Frank Lake's Maternal-Fetal Distress Syndrome:
- An Analysis -

By Stephen M. Maret, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology
Caldwell University

Chapter 5


    A. Critique of the M-FDS as a Scientific Paradigm
      1. The Old View
      2. Methodology
      3. Birth and Pre-natal Memories

      a. Birth and the Fetal Period

Given the concerns regarding Lake's "evidence", the question of the veracity of the "evidence" which first gave rise to the M-FDS in Lake's mind remains. As was previously stated, the originating phenomena which subsequently resulted in the M-FDS as a theoretical paradigm consisted of birth and pre-birth "memories" in many of Lake's patients as a consequence of the abreactive use of LSD. Lake writes that starting in 1954 he was given full time for two years, no other [jobs] but to pick out patients, [give them LSD,] and sit with them for four hours, six hours, as long as was necessary."41 He seemed to discover that when used in the presence of a trustworthy therapist, LSD-25 seemed to serve effectively to de-repress the "forgotten" memories of the patient,42 which he later noted, quite frequently

41Lake, "Perinatal Events and Origins of Religious Symbols, of Symptoms and Character Problems: The Possibility of Reliving Birth and Its Effects," 2-3.

42Towards the end of his research with LSD in 1969, Lake did a follow-up study on 68 patients, 57 of whom responded. Half of these persons claimed to have experienced events of early childhood or birth as if they were reliving them. Of the 57,37 reported that they remembered experiencing being born and 21 that they had relived some aspect of intra-uterine life. Each patient averaged 6.2 four-hour sessions of LSD­assisted abreaction. (Lake, Treating Psychosomatic Disorders Relating to Birth Trauma," 231).


included memories of birth traumas of various types.43 Following a switch in abreactive technique from LSD to Reichian deep-breathing in 1969,44 he continued to find similar results, particularly in the context of the small group residential seminars45 that the Clinical Theology Association was running. During the period between 1979 and 1982, over 500 persons attended these seminars at Lingdale,46 some lasting as long as 7 days.47 The recorded tapes and written transcripts of these sessions provided much of the hard "evidence" for Lakes' formulations of the M-FDS. In addition, Roger Moss,48 a co-researcher of Lake's during this period, completed a follow-up survey of those who had attended the residential workshops at Lingdale between October 1979 and April 1982. The survey, consisting of 52 main sections

43Lake described his initial reaction to these birth "memories": "I was assured by neurologists that the nervous system of the baby was such that it was out of the question that any memory to do with birth could be reliably recorded as fact. I relayed my incredulity to my patients, and, as always happens in such cases, they tended thereafter to suppress what I was evidently unprepared, for so-called scientific reasons, to believe. But then a number of cases emerged in which the reliving of specific birth injuries, of forceps delivery, of the cord round the neck, of the stretched brachial plexus, and various other dramatic episodes were so vivid, so unmistakable in their origin, and afterwards confirmed by the mother or other reliable informants, that my suspicion was shaken." (Lake, CIinical Theology, xx).

44Lake wrote: "At the same time [ie. 1969] the value of Reichian and bio-energetic techniques broke upon us, and we discovered that deeper breathing alone was a sufficient catalyst for primal recapitulation and assimilation. Nothing more 'chemical' than that was necessary, so we stopped using LSD." (Lake, Tight Corners in Pastoral Counselling 7).

45It was in these seminars that most of the "evidence" for the M-FDS emerged. Later, referring to the gradual emergence of this "evidence", he wrote that an "entirely unexpected understanding of the origins of 'affliction"' came about which lead to the conclusion that the "first trimester after conception held the key to understanding psychopathology." Although still affirming the importance of perinatal and early childhood experiences, it was in the first trimester that the main roots of personality disorders and psychosomatic reactions could be found. Lake stated that "these first three months after conception hold more ups and downs, more ecstasies and devastations than we had ever imagined."

46This number includes only those who participated at Lingdale in Nottingham. Lake reports that during the same period, 1200 people went through the workshops (Lake, "Research into the Pre-natal Aetiology of Mental Illness, Personality, and Psychosomatic Disorders," 8), thus indicating that approximately 700 attended these workshops elsewhere. Indeed, Lake states that during this time he lead "pre-natal integration sessions" in Brazil, Australia, India and Finland (Lake, "Research into the Pre-natal Aetiology of Mental Illness, Personality, and Psychosomatic Disorders," 11; Lake, "Reflections on the work in Australia and India").

47Moss, "In the Beginning," 3:1.

