Rebirthing and reactive depression

What is it?

What is it?

Rebirthing is a breathing technique used principally as a psychotherapeutic tool to gain access to blocked experiences and emotions. It involves the individual doing a form of shallow breathing under the guidance of the rebirthing therapist. The ideology behind rebirthing is that the breathing technique allows the individual to enter past painful experiences (in a faster way than by "talk therapy" alone) and go through them in a safe, protected therapeutic situation so as to free him/herself of these blockages. The therapy is called rebirthing because some clients experience something akin to their birth experience during the treatment.

What does it treat?

Rebirthing is a complementary therapy within the domain of psychotherapy. It is deemed useful for depression, relationship difficulties, job problems, stress, panic attacks, anxiety, phobias and other psychological problems. It is not deemed suitable for psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, manic-depression or paranoia.


A first timer's experience:

(38-year-old female writer) "The therapist began by talking about what rebirthing involved and how more emphasis should be on the "in" breath than the "out" breath. She explained how we store our emotions in the area between our upper lungs and our collar bone. She warned me that certain things might happen. I would probably go into some kind of "non-ordinary" state of consciousness: I might relive my birth experience or go into another memory or emotion; and I might feel some localised physical pain or movement of energy in my body. "The breathing had to be quite quick and without pause, she said as she demonstrated it to me. She also said that it is useful to think of one particular issue or problem before beginning. I spent a short time talking to her about the issues I would bring to the session. Then, I lay on the bed. She sat beside me and began to do the shallow breathing so that I might get into the correct rhythm.

"Soon, I began to feel quite uncomfortable: my chest started burning and I had pins and needles in my hands and feet. I became resistant to the breathing, as I felt I wasn't getting enough air in and didn't have enough time to get the breath out fully. I began to breathe very rapidly and the therapist said, just keep breathing. After complaining a bit and alternating nose breathing with mouth breathing, the pins and needles began to spread all over my body. I also began to feel quite dizzy. I felt like my whole body and head were being flattened in a vice-like grip (this was interesting, I thought, because I had been a forceps delivery). My forearms and hands also locked in position. I felt quite distressed. I had an earache, a pain in my back and I began to get a bit fed up with the whole thing. "I asked the therapist why I was clenching like that and she said that maybe there was something I was holding onto. She asked me what I saw and I saw a man in a white coat with a tweezers in his hand. I laughed and said, so this is the doctor who delivered me. But then I saw a coffin and I felt like I was being placed in this coffin and put down into the ground. I found this very upsetting and began to cry. I began to think about my mother's first baby who died. I got very upset thinking about this baby and realised I was hanging on to some of my mother's unexpressed grief about this baby's death.

"As the session came to an end and I started to breathe more slowly my hands began to unclench. We talked about my experience. The therapist said that I don't have to be responsible for my mother's grief and she suggested I say this to myself on a regular basis. I felt very lightheaded and peculiar after the two-hour session. I got up and we sat and talked over a cup of tea. I felt very drained and tired but also I had a sense of release, having cried. As an adult, you don't often get the space to have a good cry. "I had felt safe and supported throughout the session. It is a powerful technique but if used in the wrong hands, I believe the experience could be rather a dark one."

An advocate's view:

Geraldine (41) is a health practitioner working in private practice: "My lifestyle appeared excellent - my husband and I both had full-time, well-paid jobs with three holidays a year and a lovely house. But, I wasn't happy. I didn't know what I wanted in life or where I was going. I gave up my job and became self-employed but I still couldn't cope. I went to my GP who referred me to a psychiatrist who started talking about electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and the like which just wasn't for me. I had a panic attack which was a point of crisis for me. I decided to take a complete break. I went abroad for three months to contemplate things. I had tried rebirthing before I left with little gain.

"But while I was abroad, I did some more rebirthing sessions which led to a breakthrough for me. In my family of origin, I am the youngest and soaked up all the emotional problems in the family. This had really affected me and made me very unhappy. These problems had also transferred into my other close relationships. Rebirthing allowed me to realise these things and change my role within my family of origin. It also gave me the clarity of thought which allowed me to sit down and work things out.

"I began to realise that I had barely scratched the surface of my own potential. When you are doing a rebirthing session, you connect with something deep inside you. I needed to do this. What started off as a psychotherapeutic intervention has become something more spiritual. It's the simplicity of rebirthing which really appeals to me. There's nothing more to it than using the breathing techniques and having the willingness to do so with the support of a rebirther."

The medical view:

Dr Muiris Houston, Irish Times Medical Correspondent, says: "Rebirthing psychotherapy may work in a non-specific way to reduce anxiety and stress levels. I am not aware of clinical evidence to support its effectiveness in specific medical conditions."

There are approximately 50 practitioners of rebirthing in Ireland, trained in various schools. The Rebirthing Association of Ireland can be contacted on 014533166. A rebirthing session of two to two-and-a-half hours costs £40-£80

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment