The Slow Acceptance of the Reality of Birth Regressions
by its Major Theoreticians.

by John A. Speyrer

Significant studies of the psychological effects of birth trauma began in the fifties, but even now after many decades, the idea that people have lifelong psychological and physical problems due to a traumatic birth is rejected by the overwhelming majority of obstetricians and psychiatrists. What does the future hold for such acceptance? It will be years and perhaps decades before the realities that birth traumas can cause physical and mental ills are accepted by either professionals or the general public. But even if these difficult truths are recognized, the solution to the problem -- the re-living of birth traumas in regression therapies -- will probably continue to remain on the fringes of medicine and psychiatry for the foreseeable future.
-- From the Fear of Death: Dying in the Birth Canal by John A. Speyrer

Controversial new truths in science are at first laughed at -- then vehemently argued against -- they often are finally accepted by new generations and even occasionally considered as being self-evident. Such was the case of the reality that persons can relive their pre- and peri-natal traumas. This hesitancy of acceptance by many psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, neurologists and obstetricians is frustrating, but it is the normal process in the history of science [ See Primal Therapy: A Revolutionary Shift in the Paradigm of Psychology by Agustin Gurza ].

Will the history of the recognition of the reality of psychological birth trauma follow that course? The idea that repressed pain from birth trauma can be processed by a patient in psychotherapy is still being argued against, but some pioneers have already made it to the third plateau. I wonder, however, if the concept will ever have more or less universal acceptance in the professional community.

Understandably, it remains difficult to believe that such traumas are so potent despite the massive evidence already available. The usual way one accepts such a truth is to have the experience itself. But this can only be self-assuring and lacks scientific proof which would convince others. In that sense, and only that sense is it similar to having a religious conversion experience and convey the personal meaning and the reality of the experience to others.

For example, the religious or God experience is subjective reality which some scientists explain as a neuro-biological event. This has no bearing on its objective veracity, but well illustrates the incredulity of many in regard to re-living one's birth. Even those in regression therapy often place no belief in the possibility that it is possible to relive experiences even earlier than birth trauma. [See Neuro-Electromagnetic Fields, Osama bin Laden and the Regressive Psychotherapies ]

Early psychologists and physicians who reported that their patients were reliving birth and intrauterine trauma included Otto Rank (1929), David Winnicott (1958), Nandor Fodor (1949), D. B. Cheek, Leslie LeCron (1968), William Emerson(1979), David Wambach (1978) David Chamberlain (1980), Raikov (1980), Stanislav Grof (1981), Frank Lake (1978), Arthur Janov (1971), Thomas Verny , Leonard Orr, Ray Feher, Ron Hubbard, David Cheek, Leslie Lecron, Liley, Mott, Bowlby, Peerbolte, Winnicott, Fairbairn, and many others.

I had originally planned this article to be about the three major theoreticians of regressive psychotherapies who initially were reluctant to accept the fact that birth trauma could be re-experienced in therapy despite the insistence of their patients that they were indeed reliving their births. However, I was unable to determine if Stanislav Grof had been initially reluctant to accept pre- and peri-natal regressions as "real."

Psychiatrist Stanislav Grof began using LSD with his clients in his native Czechoslavakia in the late nineteen fifties. Perhaps I could find no early material by Grof about this issue because, like his clients, he had also experienced his own birth and intrauterine events during LSD training sessions. [Details of his personal LSD pre- and peri-natal regressions are in his book, The Adventure of Self-Discovery, 1988, in the section, Encounter With Birth and Death: Dynamics of Perinatal Matrixes, Chapter One, pps. 11-37]

Dr. Grof was initially reluctant to report his and his patients' findings in LSD research. He writes that he shared ". . . the data in their true form, including the challenge that they represent to our common sense and to scientific thinking." In Realms of the Human Unconscious (1975), he wrote how he later "...decided to take the risk of attacks, fierce criticism, and possible ridicule for the sake of integrity and accurate reporting." (p. 242). His research covered not only reliving aspects of one's birth and pre-birth experiences , but also other transpersonal (a term he coined) experiences.

When all use of psychedelics was declared to be illegal in the 1960s, he began using a form of non drug therapy he named holotropic breathwork. The therapy engaged, to a lesser degree, these same types of experiences of which pre- and peri-natal trauma is a major component.

Dr. Grof wrote:

"Current neurophysiology denies the possibility of birth memories; the reason usually given is the lack of maturity of the not yet fully myelinized cerebral cortex of the newborn. However, the existence of authentic perinatal experiences cannot be denied; the frequency of their occurrence and paramount clinical significance should serve as an incentive for brain researchers to review and revise their outdated theories."
-- The Adventure of Self-Discovery , p. 8.