48ibid., chapter 3, 16-19 and chapter 6, 1-24; Moss, "C.T.A. Occasional Paper #1: Primal Integration, A First Report from the Workshops"; Moss, "C .T.A. Occasional Paper #2: Frank Lake's Maternal-Fetal Distress Syndrome and Primal Integration Workshops"; Moss, "Review of Research: Frank Lake '5 Primal Integration Workshops."


covering 11 sides of paper, was sent out to 500 of the total of 516. A return rate of 56.2% (N=281) was achieved and these were analyzed in light of the data and evidence already at hand, 50 which included abundant anecdotal evidence consistent with Lake's previous work51 indicating a strong connection between the primal experience and the actual facts of the pregnancy.52

As far as "primal experiences" go, almost three-fourths (71.2%; N=200) were judged to have had a valid primal experience of some sort. Further, 12.8% recounted being in touch with some deep feelings which they couldn't clearly identify as definitively "primal" in nature.53 Of the 200 who did report a "primal" experience of some sort, almost half (47%; N=94) stated that in subsequent sessions of primal work they uncovered further information regarding their early life. Some 89 (31.6%) participants discovered confirmation of components of their primal experience when checking with their parents or relatives regarding the facts of their prenatal and antenatal life. How is this "evidence" to be understood, particularly in light of the very real problems

49"The respondents were almost evenly divided between males (47.3%; N=133) and females (52.7%; N=148), with the bulk between the ages of 30 and 59 (77.9%; N=219). Almost half (45.2%; N=127) could be characterized as in the "caring professions" (ie. medical personnel, clergy, social workers, counsellors), while 77.6% (N =218) reported said that they had suffered from some form of psychological illness at some time prior to the seminar. The religious commitment of the participants was generally strong with 65.8% (N=1 85) described themselves as "committed with an active Christian faith." In response to the question, "Overall, would you say that you derived benefit from participation in one or more workshops at Lyndale?" 94% (N=264) answered either "definitely" (60.9%; N=171) or "in some respects" (33.1%; N=93).

50Moss reports that precis of 123 selected scripts were prepared for him by Jill Holcraft (Moss, Occasional Paper #1: Primal Integration, A First Report from the Workshops," 7), another co-worker and researcher of the Research Division of the CTA. Moss wrote concerning Ms. Holcraft that "her contribution has been precise and methodical. The main aim has been to find ways of classifying and presenting the data accumulated during the Workshops, so that it can be made available to a wider audience." (ibid., 8).

51Moss' survey of the Lingdale Workshops certainly is consistent with Lake's formulations of the M-FDS as well as the research that Lake himself had access to, namely the written and audio records of the hundreds of "primals" during this period.

52Moss relates quite a number of these in "In the Beginning: A Handbook on Primal Integration," under specific topical headings such as conception (6:13-14), threatened abortion (6:14), deaths (6:14-15), good feelings (6:15), mothers's depression (6:15-16),. traumatic birth (6:16), incubator (6:16-17), removal from mother after birth (6:17), and various other details (6:17-19).

53Moss, "Review of Research: Frank Lake's Primal Integration Workshops," 7.


related to the fallibility of human memory54 and the suggestibility55 of subjects both in terms of the recall of "eyewitness" memories56 and in hypnosis?57 Research has shown, for instance, that the "memories" of adults for events which transpired only short periods of time previously can be altered by time, new information,58 and leading questions,59 so long as the "memory" remains plausible.60 while there is not universal agreement with the specifics of these research results,61 there is general agreement that "memory" is subject to error. Given the difficulties that exist with adult memories of events in adulthood, any conclusions regarding the M-FDS which are based on the veracity of fetal memories recalled in adulthood must be made very tentatively.

However, it is interesting to note that Lake is far from unique in the recounting and

54E.R. Hilgard, "Consciousness in Contemporary Psychology," Annual Review of Psychology 31 (1980): 1-26; E.F. Loftus and G.R. Loftus, "On the Permanence of Stored Information in the Human Brain," American Psychologist 35 (1980): 409-420.

55"There is . . . an ever-present danger of seducing clients into making their perceptions and experience fit with the therapists predilections and then using them to prove such predilections." (Macinnes, "Response to 'The Work of Christ in the Healing of Primal Pain,"' 4).

56F. Brewer and J.C. Treyens, "Role of Schemata in Memory for Places." Cognitive Psychology 13 (1981): 207-230; JA. Ust. "Age and Schematic Differences in the Reliability of Eyewitness Testimony," Developmental Psychology 22 (1986): 50-57; E.F. Loftus, Eyewitness Testimony (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1979; E.F. Loftus, Memory (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1980).

