Book Review - The Unborn Child: Beginning a Whole Life and Overcoming Problems of Early Origin by Roy Ridgway and Simon H. House - Karnac Books, London, 2006

reviewed by John A. Speyrer

"Your real life is the one you never lived."
-- Oscar Wilde

The authors have written a book of sufficient depth that, at times, it can be described as philosophical in nature. The Unborn Child is a book about human beginnings -- like the sub-title says "beginning a whole life." Its about lives which were never lived and it encompasses a history of the discovery of some ways to uncover parts of these lives. In one epilogue Roy Ridgway writes about his partially successful search: "Gradually, I abandoned the struggle, as many do in middle age, and learnt to accept the fiction. Finally, in old age, the past comes back with all its distortion: you see what might have happened and see the people you loved as they wanted to be and not as they were." (p. 209)
-- John A. Speyrer, Webmeister
, The Primal Psychotherapy Page

British medical journalist Roy Ridgway died before this revised edition was completed. His co-author, Simon H. House, finished the book with added contributions of his own.

Although I began the review with material from the book's end, its beginning is about fetal embryology and shows how the personality of the fetus is much more complex than was hitherto believed. Hearing, vision, dreaming, learning, touch and response by the fetus are discussed. One of the earliest who wrote extensively on dreams which had their origins in fetal memories was psychologist Nandor Fodor. Dutch psychoanalyst, Lietaert Peerbolte, was to agree with Fodor that many of the dreams of his own patients were also birth recollections.

Psychologist William R. Emerson helps infants relive their painful birth experiences. Working from Petaluma, California, Emerson conducts workshops and instructs therapists on how to use massage, touching and laying on of hands to recreate the physical pressures of the birthing process and the intrauterine experience. He also uses play therapy and artwork as adjuncts to regression therapy.

Apart from being a book of philosophy, The Unborn Child reminds me of Elizabeth Noble's Primal Connections with its grand sweep of the regressive therapy field. The Unborn Child encompasses the contributions of many regressive therapy theoreticians although concentrating their examinations of the works of Frank Lake, Stan Grof and William Emerson. Unfortunately, the many original contributions of Arthur Janov are not covered as completely as they could have been.

The work of other theoreticians and therapists are examined including, Otto Rank, Donald Winnicott, Isidor Sadger, Glyn Seaborn-Jones, Karl Pribram, Bruce Lipton, Ludwig Janus, R. D. Laing, Konrad Stettbacher, Michael Odent, Candace Pert, Wilhelm Reich, Leonard Orr, James Prescott, David Wasdell, William Swartley, M. L. Peerbolte, A. Montagu, F. J. Mott, A.M. Liley and others. The vignettes are often concise and often illustrate the direct contributions of the individual practitioners in the field.

There are two chapters on reliving birth memories with LSD devoted to the contributions of psychiatrists Stanislav Grof and Frank Lake. But is the psychedelic method the preferred route to reliving birth and intrauterine trauma? Some complaints about that particular technique include: "For some reason it causes excessive symbolization and it gets you away from the actual physical suffering and adumbrates it as a myth." (Lake, 1981) Tight Corners in Pastoral Counselling. This is a position with which Arthur Janov would concur. Janov writes, "What LSD does not do is allow connections to be made solidly. And only connection accounts for lasting change." (1973) The Primal Scream.

The authors quote Dr. Lake who was one of the pioneers in using LSD to enable access to one's traumatic pain, but who was to later extoll the "breathing" method of access to one's early hurts:

In the twelve years that we have used deep breathing, in preference to the LSD we administered for the fifteen years before that, the more natural method has proved superior. LSD acts beyond the conscious control of the subject, sometimes throwing up material he or she is not ready to deal with. By contrast, breathing is a self-regulated act with a built-in control. Also, in so far as prenatal memories are concerned, under LSD the subject avoids the actual terrors or joys of the fetus itself and evades the recognition that this is happening to them in the context of their mother's womb. Deep breathing, however, promotes a faithful owning and "contextualizing" of the intrauterine experience. Under LSD the actual experiences of the individual were removed to the realm of myths and to dream-like sequences which occur in symbolically stated religious conflicts and deliverances. Stanislav Grof's work confirms this observation.(p. 95, Lake, op. cit. )

Last sentence is my emphasis. I do not believe that Dr. Grof would agree with Dr. Lake's conclusions as he does not believe that the transpersonal material which emerges after ingesting LSD are necessarily symbols of one's traumas. He believes that the source of this material is, Beyond the Brain (1985).

