New Warriors and rebirthing

In researching the Mankind Project and New Warriors Training Adventure, I have been puzzled by the degree of secrecy surrounding participation in the organization. I continue to believe that the human potential movement components of the processes have very little potency in themselves but rather mainly have impact in that they become ground for a common experience and ideology for members. In fairness, perhaps it is no different than the Masons or any other secret society, which generates comraderie around shared ritual and private knowledge. Maybe someday there will be a National Treasure: Book of Secrets movie about the secrets of the Mankind Project (Mankind Project: Weekend of Secrets). It is hard for me to relate to this, but to each his own.

Recently on Ex-gay Watch, I commented about a post on the conditions which might trigger a professional “ban” of reparative therapy. I made the following comment in reaction to a prior comment describing Empyrean rebirthing being employed to attempt sexual reorientation.

It seems to me the whole scene is a mess. Re-birthing is done by New Warriors Training Adventures which is endorsed by Joe Kort and Clinton Anderson, GLB Officer at the APA as a support for gay affirmation. NWTA is also endorsed by Richard Cohen and Joe Nicolosi as a means of enhancing masculinity which is supposed to make gay men straight.

If the APA takes on fringe therapies in the ex-gay world, the organization better be prepared to take them on closer to home.

I am not sure I should have taken on so many issues in one brief comment so I am going to unpack this a bit. The first point I want to address is the topic of rebirthing. Put rebirthing in the search engine and you will see what I mean. In a addition to a video by Skillet, rebirthing can refer to any number of practices based on the belief that humans remember the trauma of birth and retain permanent emotional scars from the event. True believers in cellular memory derive a number of techniques to relieve the trauma. Rebirthing-breathwork (Empyrean rebirthing being one form) is a kind hyperventilation technique designed to achieve peacefulness. At the time I made my comment on Ex-gay Watch, I did not know Empyrean rebirthing was the breathwork stuff, but rather thought it might refer to the rebirthing techniques which require a person to act out their rebirth via fighting through blankets and people to emerge from the birth canal to be welcomed by a parent (in the case of children) or a pretend parent (in the case of adults). There are many variations of these themes so I am only drawing some generalizations together. Rebirthing has a notorious reputation and has been banned by the American Psychiatric Association in the aftermath of the death of Candace Newmaker as the result of a rebirthing session gone horribly wrong.

As to my comments about those who refer to NWTA, this has been covered before, at least in part. Joe Kort has been a vocal defender of MKP and I have noted before that Richard Cohen and Joseph Nicolosi have been involved in MKP. Clinton Anderson is the Director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Concerns Office at APA is involved and wrote his doctoral dissertation on the organization in 2006. Again, to each his own, but my point was to note the irony of people from opposing camps using the same intervention to achieve different objectives. Also, and here is a question I am thinking about: how can gay affirming therapists criticize reparative therapists for techniques which are fringe when at least some prominent GA therapists endorse the same techniques? I could be heading in the wrong direction with this question, but I am thinking out loud here.

And so, back to rebirthing, recently some New Warriors initiates have told me stories of what they called rebirthing at the New Warriors Training Adventure. In short, they said some men are offered the opportunity to engage in a process called by the MKP, the birth canal process. The procedure involves a nude man wrapped in a blanket who is encouraged to be reborn by fighting his way through several (10-20) other men who form a canal and sometimes lie on top of him. Another man awaits at the end of the canal as the parent and says affirming things such as “I hope its a boy.” After struggling through the “canal”, he may then cut his way through a rope with a plastic knife. This symbolizes the man cutting his umbilical cord. The “newly reborn” man then is cradled by the man who was waiting for the man to emerge from the canal. A couple of witnesses report that baby powder is used to create a simulation of newborn care and applied to the nude man as you would to a baby.

Initially, when I asked Carl Griesser, Executive Director of the MKP, if the MKP did or condoned rebirthing, he replied:

MKP does not perform rebirthing.  Even if we did, the use of a technique which you personally consider to be therapeutic does not mean that the one who uses it is performing therapy.

I was puzzled by this answer since I had read the following information on the website of the MKP Foundation:

16. Legal & Safety

• Creating effective Risk Management strategies to minimize potential liability

• Providing assistance with Center incorporation

• Fostering compliance with laws, such as anti-hazing, mandatory reporting, and rebirthing

After I sent this reference to him, Mr. Griesser provided this statement:

We have a 20 minute process we call the birth canal. My understanding is that what we do is very different from the two therapeutic processes known as rebirthing, one of which involves extended breathwork (ours does not). The other is sometimes referred to as attachment therapy, and is also very different from our brief process.

The note you reference from our Foundation website refers to the fact that a number of years ago our attorneys reviewed the laws in some states to insure that we are in compliance. (A few years ago Colorado created a law about rebirthing following the unfortunate death of a young girl. What they did was very different from what we do.)

Readers can decide if this is a matter of semantics. If the processes (birth canal vs. rebirthing) were so different, then I do not understand why rebirthing would need to be mentioned as a specific area of law reviewed by MKP attorneys. They seem pretty similar as I am reading about it in MKP literature and accounts of men who witnessed the birth canal. However, I recognize that children can’t really consent to rebirthing whereas an adult male can. This is a big difference.

I do not fully agree with Mr. Griesser’s assertion that “the use of a technique which you personally consider to be therapeutic does not mean that the one who uses it is performing therapy.” I think it depends on the procedure. We surely would not apply that logic to brain surgery but we might to evaluating negative thoughts or having a conversation with a mentor. Brain surgery should be regulated, but how about the latter two interventions? Which category should rebirthing go in? Does it matter that children cannot give consent but adults can (I believe it is quite relevant)? And does it matter that men are not informed about these techniques prior to the weekend? These are questions that I am still considering and hope generate some discussion.

UPDATE: I found the following reference to the birth canal process in a 2006 Detroit Metro Weekly article:

Robert Mark and Buddy Portugal also describe men purging themselves of their emotions by shrieking for several minutes, leaving those watching turning pale and trembling. The book also recounts role-playing exercises attempting to re-create traumatic emotional scenes from participants’ childhoods that involve screaming, crying and intense emotional responses.

In his book, Peter Putnam describes a men’s retreat where he was “reborn” by traveling through a “birth canal” of men, emerging at the end and cutting a symbolic umbilical cord.

Reborn, rebirthing, birth canal – you say tomato, I say tomahto…