Back in 1981 when I wrote my Training Programme Successful Hypnotherapy, I did my best to steer clear of too many contentious subjects and make the subject as ‘black and white’ as possible. Obviously I was aware that there are ‘infinite tones of grey’ between black and white but did not want to create confusion by attempting to explain issues which are amply covered elsewhere. One of those subjects I airily breezed over is the concept of Past Life Regression. By doing so have accidentally acquired myself the reputation, among former students of being a ‘disbeliever’.
I have practiced Hypno-analysis in the form that I teach it for well over thirty years and even now, although supposedly lazing away my life in retirement, I am persuaded from time to time to keep my hand in and help ‘a friend of a friend’. I long ago lost count of the number of clients I have treated throughout the years. It has to be over the ten thousand mark. Among those thousands there have been many who have apparently, spontaneously and without any guidance or direction by myself, experienced a ‘past life regression’ at sometime during their sessions. Often a highly convincing happening. Sadly though or rather, happily though, not one of those clients departed at the end of Therapy, convinced of the validity of their past life. Au contraire the satisfactory completion of their analysis, brought with it a realisation of what their experience had really been about. The actual therapy had by its very nature, done the detective work of investigation into the past life regression. An investigation in true depth so sadly lacking in many of the widely reported cases of past life regression.
One of today’s leading advocates of past life regression is Brian L Weiss MD, a graduate of Columbia University, and Yale Medical School, whose medical qualifications are beyond question and which, of course, add considerably to his support of the subject. A more thinking person might question this fact, on the grounds that neither academic achievement nor medical learning, give any person greater insight into matters of the supernatural, meta-psychical or the occult. Neither do they bring with them any greater guarantee of morality or honesty. Nevertheless, his assertions that recovering material from a previous life by the use of hypnosis can bring immense psychological benefit, has many people totally convinced. He is the author of numerous books on the subject, which have brought him a high degree of fame and a not inconsiderable income in royalties. ‘Many Lives Many Masters’ is probably his best seller at over 2 million copies and translated into over 20 languages. His own belief in the validity of the subject he attributes, in his writings to a 30 year old client called ‘Catherine’, who had consulted him suffering panic attacks and phobias, which had resisted all his attempts with conventional psychotherapy. He then decided to hypnotically regress her to childhood and it was during a session of this that she spontaneously regressed an extra 4000 years or so to the Middle East. There she became ‘Aranda’ an 18 year old girl. She was able to state the year was 1863 BC (which, I must confess, would have caused me a high degree of scepticism. Think about it for a moment; how could she have known Christ was coming some 1863 years later). She went on to describe her life and then her moment of death in a flood, when her child had been torn from her by the waters. During subsequent sessions with Doctor Weiss, she was to regress to a further two past lives, one as a prostitute in Spain and the other as a woman in Greece. During what Dr Weiss describes as ‘follow up therapy’ she discovered a further ten past lives, and also came to the belief that Doctor Weiss himself had featured in her previous existences. In one life he had been her teacher, in another her boyfriend and yet another – when she had been a boy – he had killed her during a battle. The clincher, for Doctor Weiss, was when she claimed in one session to be in touch with the Doctor’s dead father and also the Doctor’s dead son called Avrom, who had lived a mere 10 days. She was able to give detailed information about his son’s death, which had resulted from a very rare heart condition and the Doctor remains adamant that there is no way she could have gained that information in this life. In his book “Through Time into Healing” he lists many cases in great detail and, believer or not, they are extremely convincing and the relief of symptoms by the therapy cannot surely be denied. He would be the first to confirm that his experiences with ‘Catherine’ in Therapy have effectively channeled the remainder of his professional life. I use the expression ‘professional life’ somewhat tongue in cheek, for, in my eyes, any man who would demonstrate a past life regression on two occasions on the Oprah Winfrey show (May 13th, 2008 & June 24th, 2008) retains only a dubious claim to the title. No matter how strong his own personal beliefs, to degrade his Psychotherapy status down to showman on prime time TV are, at best, unbecoming of the man.
