Conference Review: Do Babies Remember Trauma

Sponsored by the Margaret S. Mahler Foundation and The Columbia Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. The Miller Theater, Columbia University, New York, NY. On October 1, 2011 Columbia University's Miller Theater was filled with about 200 therapists, social workers, psychiatrists and researchers for a day-long conference to discuss new evidence that suggests consciousness and nociception during prenatal development. A wealth of discussion regarding the implications for advanced medicine, such as prenatal surgery, was also introduced, as well as potential challenges for the integration of this thinking into mainstream knowledge. The distinguished roster of speakers was exceptional, both in content and the compassion with which each presented their research. Susan Coates, PhD presented her work with implications of memory in terms of mentalization and representation in infant traumatic memory, and focuses on implicit/body sense as a means toward understanding non-verbal memory in utero. Sunny Anand, MD offered new insights into sub-cortical consciousness, and by comparing the emotional and relational capabilities of children with hydroencephalitis, (a disease which prevents development of a prefrontal cortex), argued that even prenates, who do not yet have a prefrontal cortex, can actually experience emotions in the womb. The morning concluded with Thedore Gensbauer, MD, who detailed the neurobiological implications of early trauma on the central and autonomic nervous systems. He is interested in understanding the applications of dance/movement therapy within the trauma spectrum. In the afternoon, Lenore Terr, MD, a pioneering researcher in childhood trauma and author of "Too Scared to Cry", shared the stage with a client whom she had counseled in working with memory of prenatal trauma. This was a rare opportunity to witness the interpersonal aspects of trauma healing between therapist and client. The day concluded with a panel discussion of the presenters. As a somatic psychotherapist and avid advocate of pre and perinatal psychology, I could not recommend this day-long conference enough. It was particularly inspiring to hear how even these prominent researchers suffered to publish their work because their topics were outside of current paradigms of scientific research. It was also inspiring to hear that these forward-thinking scientists are authentically invested in the potential of pre and perinatal psychology. I would suggest following the works of these researchers in order to build our understanding of this field.