Therapeutic Use of Rebirthing with People Addicted to Alcohol.
By Piotr Rajski, M.A., Chartered Psychologist
Roche Miette Psychological Services, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
In this work the author summarizes anecdotal and research information about the breathing method known in USA as “Rebirthing” (RB) or “Conscious Connected Breathing” (CCB) or “Intuitive Energy Breathing” (IEB). He shares his own experiences with the therapeutic use of this breathing for people addicted to alcohol. For instance, in 1986-87 seventy people attended the program “Rebirthers for Alcoholics” in Siemianowice, Poland. Self-declared sobriety one year after the program was above 50%. The author delineates hypotheses how this breathing can be helpful for this group of patients. He attempts to compare the domain of Rebirthing with other therapeutic interventions and provides information about the available literature.
Popular Notions of Rebirthing.
Rebirthing is a breathing method originating in the USA in the middle 1970’s by Leonard Orr. Orr observed that while breathing in a relaxed, connected way he had many recollections of his early life, including birth. He hypothesized that breathing in this manner should allow every person to relive and heal the experience of birth trauma. The importance of birth in shaping human life was proposed in the 1950’s by Otto Rank (1952). This notion was later supported by Janov (1970) and Grof (1975, 1985). It appears that there is now an overwhelming scientific data regarding birth trauma and its formative impact. Chamberlain (1995) gives a review of the research linking pre- and perinatal trauma with the tendency toward violence, juvenile delinquency, greater sensitivity to stress, suboptimal brain growth, problems with cognition and self control, and addiction. This review includes the landmark study by Salk et al. (1985) linking perinatal conditions with eventual suicide among adolescents.
Rank’s initial conceptualization did not draw much attention, as there was no practical method of intervention into birth trauma at that time. Some researchers, for instance Chamberlain (1995), attempted hypnotherapy, but it was mainly Orr’s discovery that opened new therapeutic possibilities. While the work of obstetricians, such as LeBoyer (1975) and Odent (1984), prompted the emergence of new ways of working with infants, the Emerson’s method (1991) being probably the best known, Rebirthing seemed to bring up new trends of working with adults. One example of these new therapies is the Integrative Body Psychotherapy (IBP), proposed by Rosenberg et al. (1985). IBP stresses the importance of birth, of so called “primary scenario,” which can be understood as the totality of different formative dynamics related to conception and birth, and of proper bonding (Rand, 1996). All these developments suggest that the notion of birth trauma, and its contribution to many human ailments, including alcoholism, deserves a second look.
Initially intended as a method of self-exploration or self-improvement, with many metaphysical and New Age connotations, Rebirthing appealed more to average people than to scientists. Orr (1999) estimates that to this day about 10 million people all over the world have had at least one Rebirthing session. Many professional practitioners, mainly psychologists and psychiatrists, were willing to explore therapeutic potential of Rebirthing. Some of them have written on the subject (e.g. Jones, 1983). These explorations by professionals of different backgrounds led to the occasional misuse of Rebirthing. Recently, there has been a well-publicized case of a Colorado girl who died during intervention. During her therapy a technique of psychodrama was used, which was unfortunately and unjustifiably called Rebirthing. This use of Rebirthing as psychodrama has never been intended or encouraged by Orr.
