Past life regression therapy raises the important question of whether our spiritual evolution on earth is attained through successive incarnations. Many oriental cultures accept pre-existence and reincarnation in one form or another. Recently these beliefs are becoming increasingly popular also in the west. An alternative view that does not embrace the idea of reincarnation is that, in past life recall, a person's unconscious may be dipping into a universal memory bank, which Jung referred to as collective unconscious, and psychically may be drawing upon a story from the past which mirrors the person's own problems. A third possibility is that the unconscious mind may be making up a story, just like in a dream. Some people doubt the reality of their experience, suspecting that their story may be a product of their imagination. Others find themselves deeply immersed in the story and the experience they report is felt to be authentic and real.
There is no conclusive evidence either in favour or against reincarnation. The jury is still out, as they say. This however, should not detract from the value of Past Life Regression Therapy. The existence of reincarnation is not a necessary prerequisite for past life work to be successful. Also a psychic experience or an imagined story created by the unconscious can offer valuable insights to the person being regressed. The regressee is nevertheless encouraged to treat the experiences that arise as if they are real and to become involved in the story. Although a small proportion of people have some difficulty being regressed, those who succeed discover, to their amazement, how their present life appears to be influenced by events that may have happened before they were born.
A healing journey
Hypnosis is a useful tool for exploring past lives, since it involves the experience of an altered psychological state, which makes a person more receptive and responsive to inner experiences. In hypnosis, it's possible to tune into levels of awareness normally not accessible to the conscious mind. Once a client has achieved hypnosis suggestions are given to facilitate past life recall.
Hypnosis is by no means the only method that allows information about past lives to surface. Woolger (1992) uses bridge techniques, which don't require hypnosis. With these techniques, a client is encouraged to delve into an experience, sensation, feeling or image they report, and to become totally immersed in it to the point that it triggers past life recall. These methods can be used when a symptom or feeling is clearly expressed by the client during a session, often repeatedly. For most people, however, past life recall is facilitated by being in a hypnotic trance.
The past life journey may begin with the client's identification with a past life character. The first experience reported may be that of being in a physical body. The narrative may begin with self-description or the description of a neutral scene. Alternatively, it may begin with a sequence of events as the past life drama unfolds. If the client is not grounded early in the therapeutic session, s/he is likely to report the experience of floating and observing the scene from the outside. While, on one hand, it is helpful to experience the past life first hand, on the other, being an observer can act as a protective mechanism and can reduce, at least initially, the emotional impact of any past life traumatic experience.
A significant component of past life therapy is the re-experience of a past life trauma. This is done differently with different therapeutic methods and ranges from the temporary removal of the client from the painful situation to the intensification of the stressful experience. Some therapists believe that the emotional stress associated with a past life trauma should not be attenuated but should be experienced fully, and possibly intensified into abreaction so that it can be released. Woolger (1987) believes that a trauma is deeply lodged in the body and needs to be re-lived in order to be released. Therefore the past life story needs to be experienced fully in the body, not from the viewpoint of a detached observer. Both the somatic release and the emotional abreaction are thought to be crucial to the full healing process. The full release of repressed emotions may not be achieved in a single session. Subsequent therapeutic sessions may also be cathartic and may result in further release of physical and emotional symptoms.
Many physical complaints, fears, phobias, compulsions, preferences, dislikes and personality traits in the present life have been shown to originate in former lives (Fiore, 1978). My client Adam discovered that his mistrust of people and paranoia in this life appeared to be linked to the experience of fear, betrayal and suffering in a past life. The age of onset of a specific symptom in the current life may be significant, and may correspond to the age when a trauma that is related to the current symptom took place in a past life. Often people re-enact past life experiences; therefore details of the current problem and of the age of onset may provide valuable clues for accessing a past life.
If a client experienced a past life as a victim, previously repressed anger may be expressed during the regression. The expression of anger must be encouraged by the therapist, since the experience of this stage is therapeutic for the client and can help transmute the negative feeling into understanding (Weiss, 1992). Other emotions, such as fear, grief, sadness, guilt need to be similarly experienced during the regression, in order for the person to be able to release them and become free of the past.
Re-experiencing the original fear inducing stimuli in a past life regression can bring relief from a present life phobia. My client Alexandra began to free herself of an inexplicable fear of large spiders when she was regressed to a past life as a man in South America and re-experienced a death caused by a poisonous spider. Going through the experience enabled her to become desensitized and detached from the fear.
The recall of a traumatic event is not a sine qua non of past life regression. People often recall pleasant past life events, tranquil scenery, bucolic lifestyles or information about past life skills and abilities. These experiences can offer clients valuable insights on what may be missing in their current busy lives and what they might do to enhance their physical and mental well-being. Several of my clients have made a fresh start in life as a result of gaining this knowledge.
The past life death experience and the after-death are valuable tools for transformation. This stage begins the process of dis-identification with the past life character. There are individual differences in the way the past life death and the inter-life are experienced and reported. Most people describe sensations of floating above a scene, moving towards the light and experiencing the spirit world. Almost everybody going through this stage describes bodily sensations of lightness and floating, and an experience of inner peace, joy and freedom. None of my clients has ever found the experience unpleasant. On the contrary, a number of them have overcome their fear of death though this process.
The after-death experience offers the opportunity to review the life just re-lived and to look at the experiences in that life from a different perspective. The client now can experience being more detached and dispassionate towards the events just re-lived. When the perception of a past life traumatic situation is changed or reframed, its impact on the current life is reduced.
The opportunity now exists to identify patterns in the current life that may originate from the life just revisited. It is useful to establish what physical, emotional and mental residues a person may take from the life being explored into the current life. Past life residues can occur at all levels of experience (somatic, emotional, cognitive) and they need to be cleared at all levels. Residues may originate through several lifetimes, so it is important to examine each one in turn to build a picture of the possible causes of present life problems. Becoming fully aware of how past life residues relate to the present life and making a conscious decision to let go of them can be a life changing experience. Forgiveness of others and self-forgiveness also enable a person to let go of the unfinished past and to make a fresh start.
Tremendous insights can be gained into current behaviour patterns from exploring past lives. A lot of healing may result from releasing blocked emotions and from forgiveness. A turning point in the current life direction is made when a client fully understands how past life experiences may have shaped the present life and is prepared to let go and start on a new path. When past behaviour patterns which operate unconsciously, compulsively and rigidly are understood and released, the opportunity is there to experience freedom from the past and to become the master of one's own destiny.
Fiore E. (1978) You Have Been Here Before. Ballantine Books, N.Y.
Weiss B.L. (1992) Through Time Into Healing. Simon & Schuster , N.Y.
Woolger R. (1987) Other Lives, Other Selves. Crucible Books, N.Y.
Woolger R. (1992) Jungian Past Life Therapy. Sounds True Recordings, Boulder , Colorado .
Dr Rita C. Fichera has a Ph.D in psychology from the University of London. She is a transpersonal (body-mind-spirit) psychologist and clinical hypnotherapist who specializes in holistic therapy for a variety of psychological and emotional problems. She runs The Phoenix Practice in London , UK. Telephone: (020) 8800 0265