Ever since a theophostically oriented minister (therapist) contacted me with questions about the differences between primal-oriented therapy and theophostic-oriented therapy, I became interested in how TPM differed from primally-oriented therapies. About that time a family member began using TPM techniques and obliged me with some sample sessions.
I was satisfied with the sessions but since over 95% of my regressions I have experienced over the past three decades dealth with birth trauma, I became curious as to why regression to birth and before were so rare in theophostics and so common in other forms of regression theapy. And yes, I did have some birth movements (or as Dr. Janov would say, first-line access) during the TPM sessions.
Dr. Ed Smith, discoverer of Theophostics Prayer Ministry, writes in regard to intrauterine material which may present itself in such sessions:
"When you are facilitating this ministry, don’t be alarmed if you encounter a situation in which a person reports preverbal “memories” as far back as the womb. It is not uncommon, even though it raises many questions because a fetus would have limited cognitive awareness of what was happening at the time. The mind would not yet have developed to the stage of forming memories as we understand them; however experiential knowledge is different from cognitive knowledge.
Some research scientists believe that a fetus feels pain and experiences emotion while in the mother’s womb, especially in the final months before birth. If the mother feels depressed, or has anger, and hatred for the child, the fetus very well may feel these emotions, without being able to interpret the data. The fetus does not actually think, “My mother hates me,” but the experience could be recorded at some level and become the grid for later interpretations of similar emotional experiences.
I am not a neuroscientist and have not been trained in the field of brain science, but I am a pragmatist and learn by observation. God’s Word states, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5). There is much we do not know about what happens in the womb or even before conception. This verse says that I was known by God even before I existed!
If people report a womb memory, invite them to allow whatever is occurring to happen without trying to figure it out logically. Such an experience may supersede reason, so ask them to simply experience it. After they have done so, ask the Lord to interpret it for them and reveal His truth. Here again the content of the “memory” is not the reason for the emotional pain but rather the belief held in it. You are looking for emotional pain and the belief producing it. Therefore it is not necessary to ever know for certain about the validity of the “womb memory” if you are able to identify the belief held in it.
After they have received a message from the Lord, if they enter into true peace and the outcome is transformation in their life, I say, “Glory to God and thank you, Jesus,” even though I don’t understand how it happened. I am becoming more relaxed about not having all the answers. Here again we are not looking for memory validation but rather the Holy Spirit replacing lies with His truth. We will probably never be able to validate that a womb memory is accurate. Therefore, we should not assume that it is. However, if the person identifies a lie that is causing pain in the context of the “so-called” memory, herein we can ask the Lord for truth.
Several years ago I was leading a seminar and talking about using Theophostic Prayer Ministry with people struggling with depression. Right in the middle of the presentation, a woman raised her hand to make a comment. She said that she had struggled with depression all of her life and even as a small child had always felt a “dark cloud” over her. She reported that she was currently being treated with antidepressants, but the “cloud remained.”
I asked the woman if she would allow the feelings of depression to surface and be willing to follow them to their source of origin. She agreed. As she focused on the depression a few moments passed, and she suddenly opened her eyes and said, “This cannot be!” I asked her what it was she was experiencing. She reluctantly said, “This is impossible, but I feel like I am in my mother’s womb!”
Many people have asked, “How can a person remember something before the brain is cognitively able to do so? In other words, “How can we remember before we can remember?” Yet the fact that so many different people have reported womb memories causes me to believe that they must have some validity. It’s not our responsibility to determine the authenticity of any womb or precognitive experience that a person reports, but to look for the source of the emotional pain.
The woman in the seminar said she felt painful sadness as a child in the womb. As she allowed herself to experience it, I asked her why she thought she was feeling what she was feeling. Almost immediately she began to weep deeply and cry out, “She didn’t want me.” Other people with whom I have ministered report similar lie-based thoughts such as, “There must have been something wrong with me,” “It was my fault,” or “I was in the way, an inconvenience.”
After a time, I invited the Holy Spirit to reveal His truth to this woman, and she slowly became quiet until she was peaceful. She looked up at me with a smile of relief and said, “The cloud is gone!” She reported to the group that she felt the lifelong cloud of depression completely lift off in that moment. This does not mean she never had another bad feeling again, but the depression rooted in her “womb memory” was replaced with peace.
I believe that the woman had feelings of rejection as a fetus. Although she lacked the cognitive ability to think of them as such, this experience became a frame of reference for later events, and she was inclined to feel rejection deeply. It’s possible that the interpretation, “I was not wanted,” was given by the Holy Spirit as an explanation, rather than a memory, as an understanding of the source of the original pain that may have been experientially processed. Hear me when I say that this is only an opinion and theory. I honestly do not know how this can all be. Nevertheless, I have watched a significant number of people move from real pain to lasting peace as they work through “womb” memories. In a ministry session, if people ask me if I think that what they are experiencing is real, I say I do not know but that it is not too hard for God to do these things. I simply ask them if they are willing to allow whatever happens to happen, and to trust the Lord to direct us and keep us on track. If they agree, we proceed with the basic principles.
