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Just What Is 'Rebirthing' Therapy?

WebMD Health News

June 28, 2000 -- Alternative therapies must follow a long and arduous road to get into the mainstream, often for good reason. Nonconventional medications and therapies can sometimes be useful, but at their worst, they can be dangerous, even life-threatening.

Take the process called "rebirthing." One such procedure recently proved lethal to a 10-year-girl in Colorado. But a different technique that goes by the same name has many believers who say it has changed their life.

Before the tragic incident in Evergreen, Colo., this April, few people had even heard of rebirthing therapy. But the process made national headlines after the girl died while undergoing what was termed a rebirth.

She was an adoptee named Candace Newmaker, and she was being rebirthed to overcome a mental condition called reactive attachment disorder, in which children lack the ability to develop a loving, intimate relationship with a guardian.

The rebirthing therapists reportedly pushed Candace's body against pillows and wrapped a blanket around her head to simulate the womb. She was told to push against the pillows and blanket, to recreate her birth in an effort to heal her past and begin anew with her adopted mother. Instead, she suffocated. Four workers at the rebirthing clinic, along with the girl's mother, are now facing charges in her death.

Reactive attachment disorder is a difficult condition to treat, and the standard treatment is an intensive regimen of psychotherapy. There are treatment centers around the country that specialize in the disorder.

One such clinic in Evergreen issued a press release about the rebirthing incident, saying that, except for what was reported by the media, "we are unfamiliar with this technique and have never engaged in this practice. We are not aware of others in the attachment field who are using this technique."

Gregory C. Keck, PhD, of the Attachment and Bonding Center of Ohio, tells WebMD he is familiar with the tragedy in Colorado, but "I really have no idea about this practice. ... It's not something that we do in our office."

Rhea Farberman, communications director for the American Psychological Association (APA), tells WebMD the process "is outside of the mainstream of what psychologists do ... and honestly, until this story broke, I had never heard of it."

Farberman says the procedure has no legitimate standing in the mental health community. "One of our problems with this, in addition to the fact that it seems bizarre, is that there is no research, there's no validation of it as a practice, and that's obviously a concern. That, and of course, it's been proven to be dangerous after this young girl's death."

There's more to the story, though. Some practitioners say rebirthing may involve a memory of one's birth, but it is first and foremost about breathing.

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