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…

11 thoughts on “New Warriors and rebirthing”

  1. To write and pass judgement on men I do not know and a weekend I have not done is exactly opposite to what the essence of MKP represents! Accountability, congruency, integrity, responsibility, supporting men to become safer men in the world is the essence of what MKP is about. To understand me makes me a safer man, a man with compassion, love, boundaries! The MKP opens the door, I choose weather to enter, how long I stay and when I wish to leave! The real beauty is that there is a place of support for me every week of the year and in multiple countries around the world where I can do my personal work, that’s commitment.

  2. Wow. It is amazing to me how men and women state their fears and misconceptions or experiences as truth. The last comment makes me shake my head in wonder. As a woman I have never been on the mens weekend but I have been on the HER weekend which is the womens version and have many dear friends who have changed my life who have been on the NWTA. It is probably not for everyone, but I can say it has made more positive change in lives than most things I know of. And as a woman, in my judgement, “dangerous woman hating cult” is a very sad and ignorant statement…

  3. My boyfriend is at a NWTA this weekend. He was invited to attend a meeting and then asked to go tot he weekend training. The boyfriend has definitely has issues, as do we all, so the way he described it, I was supportive and encouraged him to go.

    Then something made me worry earlier this evening. Earlier, I tried to call the cell phone to just leave a supportive message that he might check sometime, but the phone was on, rang, but no answer. I found this odd because he has had trouble with the phone staying charged and would have turned it off to conserve the battery. Right now he is in the middle of a dire financial meltdown in his business that has left him emotionally fragile to begin with. His secure world is already falling apart and I am sad to think of him going through this, too.

    I don’t know what made me worry and start googling, but now I am very worried.

  4. As a man who has gone through the Mankind Project initiation, I have a different take on the organization. Men are discouraged from leaving, but have indeed left the site with all their belongings. I know this because I was witness to it. There have been men who have not gone on the GUTS carpet. I didn’t do anything I didn’t want to do. Calling this brainwashing and hypnosis is also quite inaccurate. I personally know a hypnotist and a person cannot be hypnotised unless he is willing. I also know that some men who attend I-group have issues with some of the MKP protocols and that is their right. Seems to me that one cannot call that brainwashing. Saying that we lie to people is quite wrong as well. The carpool thing is for care and love for the environment. Some men do indeed come on their own mainly due to logistical reasons I’m guessing. I for one am glad I carpooled so I could discuss the weekend with those two men. We all had different experiences and it was a great opportunity to connect with other men in a really meaningful way. As for the secrecy part, I’m really glad nobody told me what was going to happen. That would have ruined my experience. I am saddened that some people view this training as a way to “straighten out” a gay man. I’ve seen a number of gay men go through and they remain gay to this day. It matters not if they are gay or straight. The common thread is that we are all men. Period. It might be noted that my training with the Mankind Project in my judgement saved my marriage. For that alone, I am truly grateful. What I see is men come out better equipped to show up in the world and to make a positive difference to the people in their lives and the environment they live. They become better husbands, fathers, workers and bosses. While I do not have a degree in psychology, I have noticed that the vast majority of men I’ve seen go through the training see value in it. Other than the couple of men that left in the middle of the training, I have yet to meet a man who has gone through the training bad mouth the organization. Many men I’ve met went through the weekend but have not continued on with the weekly groups. They were still satisfied with what they received. Is it right for everyone? Probably not and I wish it could be but that’s not reality. That’s why my truth is that it’s a great organization and it will be some other mans truth that it isn’t. We are certainly free to have those truths and they are both equally valuable and valid for each of us.

  5. I was sent to the NWTA weekend by my psychologist’s recommendations. I witnessed and formed part of the canal as “I was there to support my brothers”, even though I was on this training weekend. It really made me feel weird to be making a canal and pushing down on this guys bare body to pass under me. He had obviously not showered/cleaned in a while as we only had a 60 second cold shower that morning.

    I really became disturbed when the guy finished the canal and laid in the trainers arms as the other put on a diaper and blanket on him. Weird…

    As I have been dealing/process the exit of MKP, I learned the dangers of re-birthing and felt awful that I participated in a process that could have harmed that individual. I am now dealing with it by understanding that I had no prior knowledge of the dangers but instead am angry that MKP would practice such “therapy” without full disclosure.

  6. Warrior X – I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are worse off than children. However, men I have seen in NWTA (I have recovered from it), are more suggestible and are persuaded by the leaders to “do it for your brother.” A strange reason to lay on top of a naked man fighting toward his “rebirth” but most of us did it. Guys considering a weekend need to know more of what goes on so they don’t feel the shame later of doing something they are ashamed to tell anyone about.

  7. “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.”

    Who says these adult men have given consent?

    The rebirthing process is part of GUTS or carpet work. This happens

    Saturday afternoon. This is almost 24 hours after a man arrives at the

    NWTA and has had 24 hours of brainwashing and mass hypnosis. At this

    point a man can’t say “no” to what’s going to happen to him. His will

    is broken. This is done on purpose by MKP. I know because I’ve have

    heard senior leaders and staff members tell me this as fact.

    Also adding to this is that, inspite of what MKP claims, a man can’t go

    home either. He does not have his wallet, cell phone, car keys (if he

    has his own vehicle, which usually isn’t the case). These are all held

    by MKP. Also if he didn’t drive there he doesn’t really know where he

    is. If he did drive there, then he has the responsibility to stay so

    he can drive the men who car pooled with him home on Sunday. MKP does

    NOT allow any man to drive to the NWTA by themselves. They lie to them

    to get them to carpool so that they will be held captive.

    A man under these conditions is worse off than any child!

  8. More Warrior-eze from MKP. They can lie and say they don’t do the rebirthing process because they call it “birth canal.” I’ve seen it listed in 3 of their protocol handbooks. It is one of their most popular processes. Truth to MKP members is relative. Everyone has their own “my truth.”

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