Yet another example of therapeutic pseudoscience, rebirthing consists of a series of deep-breathing techniques intended to reduce stress, increase energy, and bring ease and pleasure to one’s life and relationships. This sounds fairly innocuous so far; the problem lies in the reasons given for the technique’s alleged effectiveness. The method is called rebirthing because it is intended to help people remember their own births. Apparently, they may have made some wrong decisions at birth, which have affected their lives and relationships, and current psychological problems may date back to those early decisions. By re-experiencing their birth, people can achieve a fresh start and resolve their problems. Rebirthers also teach that deep breathing cleanses the body of toxins, which leave when we exhale properly, resulting in a healthier self physically as well as mentally.
With some practitioners, the method includes activities intended to help the client remember being born by actually re-experiencing it, but most sources on the technique currently downplay the importance of this or completely fail to mention it. This may be due to the sentencing of two rebirthing therapists in Colorado, on June 18, 2001, to sixteen years of prison on charges of reckless child abuse resulting in death, along with lesser charges of criminal impersonation and unlawful practice of psychotherapy. The deceased patient, only ten years old, was allegedly being helped to bond with her adoptive mother, who was present at the time of the fatal therapy. The therapists felt that if she reexperienced the birth process, she and her adoptive mother could have a fresh start together, and her behavior problems would be left behind. This resulted in the girl being wrapped in a ﬂannel blanket and covered with pillows, and then being sat upon by several adults, who did everything they could to prevent her from emerging. Their activities included shouting, “Go ahead and die!” in response to her anguished cries that she could not breathe. One result of her death was the passage of Colorado House Bill 1238, which prohibits reenactment of the birth process when accompanied by any sort of restraint. Clearly, rebirthing therapists have good reason to de-emphasize that part of the technique and focus instead on the breathing method.
The scientiﬁc ground under the breathing method of rebirthing, however, is nearly as shaky. Due to developmental changes in both brain physiology and strategy use, most adults remember little or nothing prior to about the age of four, and certainly nothing before two years, a phenomenon known as infantile amnesia. The idea, therefore, that they can resolve all adult problems by re-experiencing a memory that they don’t have to begin with, seems absurd. There is no evidence for either of the two central tenets of rebirthing: that an adult has a memory of his or her birth or that reliving the experience will somehow help to repair psychological damage that has occurred in the interim. Of course, the same applies to the secondary idea that a baby makes decisions during birth that affect the entire subsequent life course.
- Ray, S., and Orr, L. Rebirthing in the New Age. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts, 1983;
- Sarner, L. “‘Rebirthers’ Who Killed Child Receive 16-Year Prison Terms.” www.quackwatch.org/04ConsumerEducation/News/rebirthing.html, 2001;
- Taylor, K. The Breathwork Experience: Exploration and Healing in Nonordinary States of Consciousness. Santa Cruz, CA: Hanford Mead Publishers, 1994.