Opposing views emanate from Martin Gardner, who was for many years a columnist for “Scientific American”. He is a self-confessed sceptic about what he calls Junk-Science and Pseudo-Science and a prolific author on such subjects. (see ‘The Martin Gardner Room’ on Amazon.com) He asserts that pretty well any hypnotic subject will produce a past life regression if they are directed to by the hypnotist, or, in his words; “Almost any hypnotic subject capable of going into a trance will babble about a previous incarnation if the hypnotist asks him to. He will babble just as freely about his future incarnations”. I am also inclined to agree with Psychologist Robert Baker whose documented, controlled experiments, were able to show that (a) a belief in reincarnation and (b) prior information provided to the subject, to the effect that they would definitely be experiencing past life regression, would lead to a much higher probability of such a happening taking place. Hypothetically, I am totally confident that given any reasonably responsive subject, I could persuade him or her to experience an apparent past life regression within minutes of their entering hypnosis under my guidance. I would leave them in no doubt before the induction that they “were certain to have an experience”. After session there is every possibility that my subject would have faith in the validity of what they had experienced. I am equally confident, in fact, I would unconditionally guarantee, that given a few more sessions with the same subject, I could bring them to a realisation of exactly where they had found the detail for their experience from in this life and the extent of their own use of cryptomnesia. Believe me, I am not about to do this. I ceased feeling any need to prove my own beliefs many years ago. Jung put it well “I do not need to believe because I know”
It would be unfair to write on the subject of past life regression, without mentioning “The Case of Bridey Murphy” or indeed “The Bloxham Tapes” so in the interests of fair play, here goes: Morey Bernstein, who died in 1999, took to his grave, his own belief that back in 1952 his hypnotised subject called Virginia Tighe, who he pseudonym called ‘Ruth’, had experienced a genuine past life regression as Bridey Murphy. The case attracted so much publicity that, following the publication of Bernsteins’s book called “The Search for Bridey Murphy” the events were in 1956 to inspire a film also bearing the same name. However, it is said that there is no such thing as bad publicity, only publicity and enough of it does start people asking questions. Sufficient to say that when the past life regression was submitted to extensive investigation it really did not stack up. In the light of overwhelming evidence to disprove, including the fact that a Mrs. Bridie Murphy Corkell, an Irish immigrant, once lived across the street from ‘Ruth’ and her family, there would only be Bernstein who would cling obstinately to his belief. Virginia, otherwise known as Ruth, made only one comment of any moment, in later life, which was “….the older I get, the more I want to believe it…..” Read now the regression script that Bernstein used the first time he asked
The ‘Bloxham Tapes’ were a prodigious set of 400 audio recordings made by a man called Arnall Bloxham. Each one featuring an apparent past life regression and published in written form in the Sunday Times in the 1970s. A BBC producer called Jeffrey Iverson, made a TV program based on the tapes and made himself a stack of loot by authoring a bestseller called “More Lives than one? The evidence of the Bloxham Tapes”. However, it took a man called Melvin Harris, using methods based on the work of Doctor Edwin Zolek, to dig a bit deeper into the subject person of the most famous of the tapes and her experience. She was ‘pseudonym named’ ‘Jane Evans’ and had apparently had almost as many lives as a Cheshire Cat. Harris was able to demonstrate that a considerable amount of cryptomnesia had been at work. He was able to cite the works from which the material had been obtained, all of which effectively debunked the happenings from being true past life regression. In one of her six lives, she had been called ‘Lavonia’ and told a very convincing story, with a lot of recreated emotion. However, Melvin Harris found exactly the same story and the same characters, described within the pages of “The Living Wood”, a book written by Lois de Wohl in 1947. Another life saw her as ‘Alison’ and the details she gave in the regression fitted those portrayed in a 1948 biographical novel by Thomas Costain called “The Moneyman”. Most significantly, whilst being Alison, she talked of a man called Jacques Coeur, whom she said was unmarried. In the book, Jacques Coeur was also described as unmarried but in reality he was married with five children. Pretty convincing ‘proof’ that her information did come from the book and not from genuine experience. Melvin Harris was able to show such ‘coincidences’ in all of Jane Evans regressed past lives. Unfortunately such in-depth investigation of the other 399 or so tapes has not been made. It is fairly certain, that if Doctor Edwin Zolek’s methods were used, then similar results would be obtained. Arnall Bloxham himself never did any investigation whatsoever into the possibility of more normal explanation but, in that, he is by no means alone amongst past life regressionists. Doctor Zolek recommends his method of ‘verification’ to any involved in past life regression. Simply stated it is: record the session and play it back to the subject afterwards and discuss the content. Then hypnotise the subject again and search for the possibility of crytomnesia being at work. Zolek asserts that, within only a small number of sessions the subject will gain clear insight into where their material was obtained. Not exactly rocket science is it. I think a valid point to make is that Bloxham and his like are most certainly not liars, fraudsters or hoaxers but, at worst, are merely somewhat misguided.