Orr’s own thinking about the breathing method he discovered has evolved and changed over time. He no longer believes that reliving birth trauma is the main goal of RB. His recent thinking stresses the self- purifying and self-healing aspects of this technique. These preferences are reflected in the new names, such as CCB or IEB, used by Orr to describe the basic process. This is how Orr (1999) has recently written about the method:
“Intuitive Energy Breathing is a skill that most people can learn in ten 1 to 2 hours breathing sessions. It is the ability to breathe energy as well as air. It is the most valuable self-healing ability that humans can learn. This involves merging the inhale with the exhale in a gentle relaxed rhythm in an intuitive way that floods the body with divine energy. This beautiful energy cleans and nourishes the human body physically, emotionally and spiritually. The result of a session is relaxation, peace and joy. ”
“Breathing is the basic source of health to the body. Breathing is the primary source of nourishment and elimination. (…) It is the skill of breathing energy in a way that eventually gives us awareness of mastery of our energy body. (…) Cleaning and balancing our energy body is the secret to mental and physical health. Rebirthing has been called an American form of prana yoga. (…)”
Crucial to the understanding of the whole approach is the concept of energy, which Orr construes as the most basic life force. Though contemporary science has difficulty accepting and measuring it, the concept of energy has been with humankind for thousands of years. It is known as “prana” in ancient Vedic scriptures and as “chi” in traditional Chinese writings. There is a vast popular literature about the subject. Many scholars (e.g. Eisenberg, 1993; Ornish, 1993) who research the healing potential of the human mind, or mind – body relations, also use the concept of energy. Without going into a lot of detail about the concept of energy, which is beyond the scope of this paper, let me just quote from one of the researchers, who support this direction. This is how Ornish (1993) expressed the importance of using the concept of energy to explain dynamics related to human health:
“I think, ultimately, everything is a different form of energy. Even matter that seems solid as a rock is energy. We know from Einstein that energy and matter are interconvertible. (…)” (P.105)
For Orr, adoption of the concept of energy is naturally linked to the associated notions of “preservation of energy” or “cleaning of energy.” That is why Orr customarily recommends to his students numerous “purification techniques”, such as bathing twice a day, fasting, physical exercise and spending time with an open fire, etc. He stresses the importance of these things so strongly that “purification” can be understood as the second, next to breathing, most important component of Rebirthing.
Even before the discovery of Rebirthing, Orr was always a strong proponent of the role of the human mind in human health. He believes that our thinking has a direct impact on the quality of our energy and thus has great influence on our health and aliveness. Similarly to adepts of Buddhism, Zen, and other religious traditions, Rebirthers are supposed to maintain a proper, possibly positive frame of mind. It is achieved through meditation, prayer, mantra or through a popular technique of writing affirmations (positive thoughts).
Summarizing, according to this writer, these are the most essential elements of the method known as Rebirthing:
Conscious connected breathing (RB, CCB, IEB) Purification of energy
Control of the mind
Therapeutic Potential of Rebirthing.
As has been said, Rebirthing from its very beginning attracted the interest of professionals, such as psychologists and psychiatrists, who attempted to use this method for therapeutic purposes. There is a handful of psychologists in the USA and Canada who have been using RB in therapy. Jones (1983) noted:
“This technique (…) has proved itself effective in a remarkable wide variety of disorders, including not only mental or emotional problems, but also acute and chronic physical ailments. (…) including acne, alcoholism, angina, anorexia nervosa, arthritis, asthma, barbiturate addiction, bulimia, caffeine addiction, chronic bronchitis, diabetes, digestive disorders, epilepsy, hypertension, menstrual disorders, nicotine addiction, obesity, opiate addiction, poor peripheral circulation, post-traumatic paralysis, sexual disorders, spastic paralysis, tranquilizer addiction, and upper respiratory disorders. Patients with allergies, cancers, duodenal ulcers, gastric ulcers, kidney problems, and migraines have been rebirthed successfully (…). In addition (…) every type of neurotic, psychotic and personality disorders have been rebirthed successfully and have made major personality changes for the better within a matter of a few sessions.”
Worth noticing in this list are not only alcoholism and addictions to different substances, but also personality disorders, ulcers and gastric problems that are associated factors in substance related disorders (see, DSM-IV). Encouraged by these positive, though mostly anecdotal findings this author employed Rebirthing in the program for alcoholics in the middle of the 1980’s with very encouraging results. Psychiatrist, Jacek Przyludzki, used RB with the patients of the day psychiatric division in Siemianowice, Poland, about the same time.
Perhaps, because of its New Age reputation, research on Rebirthing did not attract funds for serious scientific investigation into its mechanisms and effectiveness. Although research was undertaken in some university centers (e.g., Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland), this author is aware of only a few rigorous, scientific studies in Rebirthing that were presented in a written form. The results of these studies will be briefly summarized.
