An Interview with William
Indepth Newsletter, Volume 8, Number 5, May 1994
Interviewed by Greg Bolton
Imagine doing regressive therapy with a
baby. Then imagine your experience as a child, adolescent, and
adult if you had had an opportunity to receive therapy as an
infant. For the past 20 years, Dr. William Emerson has been
doing primal therapy using regressive techniques with infants
who exhibit behavioral, emotional, or physical symptoms of
prenatal, perinatal, or post-birth trauma.
Many types of birth trauma occur in our
culture. While it has not always been clear how these traumas
affect infant behavior and health, we now have evidence that
many disorders, including behavioral disorders (sleeping
difficulties, eating problems, hyperactivity, moodiness, and
irritability), emotional disorders (excessive crying,
lethargy, withdrawal, anger, anxiety, and fear), and physical
conditions arise from early life experiences. Dr. Emerson
spoke recently with Greg Bolton, the INDEPTH Newsletter
editor, about the work he does.
Why work with infants?
I worked with adults for 25 years and
noticed that regression therapy was effective for a broad
range of disorders and for those for whom other forms of
treatment were not effective. However, the treatment was
usually quite involved and lengthy. I considered that if
treatment were begun at an earlier age, in infancy, the
treatment intensity and length of treatment might be
I began working with infants in 1974. At
that time, the assumption was, if an infant has problems, it
is symptomatic of a family problem, period. There was no
consideration that the baby herself might have a therapeutic
condition - as though the baby were unworthy of receiving her
The standard treatment norm then was to do
family therapy. I felt that the standard therapy done with
infants were not specific to the traumas I wanted to address.
In my work with adults I became familiar with many forms of
birth-related trauma. These include prenatal experiences
(e.g., abuse to the mother, maternal illness or substance
abuse, family crises); birth traumas (e.g., Caesarean section,
breach, induced, and birth canal trauma), and post-birth
traumas (e.g., separation or circumcision).
The techniques that I developed, then, were
more specific to the trauma that had to be addressed, with a
goal of creating a healthy repatterning. By taking the infant
through a gentle simulation of the trauma, I allow her to
re-experience the trauma and have control over its process and
outcome. This is very important.
What was the first type of trauma you
I first worked with birth trauma using a
technique that gently simulated the birth by using my hands,
in all instances allowing the baby to be in charge of the
therapeutic process. That process has gradually evolved into a
type of massage. We can trace the actual places on the baby's
body where the maternal pelvis conjuncted and impeded the
baby's progress. These conjunct pathways are energetically
palpable on the baby's body, and just about anybody can learn
the palpation techniques. Then, by stroking the baby in very
specific ways, we can trace the baby's actual and specific
progress through the birth canal.
In all of the treatments, the model
involves a gentle reliving of the trauma along with a
repatterning (providing success rather than trauma). The
repatterning provides the traumatized baby with an experience
of success in a simulated trauma.
For example, a preemie who spends time in
ICU is given the power to fend off the medical interventions
and tests. I will simulate the approach of medical personnel
in ICU, and, when the baby shows any sign of distress or
indicates that my advance is not welcome (for example, by
something as simple as raising her hand), I will leave. This
gives the baby the experience of controlling her environment.
Another example is with birth canal trauma.
We will give the baby the experience of successfully pushing
through birth canals. A prenatally abused baby is provided
with successful experiences in simulated trauma situations
that are as close to what they experienced as a fetus.
In each instance, with any expression of
distress, no matter how subtle, I will walk away, or in some
other way remove the trauma, thus giving the baby the power.
Could you describe the impact this work
has had on your clients?
In one case, a 28-month-old boy exhibited
shyness around strangers, and actual terror with unfamiliar
men. He also exhibited approach-avoidance behavior with his
father, from whom his mother was separated. It turned out that
the mother had had, during her pregnancy, an extramarital
affair. The man threatened to "beat the life" out of
her if she didn't leave her husband and marry him, and on
several occasions did just that, striking her with severe
blows to her abdomen, face, and body.
I worked with the child in four sessions
and found that his symptoms of stranger anxiety and paternal
ambivalence disappeared. He is now four years old, and shows
no signs or side effects of the physical abuse.
In another case, a baby girl with chronic
bronchitis was taken through several regression treatments. We
proceeded by massaging the infant, attempting to
"simulate" the pelvic and muscular pressures of her
birth. As reported in the article '"Primal Therapy With
She had strong legs, and began to push
vigorously. As the bridge of her nose reached the "pelvic
orifice" (via hand simulation), she responded with
generalized agitation and with wheezing. Her pushing and
struggling intensified, and she had several bronchial episodes
that were dictated by her pushing efforts, i.e. she appeared
to be in charge of them (we had anticipated some kind of
bronchitis and medical personnel were present). At the end of
her final session, she let out a deep sigh, as if to say,
"There, that's finished." Her bronchial symptoms did
not recur (twelve-year follow-up).
