Warning message

This content is filtered. APPPAH membership is required for full access to journal articles.
-A +A
Publication Date: 
May, 1997
Page Count: 
Starting Page: 

This paper will illustrate how the sequelae of prenatal trauma can be transferentially expressed in a variety of pathological symptoms in postnatal life. An in-depth examination, based on a receptive posture in the therapist, often reveals that the traumatized unborn in the patient has developed a congenital diathesis which has predisposed him to have repeated postnatal reenactments symbolic of the original pre-natal trauma. This diathesis cannot automatically be assumed to be an expression of genetic endowment. The ambient psychological family is an important determinant in both the causation of prenatal trauma, and its healing or reinforcement in postnatal life. The meaning of the messages communicated by the traumatized unborn are "known but unthought" by the patient until the associative links are interpreted in therapy. Such interpretations require the therapist to think in terms of prenatal mentation and communication, and to consider the dread of being aborted as a possible component in the transference, and also in common syndromes that have been traditionally viewed and interpreted as primarily having a postnatal origin. Failure to do this may result in an interminable or unsatisfactory therapy. Ten clinical case examples will be presented.


Abraham H (1969) New aspects of the psychopathology of patients presenting for termination of pregnancy: Abortion on psychiatric grounds. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic 33:265-268

Bion W (1977) Two Papers: The Grid and the Caesura, originally presented as talks to the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic society in 1971 and 1975 respectively. Imago Editora, Rio de Janeiro; reprinted, Karnac, 1989

Bollas C (1987) The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known, Free Association Books, London

Chamberlain DB (1994) The sentient prenate: What every parent should know. Preand Perinatal Psychology Journal 9(1):9-31

Cheek D, LeCron L (1968) Clinical Hypnotherapy. Grune and Stratton, New York

De Mause L (1982) Foundations of Psychohistory. Creative Roots, Inc., New York

Edelman G (1989) The Remembered Present. Basic Books, New York

Edelman G (1992) Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind. Basic Books, New York

Feldmar A (1979) The embryology of consciousness: What is a normal pregnancy? In: Mall D, Watts W (eds.) The psychological aspects of abortion. University Publications of America, Washington D.C., pp. 15-24

Ferenczi S (1929) The unwelcome child and his death instinct. International Journal of Psychoanalysis 10:125-129. Republished in: Final Contributions to the Problems & Methods of Psycho-Analysis. Balint M (ed), Mosbacher E and others (trans.). Basic Books, New York (1955), pp. 102-107

Grof S (1988) Adventures in Self Discovery. State University of New York Press, Albany

Grotstein JS (1992) Personal correspondence, July 7, 1992

Janus L (1989) The hidden dimension of prenatal and perinatal experience in the works of Freud, Jung and Klein. Int. J. of Prenatal and Perinatal Studies 1:51-65

Kandel ER (1989) Genes, nerve cells and the remembrance of things past. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 1(2):103-125

Kestenberg J, Borowitz E (1990) On narcissism and masochism in the fetus and the neonate. Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal 5(1):87-95

Liley A (1972) The foetus as a personality. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 6:99-105

Piontelli A (1992) From Fetus to Child. Routledge, New York

Ployé PM (1973) Does prenatal mental life exist? International Journal of PsychoAnalysis 54:241-246

Schecter MD (1960) Observations on adopted children. Archives of General Psychiatry 3:21-32

Schermer V (1995) Personal communication

Sonne JC (1966) Feticide as acting out. Voices 2:49-53

Sonne JC (1975) Pregnancy, abortion and the unconscious. Marriage and Family Newsletter 6(1,2,3):1-24

Sonne JC (1980) The psychological family and family image construction in unrooted children. Family Therapy 7:255-284

Sonne JC (1991) Triadic transferences of pathological family images. Contemporary Family Therapy 13:219-229

Sonne JC (1994a) The relevance of the dread of being aborted to models of therapy and models of the mind. Part I: case examples. Int. J. of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Medicine 6(1):67-86 (Reprinted in the Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal 9:195-219)

Sonne JC (1994b) The relevance of the dread of being aborted to models of therapy and models of the mind. Part II: Mentation and communication in the unborn. Int. J. of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Medicine 6(2):247-275 (Reprinted in the Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal 9:257-294)

Sonne JC (1994c) Social regression and the global prevalence of abortion. Int J of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Medicine 8(1):27-46

Sonne JC (1995) Prenatal themes in Rock Music. Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal 10(2): 103-119

Wilheim J (1988) A Caminoho do Nascimento-Uma ponte entre o Biológico e o Psíquico. (On the Way to Being Born: a Link between the Biological and the Psychical.) Imago Editera, Sao Paulo. (German edition: Unterwegs zur Geburt. Eine Brücke zwischen dem Biologischen und dem Psychischen. Mattes Verlag, Heidelberg)

Winnicott DW (1949) Birth memories, birth trauma, and anxiety. In: Winnicott W Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis. Basic Books, Inc., New York

Verny T, Kelly J (1981) The Secret Life of the Unborn Child. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., New York

John C. Sonne, M.D.

Reprinted from: Int. J. Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Medicine Vol. 8 (1996) No. 3, 317-339.

Paper presented May 12, 1995 at the XI International Conference of the International Society of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Medicine, "A Time to be Born," Heidelberg, Germany, May 11-14, 1995.

Address correspondence to John C. Sonne, MJD., 443 Shady Lane, Moorestown, NJ 08057, USA.