Why Pre- & Perinatal Psychology and Therapy? (2008)

The field of PRE- & PERINATAL PSYCHOLOGY AND THERAPY, which is now more appropriately being called PRIMARY PSYCHOLOGY & THERAPY, has a critical place in the realm of helping people understand and heal their life-long traumas.

In my work I have encountered many people seeking various types of counseling saying something like “I have done so much therapy/analysis/etc.  Some of it was very good, but there is still something I have not been able to access–it seems there is something missing.” I had also felt this myself.  Beginning in my teenage years I had been reaching to therapy in an effort to understand my questions and heal my neuroses…with relatively little success.  I knew my story, I understood the rationale, but I was not feeling any better nor was I able to alter the major issues that were plaguing me.

There were two major episodes that changed my unsuccessful ventures in the world of psychotherapy.  The first was when I, as a single mother of two, applied to a clinic for therapy for myself, and the person who was assigned to me said, “I’ve been studying a form of ‘body therapy’ and I’d like to try it on you.”  I remember thinking, “Body therapy?  If it has something to do with the body I guess it can’t be all that wrong.”  (Having been a dancer earlier in my life and a faithful t’ai chi ch’uan practitioner and student of sensory awareness I was always connected in some way with physicality and my body, so it sounded like a fairly reasonable proposition to me.) I was relieved to have therapy sessions that included talking as well as energetic movement and expressions.  It felt “more whole.” I had been so accustomed to regular therapy sessions with little or no noticeable change, I was in therapy with this person for six months before I realized one day that “something in me was different.”  I was encouraged and intrigued. I was so interested I wanted to understand more about the process and I began a course of study in Reichian Therapy.  There I learned that the great and greatly demeaned psychoanalyst, Wilhelm Reich, was the first to incorporate aspects of the physical body into traditional, commonly practiced psychoanalysis.  I understood more fully, theoretically and experientially, how the body and the mind cannot be separated.

My other major study was sensory awareness, which helped me develop more connection with my own sensations or lack of them; but there was no element connecting my sensations to my psyche or to my behaviors.

My studies in Reichian Psycholgy and Therapy helped me understand why “talk therapy” didn’t do much. It became very clear to me that much of the trauma happens before we are verbal or occurs subliminally so we may not be overtly conscious about it.

I was able to integrate my studies in Reichian psychology and sensory awareness into what I eventually called “Reichian-based Awareness Therapy.” I evolved this work in order to help people more fully experience and understand themselves deeply and wholely…from the inside out.  This brought me to use the term “Somatic Psychology,” utilizing the term “somatic” for its true meaning: “the experienced body” or “experiencing the body from within” and ultimately naming my work “Somatic Reclaiming.”

Reclaiming the goodness that may have been buried early made even more sense to me as I worked with my clients somatically; it definitely helped them realize some of what they were yearning for.  Yet there were sessions when either the client or myself or both of us knew they had gone even deeper…that they had gone into the pre-natal realm.  Sometimes clients would describe experiences that were clearly pre-natal-often relating to being inside their mother’s womb-or even to conception experiences.

There was more for me to study and learn.  There were still questions I had about my own life experiences, and I also wanted to be able to support my clients in their deep quests.

My intention as I ventured into these therapeutic fields was self healing; not initially to use the work with others.  I needed to be able to go there myself before I could be a guide to others.  My studies in pre- and perinatal psychology and therapy were quite illuminating for me.  So many of the questions I had for ages (and many that I did not even know I had) were realized.  I felt as if I was filling holes in my psyche.  It was a revelation!  I became fully aware that not only do most of the early imprints create such deep and repeatable tracks throughout our lives, but that many of these pre-verbal experiences happen pre-natally and even pre- and during conception!

My own life developed another dimension.  My work with  clients and students expanded. I began to understand Reich’s work more fully.  I realized the significance of the direction he was taking with clients at his Orgonomic Infant Research Center which he founded in New York in 1949.  At this center he worked with both mothers and infants.  Reich’s Research Center was closed by the U.S. government.

I want to acknowledge another student of Freud’s, Otto Rank, (1884-1939) who in 1924 wrote The Trauma of Birth, thereby opening a door to perinatal psychology. He wrote about working with pre-conscious birth-related trauma as the cornerstone of each individual’s issues with life.  He asserted that the separation from the mother at birth is the cause of anxiety and therefore neurosis.  I have read that he had clients re-experience their birth trauma, but I don’t know how.  Details state that he was expelled from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.  Of course so was Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957)  expelled from this society – and other professional associations as well.  It seems they both were close associates and “wunderkinds” of Freud but then ran into trouble for disagreeing with Freud about the primacy of the Oedipus complex.  (Rank emigrated to the US in 1935; Reich came in 1939.)

It is clear that whether or not a person comes to me with any mention of pre- and/or perinatal consciousness (and more of them are asking to include this in the work we do) the openness to information from this time is always a possibility.

It has always been clear to me that I work with the whole person. (Interestingly, this term was also used by Elsa Gindler (1885-1961) german teacher of Charlotte Selver (1901-2003).)   When Charlotte came to the US she began to use the term “Sensory Awareness” for the work that Gindler called “working with the whole person.”  I studied with Selver from 1968 until she died in 2003.

The most essential aspect of the work that we must do at this level is to be fully with the person…to meet them as completely as we can.  Martin Buber (1878-1965) has said, “All real living is meeting.” (1958).  I can take off from there and state that the main component of all good therapy is meeting.

Everyone wants to be met.  The child is born wanting to be met by the people s/he has heard and felt during the gestation period.  We learn and grow by being met on many different levels.  Not being met is a betrayal of what life is.  We feel abandonment which causes frustration, despair, confusion and we must create our own “meetings.”  Thereby we develop resistances, neuroses, and our own worlds to answer our questions and create “acceptable” lives.

Some therapies take us on long journeys, some very interesting and valuable, but if we are not met, if we aren’t supported to really come to face, feel, rejoice or grieve – to really acknowledge and experience what happened on whatever level we can, there will not be satisfaction. It will not be whole. Not experiencing our emotions means that we cannot work with them to accept, to understand-to come to peace in our lives.

The most major developments in our entire lives happen in the first several months of gestation, before we are born into this world.  What happened to us at the cellular level is still with us-in each of our cells.  How can we not include in our healing arena the most significant physiological and psychological experiences that influence us throughout our lives?

Various scientific methods of healing are currently learning about and with much success including the somatic element into their ways of working with trauma, dyslexia, autism, ptsd, etc. Most practices however do not yet acknowledge that the child’s emotional life does not begin just when s/he arrives outside mother’s body. They do not yet accept the importance of realizing that the prenate has been feeling, hearing, reacting to events that have been happening in the mother’s world-both physically and emotionally.   What the mother eats, what she feels, what she does, etc.-all also affect the child she is carrying.  Ignoring that part of the child’s experience and not working with it cuts off an important part of his/her wholeness.

So, why work with the pre- and perinatal psychology of the person?   Because the therapy can go deeper, cheaper, faster and the person can learn more about him/herself on a multitude of levels that can, even below his/her consciousness, help and organically deeply change us in so many myriad ways.  Meeting and working with the wisdom and intelligence of the whole person, their whole organism-senses, emotions, movements, breath-is the only way to support a person being more whole.

© Judyth O. Weaver 2008