Self-Regulation 

The Prevention of Emotional Damage to Babies and Children

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Please go to the Carunchio 2012 page for further discussion of some of the questions discussed below.

A Source of Guidance

As readers may readily be able to imagine, there is not a lot of supportive literature on self-regulation for babies and young children. I have discovered a series of books on the topic by two UK authors which unmistakeably advocate self-regulation, though they do not call it that. They call it 'baby-led' feeding, weaning, etc. The titles are; Baby-Led Breastfeeding, Baby-Led Weaning, and Baby-Led Parenting, all published by Vermilion, London, authors - Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett.

Needless to say, they make no mention of muscular armouring, orgonotic contact, or bio-energetic expansion and contraction. But these books are a beginning and do advocate a much softer approach to baby-care than is generally accepted at present. The authors don't go as far as working out social and political changes needed to make their approach possible to all parents, but it is a beginning and will help to support hesitant parents who have been groping their way intuitively towards self-regulation. (1. 12. 14.)

Self-regulation is the process, occurring throughout nature, by which the baby and young human satisfies his/her primary needs, initially by free access to the breast and body contact with the mother. As the infant develops, he/she  reaches out to the world to satisfy her/his natural curiosity, the urge to expand, to make contact with life, and to take part in social life and work. In a self-regulated environment these natural urges out towards the world are not blocked by parents or other carers. If these ideas are new to you, please do not confuse self-regulation with license. License is a free-for-all, the satisfaction of the child's every whim, usually the products of primary needs distorted by muscular armouring. (Children of the Future.) When people argue against self-regulation, they usually cite license as a good reason for frustrating children's natural desires to make contact with the wider world and to enjoy life. Many authoritarian parents and teachers block these natural urges out towards the world as a deliberate policy. This is particularly true in conventional schools. These could not be run, of course, if teachers acknowledged the child's right to make their own decisions about their learning. The child has to internalise its parents' and the school's demands to curb his/her natural vitality. He/she does this by forming muscular armouring. And so the whole horrible cycle of human misery starts again. Armoured parents and armoured educational attitudes produce armoured children.

 After decades spent developing orgone therapy and the orgone accumulator and making the discoveries of  muscular armouring, the bions, the orgone, and the bio-physical basis of illness and disease, Reich came to the conclusion that it was an important orgonomic task to discover how armouring in babies and infants could be prevented as they grew up. (Children of the Future) He set up a research project to see how this could best be done and an organisation under whose umbrella it would be conducted, The Orgonomic Infant Research Center.

In my  own opinion this sort of preventive work is the only worthwhile use of orgone-therapeutic knowleldge and skills. If this surprises you, just do a  few simple sums. Imagine a well-trained competent, effective orgone therapist working full-time as a therapist. That means that at the most he or she will be able to see, say, 30 clients a week, and that is a heavy load for such concentrated, demanding work. But let's leave it at that for the purposes of my argument. Suppose that this therapist is so good at their work that these lucky clients need only one year's therapy in order to solve their major life-problems or at least to feel that they don't need therapy any longer and can manage without it. While this therapist has been working away to make things better for these lucky 30 people, in this country another 600,000 babies have been born.  (That is roughly the UK annual birth rate at the moment.) By the time these 30 people have significantly improved their lives, the lives of those half-million babies have begun and by the time they are all a year old, they will all be armoured to some extent, some of them severely so. Even by the age of 6 months the bio-energy systems of most of them will have been badly damaged. In some of them this will have happened by the age of a few weeks. One can see it beginning on the maternity wards.

If this knowledgeable, skilled therapist was working with new mothers and their babies with the avowed intention of avoiding armouring and the resultant bio-physical damage to the babies' systems, he or she would be materially benefitting thousands of babies, and if the advice and first-aid treatment that he was giving to the mothers and other carers was filtering out sideways to the wider community, this worker would be reaching possibly a few hundred babies and mothers in one year, and would be reducing armouring levels in almost all these babies. I am not suggesting for a minute that this way of working would be avoiding armouring altogether, but it would be significantly reducing it. What is more, a culture of 'avoiding armouring' would slowly be filtering out into the community at large.