Clinical psychologist Arthur Janov, the discoverer of primal therapy, had acknowledged, but not emphasized, the reality of birth trauma in his first book, The Primal Scream, 1970. When more and more clients claimed they were reliving they birth in therapy he had consulted professional experts in the field. Birth primals were not possible, he was assured.

Janov wrote in his latest book, The Biology of Love:

The notion of birth trauma may seem completely fanciful, whimsical, or mystical to outsiders; I also found it hard to believe at first. Years ago I told one patient that if he ever again mentioned that he relived birth, I would discharge him. I observed it in patients for two years before I came to accept it, mostly because I had discussed it with neurologists who told me such a thing was impossible. p. 219

One unfortunate effect of this appeal to experts was a serious rift (circa 1974) which occurred at Janov's Primal Institute in Los Angeles, between those therapists and patients who believed in the reality of birth primals and those who did not. Some who left the L.A. Institute opened the Denver Primal Center and other primal-oriented therapy centers. This division was almost inevitable as it is difficult or impossible for therapists who have not experienced their own birth traumas to support their clients during pre- and peri-natal regressions.

LSD was discovered by a Swiss pharmaceutical company in 1953. In the early fifties, samples were sent to various psychiatric research units. Physician and theologian, Frank Lake enthusiastically embraced its use because he noticed that the impact of the drug helped spill the contents of the unconscious mind. He noted that the drug specifically helped to lift repressed memories of infancy. But, it was the reliving of birth trauma which he witnessed in his patients which was to guide his research for the rest of his life.

He explained:

"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. Clinical Theology, p. xx - quoted in Maret, op.cit.

In his article, Birth Trauma, Claustrophobia and LSD Therapy, Lake wrote:

"I am confining this report to a summary of the statements made by these patients when they believed themselves to be re-experiencing their actual birth. The exact status of this experience as "reality" of "fantasy" is obviously an open question. Most of you here are familiar with the way in which under LSD patients will themselves distinguish between the facts and sensations of infancy, and the interpretations, often quite mistaken, which they put upon those events at the time. This distinction between sensation and interpretation is fairly clear in their accounts of birth abreaction."

He continues:

"I confess that from 1955 to 1958 under the sway of neurological opinion about the a priori impossibility of sensation and memory being served by an as yet undeveloped nervous system with unmyelinated tracts, I resisted my patients' attempts to tell me that they were re-experiencing birth, almost as if they were trying to bring my scientific work into disrepute. In any case, we were keenly following up under LSD the roots of separation anxieties, dread and the schizoid position, going for confirmation and elucidation to Bowlby, Winnicott and Fairbairn."

Referencing an LSD therapy followup questionnaire made by Dr. Donald Ball and Prof. K. Rawnsley, Dr. Lake writes:

"These statements made by patients who believed themselves to be re-experiencing their actual birth, cannot convey the sense of immediacy and actual re-enactment which are so vivid and realistic as to be compelling, particularly to some of my obstetrical colleagues who have sat with me."

Lake did not seem as interested in the access of transpersonal material as did Grof and in 1970 he discontinued the use of LSD in his clinical work with patients. He had experimented with Arthur Janov's primal therapy with its then deep breathing techniques and had found them as effective as, or superior to, LSD therapy.

Of possible interest is that, Dr. Lake in, "The Work of Christ in the Healing of Primal Pain" writes that Grof "began to work with LSD-25 in 1956, two years after I did myself." In "Studies in Constricted Confusion", Lake writes that "We both began to use LSD as a catalyst to psychotherapeutic insight in 1953."1

1In a web video, Dr. Grof mentions that in 1954, before he had completed his medical studies, he was a volunteer "sitter" in the psych ward clinic for others undergoing LSD sessions. In 1956, after graduation, he was able to have his own LSD sessions at the medical school. In the video, he explains that the experiences he had during his LSD sessions at the Prague clinic were to change both his future personal and professional life.

Dr. Ed Smith, discoverer of Theophostics Prayer Ministry, writes in regard to intrauterine material which may present itself in TPM sessions:

"When you are facilitating this ministry, don’t be alarmed if you encounter a situation in which a person reports preverbal “memories” as far back as the womb. It is not uncommon, even though it raises many questions because a fetus would have limited cognitive awareness of what was happening at the time. The mind would not yet have developed to the stage of forming memories as we understand them; however experiential knowledge is different from cognitive knowledge.

Some research scientists believe that a fetus feels pain and experiences emotion while in the mother’s womb, especially in the final months before birth. If the mother feels depressed, or has anger, and hatred for the child, the fetus very well may feel these emotions, without being able to interpret the data. The fetus does not actually think, “My mother hates me,” but the experience could be recorded at some level and become the grid for later interpretations of similar emotional experiences.

I am not a neuroscientist and have not been trained in the field of brain science, but I am a pragmatist and learn by observation. God’s Word states, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5). There is much we do not know about what happens in the womb or even before conception. This verse says that I was known by God even before I existed!