If the person arrived at such a memory because you asked her to envision being in the womb, then you are not applying the Theophostic Prayer Ministry principles. Any kind of suggestion, guided imagery or leading question is inappropriate. Remember that it’s not your job to try to explain it or provide your own commentary."
- From the Basic Theophostics Training Manual, 2007 - Dr. Ed Smith.
"About half of all patients who undergo a course of abreactive psychotherapy under LSD go through an experience of being born. They themselves have no doubt at all that this is what is happening. Some are actutely aware that their experience of the crushing of the head in the birth passages was so severe as to reach the margin of tolerance and even to exceed it. They have wished, like JOB, that the gates of the womb would close against them and that they might return deep into the womb."
--Clinical Theology: A Theological and Psychiatric Basis
to Clinical Pastoral Care (1966), pps. 623-4, by Frank Lake, M.D.
Theophostics is not theoretically opposed to reliving and resolving birth and intrauterine traumas, although the question remains why it is so rare in TPM and so common in other forms of deep feeling therapy.
In an e-mail, Dr. Smith explained his position on this question:
“If I were researching this issue, I would look for what the facilitator is doing that is increasing the heightened numbers of people having these early intrauterine experiences. In TPM the facilitator should not do anything to move the person in this direction or in any other direction. The only thing that the facilitator should do is encourage the person to connect with the feelings they bring with them into the room and help the person to identify any lie-based thinking that might hinder his finding freedom.
The goal of TPM is not memory recovery but rather the identification of lies. There should be no suggested direction, insinuation, education about this issue, or implied opinions made. This would include the facilitator never even discussing this reality as being a possibility. The TPM facilitator works diligently to stay out of the way and refrain from making an assumption, suggestion or providing any information that might cause a person to think he might have some early pre-birth or pre-cognitive experience that needs exploration. I would not be surprised that the explanation for the increase in occurrences found in other modalities can be found within the realm of what the facilitator/counselor does in the ministry/counseling context. If there are no major differences between modalities as far as practice and application then it would suggest the inconsistent variable would be the practitioner.”
--Dr. Ed Smith
In regard to the process of facilitating early memories being presented for feeling and subsequent resolution, Harry Ristad, has authored a perceptive article and presents the advantages and disadvantages of each form of accessing our early memories. He writes that the natural route involves ascertaining what the client is feeling and then by words or actions helping him to go deeper into the feeling with the objective of re-living the trauma.
The important, "identification of lies" which Dr. Ed. Smith discusses above, is considered to be an automatic process in primal theory. They fit under the general category of "insights" and are about what the client concluded about himself, and the person responsible for the particular trauma, including all conclusions automatically arrived at as a result of unrepressing or unblocking a traumatic experience. Natural primal therapy does not "direct the patient to earlier feelings," but helps his patient feel those feelings.
In directive technique of the therapy, the therapist activively helps the patient to break down into the feelings. He therefore assails his client's defenses. However, Ristad believes that being pushed into a feeling where one is not ready to go is not good therapy. See article, Natural vs. Directive Primal Therapy .
Ristad ends his article like this:
"I know some primal therapists who did a lot of directing at first; but, over the years, have learned from their mistakes, and are less directive. But a therapist is still practicing directive primal therapy if he (1) assumes the responsibility to get his patient into feelings (2) directs his patient back to earlier feelings (3) helps his patient with analysis (4) breaks down his patient's defenses. I would consider any eclectic approach (combining primal therapy with drugs, encounter, psychodrama, rolfing, etc.) as being directive primal therapy - which becomes a stagnant pool of mistakes where each new mistake is compounded. Natural primal therapy is like a running brook. If a mistake is made, the brook will eventually clear itself."
Question: That's all well and interesting, John, but are you evading the reason for the paucity of pre- and peri-natal events happening in theophostic ministry compared to primal-oriented therapies?
Answer: Sorry. As yet I don't have an answer which satisfies me although one person who contacted me offered this explanation: "For the same reason why clients of non-deep feeling therapies, like psychoanalysis etc. do not typically have deep regressive experiences like dealing with infancy and childhood issues."
Since this article was written, I continue to receive very occasional accounts of birth regressions by Theophostic trained practitioners.
One practitioner, who himself had a birth regression, pointed out that other clusters of such experiences had manifested themselves in clients, who described trapped feelings, and other experiences such as body pressure and lack of control. The feelings were not of pleasure, but all of the three regressees were convinced that they indeed had been in their birth processes.
As Theophostics involves calling for the deity to bring in truth, they were able to resolve the distress of their feelings by prayer to God or by ministerial prayer. Such a raising of defenses, I believe, would inevitably relieve their discomfort by means of aborting their regressive experience.
Dr. Ed Smith's Theophostic Prayer Ministry website
Other articles on this website relating to Theophostics include,
The Pros and Cons of Resolving Birth Trauma in Primal, Theophostic and Other Experiential Therapies
Book Review - Healing Life's Deepest Hurts by Dr. Edward M. Smith