When working full-time in the British NHS (National Health Service) I was able to significantly improve the birth experience of possibly 50-100 women a year in the labour room and while working on the maternity wards with mothers and babies I was helping in the care of about 25 women and babies a week, sometimes more, sometimes fewer. My work was therefore affecting around 1000 women and babies a year, and that in a situation where the protection of the mother's and newborn baby's bio-energetic bond and system was not even a priority, did not even exist as a concept in people's minds. 

Obviously there were some women in labour who did not want any emotional support at all. They wanted access to artificial pain-relief and however much midwives pointed out to them the drawbacks of epidurals and anyway tried to tell them that they might not need one, that their labour might not be as painful as they imagined it was going to be, many such women refused to give things a try and demanded an epidural at the outset. An epidural immobilises the woman in labour and makes it impossible for her to have a spontaneous, mobile labour, as many women still do, in spite of current fashions and negative myths around childbirth. But many women, especially those who started their labour in hospital in my care, were quite willing to see how they got on, responded very positively to lightweight orgone-therapeutic guidance with their breathing, and got through to the active stage of labour (the expulsion of the baby) with no more pain-relief than the use of 'gas and air'. A small number get right through their labour without any external pain-relief at all. Both these options, the gas and air or no pain-relief, mean that the baby's status is not compromised at birth and the labour is not extended, (as it it commonly is with an epidural), and that the mother can exploit her natural tendency to move about to facilitate the delivery of her baby. They mean that the mother will feel her spontaneous expulsive urge and have the freedom to surrender to the spontaneous movements of the expulsive stage. They also mean that the mother is able to be totally there for her baby when it is born and so able to respond positively to the baby's need for bio-energetic contact immediately after birth. (The Cancer Biopathy.)

Some readers, familiar with Reich's work, will remember his writing, The Source of the Human No, his description of the bio-energetic isolation and deprivation of the new-born baby immediately after birth, as was the norm in his day. I have had the wonderful experience, several times, of seeing a baby sucking contendedly on the breast within two or three minutes of birth. That means that the baby starts their new life in a state of expansion rather than contraction. Unfortunately in many countries separation of mother and baby is still routine. There is a video on YouTube called Video de Parto Normal, which shows a healthy baby being placed in an incubator after birth. My orgonomic contacts in Brazil (and the film-maker) tell me this is normal practice there. If you watch this video, note the expression on the baby's face as she is bunged into the incubator.

If the maintenance of a good bio-energetic state of mother and baby and good orgonotic contact between mother and baby at birth were made priorities in NHS maternity care, such a good beginning to life could probably be achieved for many more mothers and babies.  Even if the NHS did not make it a priority, if new parents did, it would be much easier to achieve these aims. These are, afer all, what a small number of new parents are hoping to achieve, when they say they want a natural birth and an early breast-feed for their baby. They have not read Wilhelm Reich, but they are alive enough to feel intuitively that these are important in their new baby's life and their relationship with the new baby.  A good example of this is a teenage mother I cared for in labour who definitely wanted her baby to be born without having absorbed any Pethidine, so that the baby would be able to feed well at birth. She had read the research and knew that this first feed was an important step towards successful breast-feeding. Because she knew this, she was willing to put up with a horribly painful, 'posterior-position' labour, which she could have made much more bearable by taking some Pethidine. I worked hard with orgone-therapeutic breathing to help her through this gigantic challenge, particularly during the last hour of her first stage, when things were most difficult for her. We all, the mother, her mother, my student-midwife, and I, had a tremendous sense of a hugely important shared job, as we did our best to keep her going without the Pethidine. She managed to cope without it, and her baby was born in a posterior position. How that baby benefitted from her young mother's incredible courage! She jumped on the breast within a minute of birth, something she would never have been able to do, if she had been full of Pethidine, which she would have been, as the time when we were discussing the option was exactly an hour before the birth, the point at which the baby's Pethidine levels would have been at their maximum at birth, if the mother had taken it. (In severe cases babies born under the influence of the Pethidine that their mothers have taken for pain-relief in labour have to go into intensive care in an incubator, until the effects of the Pethidine - lethargy, poor breathing, a loss of the urge to feed - wear off.)

