Rebirthing is an alternative therapy technique used to treat reactive attachment disorder. This therapy uses a specific kind of breathing (breathwork) meant to help you release emotions.
Supporters of rebirthing claim that by participating in a “rebirth” as a child or adult, you can resolve negative experiences from birth and infancy that may be preventing you from forming healthy relationships. Some even claim to have memories of their birth during rebirthing.
In other words, supporters claim that the technique gives you a do-over of your entrance into the world, without the trauma or instability you originally experienced. The goal is to process blocked emotions and energy, leaving you free to form trusting, healthy attachments.
A new age spiritual guru named Leonard Orr developed the rebirthing technique in the 1960s. At the time, it focused only on breathwork. Since then, its definition has expanded to include other types of therapy that simulate birth.
Rebirthing therapy is controversial because there is little evidence of its merit. In some cases, it has proven to be dangerous.
Rebirthing sessions can take several forms, depending on your age and your treatment goals. Sessions are usually led by trained instructors. They work with you one-on-one or two-on-one, coaching your breathwork and leading you through the technique.
The breathwork technique used in rebirthing is called conscious energy breathing (CEB).
With your instructor’s supervision, you’ll practice “circular breathing” — quick, shallow breaths without any breaks between an inhale and an exhale. You’ll do this for one to two hours, taking breaks if you need to.
During this time, participants are told to expect a release of emotions or a triggering of difficult memories from childhood.
The goal of this type of breathing is to inhale energy as well as oxygen. Practitioners of rebirthing claim that by breathing in energy, you’re healing your body.
Your session may consist of only breathwork, or it may include other techniques.
Some practitioners simulate birth by putting you in an enclosed environment meant to resemble a womb and coaching you to escape from it. This may involve blankets, pillows, or other materials.
Another popular method of rebirthing involves submerging yourself in a bathtub or hot tub and using a breathing device such as a snorkel to stay underwater.
Proponents of rebirthing tout its mental health benefits. It is especially popular for the treatment of reactive attachment disorder.
Rebirthing is also used to treat:
- self-destructive tendencies and patterns
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- depression and anxiety
- chronic pain
- mental distraction and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- behavioral issues in children
- low self-esteem
- addiction to drugs and alcohol
There is no research in the medical literature to support the use of rebirthing for mental health symptoms. It is not recognized by the American Academy of Pediatrics or the American Psychiatric Association.
Some adults who have tried rebirthing claim that it has changed their lives.
Leonard Orr tours the world, training followers in how to supervise rebirth and selling books that tout its benefits. His organization, Rebirthing Breathwork International, claims to have affected tens of thousands of lives.
Breath-based meditation does have some recorded health benefits. Research has shown that a consistent breath-based meditation practice can improve:
- stress level
- respiratory health
Breath-based meditation tends to involve deep breathing (not the shallow circular breathing of rebirthing). It also requires regular practice, rather than a single session, to produce results.
Rebirthing breathwork on its own isn’t necessarily dangerous. If you’re supervised by a trained instructor and you don’t have any preexisting lung or heart conditions, it’s probably as safe as other types of breathwork used in meditation and yoga.
If you feel dizzy or experience any other negative effects as a result of this type of breathwork, stop doing it immediately.
The more complicated rebirthing technique that involves pushing past a physical barrier that represents the birth canal can be dangerous, especially for children and adolescents.
One tragic example of the danger of this technique is the death of Candace Newmarker, a 10-year-old girl who passed away during a rebirthing therapy session that lasted for over an hour.
Newmarker’s death deepened the controversy around rebirthing. A law named in her honor made the technique illegal in Colorado, where she died. It is also illegal in North Carolina, where she was born.
Bans have been proposed in other states, including Florida, California, Utah, and New Jersey.
Rebirthing is an alternative therapy meant to heal trauma stemming from birth and early childhood.
When considering this technique for yourself or your child, be sure to weigh the evidence against the risk. While a few hours of supervised shallow breathing will probably not hurt you, there is little to no evidence that it will lead to a definitive, cathartic experience.
The more physically involved simulation of birth carries a risk of oxygen deprivation, which can lead to brain damage and even death.
Consider that this therapy isn’t something most licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors would recommend.
If your child is showing signs of PTSD or failure to attach to you, there are other recommended treatment options. Talk to a healthcare provider to find out what may be best for you.
If you want to try rebirthing, find a practitioner with a good track record and some medical credentials. Some people who practice alternative medicine have nursing certificates, CPR training, or other qualifications.
Make sure your rebirthing practitioner can recognize an emergency and provide emergency care if necessary.
Speak with your doctor about symptoms that concern you, including chronic mental health symptoms.