57T.X. Barber, "Hypnotic Age Regression: A Critical Review," Psychosomatic Medicine 24(1962): 286-299; F.J. Evans and J.F. Kihlstrom, "Contextual and Temporal Disorganization During Posthypnotic Amnesia," Paper presented at the Meeting of the American Psychological Association, Chicago, September 1975; M.T. Orne, "Hypnotically Induced Hallucinations," in HaIlucinations, ed. L.J. West (New York: Grune & Stratton, 1962); M.T. Orne, "The Use and Misuse of Hypnosis in Court," International Journal of clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 27 (1979): 311-341; W.H. Putnam, "Hypnosis and Distortions in Eyewitness Testimony," International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 27 (1979): 437-448; T.R. Sarbin, "Contributions to Role-taking Theory: Hypnotic Behavior," Psychological Review 57 (1950): 255-270.

58E.F. Loftus, D.G. Miller and H. Burns, "Semantic Integration of Verbal Information into a visual Memory," Journal of Experimental Psychology Human Learning and Memory 4 (1978): 19~1.

59E.F. Loftus, "Leading Questions and the Eyewitness Report," Cognitive Psvchology 7 (1975): 560-572; E.F. Loftus and J.C. Palmer, "Reconstruction of Automobile Destruction: An Example of the Interaction Between Language and Memory," Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 13 (1974): 585-589.

60E.F. Loftus, "Reactions to Blatantly Contradictory Information," Memory and Cognition 7(1979): 368-374; E.F. Loftus and G.R. Greene, "Warning: Even Memory for Faces may be Contagious," Law And Human Behavior (1980): 323-334.

61M. McClosky and M. Zaragoza, "Misleading Postevent Information and Memory for Events: Arguments and Evidence Against Memory Impairment Hypotheses," Journal of ExperimentaI Psychology: General 114 (1985): 1-16.


reports quite reluctantly70 and only came to accept their basic reliability after correlating many of the reports with hospital records and reports from parents and other observers. For instance, Cheek,71 in a study using hypnosis with 10 subjects, reported that all ten were able to demonstrate the exact sequential movements of their heads and shoulders during birth.

Cheek reported that none of the individuals involved had any conscious knowledge of the mechanisms and combinations of movement during birth usually known only to those with specialized obstetrical training.

Lake himself reports in several places that he only came to the conclusions he did reluctantly.72 He wrote that the M-FDS has "so far resisted our attempts to nullify it"73 and that after an initial biased incredulity was overcome, he was determined simply to listen to the evidence. He made several corrections as the evidence revealed that certain assumptions were flawed. He writes that his willingness to countenance changes in the theory shows that "it has been built up in a way that continually invites self-correction, because it is at every point inductive, based on actual findings, not deductions, [not] based on prior intuition, rule,

70Kelsey reports that to his surprise, one client, while under a very casual hypnotic induction, assumed the fetal position and began to reenact his birth replete with gasping and smelling blood. He woke up with an excruciating headache. (Kelsey, "Phantasies of Birth and Prenatal Experience Recovered from Patients Undergoing Hypnoanalysis," 216-223).

71D.B. Cheek, "Sequential Head and Shoulder Movements appearing with Age Regression in Hypnosis to Birth," American Journal of ClinicaI Hypnosis 16 (1974): 261-266.

72Lake quotes F.N Kerlinger (Foundation of Behavioural Research [London: Holt, Reinhart & Winston, 1973]) when he relates that "the basic aim of science is theory". Lake continues: "It strives to comprehend phenomena by grouping them round an explanatory core, showing their logical links with their core. To use his technical words:

A theory is a set of interrelated constructs (concepts), definitions and propositions that present a systematic view of phenomena by specifying relations among the variables, with the purpose of explaining and predicting the phenomena.

In this sense 'Scientific research is systematic, controlled, empirical, and critical investigation of hypothetical propositions about the presumed relations among natural phenomena.' It is hardly possible to be all of these without some statistical method being invoked, but this is not axiomatic if demonstration is satisfactory on grounds of internal and external consistency with many collateral phenomena [emphasis Lake's.

This later virtue is what I would claim for this present theory. Once it is grasped and used, It rapidly tends to rule out alternative, post-natal, explanations of the Syndrome I have found to be associated with maternal distress invading the foetus, mainly during the first trimester. An appropriately critical faculty, necessary for the debunking of presumption, developed over 44 years of varied research, has exercised itself for four years on these data and this theory, without being able to invalidate it." (Lake, "The Internal Consistency of the Theory of a Maternal-Foetal Distress Syndrome," 6-7).