When one is working as an orgonomic midwife, even if the word orgonomy is never mentioned, one has so many more options, if one can make contact with the mother's natural courage and physiological urge to give birth spontaneously without intervention or external physical aid. Simply put, one has something to work with. Alas, many women in labour feel no contact at all with their own inner resources and their natural physiological urges. One of the aims of the orgone-therapeutic preparation for birth that I have worked out would be to help expectant mothers to make contact with these. It seems to be a law of human psychology that once we lose contact with nature's natural powers, we seek relief by artificial substitutes, and not only during birth.

If a baby is born in  poor condition, either because of the effects of narcotic drugs taken by the mother during labour, or because birth has been traumatising for the baby, we then have to mount a salvage operation to keep things going as best we can until the infant recovers and is able to reach out actively towards the mother again. Needless to say, if the birth has been traumatising for the baby, it probably has been so for the mother too, and we then have a desperate predicament, with both parties exhausted, contracted, and unable to reach out towards each other. Again, it is possible to do much to remedy this predicament, if the situation is recognised for what it is, a bio-energetic disaster, and a situation that needs remedies.  Typically, of course, the mother will be depressed and very upset about it, nothing will be done to recognise and deal with the problems, and she will quietly absorb her grief and despair and carry on as best she can. If the situation is recognised as very bad, as one that demands urgent remedies, orgone-therapeutic techniques can be used to repair the damage and, in most cases, the baby can be brought through this ordeal with no lasting damage. The first baby I ever worked with orgone-therapeutically had a history like this, which was about as bad as one can imagine. He had been several weeks old before his mother had been able to hold him in her arms. However his mother was interested in bio-energetic models of health and knew, instinctively, that her baby had suffered a grievous loss. Once he was well enough to come home, she set about intuitively undoing this damage and succeeded to a large extent. At the time I had had no experience of working with other babies, but I now know, afer working with hundreds of babies, that this particular infant was not in too bad shape at all, bio-energetically speaking. And yet, I repeat, this baby's start to life had been about as bad as one can imagine.

The tragedy for most new-born babies is, of course, that most people, both professional care-workers and parents, know nothing about the baby's bio-energtic condition. Nor do they want to know. The sad thing is that most people, both parents and professional care-workers, do not know the utter joy, beauty, vitality, and expansiveness of an unarmoured new-born baby. And yet, if an expectant mother were shown such a baby, or even a film-clip of such a baby, and offered the option of having a baby like that, she would surely say, 'Oh, yes please!'

Once this baby has arrived undamaged, she needs immediate satisfaction of her primary needs for bio-energetic contact with her mother and, of course, nourishment. Both of these are provided by breast-feeding, if the mother is in good condition after the birth and has some surplus energy to devote to her baby. Of course many women are anything but alive and responsive after birth and the baby has to make do with what he can get until the mother recovers. All the more reason to try and make the mother's experience of giving birth rewarding and positive. Some women reading this, who have had deeply negative experiences of birth, will be wondering how on earth anything so horrible as birth can be rewarding and positive. All I can say to that is that, even now, with no preparation and with all the pressures in the NHS, some women find giving birth rewarding and positive and say so afterwards. The big question that no-one dares ask is - why do some women have such a positive experience and some an equally horrible one? I believe that Reich's discovery of muscular armouring and the disruption to the autonomic nervous system stemming from this armouring is the answer to this question. No-one wants to ask this question, let alone answer it, as the implications are profoundly disturbing to our comfortable cultural models. I have abandoned my efforts to get the public in the UK interested in the use of orgone therapy in childbirth. No-one wants to know. If you want to know, please go to Birth Page on this site. I have had a single enquiry, and that was from Australia, since I posted the information on orgone-therapeutic assistance in labour. Please also see the offer of training for (student) midwives on the birth page.