If people report a womb memory, invite them to allow whatever is occurring to happen without trying to figure it out logically. Such an experience may supersede reason, so ask them to simply experience it. After they have done so, ask the Lord to interpret it for them and reveal His truth. Here again the content of the “memory” is not the reason for the emotional pain but rather the belief held in it. You are looking for emotional pain and the belief producing it. Therefore it is not necessary to ever know for certain about the validity of the “womb memory” if you are able to identify the belief held in it.

After they have received a message from the Lord, if they enter into true peace and the outcome is transformation in their life, I say, “Glory to God and thank you, Jesus,” even though I don’t understand how it happened. I am becoming more relaxed about not having all the answers. Here again we are not looking for memory validation but rather the Holy Spirit replacing lies with His truth. We will probably never be able to validate that a womb memory is accurate. Therefore, we should not assume that it is. However, if the person identifies a lie that is causing pain in the context of the “so-called” memory, herein we can ask the Lord for truth.

Several years ago I was leading a seminar and talking about using Theophostic Prayer Ministry with people struggling with depression. Right in the middle of the presentation, a woman raised her hand to make a comment. She said that she had struggled with depression all of her life and even as a small child had always felt a “dark cloud” over her. She reported that she was currently being treated with antidepressants, but the “cloud remained.”

I asked the woman if she would allow the feelings of depression to surface and be willing to follow them to their source of origin. She agreed. As she focused on the depression a few moments passed, and she suddenly opened her eyes and said, “This cannot be!” I asked her what it was she was experiencing. She reluctantly said, “This is impossible, but I feel like I am in my mother’s womb!”

Many people have asked, “How can a person remember something before the brain is cognitively able to do so? In other words, “How can we remember before we can remember?” Yet the fact that so many different people have reported womb memories causes me to believe that they must have some validity. It’s not our responsibility to determine the authenticity of any womb or precognitive experience that a person reports, but to look for the source of the emotional pain.

The woman in the seminar said she felt painful sadness as a child in the womb. As she allowed herself to experience it, I asked her why she thought she was feeling what she was feeling. Almost immediately she began to weep deeply and cry out, “She didn’t want me.” Other people with whom I have ministered report similar lie-based thoughts such as, “There must have been something wrong with me,” “It was my fault,” or “I was in the way, an inconvenience.”

After a time, I invited the Holy Spirit to reveal His truth to this woman, and she slowly became quiet until she was peaceful. She looked up at me with a smile of relief and said, “The cloud is gone!” She reported to the group that she felt the lifelong cloud of depression completely lift off in that moment. This does not mean she never had another bad feeling again, but the depression rooted in her “womb memory” was replaced with peace.

I believe that the woman had feelings of rejection as a fetus. Although she lacked the cognitive ability to think of them as such, this experience became a frame of reference for later events, and she was inclined to feel rejection deeply. It’s possible that the interpretation, “I was not wanted,” was given by the Holy Spirit as an explanation, rather than a memory, as an understanding of the source of the original pain that may have been experientially processed. Hear me when I say that this is only an opinion and theory. I honestly do not know how this can all be. Nevertheless, I have watched a significant number of people move from real pain to lasting peace as they work through “womb” memories. In a ministry session, if people ask me if I think that what they are experiencing is real, I say I do not know but that it is not too hard for God to do these things. I simply ask them if they are willing to allow whatever happens to happen, and to trust the Lord to direct us and keep us on track. If they agree, we proceed with the basic principles.

If the person arrived at such a memory because you asked her to envision being in the womb, then you are not applying the Theophostic Prayer Ministry principles. Any kind of suggestion, guided imagery or leading question is inappropriate. Remember that it’s not your job to try to explain it or provide your own commentary." - From the Basic Theophostics Training Manual, 2007 - Dr. Ed Smith.

Dr. Smith's position on this question:

“If I were researching this issue, I would look for what the facilitator is doing that is increasing the heightened numbers of people having these early intrauterine experiences. In TPM the facilitator should not do anything to move the person in this direction or in any other direction. The only thing that the facilitator should do is encourage the person to connect with the feelings they bring with them into the room and help the person to identify any lie-based thinking that might hinder his finding freedom.

The goal of TPM is not memory recovery but rather the identification of lies. There should be no suggested direction, insinuation, education about this issue, or implied opinions made. This would include the facilitator never even discussing this reality as being a possibility. The TPM facilitator works diligently to stay out of the way and refrain from making an assumption, suggestion or providing any information that might cause a person to think he might have some early pre-birth or pre-cognitive experience that needs exploration. I would not be surprised that the explanation for the increase in occurrences found in other modalities can be found within the realm of what the facilitator/counselor does in the ministry/counseling context. If there are no major differences between modalities as far as practice and application then it would suggest the inconsistent variable would be the practitioner.” --Dr. Ed Smith

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