Perinatal Memories as a Diagnostic Psychotherapeutic Tool
Publication Date:May 1987
1. Netherton commonly uses this expression in his lectures. He has said this on numerous occasions for many years.
2. Thomas Verny's (1981) work represents the most concise and accessible overview of the perinatal literature that I have found. Another good overview is provided in the controversial article by de Mause (1982). A brief review of the psychoanalytic literature is in Khamsi (1985). The Syllabus of Abstracts of the 2nd International Congress on Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology gives a broad overview of the current perinatal researchers from many disciplines.
3. In therapy we find that imprinting of intense emotional patterns of the child's caretakers can occur for several months after birth. This is especially true if the child is exposed to physical or emotional abuse. In this regard, we think of gestation as extending for several months after delivery. A current anthropological theory states that as the brain of humans became larger in relation to the female bipedal pelvis, the birth process evolved so that it occurred earlier in gestation to allow the cranium passage through the birth canal. This change occurred somewhere between Australopithecus afarensis and Homo erectus, possibly as long as 1.6 million years ago. From an anthropological standpoint, the human infant is altricial, a reference to the human infants' relative developmental immaturity and total dependence at birth. The "fetal" growth spurt occurs after birth, and gestation continues for twelve months postnatally (see Montagu 1985; Shipman 1986). From a psychological standpoint, even though conscious awareness began at around six months gestation, the process of developing a separate identity from the most immediate caretaker seems to continue for several months postpartum. Imprinting of maternal emotions seems to gradually subside in direct proportion to the development of the infant's conscious mind during this postnatal gestation.
4. There are approximately 60 certified practitioners of the Netherton Method of Past Life and Peri-natal Therapy in this country. Several are in West Germany, a few in Brazil, and a few in Canada. When I say "we," I am most specifically referring to the CORE associates in Los Angeles. Morris Netherton's clinical hours in past life and perinatal therapy extend over 18 years, and he has maintained 50 therapy hour weeks for most of those years. My personal practice is divided between two hour sessions of weekly individual therapy, and Intensive therapy. During Intensive therapy, I work with one client for five consecutive days for four hours per day. An average of 5 hours will be spent in history taking and conscious assimilation of experiences. The other 15 hours is deep experiential work. Of that 15 hours, I spend an average of 4-6 hours in perinatal experiences. I have conducted four intensives where essentially all of the deep experiential work was in the pre- and peri-natal period because of maternal psychosis. At this writing, I have conducted 48 Intensives, and hae seen approximately 100 clients in weekly therapy.
5. Grof's use of COEX systems is essentially identical to the understanding of emotionally resonant themes that we work with in the Netherton Method. However, our respective applications of the concept are very different. In Grof's holotropic therapy, the tendency is to work from individual unconscious realities through peri-natal experiences to transpersonal experiences, including past incarnations, collective unconscious experiences and to mythological archetypal experiences. The therapist does not direct the content of the session, other than through the use of bodywork during consciously directed breathing. In the Netherton Method, we feel that the transpersonal and archetypal experiences an individual accesses in nonordinary states of consciousness are emotionally resonant to specific experiences, in past lives and in this life, that were part of the developmental evolution of the individual. Therefore, we believe that working with the original source experiences in past lives, peri-natal and childhood releases the individual from any connection with the larger negative collective and archetypal realities. There are certain times we will direct a client to stay with a particular COEX system because the unconscious may have a tendency to block part of the experience, especially repressed traumas such as physical or sexual abuse in childhood. The "blocks" I referred to are COEX systems in and of themselves, and we work through those to access the repressed unconscious material.
6. Grof equates hopelessness and existential despair with the second perinatal matrix, which he specifically relates to the onset of labor and the crushing mechanical forces generated by the contracting uterus against the undilated cervix. He mentions images of polluted waters associated with a disturbed intrauterine experience during the first perinatal matrix, which is the entire pre-natal period up to the onset of labor. It may be that these polluted waters are the symbolic equivalent of a physical "contamination" of the uterus by maternal hormones associated with depression. In any case, I have found existential hopelessness very frequently associated with the pre-natal experience prior to the onset of labor, and subjectively linked to the maternal emotions, rather than to the physical experience of the prenate.
7. This "warm, numb bliss" is one type of unconscious block that I was referring to in the previous note. And like all COEX systems, this tendency to not feel will be found in past life experiences (such as unconsciousness and death); perinatal experiences (such as obstetric anesthesia); and childhood (lying in bed in depression, or dissociating from feeling during actual physical abuse).
8. Evidence of perinatal memories comes from psychoanalysis, behavioral studies, psychobiology, hypnotic regression and transpersonal therapies.
9. Erickson and the derivative of his work, Neurolinguistic Programming, work with the unconscious almost exclusively with metaphor. They use metaphor for trance induction, and as a mode for unconscious change. (Bandler & Grinder, 1975, 1981; Erickson, Rossi & Rossi, 1976, 1981) For an excellent application of therapeutic metaphor and refraining to holistic prenatal care, see Peterson and Mehl (1984: 218-219). For a fascinating discussion of the generation of perceived realities through metaphor, see Jaynes (1976:48-66).