Rubin (1983) undertook a study consisting of two experiments. In Experiment 1, twenty-two subjects were randomly assigned to a Treatment Group or to a Control Group. Treatment consisted of a Rebirth Training Weekend. Subjects in the Treatment Group showed improvement (as compared to Control Group) on the Rotter’s Internal vs. External Locus of Control Test, Self Esteem Scale, Affirmation Scale, and Multiple Affect Adjective Checklist when taken one day, two weeks, and six months after the Rebirth Training Weekend. These results, Rubin concluded, were “consistent with RB proponents’ claims of increased ability to be the locus of control in one’s life, increased self-esteem, increased positive thinking, and decreased anxiety” (p.ii). Rubin also administered the Marlowe-Crown Social Desirability Scale with her subjects. The two groups did not differ on this test, which suggested that improvements after treatment could not be attributed to lying to produce socially acceptable answers.
In Experiment 2, two subjects rested, were rebirthed, and rested again, while eight of their physiological functions were automatically recorded. Rubin observed that volume of air inhaled, oxygen and carbon dioxide expired, pulse volume, pulse propagation time, skin potential response, and electromyograph all changed during the RB sessions. This finding is consistent with the claims that RB triggers important changes on a physiological level. Rubin concluded:
“This research strongly suggests that there are positive cognitive, affective, and physiological changes which occur in this process. Both short and long-term improvement in locus of control, self-esteem, anxiety reduction, and more positive thinking occurred in the subjects tested. (…) Certainly these findings indicate that the rebirthing process merits further serious research and that it shows promise as a valuable psychological and perhaps physiological technique of self-improvement” (p.65).
Sicard (1990), a Montreal based Biologist and Rebirther, compiled information on the physiology of breathing. Although Sicard does not present any original studies, her book gives a good review of the hypotheses on the physiological mechanisms of Rebirthing.
A good presentation of anatomy, physiology and mechanics of breathing can also be found in the work of Heyda (2000). This paper provides a good comparison between Rebirthing and other body related therapies, such as Lowen’s Bioenergetics, or Grof’s Holotropic Breathing. Heyda quotes three other studies on Rebirthing.
Sudres et al.(1994) took twelve persons with diagnosed adaptation problems, average level of depression and average general functioning through ten RB sessions. They recorded significant reduction in levels of depression and anxiety as well as improved perception of one’s own body among the subjects tested. In six cases these positive changes were observed eight weeks after the completion of the program.
Reggios (1985-6) applied CCB as an alternative to classical analytical therapy with the clients showing high resistance to the analysis. In all cases the use of CCB led to better rapport and therapeutic progress. According to Heyda, this finding seems to support the original proposition of Wilhelm Reich (1973), linking blocking of the breath with therapeutic resistance.
Also, Jones (1985) applied CCB in the therapy of seven women with anorexic/bulimic problems. The use of CCB in these cases once again led to better awareness of the body and improved nutritional habits.
In her own study Heyda (2000) applied a series of 10 individual CCB sessions to a group of 23 randomly chosen subjects who had never experienced CCB before. Her Control Group consisted of 23 individuals who were pair matched with the individuals from her Treatment Group for age, gender, education and marital status. All subjects were administered two tests – a week before entering the study and 3-4 weeks after completing their programs. Heyda used ?osiak’s SE-T Scale (1994), measuring three emotional dimensions, namely Anxiety-Depression, Joy-Satisfaction, and Anger, and ISRA (Miguel- Tobal et al.), which measures cognitive, physiological and motoric aspects of anxiety reactions to different every day situations. As her second hypothesis implied that personality characteristics might modify the impact of CCB on the emotional state of her subjects, Heyda administered (but only once) Eysenck’s Personality Questionnaire EPQ-R. She analyzed her results using a two-factorial Anova (repeated measure of the dependent variables – time) with associated variables (personality).
In all of her analysis, Heyda obtained statistically significant differences (from p<0.01 to p<0.001) between the Treatment and Control groups in all the dimensions measured. These differences were consistent and unequivocal, showing that CCB sessions led to the reduction of negative emotional states (anger, anxiety, depression) and higher levels of positive emotional states (joy, satisfaction) in the subjects from the Treatment Group. This relation was true irrespectively of the subject’s personality traits. What is worth pointing out is that the physiological aspects of the emotional states seemed to be altered by CCB. It confirms the claim that CCB makes an impact on a deep, physiological level.
