Past life regression is receiving an increasing, and well deserved, amount of attention. However, it is very important for the client, and even more important for the therapist who is in the position to select the tools most appropriate for a client’s situation and goals, not to overlook that past life regression is an extension, quite literally, of “simple age regression”. Age regression is a therapeutic technique that, while fairly simple to initiate, is at the same time complex in its consequences and exceptionally rich in its potential benefits for the client. The search for insights, therapeutic opportunities, healing, and growth would do well to begin with the resources of this life, rather than “hop scotching” right past them, as so often seems to be the case at present. Further, age regression is not only an invaluable technique in and of itself, but lays a foundation upon which past life regression, if indicated or desired, can be pursued both more easily and more successfully.
Certainly this is not the appropriate forum through which to train the therapist in age regression. Undoubtedly you can find excellent professional instruction near you or via products designed for that purpose. Our purpose in writing this article is to “retrain the spotlight” on this invaluable tool, as well as to explore the many issues that revolve around its use.
WHY USE IT AT ALL?
One of the most important decisions we as practitioners make is what tools to use, and complementarily, what tools not to use, to achieve the client’s goals as well as their highest well being. That decision involves at least three factors: what we perceive to be in the best interest of the client, what we acknowledge about our own training and even more important, our real skills irrespective of our training, and finally, what we learn about the client’s own preferences. One point that is essential for the practitioner to acknowledge at the outset is that even though age regression is always “possible”, in many cases it is unnecessary, and in others, it is decidedly inappropriate.
Hypnotherapy is uniquely powerful for any number of reasons, as the reader undoubtedly is aware. One of those reasons, which distinguishes hypnotherapy importantly from certain “talk therapies”, is that in most cases it is not necessary to know the origin of an issue in order to resolve it using appropriate hypnotherapeutic techniques.
The well known mathematical principle of Occam’s Razor applies equally well to hypnotherapy: the simplest solution is the best. The therapist must always keep in mind that any regression, whether a simple age regression or a past life regression, can be like opening Pandora’s Box. Therefore, it is essential for the therapist to assess whether or not age regression is both necessary and appropriate. If not, it not only should be avoided, but to pursue it might present unnecessary risks to the client.
At the same time, and perhaps even more the case with past life regression, we are often presented with a client who explicitly requests an age regression session or series of sessions. Again, it is imperative that we uphold our responsibility to the patient (as well as to our profession), assess whether (in the patient’s best interest) that request should be honored or not, and act accordingly.
Just some of the cases in which age regression would be appropriate include: uncovering repressed trauma that must be uncovered in order for health and/or goals to be achieved; discovering the sources of compulsive behaviors or compulsive thinking that cannot be resolved otherwise; discovering the sources of fears and/or phobias, the process of which not only can be helpful but in some cases can be instrumental all by itself in helping to resolve those issues; and most obviously, in those instances when the client explicitly requests it and where the therapist then determines that it would not be detrimental to the client.
WHY NOT DO IT?
What we would term “recreational” regression is becoming more and more popular. Helping the client to explore their past via age regression can be a wonderfully rewarding experience, even when the experience is somewhat painful. However, the therapist must be aware (and has a responsibility to inform the client) of the potential for severe abreaction or at least the uncovering of past trauma that the client is unprepared to handle. The injunction, “First, do no harm.” applies to hypnotherapy no less than to any other therapy, and the therapist is the only party in a position even to be aware of, much less help the client avoid, the risks potentially present in any regression. In this case especially, the standard mantra that the client is responsible for the outcome is not only unfair but dangerous.
It is all the more imperative, then, that the therapist first obtain the proper training and experience, and thereafter not only accept responsibility for the process, but be certain they are prepared to handle the unexpected. Certainly the client remains responsible for the processing of the outcome, but that is only provided that the client has the capacity to do that processing even in the face of an outcome that is utterly unanticipated and extremely traumatic.
Thus the therapist needs three skills even beyond the skill of assisting the client in initiating the regression. The therapist must have skill first and foremost in assessing, as best as can reasonably be done, whether the process would put the client at unnecessary risk, skill in guiding the process as the regression evolves, and skill not merely in “bringing the client up” at the end, but in aborting the process in the face of extreme abreaction other trauma, or “simply” when it becomes clear that the process is not serving the client’s best interest.
GOAL DIRECTED VS. EXPLORATORY REGRESSION
As the terms would imply, in the first case the regression is undertaken with a specific goal in mind, for example, discovering the source of a phobia. (Allow us to insert that phobia is an excellent example of a case where regression might not be necessary at all. As the reader may well know, progressive desensitization is extremely effective as a stand-alone technique in resolving phobias.) In the second case, the regression is undertaken simply to discover what it might reveal, in the hope that the experience will be helpful or even fun - hence the term “recreational”, which is not at all intended to be pejorative.
Goal directed age regression is easier to guide and control, as well as easier to assess. Notice that there are two levels to success or failure in such regressions. For true success, the client must succeed in more that discovering the insight or event they were after. They also must succeed in processing that discovery in a way that helps them reach the goal that the regression was intended to serve. Clearly, a client can succeed in the regression, but still fail in effectively processing the outcome.
The therapist must be aware that, while the chances of such an instance occurring might be small, there always remains some possibility that it could occur and, further, that the experience could do more damage than if the regression had not been done at all.