Many practitioners of past life regression claim that the Law of Karma lends support to the subject, because it states that what happened in a previous life, will inflict upon what happens in this life. In Buddhist teaching the Law of Karma says “for every event that occurs there will follow another event, whose existence was caused by the first. This second event, will be pleasant or unpleasant, according as its cause was skilful or unskilful.” In layman terms ‘similar actions will lead to similar results’. At the heart of Hinduism is the Law of Karma. Karma literally means ‘action’ and can be interpreted as stored reactions, which unfold to determine our destiny. My, albeit superficial, study of the Law of Karma yielded nothing to substantiate the claim that returning to and sorting out problems in past lives, would resolve problems in this life. Hinduism does make much of the transmigration of the soul. The Law of Karma says that the soul is on a journey to merge with ‘God’ or ‘universal consciousness’ or whatever name you apply to a supreme being. It acquires a physical body to make the journey and to learn lessons along the way. The soul meets and interacts with other souls and, to continue this interaction, takes on physical form again and again. This would tend to lend validity to the thoughts of past life regression, until you appreciate the undeniable fact, that the vast majority of past life regressionists, are of the Western World. On this subject, I found the writing of Madhavi Ghar truly thought provoking, without his ever coming down on a definite side of the fence. He does say that past life could explain the skills of child prodigies but also confirms the fact that non-believers of reincarnation seldom experience a past life regression. He makes a very valid point, that persons seeking help from a past life regressionist, should take all reasonable precautions, or as he puts it “keep an open mind and your wits about you when dealing with people who claim to be professionals in this field”.
Greg Paxon makes a very valid point in his book “Reincarnation and Past Life Regression - A leap through the Looking Glass” where he states that the idea of reincarnation comes to us through indigenous cultures and "Eastern Religions," because Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which together pretty much control the thinking of the Western modern world, are virtually the only religions in world history that, despite offering the hope of life after death, officially exclude the concept of reincarnation. Call me dim if you will but I would have thought that minus a belief in reincarnation, nobody could possibly have a belief in past life regression. Conversely, if you do believe in past life regression, then logic says you must believe in reincarnation.