Heyda concluded that her study demonstrated the potential of Rebirthing to alter human emotional states. The study seems to suggest that especially in cases, in which reduction of anger and anxiety/depression is urgent, Rebirthing can be a very effective therapeutic tool.
Although there are many theories (see, for instance, Blane & Leonard, 1987) of alcohol dependence or alcoholism they can be grouped in five general approaches. Biologically, for example, scientists try to explain the phenomenon of alcoholism by disordered body chemistry, nutritional deficiency, physical vulnerability or genetic predisposition. For psychologists, alcohol dependence is of a psychological nature, with immature emotionality, inability to manage stress and psychosomatic tension often listed as popular signs of this disorder. Sociologists consider alcoholism to be a social phenomenon. They point to widely accepted habits of drinking, the pressure of powerful and sophisticated advertising and mass media modeling as possible, contributing factors. There is also a moral/existential approach, in which alcoholism is viewed as manifestation of a moral failure, the lack of understanding or inability to live up to basic moral norms. And in the end, from the spiritual point of view, alcoholism is sometimes understood as a loss of contact with God, or in certain cases a painful way back to God.
Rebirthers for Alcoholics
Observing and working with alcoholics for many years this writer would say that all the above are real factors that have to be taken into account in any wholistic intervention. After experimenting with Rebirthing for a couple of years for the sake of his own self-improvement, the author created in 1986 in Siemianowice, Poland, a day program, called “Rebirthers for Alcoholics”, which attempted to integrate all the above approaches. Rebirthing happened to be a uniquely suitable tool for this goal.
Biological Components of the Program.
First, with my associates, we acknowledged the real power of physiological cravings and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Before entering the program our clients were carefully examined by a physician. They were taking Antabus or Disulfiran, if they wanted, or were sent for a short detoxification, if necessary. We also observed that RB breathing calmed the symptoms of withdrawal and made this period shorter. We considered RB to have a “vacuum cleaner” effect on the human body. We hypothesized, like Jones (1983), that more intensive breathing helped to break down the by-products of alcohol and get rid of the toxins sooner. What we found fascinating was that the RB breathing, perhaps in combination with other purifying/detoxifying factors, had a tendency to decrease people’s tolerance for alcohol. In a few cases of relapse, our clients reported that they became aware of the unpleasant effects of alcohol more quickly than they had before. Their relapses were shorter and they were more motivated to come back for treatment.
In addition to the RB breathing our clients were asked to practice other “purification” techniques recommended by Orr. They were asked to bathe/shower twice a day and to come to the training in clean clothes. They were encouraged to be on a vegetarian diet through the training and to fast one day a week. They were encouraged to complement their diets with vitamins. In all the group activities we had a candle burning and the clients were encouraged also to burn a candle at home. Typically once a week, weather permitting, the program participants spent a few hours at a campsite with a big, open fire, practicing “fire purification”. They were asked to walk or exercise daily. Twice a week they also participated in physically intensive exercises of Bioenergetics and Dynamic Meditation (see the Appendix 1 for the weekly schedule of the program).
In the program we also used a traditional psychoeducational approach for relapse prevention. For instance, our clients read texts about warning signs of a relapse and were asked to monitor these signs. Again, RB breathing was making our task much easier as almost all participants reported improved contact with their bodies.
Psychological Components of the Program.
The program participants had two sessions a week of a traditional group therapy. These sessions gave them an opportunity to talk about their drinking, losses and mishaps. They could ventilate feelings about almost anything, from marital frustrations to occupational stresses, etc. In addition they could vent in one- to-one sessions with a therapist. The use of the RB breathing sessions however helped us to deal with a variety of dynamics that are not normally addressed during a typical addiction treatment program. Among these dynamics were: conception and birth trauma, parental disapproval syndrome, regression to early stages of emotional development, passive/aggressive tendencies, lack of love syndrome, etc., that are often observed among alcoholics.