One safeguard we would recommend is to use what we term “filtering” suggestions. That is, not only during the induction but even in the pre-talk, prepare the client to expect only those discoveries and experiences that will be helpful and that will be able to handle, and assure them that they will be able, easily and freely, to dismiss any discoveries or experiences that are unhelpful or are more uncomfortable than the client wishes to handle. Obviously, too, the therapist must remain alert to the fact that such filtering is effective in most cases, but not in all cases, and must always be prepared to handle a negative turn in the process.
That safeguard is all the more important in the case of exploratory age regressions. In such cases there is no goal other than whatever the process will reveal. It is easy to lull one’s self into the attitude that since there is no goal, the process is easier for the therapist than goal directed regression and can simply be allowed to unfold. In fact, the reverse is true. Precisely because there is no goal, the process has no direction. Therefore it is both more difficult to guide, and, let us not shy away from the proper term, potentially more dangerous for the client. Thus, while the process can indeed be informative and fun, the therapist must not only prepare the client properly with filtering suggestions, but also must be even more involved in the process, and more vigilant to negative indications, than in goal-directed age regression which is likely to be a much more “narrow” process.
Though it might not be necessary, allow us to clarify that we are not advocating that an age regression be aborted at the first sign of negativity or trauma. We are, however, urging practitioners to be prepared for those possibilities, to stay alert for them, and to be able to abort the process safely when indicated.
A WORD ABOUT GUIDING THE PROCESS
As we stated at the outset, this is not the place to train the reader in the process. However, we do think it important to stress that guiding the process should follow three principles. First and foremost it should not exceed the therapist’s own training and ability to control. Second it should provide support for where the regression naturally wants to go. If it begins to go far afield of the goals of the session, the therapist must have the skill to guide it back gently and organically, not try to yank it back abruptly. Finally, the therapist must choose words and phrase questions with extreme care so as to avoid creating a false memory syndrome. What could serve the client worse than to have them think they have made an important discovery that goes perhaps not only to the heart of their goal but even to the heart of their being, when that discovery is in reality, an artifice produced by the process?
SPONTANEOUS AGE REGRESSION
Be aware that age regression does not only occur when that is the purpose of the session. Many practitioners, including ourselves, have seen numerous instances where age regression occurs spontaneously in the middle of a session undertaken with an entirely different goal. In our opinion, there can be no clearer sign that age regression is what the client needs at that point, and so our own choice, though it need not be yours, of course, is always to support the regression. At the same time, and obviously without disturbing the trance, we always “educate” the client, employ filtering suggestions, and even obtain the client’s consent, either verbally or via ideomotor response, whichever is most appropriate under the circumstances.
A WORD ABOUT INDUCTIONS
For whatever help it may be to the reader, allow us to share our own experience regarding inductions. For a rich and effective age regression experience, it is important that the client achieve both deep somnambulism and deep relaxation (there is a difference). While effective and appropriate in many cases, we have found that rapid inductions are too abrupt to enable the client to achieve the optimum relaxation level in this particular instance. Conversely, the well known progressive relaxation induction can be unnecessarily long. What we have found to be ideal is the classic “Elman” induction. It has the multiple advantages of achieving deep somnambulism and deep relaxation, while doing so gradually and yet in much less time than progressive relaxation. At the same time, it has the additional advantage of having built-in “tests” that automatically counter any potential for the client to question whether or not they were truly hypnotized. Of course, there is never one single induction that is best for every situation with every client and the therapist should always feel free to select, adapt, or create the induction that will work best for a particular client in a specific session.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FOLLOW UP
No matter how successful an age regression might appear to be, or how satisfied the client may seem, it is nonetheless an extremely involved process the full impact of which may not even be known, much less processed immediately. Therefore, even in the case of a single-session regression, a second session for follow-up is imperative. It is amazing what the client may discover, process, or display after the age regression has had a week to “incubate” and it is overwhelmingly to the client’s advantage to be able to work with the therapist at that point. Enlighten your clients to that fact and encourage – even insist – that they book the follow-up session at the same time that they book the age regression session. You will both be extremely pleased with the results.
Age regression can be an highly valuable and rewarding experience for the client. However it is the therapists responsibility to ensure that he/she has both the training and the skill not only to initiate a regression, but also a) to determine when it is appropriate and when it is not, b) when it is appropriate, to guide the process effectively, c) to assist the client in processing the outcome in the manner that best serves their highest well being, and, finally, d) to abort the process when necessary. Further, in that latter event, the therapist also needs to ensure that the client is helped through the experience and is not harmed by it. Lastly, be aware that age regression might present itself spontaneously in the course of a session intended for an entirely different purpose. The better trained and prepared you are to support the process, the more you will be able to help your clients and, of course, the stronger you will be able to build your practice.
David Weltman holds an M.A. in Psychology from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from Pace University, in addition to hypnotherapy certifications from multiple national and international organizations. Through his company, Phoenix Rising, LLC, he maintains practices in hypnotherapy and personal and professional development, with offices located in Stamford and Ridgefield, Connecticut. David is a frequent guest on both television and radio, as well as a dynamic public speaker and published author. He can be reached by phone at 203-353-8558, by fax at 203-353-8258, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.