I feel a sudden need to quote a learned professor, none less than onetime Professor of Psychology at Yale University, New Haven,
“A short while ago someone wrote on this net asking for information concerning past-life regression. I replied that anyone using past-life regression for therapeutic purposes should stop doing so immediately. Since then, I have received a remarkable number of messages asking for my reasons. Life is too short to prolong this discussion, but since the essential points can be generalized to a wide variety of topics with respect to both hypnosis and psychotherapy, allow me the cyberspace to make the following points. First, past-life regression is entirely bogus. We don't have past lives, so there's nothing to regress to. Now, I know all about the Hindus and Buddhists, but that is of course a matter of religious belief, not scientific evidence, and I am assuming that the subscribers to this list are interested in putting clinical practice on a firm scientific basis. If I am wrong about this, we are all in big trouble. But of course, references to Hindus and Buddhists are beside the point, because the vast majority of patients and therapists involved in past-life regression are Christians, Jews, and secular folk who come from a Judeo-Christian heritage (I can't think of any examples, but before someone declares a fatwa on me let me concede that there are probably religious and secular Muslims involved as well). Anyway, I doubt that it would ever occur to a practicing Hindu or Buddhist to engage in past-life regression, because what's past is past. The important thing in both traditions is to lead a good life NOW, so as to increase the likelihood of future reincarnation into a higher form of life -- a point to which I will return. In the final analysis, people who do religious healing should do religious healing, and not call it psychotherapy. After all, genuine faith healers don't call what they do medicine. One correspondent has agreed that religious belief is beside the point, but argued that past-life recall offers the person profound insights, analogous to remembering infantile sexual feelings. I'm sorry, but I don't know what kind of profound insights are to be had from an experience that is wholly illusory. What possible benefit is there to "remembering" oneself as someone one wasn't? If one concedes that the "remembering" is in fact "imagining", I repeat the question: with what possible benefit? I am prepared to believe that imagining oneself to be someone else can be beneficial, as in role-taking therapies of the sort developed by George Kelly or others in the cognitive-behavioural tradition, but setting this imagination in the context of past lives brings occult pseudoscience into what is supposed to be a scientifically based therapeutic method. It's not necessary, and it's harmful if it (1) reinforces inappropriate beliefs on the part of the patient and/or (2) makes the profession of psychotherapy look ridiculous. There is absolutely no acceptable evidence -- by which I mean that there is not even a single clinical study with anything like an acceptable design -- showing that past-life regression has positive therapeutic effects. This last point should be the clincher. Scientifically oriented psychotherapists have an affirmative professional obligation to employ only techniques that are known to be safe and efficacious.”
That extract from Professor Kihlstrom’s, possibly somewhat over the top, he posted into cyberspace, leaves us in no doubt about his own views beliefs, and disbeliefs and I have included it to show that within ‘the establishment’ there are many widely different views on the subject.
In his book “Finding your soul in the Spirituality Maze” Thayer White states that whether the idea of past lives is ‘The Truth’, is just not that important, for as one fellow therapist told Dr. Weiss (Through Time into Healing, 1992, p. 55), "I still don't know if I believe in this past life stuff but I use it, and it sure does work!" Not entirely sure I would want to overly rely on Thayer White’s opinions, as I found many of his statements start “I myself” or “I personally” and I have always been wary of such self-angrandisement. Don’t think he went quite so far as my really pet hate “I, myself, personally” though.
Dr Ian Stevenson MD, who, if he is still alive, must be well into his eighties, has to be one of the world’s most serious researchers into the subject of reincarnation and past life regression. He literally traveled the world in his search for information and found much of his evidence from the mouths of children. He found that children from as young as two and up to the age of seven, could readily experience past life regression. He made great study of birthmarks and their supposed connection to injuries received in a previous life. He wrote “Often, these children speak of people and events from previous lives – not vague lives of centuries ago, but lives of specific, identifiable individuals, who are often completely unknown to the child’s family and live in a different town or a different part or another country” In his book “Reincarnation and Biology; A contribution to the etiology of Birth Marks and Birth Defects” he details over two hundred cases of children who were able to describe their own previous death. He found in many, many cases, that the wounds they described in a previous life, corresponded to birth marks or birth defects in this life. His studies went deeper, to the extent of examining old post mortem records of the deceased the child had supposedly been. Again, in many cases, he was able to find corroboration from those records. Now with that sort of background, and with the results he obtained, you might reasonably expect the learned Doctor to be highly in favour of past life regression. No! Quite the opposite, and I quote him: “The subconscious parts of the mind are released from ordinary inhibitions and they may then present in dramatic form a new “personality.” If the subject has been instructed by the hypnotist–explicitly or implicitly–to “go back to another place and time” or given some similar guidance, the new “personality” may appear to be one of another period of history. Such evoked “previous personalities” may be extremely plausible both to the person having the experience and to other persons watching him or her…In my experience, nearly all so-called previous personalities evoked through hypnotism are entirely imaginary and a result of the patient’s eagerness to obey the hypnotist’s suggestion. It is no secret that we are all highly suggestible under hypnosis. This kind of investigation can actually be dangerous. Some people have been terribly frightened by their supposed memories, and in other cases the previous personality evoked has refused to go away for a long time.” That does not present Doctor Stevenson exactly as an advocate, would you say and that is after a lifetime’s study of the subject.