This page could grow into a book. So I need to find a way of putting the principle of self-regulation into a simple sentence or two. Parents who want their child to grow up unarmoured, ( a big ambition!), or shall we be more modest and say, who want their child to grow up less armoured than they are,  acknowledge the primacy of the new-born baby's needs. They allow them to be more important than themselves. They are happy to respond to the baby's need to feed immediately he feels hungry. This must be the mother's response, needless to say, as no father that I have met has been able to breast-feed his baby, however much he loves him. But a father who takes over, if he needs to, (maybe he has been doing it already), the running of the domestic economy for a few weeks, while the mother gets used to the baby and feeding frequently, is as good as putting milk into his baby's mouth. And if there is no father about to do this crucial job, the mother needs a substitute father of either sex, simply another human being to think about cooking, buying, and washing, while she devotes herself completely to the feeding and the baby's need for maternal contact. (The Continuum Concept, by Jean Liedloff; Children of the Future. See also C O R E's booklets.)

If there is one thing that causes the baby to contract and feel fretful at this stage, it is the common parental impulse to fend the baby off, to hold him at arm's lenth, to deny the overwhelming power and primacy of his needs. (If you are not used to it, this power is unsettling. An unarmoured baby is a huge wave of need and energy.) We can see this process starting in the first day of a baby's life. 'You can't be hungry. I've only just fed you.' Is he making it up? At that age? Obviously not, but if a new mother is shattered from fatigue and a horrible experience of giving birth, it is no surprise if she finds the baby's overwhelming demands the last straw. This is not impossible to solve, though. Often in this predicament, a good dose of sleep is all that is needed to transform the situation. (I use the medical word dose there deliberately to remind readers of the sense of input that we all have from a tablet, but which we do not sense nearly so strongly when it is connected with emotional or simple physical input.) I have seen many an occasion in the maternity hospital when a mother was in this state, perhaps after missing two or three nights' sleep. (A whole night 'niggling' in very early labour, another night in labour proper, and another night breast-feeding almost continuously.) In this situation a good sleep for 2-3 hours can transform the situation and how the mother feels towards her baby. All it needs is a second person who acknowledges the overwhelming importance of the infant's need for contact and who is willing to walk the baby round while the mother has this desperately needed sleep. A primitive solution is, of course, for the baby to sleep with the mother, though most hospitals discourage this because of the much publicised small number of cases where a mother has accidentally smothered a baby in bed. Nevertheless many parents do sleep with their babies, as they soon realise that this is the way they will all, parents and baby, get some good sleep. (Three in a Bed by Deborah Jackson.) I can remember several cases where the breast-feeding was tottering, because of the mother's severe fatigue and it being saved by the staff managing to enable the mother to get a few hours' much-needed sleep.

I describe this situation and a possible solution to illustrate the point that apparently insoluble parenting problems can often be solved simply and completely, once we acknowledge the primacy of the infant's primary needs and support the mother in her function as the infant's main provider at this crucial early stage. In practice self-regulation boils down to supporting new mothers. In a community supporting self-regulation the bottom line for anything would not be profit or loss but the question - how does this affect mothers and babies? If it reduced the mother's ability to satisfy her baby's primary needs, it would not be socially acceptable. Try to imagine a society that acted according to this principle! Even better, act as if such a society existed already.

Once a child has been helped through their first few years, in principle fairly easy, (at least parents have the freedom to do it how they want), parents are confronted with the problem of compulsory education, that disempowering, crippling process known as schooling. In the UK we have the option of letting a child decide not to go to school, as long as we can show that he or she is being educated.  (http://www.educationotherwise.net/ ) In some countries, notably Germany, home-education is illegal. There is a strong home-schooling movement in the USA. Unfortunately many religious extremists take their children out of school so that they can better brainwash them into their religion and 'protect' them from the nasty influences of the wider culture, in particular more tolerant attitudes towards sexuality. This gives the decision a bad name. There is a whisper at work in the UK that children not attending school are more likely to be victims of abuse than children attending school. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Compulsory schooling is organised abuse that denies children all the rights that adults take for granted in our society.