The use of the Rebirthing also provided other advantages:
Quick establishment of a good rapport – thanks perhaps to the fact that RB sessions convey an immediate, implicit message of the therapist’s interest in a whole person and not only in eradication of some unwanted behaviors of this person
Quick improvement in the awareness of one’s own body, including the energy of the body, and consequently better awareness of one’s own emotions
Lower resistance to treatment (see the Reich’s notion that breathing reduces resistance).
Benefits of the “relaxation response” – generally better, more relaxed functioning, sense of well- being, peacefulness, etc.
Also the third component of Rebirthing, i.e. techniques related to control of mind, were easily applicable toward the psychotherapeutic progress. Generally, our clients were asked to observe and control their thinking. They were encouraged to record their thoughts in a journal and to analyze these thoughts. The basic analysis consisted of establishing whether a thought was negative or positive. The clients were encouraged to adhere to their positive thoughts and to reaffirm (change into positive) their negative thoughts. They were asked to practice with Affirmations, i.e. to write, to read and to say inwardly or outwardly positive statements about themselves.
Another important aspect of “working on one’s own thoughts” was that it implied a sense of responsibility along the classical Rebirthing principle that “thoughts are creative”. According to this philosophy every thought creates a predisposition to an action or an outcome. This notion is often illustrated in psychology through so called “self-fulfilling prophecies”. In other words, one’s expectations of the outcome may lead to emotions and actions that bring exactly this outcome. This issue is important in work with alcoholics as most of them have a tendency to flee away from responsibility for their own actions. This is made much more difficult when, in the program, therapists consistently illustrate connection between actions, emotions and thoughts.
Though this work may look a bit simplistic, its value cannot be underestimated. Deep-rooted dislike or even hate of themselves typically plagues alcoholics. They regret many things they have done under the influence of alcohol. Negative self-cognitions are also very characteristic for depression, which is often an associated feature of alcoholism. It is very important to counter-balance these self-destructive tendencies, as otherwise they tend to sabotage treatment. This kind of effort, regardless of all the resistance it creates, is crucial. It gives alcoholics a sense of hope (that they may be loved and accepted) and a sense of control. It is important to stress that this work is parallel to the main activities of the program. Participants can work with their affirmations during small breaks or after hours in the privacy of their homes. Other forms of cognitive, or cognitive-behavioral, therapies are also easily employable under this model.
Social Components of the Program.
Whenever possible we invited the spouses of our clients to participate in the program in order to give them a better understanding of alcoholism. In my practice I met stunning examples of ignorance, such as in the case of a woman who bought a bottle of vodka for her husband to celebrate the first anniversary of his sobriety. Naturally it threw him into a binge drinking right away. Frequently the spouses, most often women, had their own issues of co-dependency that were processed in the program. The couples were asked to rethink and eventually change some elements of their social life. They received training in resisting the pressure to drink. Once again it is worthwhile to stress that group RB breathing creates a unique therapeutic atmosphere. The sense of intimacy and closeness to others that is achieved through group Rebirthing is unparalleled.
Moral Components of the Program.
The issues of moral failure were typically addressed through individual and group psychotherapy as they arose. The most extreme case I remember is of a man who was asked to leave his home by his wife because of his drinking. He went to live with a concubine, who abused alcohol with him, until one day she committed suicide. The memory of his concubine’s death haunted him for many years. No amount of alcohol could prevent it. It was only after a couple of RB sessions that he was able to disclose this painful experience. Only gradually RB created a stage for this disclosure and the process of self-forgiveness.
Though not always so dramatic, the elements of moral failure are present in almost every case. Alcoholics struggle with feelings of shame, guilt and inadequacy. Breathing helps to bring these feelings to the surface and to integrate them.
Spiritual Components of the Program.