What were your experiences like working
with infants compared with adults?
Major differences exist between how adults
and infants can interact with the therapist. Infants do not
have the verbal skills to express themselves nor the cognitive
skills to understand verbal directions from the therapist. For
this reason, the work with infants must employ methods that do
not rely on verbal communication. However, even though infants
may not have progressed verbal skills, they can, and do,
communicate quite effectively in non-verbal ways, and the
therapist must be able to listen to and interpret these
Another difference is that the results we
get with babies are generally much faster and more positive
than those that occur with adults. Babies who are treated show
higher intelligence than those not treated. (The
anthropological literature shows that babies who are born
without birth trauma have higher intelligence levels.) Also,
treated babies express a much higher human potential. For
example, one 6-month-old infant exhibited a spontaneous and
profound interest in balls. At 9 months, this child had the
largest ball collection in the world! He played with balls
by himself for over 90 minutes a day. These types of unique
interests occur without the initiation, encouragement, or
support of the parents. In fact, this boy's parents, who are
academicians, were rather dismayed with his interest in balls.
They could not relate.
In another instance, a little girl became
interested in patterns of shapes and colors. She would cry and
scream and make gestures until she was taken outside so she
could watch the sunlight shine through a tree onto the flowers
in the garden. She would also cry and scream until she was
placed by colorful and artistic towels, sheets, carpets, etc.
By 9 months, she was engaged in a highly unusual activity for
her age. She'd arrange colored blocks (Legos) in interesting
patterns. She would try to put them together, and, when stuck
with this activity, would cry and scream until one of her
parents put them together in the pattern she had arranged. She
would play with the Legos for up to 98 minutes a day for 7
months. By the age of 8 years, she was reading at an 8th grade
level - she'd read the plans from the Legos box and create
massive designs, filling her room with Legos creations.
With adults, as with these babies, there is
a point in the therapy where the clients come in contact with
their deepest personal potential. At this point, adults resist
change more readily than babies, and have many conflicting
responsibilities that babies do not have (e.g., family to
support or raise, career). Adult clients, then, defend against
achieving their true potential and getting to their true
selves. Babies and children do not have this problem. As shown
in the above two examples, there is a clear, powerful
manifestation of human potential, even in babies.
Finally, a major difference is in the
amount of time from the beginning to end of therapy. With
adults, an average number of sessions needed to resolve birth
trauma is about 60; for babies, the number is 10.
There must be incredible catharsis in
this type of work. Could you describe some of the impacts
As with any regressive work, it sometimes
involves catharses. There is an artistic balance between
catharsis and repatterning and it takes a skilled person to
accurately sense the proper balance. If repatterning occurs
too early in the process, this only adds to the defense system
and true healing does not occur. The most effective treatments
employ gentle and progressive experiences of both catharsis
and repatterning in conjunction with each other.
What research has been done on the long
term effects of this work?
I have done a 20 year pilot project
treating babies, toddlers, and children. For each patient,
there is a control subject. I have been able to determine the
impact the treatment model has. This study, taken together
with my observations, has created a scientific, emotional, and
intuitive basis for the evaluation of its effects.
I have observed, therefore, the increased
intelligence and human potential cited above. Spirituality is
another major outcome of this work. Treated children are
spiritually evolved beings. By releasing negativity, they have
greater access to their higher self.
Have you created any materials that show
I have three videos, all entitled
"Treating Birth Trauma during Infancy". One is on
the resolution of forceps trauma, and the others on cord
trauma and caesarean trauma.
It is now more widely accepted that prenatal and birth
traumas, if untreated, can lead to major difficulties later in
life. Dr. Emerson notes that "Prenatal memories influence
early childhood development, and if not treated, form the
foundation of later adult personality patterns." It seems
obvious that the earlier birth trauma is treated, the more
chance the person has of experiencing a healthy and vibrant
life in later stages. Dr. Emerson concludes that "In my
experience, infant therapy calls upon and challenges the
deepest and the best of what it means to be human."
William R. Emerson, Ph.D. is a teacher,
writer, lecturer, and pioneer in the field of pre and
perinatal psychology. Dr. Emerson's involvement in Pre and
Perinatal Psychology includes the recovery and transformation
of problems stemming from prenatal and birth traumas. He is a
pioneer of treatment methods for infants and children, a
renowned expert in treatment methods for adults, and is
recognized world-wide for his contributions. He conducts
treatment and training seminars throughout the U.S. and
Europe. He is a former University Professor for the California
State Universities and a European lecturer for the University
of Maryland. He has published dozens of articles and 7 videos
in the field of psychology and birth. Emersonbirthrx.com