If it has never occurred to you that schools may be bad places for children to spend so much time in, I urge you to read carefully two great books by John Holt, the American libertarian educationalist, How Children Learn and How Children Fail. Holt had an outstanding gift for getting down on his hands and knees and seeing life from the perspective of the child. He understood the humiliations endured, the impotence, the fear, and boredom experienced by a child at the beck and call all day of teachers who, even if they wanted to, cannot take the child's own wishes, feelings and difficulties into account, simply because they are responsible for 30-40 children at the same time.

For some years, though very critical of ordinary schools, Holt felt that they could be reformed and made good for children. Eventually after a deep experience, when a young pupil pointed out to him why she was obeying him, the scales fell from his eyes, and he realised that schools were fundamentally a pathological institution and could never be changed into good places for children. It also dawned on him that the whole idea that we need special places for children to go and learn things was wrong. The experience with the pupil was something like this. He wanted the children in his group to go to another classroom to do something that he wanted them to do. A girl in the class did not want to go and held back. Holt insisted she went and eventually she gave in and did his bidding. But as she did it, she said to him, (this is a paraphrase from memory): 'Alright, I'll go, but only because you're the teacher and you're bigger and stronger than me and you can punish me, if I don't.' Wonderful that the young girl understood the power-relationships of her predicament better and more clearly than an educated adult. This perceptive response from such a gutsy young person finally tore the scales from his eyes. (I have posted the actual words and source on our Quotations Page.)

Her quick understanding reminded me of an equivalent transaction between myself and a teenage mother I was looking after in labour a few years ago. She had just arrived and wanted to 'know the score', what would happen in various circumstances - if her contractions stopped or did not become strong enough, and so on. One of my answers, after making the proviso that we needed her consent to do anything, even as simple as taking her pulse, let alone some major medical intervention, was, 'Oh, the doctors, to whom we would have to report the situation, would want you to go on the Syntocinon drip.' Her immediate retort to this was: 'That seems to be the answer to everything, that drip.' I had visions of someone with a PhD in midwifery or sociology taking 10 years to get to that understanding of the narrowness of the bio-medical vision of labour. She had got it after 10 minutes in the labour room. Her retort was the midwifery version of the green saying - when the only tool you have got is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail.

Anyway, back to the school problem. Although home-schooling is legal in the UK, embarking upon it is a step that most parents, however critical they are of conventional schools, do not feel ready to take. For a start, it is a tremendous economic disruption to the now normal way of life, in which both parents work for pay outside the home. Home education demands the presence of one parent at home all the time. (This situation gives the game away and underlines the fact that the schooling system is in fact as much a child-minding service as anything else.) Whatever parents choose to do, it is usually the parents who make the decisions, not the child or children. The whole crux of ordinary schooling is compulsion. That is what makes a school a school, the fact that all the children in it are forced to study what the teachers (and maybe the government) decide they should study. I use the word study rather than learn, because there is no better way of preventing a person from learning something than by forcing them to study it. This is tacitly admitted by educationalists all the time, as they refer to children 'yawning' over the study of history or having been 'immunised' against Shakespeare or mathematics, because they have been forced to study these subjects at school. I have just heard another example on Radio 3. The  outstanding recorder-player, Pamela Thorby, referred in an interview last week, (?May 20th, 2010) in passing to the way school-children are repelled by the experience of being forced to learn to play the recorder at school. Except, of course, she didn't say 'being forced to learn', she just said learning. We are all so used to the compulsion of school that we do not even see it any more.

In practice, as far as I can see, most parents critical of conventional educational attitudes just look round for as gentle a school as possible for their child/children and the children have to make the best of it. However gentle and 'child-centred' a school is, all its lessons will be compulsory and the teachers will decide what the children should study and how they should study it. Of course, a child can make an invisible, internal decision to refuse to study something by completely withdrawing their energy from the activity in question and refusing to absorb it. This is a common strategy, but of course it is a destructive one. If a child does this too much, he or she cannot get out of this defence, and is stuck in an attitude of numb stupidity that has a crushingly limiting effect on his or her life-chances once they leave school. 

The insane thing about schooling is that all children, until they go to school, are inveterate learners. You cannot stop a small child learning, unless you treat him or her very brutally and destructively.