73Lake, Tight Corners in Pastoral Counselling, x.


authority or dogmatic assertion. Once the possibility was broached and the technique developed the evidence rolled in and the theory inevitably formed itself."74

In a series of studies designed to differentiate true "memory" from suggestion, Raikov75 examined the ability of adults under hypnosis to exhibit genuine neonatal reflexes. The results proved interesting: 100% of the subjects showed the typical uncoordinated eye movements and sucking reflexes typical of neonates, 60% demonstrated the foot-bending reflex, 50% displayed the Babinski reflex and tearless crying, and 40% manifested the grasping reflex and spontaneous movements of the arms and legs. In a follow-up study,76 using suggestion alone without hypnosis on highly hypnotizable subjects, only a small number of "neonatal" behaviors could be observed. The same was true when professional actors attempted to duplicate neonatal behaviors, being correct only 15% of the time. Raikov concluded that "neither acting, suggestion nor imagination could account for all the phenomena observed,"77 and that the information acted out in the original subjects was being recalled from memory.

In a similar study designed to "shed light on the reliability of birth memory retrieved in hypnosis,"78 David Chamberlain79 studied 10 mother-child dyads. The children, who ranged in age from 9 to 23, all stated that they had no conscious memories of their births, while the mothers all claimed that they had never shared details of their children's births with them. Chamberlain reported that the "mother and child reports were remarkably detailed and reflected individual interests, experiences, and perceptions. Their two stories interlocked and formed a coherent whole rather than veering off in different directions. Stories matched or

74Lake, "The Internal Consistency of the Theory of a Maternal-Foetal Distress Syndrome," 5.

75V.L. Raikov, ''Age Regression to Infancy by Adult Subjects in Deep Hypnosis," American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 22 (1980) 156-163.

76V.L. Raikov, "Hypnotic Age-Regression to the Neonatal Period: Comparisons With Role Playing," International Journal of Clinical Experimental Hypnosis 30 (1982): 108-116.

77Chamberlain, "The Mind of the Newborn," 61. quoting Raikov. "Hypnotic Age-Regression to the Neonatal Period: Comparisons With Role Playing," 108-116.


79David Chamberlain, "Reliability of Birth Memories: Evidence from Mother and Child Pairs in Hypnosis," Journal of the American Academy of Medical Hypnoanalysis 1 (1986): 89-98.


dovetailed at as many as 24 different points80 while direct contradictions of tact in the separate narratives where quite rare.81 Children correctly reported many details82 such as time of day, locale, persons present, instruments used, position of delivery, behavior of nurses and doctors, first feedings of water or formula, room layouts and details of discharge and homecoming. Sequences were usually accurate: moving in and out of cars, rooms, on and off of certain beds or equipment, nursing from the bottle and/or breast in correct order, and the appearance and disappearance of doctors and fathers.83

Although Chamberlain did find one case of "a limited pattern of fantasy"84 he reports that "judging strictly from my sample of ten pairs, it appears that birth memories are quite likely to be real not fantasy, true not false and within reasonable limits, a reliable guide to what actually happened."85

However, the fact remains that clear and certain falsehoods regarding early memories do often emerge under hypnosis, thus casting at least a hint of suspicion regarding the truth of such "data". One possible explanation for this was stumbled upon by Hilgard. He found evidence that in some cases, the "facts" about what happened can be known by one segment of "consciousness" but unknown by another, resulting in what Hilgard called "divided consciousness."86 Thus, lack of memory about a certain event may indicate that the segment of consciousness under hypnotic consideration may be unaware of the memory, while another

80The other numbers of"dovetailing" were 12,12,9,9,16, 19,8, 13, and 15 (Chamberlain, Conscious at Birth 34, Table # 1).

81The only exception was in Pair #8. In none of the other 9 cases was there more than 1 contradiction (5 had 1 contradiction; 4 had none). (ibid.)

82Two of the daughters gave correct descriptions of their mother's hair styles at the time. Chamberlain writes; "One child said her mother was in the bedroom at home; it was daytime. Contractions start at 1:10pm. she called father and the doctor and was advised to wait. The facts presented in the mother's report were that she was home in bed until 11:30 am. About 1 o'clock she knew she was in labor and called her husband to come home. She also telephoned the doctor and was told to wait." (ibid., 34-5).

83Ibid., 34.