Many people have written on the subject of ‘False Memory Syndrome’, indeed, some have attacked Hypnoanalysis as being a contributor to false memories. This we know to be untrue, particularly in view of the ‘Pure techniques’ we use which lack the usual guidance from the therapist. One writer called Kathleen Flannery quotes an interesting fact in an article on false memory syndrome: “In the mid-nineties, a sniper’s shots echoed through an American playground. Several children were killed and many injured. A 1998 study of the 133 children who attended the school by psychologists Dr. Robert Pynoos and Dr. Karim Nader, experts on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among children, yielded a very bizarre discovery. Some of the children who were not on the schools grounds that day obstinately swore they had very vivid personal recollections of the attack happening.”
I remember at an Annual Conference of my professional organisation, the IAH, quite a few years ago, I was ‘the man with the mike’. A question was raised about past life regression. In somewhat playful, probably even mischievous mood and, perhaps in the hope of countering my previously acquired reputation for being a sceptic, I did a group hypnotic induction on the membership present – probably around 120 or so. Bear in mind this was a ‘closed shop’ and not for public consumption. I had stated that I was going to demonstrate past life regression so everybody was well primed. Consequently quite a few delegates had experiences. There were two that stick in my memory: No.1 was our lovely lady member Olive Blackburn, who was re-experiencing being the squaw of an Indian Chief and having just given birth to a dead papoose. Olive was extremely upset about the loss of her child within the hypnotic experience and her distress was not helped by my assertions, through the microphone, that she would have other children by her chief, because he made love to her on a hippo hide – whereas with his other two squaws he used reindeer hide. Guessed it yet? Corny or what! I told her that ‘the squaw on the hippopotamus is equal to the sum of the squaw on the other two hides’. Don’t think I earned myself any brownie points with my somewhat misplaced humour. However Olive bore me no ill will and was her usual animated self within a short time afterwards. Although I met the lovely lady many times since, I never did, from that day to this, question Olive about her experience, so can throw no light upon it. I am confident that Olive will have worked out what it was all about but, perhaps not, perhaps it was a genuine past life regression. There were others having various experiences but the most noteworthy was a male delegate. Within the hypnotic regression session I had asked, in hushed tones “remember, how did you die?” He really went into one. He was to all intents and purposes abreacting his own death. Afterwards he asserted that he had had a sword thrust into his entrails and twisted around. The man was in serious pain, writhing on the floor, scattering chairs, papers, even people, in all directions. This was not play-acting, he was really suffering and it took a lot of hypnotic persuasion to return his thoughts to the room and then release from hypnosis. I recall asking an experienced lady practitioner to take him to a quiet room to continue the calming process. (I hope that is all they got up to) In his particular case I was privy to some information that the rest of the room would be unaware of. That was the fact that the chap was very near the end of his own training-analysis and an abreaction was imminent. That leads me to state, with some degree of certainty, that his ‘past life regression’ was a symbolic representation of a fairly common complex. I later had his assurance that he had major insight into it all but I did not press him for further details, rather leaving that between him and his analyst.
