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past life regression

Past life regression (PLR) is the alleged journeying into one's past lives while hypnotized. While it is true that many patients recall past lives, it is highly probable that their memories are false memories. The memories are from experiences in this life, pure products of the imagination, intentional or unintentional suggestions from the hypnotist, or confabulations.

Some New Age therapists do PLR therapy under the guise of personal growth; others under the guise of healing. As a tool for New Age explorers, there may be little harm in encouraging people to remember what are probably false memories about their living in earlier centuries or for encouraging them to go forward in time and glimpse into the future. But as a method of healing, it must be apparent even to the most superficial of therapists that there are great dangers in encouraging patients to create delusions. Some false memories may be harmless, but others can be devastating. They can increase a person's suffering, as well as destroy loving relationships with family members. The care with which hypnosis should be used seems obvious.

Some therapists think hypnosis opens a window to the unconscious mind where memories of past lives are stored. How memories of past lives get into the unconscious mind of a person is not known, but advocates loosely adhere to a doctrine of reincarnation, even though such a doctrine does not require a belief in the unconscious mind as a reservoir of memories of past lives. 

PLR therapists claim that past life regression is essential to healing and helping their patients. Some therapists claim that past life therapy can help even those who don't believe in past lives. The practice is given undeserved credibility because of the credentials of some of its leading advocates, e.g., Brian L. Weiss, M.D., who is a graduate of Columbia University and Yale Medical School and Chairman Emeritus of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami. There are no medical internships in PLR therapy, nor does being a medical doctor grant one special authority in metaphysics, the occult or the supernatural.

reincarnation and PLR

Psychologist Robert Baker demonstrated that belief in reincarnation is the greatest predictor of whether a subject would have a past-life memory while under past life regression hypnotherapy. Furthermore, Baker demonstrated that the subject's expectations significantly affect the past-life regressive session. He divided a group of 60 students into three groups. He told the first group that they were about to experience an exciting new therapy that could help them uncover their past lives. Eighty-five per cent in this group were successful in "remembering" a past life. He told the second group that they were to learn about a therapy which may or may not work to engender past-life memories. In this group, the success rate was 60%. He told the third group that the therapy was crazy and that normal people generally do not experience a past life. Only 10% of this group had a past-life "memory."

There are at least two attractive features of past life regression. Since therapists charge by the hour, the need to explore centuries instead of years will greatly extend the length of time a patient will need to be "treated," thereby increasing the cost of therapy. Secondly, the therapist and patient can usually speculate wildly without much fear of being contradicted by the facts. However, this can backfire if anyone bothers to investigate the matter, as in the case of Bridey Murphy, the case that started this craze in 1952.

See also the Bloxham tapes, Bridey Murphy, cryptomnesia, dianetics, channeling, hypnosismemory, and Mass Media Bunk 4.

reader comments

further reading

books and articles

Baker, Robert A. Hidden Memories: Voices and Visions From Within (Buffalo, N.Y. : Prometheus Books, 1992.)

Baker, Robert. "The Aliens Among Us: Hypnotic Regression Revisited," The Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 1987-88.

Baker, Robert A. They Call It Hypnosis (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1990).

Harris, Melvin. Investigating the Unexplained (Prometheus Books 2003). Chapters 16-18 concern reincarnation and past-life regression.

Spanos, Nicholas. "Past-life Hypnotic Regression: A Critical View," Skeptical Inquirer 12, no.2 (Winter 1987-88) 174-180.


"Past lives" gurus bring their side-show schtick to Tampa Bay by Gary P. Posner, M.D.

A Case of Reincarnation -- Reexamined Joe Nickell (the case of Jenny Cockell)

In a former life she was a gay man (The Edmonton Journal/May 16, 2003)

news stories

[Israeli] Health Ministry to hypnotists: Stop helping clients explore past lives

A special Health Ministry committee heard complaints from patients who said that they had sustained serious emotional damage because of reincarnation hypnosis sessions. The Health Ministry told hypnotists in Israel that they are to refrain from helping clients explore past lives.

One 23-year-old man being treated for depression after a relationship soured, told that he might have experienced an event in a past life which is now making it difficult for him to let go of his partner, blamed his panic attacks and respiratory problems on the treatment. He was led to feel he was in a coffin.

The session turned south when the man became emotionally stuck in an experience which made him feel as though he was enclosed in a coffin. He began to gasp for breath. After the session the man suffered repeated panic attacks and respiratory problems, and he was referred for medical and psychiatric care. Dr. Alex Aviv, from the Abarbanel Mental Health Center in Bat Yam, said: "The patient suffered from a false memory (of being in a coffin) which had been implanted into him and needed correction." Aviv headed the advisory committee.

"This is a mystical practice for people who believe in reincarnation. We've seen a number of cases where practitioners tried to perform this on patients and things went bad," Aviv said.

The ministry did not ban the practice, however. Only authorized hypnosis therapists, whose practice is recognized by the ministry, are banned. Freelance past life regression hypnotists may continue to harm people at will.

book review

Jon Danzig's review of Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives by Brian L. Weiss "Dr Weiss has conducted his research without scientific protocols or peer review, yet as a 'scientist,' Dr Weiss should have the skills and resources necessary to have conducted his 'investigation' properly and scientifically. The fact that he chose not to has, I believe, discredited his book as a work of fairy tale-like fiction. Rather than a conventional review, I will go through some of the claims made in the book, page by page, and show how it's full of nonsense."Last updated 27-Oct-2015

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