Alcoholics, in most cases, either do not have a relationship with God or have a relationship that is deeply disturbed. Most often they deny the existence of God, and, at the same time, fear retribution from the God they claim does not exist. This paradox is often related to the issue of moral failure (doing something wrong), mentioned above. Even under the best scenarios alcoholics find it difficult to believe they can be forgiven or loved by God (because of drinking and things they have done). Rebirthing, which Orr describes from time to time as a “biological experience of God” (Orr, 1999, wrote: “The miracle of IEB is not a religion, nor dependant upon belief, faith, nor dogma, nor philosophy, but it is a biological experience of God, that is available to everybody.”), gives a rare and highly desired opportunity to address these issues. By breathing in a gentle, relaxed way people come into contact with the life and light inside of them. Very often it is only this experience that allows them to accept themselves as they are, to forgive and let go. Often, only after physically feeling the Life itself within themselves, are they able to accept the Source of Life emotionally and mentally. (The discussion whether one can encounter God through therapy is beyond the scope of this article. For further ideas on this subject, see Rajski, 1999a, 1999b, 2001).
In the program, this possibility was also encouraged during the Morning Prayers or Meditations. During this time our clients were encouraged to get in touch with their bodies and from there to say what they grateful for, joyful about, or etc. They would also typically set their goals for the day at that time. At the completion of the program the participants could, at their discretion, attend a mass in the local church.
Results of the Program.
Seventy persons attended the “Rebirthers for Alcoholics” Program in the years 1986-1987. During that time we organized seven 4-week long programs. Formally, our clients were admitted to the Day Psychiatric Division in Siemianowice, but the therapists from the Outpatient Alcohol Addiction Clinic ran the program. Siemianowice is an industrial town of approximately 100 thousands inhabitants. Male, blue- collar workers, between 20 and 40 years old, were our most typical clients. In some cases a spouse accompanied clients.
Like in a typical day program our clients stayed with us between 7 A.M. and 3 P.M. They were offered two meals – a breakfast at 8 A.M. and a lunch at noon. Wednesday was the day of fast. The basic schedule of the program is provided in Appendix 1. Some of the clients decided to stay on the job while in the program. Others arranged for a medical leave or leave-of-absence.
The therapists, consisting of two psychologists, two social workers and one occupational therapist, were all well trained rebirthers, who went through the rigorous certification process of the Polish Rebirthers’ Association. The team was very homogenous, with all the therapists knowledgeable, experienced and enthusiastic about the use of Rebirthing. This created conditions for a very powerful therapeutic impact as the same philosophy (e.g. regarding taking responsibility through controlling one’s thoughts) was consistently and enthusiastically enforced by all the therapists. It was very important, as in a day program there is no possibility of monitoring/controlling clients’ behavior 24 hours a day.
Only two therapists, a psychologist and a social worker, led each of the programs, while the occupational therapist was in charge of the Patient’s Club. The Club offered the possibility of three meetings a week. Once a week it was a group RB breathing session, which served as the main follow-up component. The other days consisted of AA meetings (Al-Anon for the spouses) and other social activities. In the Club new graduates from the program joined the previous ones and had a chance to obtain an important support. In 1987 the Club members participated together in a two-week long vacation camp.
With the exception that the clients had to be sober and oriented on the first day of the program, there was no other pre-screening. In some cases our clients struggled with strong withdrawal symptoms during the first days of the program. In three cases they dropped out of the program during the first week. In one case the client relapsed a few days before the end of the program. Regardless of the liberal admission criteria, the rate of self-declared sobriety one year after the completion of the program was above 50%. This was confirmed by the observations of the therapist in charge of the Patient’s Club.
The change achieved by our clients was amazing in many ways. One of our graduates reported (in a semi- accusatory tone) that he “could not leave his apartment without taking a shower in the morning.” Another reported that he could not enter his favorite bar without a sense of disgust and had to leave right away. Yet another informed us that he couldn’t stand his old drinking buddies because of the same sense of repulsion. To this writer, these are all indications that our clients reached a certain level of self-purification that made their return to drinking more difficult. Through the program they mastered some easy “energy purification” techniques, they could continue practicing after the program. This gave them an additional tool of self-protection. They had a chance to physically sense “cleanliness” that “felt good” and they were motivated to preserve this state.
RB breathing sessions gave clients the sense of companionship and friendship strong enough to serve as substitute for the sense of comradeship achieved through drinking. It was rewarding to see how these not so sophisticated individuals, who often had difficulty naming the simplest emotions, were able to share intimate observations about their physical and emotional states after the breathing sessions. In this regard, Rebirthing seems to have an advantage over other group therapies. It provides a natural opportunity for sharing of experiences of breathing, which creates a sense of intimacy and closeness.
