Rebirthing is a form of therapy used to treat attachment disorders in adopted children who are having trouble forming loving relationships with their new parents. The therapy involves covering the children in blankets and pillows meant to simulate the womb and then encouraging them to push their way out or be "reborn" into a new bond with their adoptive parents.
Unfortunately, people have died from this therapy. One of the most tragic cases was that of 10 year-old Candace Newmaker who died on April 18, 2000, after one of these "treatments." She was wrapped in a flannel sheet and pillows upon which several adults whose combined weight was more than 600 pounds laid on top of her. The girl, whose adoptive mother was a single pediatric nurse practitioner, was then made to try to emerge while the adults did everything they could to stop her. The entire episode was captured on video camera and shown in a courtroom where the two psychotherapists, Connell Watkins, 54, and Julie Ponder, 40, were tried and convicted of reckless child abuse resulting in death. They were sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The only good thing to come out of that case was "Candace's Law," now the law in the state of Colorado. It prohibits "reenactment of the birthing process through therapy techniques that involve any restraint that creates a situation in which a patient may suffer physical injury or death."
The U.S. House also passed a non-binding resolution in 2002 condemning rebirthing and urging every state to ban the practice.
This bizarre and deadly practice was invented by a man named Leonard Orr who has no background in medicine or psychology. An advocate of the New Thought movement, he was one of the early proponents of "prosperity consciousness," a belief that one can attract wealth just by opening the mind to the idea of it. A believer in physical immortality, he claims to have come up with a lot of his "revelations" in the bathtub (I'm not kidding). In 1974, he began suspending friends in a redwood hot tub with snorkels and nose plugs where they claimed to have experienced their birth. Orr and his friends began offering this "therapy" to others and, believe it or not, it caught on.
After a while, he developed a theory that damage is done to the breathing mechanism at birth when a child is temporarily cut off from its oxygen when the umbilical cord is cut. This initial panic remains in the person's subconscious as a nameless fear.
As psychotherapist Margaret Thaler Singer writes in her book, Crazy Therapies, "the goal of the rebirthing process is to get the person to release this long-held tension and learn to take advantage of the fully functioning breathing mechanism. Once accomplished, the person can lead a full, happy, breathy life."
Sadly, Orr is still practicing this dangerous therapy via his Rebirthing-Breathwork International business, and many other therapists offer it as well.
As Singer states, there is "no scientifically established or objective clinical evidence" showing that rebirthing does anything beneficial.
Rebirthing is one of several types of regression therapy that is popular in some psychotherapy circles. Reparenting is a similar practice that has also been found dangerous.
"Age regression, reparenting and rebirthing are not proven helpful techniques," Singer summarizes. "So be careful! Think twice before going backward."
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