84In Pair #8 there were 13 "dovetails" in the story and 4 "contradictions." Chamberlain describes the contradictions: "The child in this pair portrayed her mentally ill father as quite normal, and involved her favorite grandparents at several points of action in the narrative when in fact they were 3000 miles away. . . . In spite of these points of fantasy, however, the rest of her report was realistic and actually showed 13 points of correspondence with the report of her mother." (ibid., 34-35).

85Chamberlain, "Consciousness at Birth," 62.

86E.R. Hilgard, Divided Consciousness Multiple Controls in Human Thought and Action (New York: John Wiley, 1977).


segment may have total recall.

Buttressing this contention was the discovery by Cheek87 and others88 that many patients under general anesthesia, who were supposedly unconscious, were indeed perceiving and reacting to comments made by medical staff. Indeed, researchers discovered that patients under general anesthesia were not only sensitive to the words spoken, but also to various nuances, inflections and tones in the voices.

The connection between early birth and pre-birth traumas and adult manifestations of neuroses is one of the main assertions of Lake's M-FDS. Lake is, of course, not alone in the affirmation of this connection. Many of the above cited researchers would concur. Specifically, Leslie Lecron89 and David Cheek,90 using an "ideomotor" technique91 in hypnosis, have connected early birth trauma with peptic ulcers, oesophageal spasms, spastic colon, asthma, emphysema, hyperventilation syndrome, sterility, dysmenorrhoea, failed analgesia in labor, premature labor, toxemia, frigidity and habitual abortion. Bamett,92 using the ideomotor technique asked a series of questions of 876 different hypnotised patients and found that 28% reported negative birth experiences. He, like Lake, Cheek, and Lecron, found strong connections between these experiences and the presenting problems. Cheek, in his research has gone one step further. Like Lake, he has also discovered that clients under hypnosis.


87D.B. Cheek, "Unconscious Perceptions of Meaningful Sounds During Surgical Anesthesia as Revealed under Hypnosis," American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 1 (1959): 103-113.

88H.L. Bennett, J.A. Giannini, and M.D. Kline, "Consequences of Hearing During Anesthesia," Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association, September, 1979; B.W. Levinson, "States of Awareness under General Anesthesia: A Case Report," Medical Proceedings 11(1965): 243-245.

89L. Lecron, "A Hypnotic Technique for Uncovering Unconscious Material," International Journal of Clinical & Fxperimental Hypnosis 2 (1954): 1-3; L. Lecron, "Uncovering Early Memories by Ideomotor Responses to Questions," International Journal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis 11 (1963): 137-142.

90D.B. Cheek, "Maladjustment Patterns Apparently Related to Imprinting at Birth," American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 18 (Oct 1975): 75-82; D.B. Cheek and L.M. Lecron, Clinical Hypnotherapy (New York: Grune & Stratton, 1968).

91The technique attempts to get at memories that have occurred earlier than speech, so as not to present the problem of requiring the verbal description of memories that are essentially preverbal. Chamberlain described the technique is the following way: "The technique utilized unconscious ideomotor signals with the fingers for "Yes," "No," and "I don't want to answer ... [and] proceeded as in a Game of Twenty Questions to locate relevant sequences and narrow the field to the persons and circumstances associated with the onset of symptoms." (Chamberlain, Conscousness at Birth, 30).

92E.A. Barnett, "The Negative Birth Experience in Analytical Hypnotherapy," Paper presented at the 22nd annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, San Francisco, November 1979.


report many prenatal "memories."93

Other "evidence" for the credibility of birth and pre-natal memories can be found in the spontaneous memories of children when asked about the circumstances surrounding their birth and pre-birth experiences.94 Given the limited vocabulary of younger children, many are able to point to parts of the body, act out, and give accurate motions and sounds of early experiences.95

93D.B. Cheek, "Prenatal and Perinatal Imprints: Apparent Prenatal Consciousness as Revealed by Hypnosis," Pre and Peri-Natal Psychology Journal 1(1986): 97-110.

94D.B. Chamberlain, The Mind of a Newborn Baby Unexpected Thoughts and Memories at Birth (Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, 1988); L.A. Mathison, "Does Your Child Remember?" Mothering 21(1981): 103-107; Jeane Rhodes, "Report on Research Project: Interviews with 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 Year Old Children Regarding Their Memories of Birth and the Pre-Natal Period," Pre- and Peri-Natal Psychology Journal 6 (1991): 97-103.

95R.E. Laibow, "Birth Recall: A Clinical Report," Pre- and Peri-Natal Psychology Journal 1(1986): 78-81.

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