Awareness of the body had improved greatly among our clients. They were in a better position to monitor their cravings and do something when they sensed the possibility of relapse. Some of them reported when having cravings that they would go and do gentle breathing for a couple of minutes until the craving would disappear.
The philosophy of Rebirthing gave clients the basic tools to control their minds. They became more responsible persons, willing to explore and trace their thoughts rather than blame themselves or others. This was especially important in cases of relapse.
Rebirthing in Comparison to Other Therapies.
As mentioned before Otto Rank’s proposition about the importance of birth trauma provides interesting theoretical basis for Rebirthing. Discussion of the whole theory would be beyond the scope of this paper. However, one notion of this theory, namely the unconscious desire to return to the womb, is worth of mentioning. This desire, it is hypothesized, lies beneath all immature and regressive tendencies in human beings. Many of these tendencies can be easily observed in alcoholics. They are customarily accused of being immature and irresponsible. Their behavior is often irrational and self-destructive. My experiences of working with alcoholics for seven years confirm that these are very powerful forces and that these regressive tendencies have to be addressed if one hopes for a lasting change in the alcoholic’s behavior. Rebirthing provides an excellent tool not only to satisfy these regressive needs, but also to bring them to the surface, to analyze and integrate them.
In recent years Attachment Theory and pre- and perinatal research provided important new knowledge about the early conditioning of human beings. This knowledge is relevant and supportive of Rebirthing and its conceptualization that attachment processes begin at birth or even before birth. Rebirthing, understood mainly as a breathing technique and not as a psychodrama, is potentially an important tool of intervention into attachment disorders.
Rebirthing works well with other body oriented therapies. Generally speaking, this group of therapies proposes that the body is an important source of information and an important way of intervention. Wilhelm Reich’s (1973) theories of “body armor”, “character resistance”, the role of orgasm and importance of breathing can be easily applied in the context of the Rebirthing session. The same is true with the Bioenergetics of Alexander Lowen. In fact, we used Bioenergetics as one of the complementary methods in the program “Rebirthers for Alcoholics”.
As Rebirthing induces a profound sense of relaxation and peace, all the research into so called “relaxation response” is applicable to this method. Rubin (1983) implies, for instance, that the state of relaxation after the RB session is physiologically similar to the state achieved through Transcendental Meditation. There is a rich body of scientific research about the usefulness of TM for psychological intervention, also in the area of addictions (see, for instance, Alexander et al., 1994).
Among the newer body oriented therapies is already mentioned Integrative Body Psychotherapy. The breathing technique used in this approach is strikingly similar to Rebirthing. Also the concept of “primary scenario” as a way of exploring all neonatal influences would probably be supported by most of the Rebirthers.
One could say that Rebirthing was also influenced by Gestalt Therapy, especially with its emphasis on working in the “here-and-now”. During a typical RB session everything, including strong emotions, happens “here-and-now” and is difficult to ignore by the client. In one variation of the RB technique the therapist encourages the client to talk while breathing. This typically brings up a lot of emotions and allows for faster integration of these emotions. This technique is known elsewhere as a “neo-reicharian therapy”. Also the concept of a gestalt, understood as the strongest need at the time – be it a drink, or a desire to be loved – is used by some Rebirthers.
The classical psychoanalytical concepts of “resistance”, “transference” and “counter-transference” are often used in Rebirthing. People often “resist” during RB sessions. They fear the unknown or simply hesitate to relax their defences. The analysis of this resistance typically takes places right after the RB session or as soon as the resistance becomes apparent. The RB clients, due to the intensity of this technique, have also a tendency to project many things onto the Rebirther. Analysis of the transference and counter-transference is the most useful thing to do and is conducted by most professional Rebirthers. Also, the concepts of the stages of psychosexual development, fixation, “pleasure” and “reality principles” help to understand human regressive tendencies, as observed in alcoholics, and provide an important theoretical framework for Rebirthing.
