|When we hear of parents who kill
their children, the reasons are often disturbing and puzzling.
Susan Smith drowned her two little boy because she feared losing
her lover. Some called her pathetic; others diabolical. Robert
Latimer was convicted of murdering his disabled daughter to
end her suffering. People still argue over the verdict.
Last week Jeane Newmaker let her child die
because she wanted a cure for a "rocky" mother-daughter
relationship. She had sought professional help for Candace
who came to be seen as suffering, not only from depression
and attention deficit disorder, but also from a newly fashionable
ailment called "attachment disorder." A two-week
intensive therapy program was supposed to cure it - to repair
the damaged bonds.
Candace's $7,000US treatment included a "Rebirthing"
session. The 10-year old was encased in a blanket and pillow
cases. Pressure was then applied in a ritualistic manner that
supposedly simulates labour contractions. She was supposed
to wriggle her way out of the twisted cloth as if she were
emerging from the vagina. Rather than work her way free, she
screamed that she was suffocating, to which the therapists
reportedly responded: "You want to die? OK, then die.
Go ahead and die right now." For almost 25 minutes the
mother watched on video, as she listened to her daughter's
screams. Then she and the therapists waited another 20 minutes
in silence before unwrapping the girl's unconscious body.
Candace died the next day in hospital.
Why did no-one stop the torture? The mother,
it seems, was desperate to feel close to the child she had
adopted four years earlier. Frustrated, she had turned to
"experts," people who claimed skill and knowledge
in treating the problems of adopted children. Their claims,
as well as her desire to have a loving daughter, over rode
any sensible reaction. As for the therapists, they seemed
immobilized by naive arrogance and good intentions.
The owner of the treatment centre, Connel
Watkins, is considered to be an expert in this treatment.
She is widely respected despite the fact that, according to
a sheriff's affidavit, her formal training consists of a two-week
She and her staff are not alone in accepting
the myths of birth trauma and promoting the belief that birth
experiences cause problems that can be remedied by rebirthing.
William R. Emerson, a psychologist and self-described "teacher,
writer, lecturer, and pioneer in the field of pre and perinatal
psychology" says "ninety-five percent of babies
have mild, moderate, or severe birth traumas, and over one
half have at least one severe prenatal trauma." Resolving
these, he writes, "has unexpected and surprising benefits.
This is because, in the process of resolution, the depths
of the psyche are accessed, along with instinctual forces
which would otherwise remain obscure. Dynamic forces of innate
intelligence, human potential, and spirituality are released.
In addition, the treatment process uses and shapes important
qualities such as empathy, perceptiveness, trust, self-awareness,
All of this sounds wonderful, especially when
Emerson adds that: "If I had a choice of adopting a traumatized
or an untraumatized baby, I would definitely adopt a traumatized
infant. This is because the process of trauma resolution not
only resolves traumas, but it offers opportunities for character
development, bonding and attachment that would otherwise not
be available." People like Candace's mother seem oblivious
that these expectations are based only on the therapists' blind
faith in a New Age version of ideas of Arthur Janov incorporated
in his Primal Therapy. He theorized that emotional problems
were not the result of unmet needs of early childhood, as Freud
had argued, but of intrauterine and birth trauma.
In the 1970s, Primal Therapy became a fad
and many of my colleagues used it to treat their patients.
I watched as people, wrapped in blankets, struggled and screamed.
I also read the books claiming great success but offering
After one of these sessions, I asked the therapist
- a prominent Toronto psychiatrist - why he encouraged them
to suffer more. He proffered a confident, benevolent pose.
He believed and his patients believed. No warnings were ever
voiced about the lack of proof or the possible dangers.
So what was this desperate mother to do?
Licensing boards still refuse to identify potentially dangerous
therapies. Amateurs and professionals alike persist in peddling
such notions. And our society is consumed by its overwhelming
faith in therapy.
This mother, like those people who, in an
earlier era, underwent Primal Therapy, was too gullible, too
trusting, too naive. Unfortunately everyone's good intentions
were not enough. The child is dead. And as for therapists,
I am left wondering in folk singer Pete Seeger's words: "when
will they ever learn?"