Book Review: Fractals From the Womb

A Journey through Pre- and Perinatal Psychotherapy

by Shirley Ward
Published by CreateSpace: Amazon, July 2014 ISBN-13: 978-1500187224
Reviewed by Sarah Kay

Book Review

Given our natural curiosity as humans to explore our environment, push the boundaries in pursuit of knowledge and expand our consciousness, it seems inevitable that psychology would follow an evolutionary trajectory.

Fractals from the womb: A journey through pre- and perinatal psychotherapy evidences foetal consciousness through scientific research and anecdotal material as well as case histories. It is a welcome and long-awaited addition to the lexicon of developmental psychology and is a useful and fascinating study for psychotherapy students and professionals in the field of psychological health. The author, Shirley Ward, has devoted most of her professional life to tracing the history of birth memories and traumas. She has worked internationally and nationally training psychotherapists in pre- and perinatal psychotherapy and, as a result of her experiences, believes that good pregnancies and calm births can reduce the risk of trauma to producing happier and healthier people. Carrying on the work of Dr. Jean Houston, Shirley believes each one of us embodies a ‘fractal’ or a pattern which starts very possibly before conception and carries through our lives and shapes who we are and what we do.

This book is a journey into our layers of history going back into the womb to understand how our environment, including our parents’ experiences, imprints on our bodies and minds, starting at a cellular level. We are introduced to the pioneers in this field. Shirley was lucky enough to work with one, Dr. Frank Lake, a British psychiatrist and she has not only continued his work but also developed it through her Amethyst training programme, along with Alison Hunter and Carmel Byrne.

I don’t want to spoil the book by disclosing too much about the contents but have three points to make: the first is to say that this is a must-read and that training programmes would be wise to add it to their reading lists. The book is small, compact, colourful and inexpensive, and an easy and engaging read.

The second point is an observation that the fractal dimension that Shirley writes about appears to be an area in which the medical profession and psychotherapists within this field are successfully collaborating; scientific research (through ultrasound or imaging) and experiential psychotherapy are coming up with similar evidence: that there is foetal consciousness and that birth memories and traumas experienced in utero are held in the body at a muscular and cellular level and are played out in life, either creatively and physically like sport, for example, or can erupt as violence, depression, addictions and physical ailments ranging from migraine to cancers. Two doctors cited in this book, Tom Verny, a Canadian, and the late David Chamberlain, an American, have written extensively in support of the importance of pre- and perinatal psychology and psychotherapy. The third observation is that developmental psychology has been slow to embrace the significance of birth memories and trauma as part of mainstream developmental theory; the most common theory still being that the earliest memory stage is the post-natal infant in relation to its mother, i.e., attachment theories. Could this be the psychotherapy fractal!

The good news is that with a deeper knowledge of pre- and perinatal psychology we can go beyond the generally accepted evidence that ‘smoking and drinking are bad for baby’, and see that an ‘anxious/traumatised mother and father’ can produce a traumatised child who may display symptoms of distress like aggressive behavior, excessive crying and anxiety. We can also do much more to educate our populations and so pre-empt some of the traumas and repair the damage postnatally.

The bad news is that the many war-torn parts of the world are a breeding ground for trauma, violence and addiction. Fractals From the Womb is a call to arms – not for the weapons of war but for the arms of healing and holding.