With its emphasis on the role of the mind, Rebirthing is similar to cognitive therapies. Rebirthers support the basis assumptions of cognitive therapy, i.e. that mental processes influence emotions, and through emotions, the body of the client. For instance, in one of the popular RB techniques the Rebirther attempts to uncover a so-called “personal law”, the most basic, often negative, thought, on which the client’s whole perception of the world is built. The vast domain of mind-body research and literature has a natural place in Rebirthing. Though the notion of positive thinking and affirmations are the most popular, these are by no means the only ways of cognitive interventions in Rebirthing (Rajski, 1992). Rebirthers often point to illogical assumptions, unjustified negative generalizations, and other irrationalities in the thinking of their clients. Counterbalancing of negative self-statements was found to be important in the treatment of depression. In this regard, Rebirthing has a lot to offer.
As a product of the American society, Rebirthing was naturally influenced by behaviorism, and behavioral therapies. For instance, Orr greatly stresses the importance of physical activity, which was found to be an important component of recovery from many disorders, such as depression. It is not unusual that Rebirthers give their clients “behavioral prescriptions”, i.e. ask them “to do something.” Karma Yoga, which is the yoga of physical work, is a popular element of RB trainings and workshops. Some of the Rebirthers use RB as a “desensitization” technique. They take advantage of the deep relaxation of RB to have the client gradually approach their fears or phobias. Other behavioral techniques are also often employed.
People sometimes ask if Rebirthing is a form of hypnosis as its deep relaxation has some similarities to a hypnotic-like state. By definition Rebirthing, or “Conscious Connected Breathing”, is not a hypnosis, though the state of relaxation seems to make people more open for ericksonian suggestions. This author, for example, encouraged alcoholics in the state of relaxation to say to themselves the words – “I like myself.” Rebirthers often use non-specific, positive, life-supporting affirmations, such as “Life is beautiful”, that may serve as powerful suggestions. It also possible under these circumstances to induce a solution-focused mood through questions such as – “What is it that you can do?” Famous “miracle question” is also used sometimes by Rebirthers.
Rebirthing is considered to be one of the supportive therapies. It shares the basic assumption of these therapies that every person, given the proper amount of emotional support at the right moment, can recover and be self-reliant. This ability to stand on one’s own feet is often emphasized in Rebirthing and serves as a counterbalance to the regressive aspects of this method.
Finally, Rebirthing could be considered to be a predecessor of the newly emerging field of energy psychology. Long before these new therapies gained popularity Rebirthers were proposing that therapy is not only a process of intellectual and emotional exchange between the therapist and the client, but also of “energy” exchange. To illustrate this line of thought one could say that the process of therapy begins when the client and the therapist are in certain physical proximity to each other (as in a therapy room) and it takes place even when the therapist and the client say nothing.
The main advantages of using Rebirthing in therapy of alcoholics, divided by the Rebirthing three main components, are:
Conscious Connected Breathing.
Quick detoxification of body – shorter alcohol withdrawal phase
Reduced tolerance for alcohol
Enhanced awareness of body, including signs of cravings, thus better control of body – reduced “alienation from the body”
Better awareness of the “energy” of the body and “energy exchanges”
Opportunity to integrate birth trauma and other early life conditionings
Satisfaction and integration of regressive tendencies
Reduced resistance to the therapeutic process – good rapport
Increased locus of control
Increased self-esteem and positive emotions of joy and satisfaction
Benefits of “relaxation response” – sense of peace and well-being
Unique atmosphere of group intimacy and emotional closeness
Biological experience of God
Purification of energy techniques.
Practical, easy to learn purification techniques that clients can practice after the completion of the main program and use as tools of relapse prevention
Improved, more conscious, nutritional habits – improved metabolism
Sense of “cleanliness” – motivation to maintain it Better overall health
Control of mind.
Simple, easy to learn techniques of mind control, such as affirmations, that the clients can use after the basic program
Other cognitive-behavioral techniques, such as “Stop-Thought”, allowing for control of cravings The habit of monitoring thoughts for their irrational or negative contents
Tendency to take responsibility for one’s thoughts, and related emotions and actions
Some of the above effects are likely a result of concomitant use of many of the Rebirthing techniques.
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Alcoholism, birth trauma, Rebirthing, breathing, energy, purification, therapy.