10. My attitudes about the issue of reality, metaphor or fantasy in experiential psychotherapy have been strongly influenced by my work with adults who were sexually abused children. Psychoanalysis confined stories of sexual abuse to the world of fantasy, and even in the current literature it is easy to find analysts writing of abuse fantasies from childhood without seeking some factual experiential derivative for those "fantasies," despite the fact that, statisticallly, there are hundreds of thousands of reported cases of child abuse each year. I find large numbers of clients who were physically abused, and who had dissociated those traumatic memories from the conscious mind. In cases such as these, it is not viable to take the position that it doesn't matter if you are dealing with metaphor or fact. If it is factual, the client needs to address it as fact to release themselves from the trauma. If it is a metaphor, you don't want the client to assume sexual abuse by a father if it didn't occur, even if it seems to bring some decrease in symptoms. I always strive to find the experiential basis for the memories of abuse, whether it is metaphor drawn from other experiences, or from actual cases of child abuse. This is precisely my attitude about memories of maternal emotions and experiences.
11. The idea that the preverbal consciousness of the prenate can record specific words that may be acted upon later may be difficult to accept at first. However, this is very strongly supported by our clinical work. (Netherton, 1978, Givens, 1983, Raymond, 1985) Also, see Watkins (1985). Regarding specific words recorded during general anesthesia, see Cheek (1960).
12. If you understand COEX systems and can work with a tool developed independently of each other by Netherton and Watkins, which Watkins named Affect Bridging (Watkins, 1985), than it is relatively easy to move about the hologrammic consciousness, tracking with specific emotional themes. Many incidents contain the same theme, and you bridge nonsequentially from incident to incident. I structure my language to leave the unconscious free to determine which incident is most relevant to that theme.
13. Tabula Rasa is a term from John Locke referring to his view of the mind of the newborn child as a blank slate. Every prenatal researcher that has ever written a word has disputed tabula rasa at birth. I dispute tabula rasa at conception.
14. I worked for seven years as an intensive care nurse. During that time I was involved in a few hundred cardiac resuscitations, and I worked hypnotically with some of the survivors to help them process their Near-Death Experiences. Subjective experiences of extracorporeal consciousness have been documented very extensively (Blacher, 1979, Hine, 1978, Lukianowicz, 1958, Moody, 1975, Ring, 1981 & 1985, Sabom, 1982, Stevenson, 1974). The International Association for NearDeath Studies, based in Storrs, Conn., studies consciousness at death in the same way the Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Association of North America studies consciousness at birth. I've always wanted to see a joint conference between the principals of AAPLE, IANDS and PPPANA.
15. At the 2nd International Congress on Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology in San Diego, I tried to get Dr. Tom Verny, President of PPPANA and author of The secret Life of the Unborn Child to specify where he thought consciousness began in utero. Was it zygotic or blastocystic in origin? He very gracefully sidestepped my question, and I totally support him in this as I support the social purposes of PPPANA 100%, and it would dilute the purpose of that organization to address reincarnation because it would disenfranchise many very important members. However, PPPANA has many closet reincarnationists, and many keynote speakers openly addressed transpersonal and past life experiences, most notably Mary Davenport, M.D. (1985), who is an obstetrician and was the Program Chairperson for this congress, and Stanislav Grof (1985a), who led a workshop and addressed the plenary session of the congress. Dr. Grof is the founding president of the International Transpersonal Association. In this regard, my observations match those of de Mause (1982): researchers who begin working with perinatal consciousness find it difficult to draw firm boundaries on consciousness. There is a tendency toward transpersonal and past life experiences (which de Mause referred to as "the paranormal").
16. Grof (1985) gives a similar analogy, utilizing television as the metaphor. Penfield (1975) uses the metaphor of "brain as computer, mind as programmer." In summarizing his more than 30 years of neurosurgical treatment of epilepsy upon awake and alert patients, Penfield's scientific and philosophical observations are that brain and mind are dual elements with separate but integrated functions (pp.110115), that the energy and function of mind cannot be accounted for by the neuronal transmissions of the brain (p.56), and that energy transactions from mind to mind are as yet unproven, but is still a workable hypothesis because the nature of mindenergy remains undefined (87-90). For a stimulating (and for me, infuriating) discussion of exactly the opposite viewpoint, i.e., mind and consciousness as derived from brain, see Jaynes (1976:1-47).
17. My view of the relationship of the mother's mind to the pre-natal mind derives from the concept of Mind as energy. I see transactions of mind between mother and prenate along the lines of Systems Theory concepts promulgated by thinkers such as Lovelock (1979), Capra (1982:290-298), and Mehl (1984:141-192).
18. This is an extremely important aspect of the Netherton Method which I have not described in this paper. During depotentiation of a mother's conscious function, the transaction of emotion seems to switch to the strongest conscious energy in the immediate environment. The client will often have a very clear sense of the emotions of medical personnel, including specific words and ideas. If these extraneous words and emotions resonate with the preexistent COEX systems of the prenate, they become part of that system and need to be individuated from the psyche in the same way the mother's emotions need to be individuated from the psyche.
19. We will soon be setting up a controlled study to test theories of the specificity of peri-natal programming. I would very much like to hear from any therapists who have an interest in participating in this project. I'd also like to hear of your perinatal experiences, whether your point of view was as a client or as a therapist.
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