Let me delve even deeper now into those grey areas. Read again about my naughty demonstration at Annual Conference and read between the lines about the male delegate. What does become clear if you have any insight into the cathartic effect of abreaction? Relax! That was a rhetorical question. The chap in question obtained therapeutic benefit from an apparent past life regression. So, far be it from me or indeed any of us, to say there is no benefit to be obtained by directing a person within hypnosis back to an apparent past life. All I will say is, that if the Past Life Regressionists, knew what I know about Hypnoanalysis as I teach it, they would have to, in all honesty, switch away from past life regression and become advocates of free association pure Hypnoanalysis. Don’t hold your breath.
I believe, by now I owe you, good reader, a word of apology. I started this article determined to be unbiased and to try and present the ‘for’ and ‘against’ as honestly as possible. Unfortunately, as I look through the foregoing, I realise that my own views have intruded, almost to the point of bigotry and I appreciate that this paper is slanted with the ‘against’. In self-defence I have to refer again to the number of apparent past life regressions that have occurred to clients in therapy with myself, all of which were satisfactorily explained. Satisfactorily explained, not only to me but, more importantly, to the entire satisfaction of the client. There are past life regressionists who claim to have carried out thousands of regressions. The highest claim I read, was for no less than 16,000, at the rate of 1,600 a year, or over 4 a day by a dentist called Bruce Goldberg D.D.S., M.S., Baltimore, about whom, Paul Kurtz, a philosophy professor and chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, said; “He is typical of the current craze for the paranormal, astrology, tarot cards, past lives, that is sweeping the country. It can be very dangerous, because he is practicing psychotherapy based on untested conjecture. It sounds as if he's abandoned his scientific credentials." Sounds to me very much as though he had abandoned dentistry too. There are thousands of past life regressionists operating throughout the world. In the light of those facts I cannot be as pedantic as Professor John Kihlstrom, in his internet posting reproduced earlier. There are hundreds and hundreds, perhaps even thousands of claims amongst the literature on the subject for verification of facts to have taken place. I think I will stick with the Bard’s comment: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
Many of you who are reading thisknow, from my previous writings, that I am ardent follower of Freud, even though I think the man missed what I called “the alchemist’s stone he was searching for”. As a practising Hypnoanalyst, I find it difficult nay, impossible, to reconcile religious beliefs, beliefs in past or future lives, beliefs in the supernatural or metapsychical, with my therapy. They are all based primarily around the concept of ‘wish fulfilment’, whereas Hypnoanalysis deals in facts. In genuine and explainable experiences. Genuine experiences of the subjects past. Those who have studied hypnoanalysis and whose own Training Analysis was thorough and conclusive, they know that ‘repressed’ or ‘pathogenic’ material soon assumes normality after recovery and interlinks to hundreds of other experiences of one’s life, making it incontrovertible. The released material cannot possibly be attributed to false memory syndrome or the hundreds of linked recalls would have to be too. The subject becomes aware that they have always known about ‘it’, but have now faced ‘it’ and ‘its’ psychological consequences by way of catharsis. Any possibility of false memory syndrome, or confabulation being at work, is rendered null and void.
There is not and never will be, a final word to say on the subject of past life regression. Even disbelievers are still interested in the subject. One thing is for sure; there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of ‘quacks’ out there, only too willing to relieve you of your children’s inheritance. Willing to guide you, to experience trauma and emotion, as a previous ‘you’. Equally though; there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of honest, caring, educated people out there, practising past life regression, who can sincerely claim to be part of the caring professions and who genuinely believe they can help you. There is overwhelming evidence to say that many thousands of people attest that they indeed, have been helped by being regressed to a past life. Despite Dr Ian Stevenson’s warnings about the potential dangers involved, there is little or no documented evidence of people claiming to have been damaged by the same process. Perhaps all the information on the subject should be submitted to a Scottish Criminal Court of Law, which, unlike other Courts in the United Kingdom or elsewhere, are allowed to return a verdict on cases of “unproven”.
I again apologise for allowing my own beliefs/disbeliefs to intrude but hope that I have delivered sufficient thought provoking information, for you to come to a conclusion of your own and to understand quite why I treated the subject so superficially in my Training Programme Successful Hypnotherapy.