The following material is not from The Unborn Child:

Some thirty plus years ago, an editor of the The World Person Newsletter, wrote, in regard to the use of LSD in regressive therapy: "(H)aving a great personal fear of LSD due to having burned my own brains out with the stuff in a non-therapeutic situation 5 years ago, I feel I can't let the previous article pass without some form of rebuttal and further words of caution to whose who were intrigued.

Bear in mind that the action of LSD on the brain is to blast open the limbic gate and let all the pain up at once, thereby overloading the conscious mind and driving it into hallucinations. Janov repeatedly states that too much just can't be integrated and excessive feelings are handled by the mind in unreal ways.

The writer of the article demonstrates this (to me) when he spoke of floating outside his body. He was overloaded to the point where he split into the hallucination that he was separate from himself which is as wierd as saying people come in a bunch of separate parts that can be isolated in certain circumstances. It looks to me that he was struggling like 'crazy' not to feel the tremendous overload he brought on with the large dose of acid. It doesn't come across as integrated or real to me.

The other thing that I found hard to reconcile is his discussion of intrauterine trauma. His descriptions don't correlate with my biology lessons. If the caustic douche or the sharp instrument came anywhere near him so that he could physically sense them, then he would in fact have been aborted and not be here today to write about it, I do believe. The placenta is supposed to be a protective barrier and if it's pierced or in some other way violated, then that is supposed to be the end of the pregnancy. I again tend to think that the overload of the acid drove him to invent the most horrible thing he could think of to explain the unnatural quantity of pain he was enduring. If he was speaking of something that was picked up psychicly, then I'll back off , as that is out of my realm.

I am not trying to suggest that the writer hasn't primalled at all. I am thinking, though, that perhaps he chose an unnecessarily rough road to sanity. It doesn't app­ear that he accelerated the time span needed for the therapy, and, indeed, he may even have held himself up by 'jamming' his integrative faculties and wasting therapy sessions in acid dreams (with primal story lines).

I'm not saying acid is useless. It at least showed me how fucked up I am. But I wish I'd quit before I got to the state that Janov describes as a 'permanent, though attenated flood state'. So here I am with a nearly extinct defense system, and I can't or won't (I couldn't tell you which) primal. LSD is unpredictable, or rather, its effects on each individual can't be predicted. Or rather, you don't know what you will do in a primal pain flood that you can't shut off."[Vol. I, Feb, March, 1975]

Apart from psychedelics, there are alternative ways of regressing to those early traumas. Some of Dr. Lake's followers used his fantasy technique. At Barbara Bryan's primal center in Michigan, in 1987, Australian psychiatrist, Graham Farrant directed us during a session with guided imagery with the goal of accessing cellular consciousness. The exercise was unproductive for me, but a number attending the workshop did have breakthroughs to sperm and ovuum life which they continued in extended therapy with Dr. Farrant in Australia.

[Reviewer's comment: Primalers describing their intra-uterine relivings encourages others to ridicule the whole concept of primal therapy. It can also happen when we say that we have reexperienced our own fertilization and/or our life as a sperm and ovum - our cellular consciousness. But then many may seem as shocked as when we say we relived aspects of our births! ]

The co-author of The Unborn Child, Simon House, was a client of a therapist who had trained with Frank Lake after LSD became illegal. His primal-type therapy sessions differed from Dr. Lake's in that the groups were much smaller (about 10 clients) and the sessions were more directive and with less or no guided fantasies. For example, he describes how participants had been encouraged with phrases as, "Stay with the feeling., "Let the sound out" "Where are you now?" House preferred the smaller groups and the more individual support.

A way to improve mental health is with adequate nutrition. A few chapters deal with that subject. Ridgway emphasizes that fish is an important source of what a brain needs to function in the modern world. The authors write that "mental illness and violence are extraordinarily high where fish consumption is low. Homicide can be as much as three times as high. Depression can be 50 times as high." (p. 127) As love is particularly essential at certain times of life, stages of life when the brain and mind are making leaps in development are the most important times for nutritional emphasis.

Many who have followed the developments of the regressive therapies from their earliest beginnings will particularly enjoy reading The Unborn Child. The authors present some of their well chosen historical material from sources with which I was unfamiliar and which made their book a particularly enjoyable read.

Return to the Primal Psychotherapy Page Index

Return to the Primal Psychotherapy Page Book Reviews