As far as I know, there is only  one school in the UK where lessons are not compulsory and that is Summerhill, A S Neill's long-established school in Leiston, Suffolk, now run by his daughter, Zoe. There are so few parents supportive of children's right to learn what and how they wish, that there is little likelihood of any 'free' school being set up and surviving anywhere in this country. In fact parental attitudes towards 'education' are, if anything, now more rigid, anti-life, punitive, and authoritarian than they were 30 years ago. Reports in the media suggest that teenagers have acquired the same attitudes, that the one thing they must do in life is get a decent qualification with market value and a respectable job as soon as possible. The idea of getting to know and understand yourself and the world and perhaps even changing the world a little, admittedly not very common when I was young, now seems completely unknown, outside the circle of the normal, and certainly outside the circle of the 'cool.'

Reich's Orgonomic Infant Research project aimed to study a small number of new parents during the pregnancy and birth and the early years and to see how armouring developed, to avoid it if possible and to treat it when it developed. A great deal of support was to be provided by orgonomic specialists. The mothers were to be helped to remain open and orgonotically alive during pregancy and an orgone therapist was to be available during the birth to help her cope with any difficulties resulting from the effects of her armouring. These specialists would examine the baby at birth and check him or her regularly to see if armouring was developing at all and to relate this, if it were possible, to what was going on between mother and baby, and presumably later on between child and parents, other members of the family, and the wider world. The mothers were given help and advice from breast-feeding advisers.

Unfortunately this project collapsed almost as soon as it got started because of the legal persecution to which Reich was subjected to and the discomfort many participants, both therapists and parents, felt when confronted with the issue of infant sexuality. There is one report on it in the literature. (Children of the Future.) It is clear, even from this one report, that the project was meeting major difficulties between the participants. It ran for about 3 years.

So...fifty years later this important work has still not been done and is waiting to be done. As I know from the great deal of orgone therapy that I have done with babies and my wide experience of helping mothers to breast-feed their babies in the British NHS, we would learn an enormous amount about self-regulation, orgonotic contact between mother and baby in the early days and weeks, and pro-life parenting in general, if we made an intensive study of a small number of babies whose parents were trying to bring them up according to the principles of self-regulation. If there were any significant interest in orgonomy and self-regulation in this country we could quite easily get such a project started on a small scale.

The nearest project I have seen to Reich's research project is a Brazilian programme, about which there is a film in three parts on YouTube. The sound-track is in Portuguese with English sub-titles. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lc0fby6gtBAs) In some ways this project is bigger than Reich's original one in that the babies and children involved are 'street children', poor children in one area, not selected, just those who are there, in the nursery at the time. (Reich screened and selected the parents for his project very carefully.)

A simpler, lightweight version of this project would be to set up regular drop-in sessions for new mothers and parents. I have already had experience of running such drop-in baby-therapy sessions in Germany and they were extremely successful, enjoyable, and productive. It seems clear to me that if such sessions ran for a few weeeks even, expectant parents would be drawn to them from the positive reports of participants with their own babies and these new expectant parents could learn about orgonotic contact, its importance and how to improve its quality, the predictable needs of their new baby, how to remain as open as possible during labour, and generally how to avoid armouring during the early months. I know how to do all these things. I could start the project today. I have the skills and knowledge. At the moment they will die with me, because there is no interest in orgonomy and self-regulation in this country. My single serious student is from abroad, at present a full-time student in this country. When she has finished her training she will doubtless return home. (She has now returned home and I no longer have any active students in this country, though there is plenty of interest in this work in other countries.)

PS January, 2013. If C O R E ever gets a centre in which to work, these drop-in mother and baby sessions would be the first public activity that I would get going in our new building, however unfinished and ramshackle it was. Please see About C O R E and PJ page in which I have posted a fictional account of a visit to C O R E in 2020. I imagine  such a session running in the first room to be made clean and usable, while volunteers bang and drill and paint away in the rest of the building. You would think the mothers would find the noise intrusive but they are smiling with delight. They know they are making (orgonomic) history. (Dream on, Peter Jones!)

Peter Jones.

Last revised August 3rd, 2016