is a common individual response. In my case, I find that music is an important trigger of those early repressed feelings.

Dr.Lyman writes about the gestalt therapy two chair technique when one imagines a family member sitting in a chair in front of you having a no-holds-barred conversation with you. That is precisely the technique which began the opening up process for me. She also discusses the usefulness of psychodrama technique for entry into earlier feelings as well as assuming "imagined mythological characters."

Chapter 14 discusses "in vivo" techniques. These are about how to apply the techniques that one learned in the workbook during day to day upsets and problems at work, at play and between spouses. No, Dr. Lyman does not mean problems you experienced during the time between one's wife #1 and wife #2 but those problems between current husbands and wives! Real-time upsets can be triggers to do additional work in uncovering and intensifying our repressed material (the two chair technique comes to mind) . Later on, you will learn to do the work when the feelings get triggered without using any props or aids, even though they may continue to be helpful.

It is important that one directly face what one fears to do. You will also learn that this is one of the most effective ways to regress to the earlier event. Do the dreaded action in small increments if necessary.

I was surprised that the author did not mention that by following the techniques she discusses, other feelings, besides those derived from one's birth and intrauterine life can also be presented for resolution. I am, of course, referring to the traumas of infancy, and early and late childhood. I recommend her workbook.

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