Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

From 'Bad' Ritual to 'Good' Ritual: Transmutations of Childbearing Trauma in Holotropic Ritual

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

From 'Bad' Ritual to 'Good' Ritual: Transmutations of Childbearing Trauma in Holotropic Ritual

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: In this article a tentative and provisional theory is advanced on the treatment of birth-giving trauma. 'Birth-giving-trauma' here refers to women (and men) psychologically, physically or emotionally traumatized during birth-giving. In the first part of this article I outline anthropologist Robbie Davis-Floyd's argument that Western medicalized birthing can be constructed as a 'modern' rite of passage which can negatively imprint disempowering images into women's minds, reinforce messages of inferiority, and traumatise the birth-giving mothers. In the second half of the article I will argue that the trauma catalysed by the 'bad' ritual of technocratic birth may need to be therapeutically treated or rather 'ritually combated' with an equally powerful and reparative 'good' ritual. I will explore psychiatrist Stanislav Grofs and Christina Grofs holotropic breathwork as a pre-eminent contemporary ritual in which 'good' transpersonal medicine is ritually made.

KEY WORDS: Birth, childbearing trauma, transpersonal psychology, analytic psychology, holotropic breathwork, authoritative knowledge, non-ordinary states

Education for transcendence must deal directly with an experiential threshold. It must teach how one can cross the threshold of fear into a state of transcendence this education must also bring transcendence into ordinary life, and ordinary life into transcendence.

Anthropologist Richard Katz, 1976

For women, situations associated with motherhood can become another significant source of unitive experiences. By conceiving, carrying, and delivering a child, women directly participate in the process of cosmic creation. Under favourable circumstances, the sacred nature of these situations becomes apparent and is consciously experienced.

Psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, 1998

The sound that came out of my body was just awesome, utterly awesome. It was so primordial, primal, animal, I couldn't act it or make it again was as if my body and mind had become one, but it was not inside or outside, it was not named. My birth was fantastic. I suppose the best way to describe it was like an out-of-body-experience. But it wasn't quite that, it was like the categories of outside and inside got rearranged. It was like you 'be still and know'. It didn't matter what anyone else was saying my body just knew, call it what you like, waves; my body just went with it all.

Research Informant Trudy, 2006

It is equally outside and inside: therefore; it has transcended the geographical limitations of the self. Thus one begins to talk about transhumanistic [transpersonal] psychology.

Transpersonal psychologist Abraham Maslow, 1969


Anthropologists have shown that birth in most cultures has been a "ritual event" (Kitzinger, 1978, p. 5) enveloped in protective rites of passage and spiritual procedures that lend emotional, 'supernatural' and charismatic support to birth-giving women. They argue that fertility and birth are in all cultures embedded is social, psychological, cosmological and spiritual systems (MacCormack, 1982, p. 10). Furthermore, the basic pattern of biological birth serves as a "model for structuring other rites of passage" (Davis-Floyd, 1994, p. 325) and ceremonial healing rituals (e.g., Turner, 1992). Traditional helpers at birth, midwives and shamans, operated as 'technicians' of the sacred (Potter, 1974; Paul and Paul, 1975; Kitzinger, 1982; Laderman, 1983) and it has also been noted that transpersonal visions may be part of a contemporary birth-giving woman's reality (Lahood, 2006a, 2006c) and the father's reality (Lahood, 2006a, 2006b). Grof writes for example:

Delivering women and people participating in the delivery as assistants or observers can experience a powerful spiritual opening. This is particularly true if birth does not occur in the dehumanized context of a hospital, but under circumstances where it is possible to experience its full psychological and spiritual impact (1998, p. …

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