by Hans TenDam
Past-life therapy is regression therapy accepting that scenes from apparent past lives may emerge. Regression therapy derives its name from its method: recovering and reliving past experiences cathartically. Though reliving cathartically is sometimes sufficient, regression proper often has to be complemented by working with subpersonalities, sometimes called egostate therapy: having the present personality communicate with the child or the past life that had the traumatic experience. In the present lifetime, this work is called Inner Child work, in past lifetimes, this is called working with pseudo-obsessors: treating and integrating disturbing past-life personalities.
The second complement of regression is bio-energetically: discovering and processing old residues – including those from past lives – that clutter our system and that we still may experience physically. Regression therapy in the wide sense includes Inner Child work and bio-energetic work, and the same holds for past-life therapy.
So past-life therapy is an expanded and specialized form of regression therapy. What should a broad regression therapist who works in this life only, have to learn extra to become a broad past-life therapist?
* Guiding death experiences, including what happens immediately after death up till the life review, if any.
* Guiding the life preparation, including planning, preview and choice of parents.
* Discovering and processing past-life elements in experiences from this lifetime, including prenatal experiences in the womb, that explain mental and emotional responses in this life.
Both working with subpersonalities and working bio-energetically, often may lead to discovering what those two field respectively call attachments and foreign energies: charges, subpersonalities and even complete personalities of others. In the last case, we deal with attachment by deceased people. Sometimes, attachments appear to come from people we knew in a previous lifetime. Consequentially, past-life therapy includes removing karmic attachments.
In regressing to infancy, birth and the time in the womb, children often respond, consider and decide in a way that betrays an adult background, an adult awareness. Like adults have Inner Children, children have Inner Adults. Past-life therapists take those Inner Adults seriously and discover in them previous lifetimes or conclusions and decisions from the intermission between death and rebirth. When processing an apparently relevant childhood trauma gives only half results, past-life therapy will go farther back.
Past-life therapy is generally short therapy, though the sessions are longer and more intensive than is usual in psychotherapy. Denys Kelsey, who could compare past-life therapy with his previous work as a psychiatrist and to the work of his colleagues, said (Graham 1976), “In a maximum of twelve hours of regression therapy, I can accomplish what will take a psychoanalyst three years.”
The research of Rabia Clark (1995) shows that most therapists (74%) combine working in past lives with other methods and forms of therapy. Most frequently mentioned are NLP (52%), hypnotherapy – including the Ericksonian hypnotherapy (37 %), and Gestalt (20%). Meanwhile, Inner Child work will also belong in this shortlist. Many therapists (26%) also do past-life therapy with children, from about eight years of age. The main motives are childhood fears and phobias. Other motives are bed-wetting, dyslexia, depression, anger and hyperactivity. Some work with even younger children, in fact from the time they begin to speak. Carol Bowman (2000) gives examples of both mothers and young children.
How often do patients relate previous lifetimes if asked to return to the first cause of their problem? About one third of my patients, after an open suggestion, arrive in a past life, about one third remain in this life, and about one third relive childhood events that appear to be restimulations of older traumas. Shakuntala Modi found, with more serious patients, that 70% had symptoms originating from past lives. Brian Weiss (1993) found that about 40% of his patients had to go to past lives to solve their problems:
Regression to an earlier period of this present-day lifetime is usually fruitful enough for most of the remainder. For those first 40 percent, however, regression to previous lifetimes is key to a cure. The best therapist working within the classically accepted limits of the single life-time will not be able to effect a complete cure for the patient whose symptoms were caused by a trauma that occurred in a previous lifetime, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of years ago. But when past life therapy is used to bring these long-repressed memories to awareness, improvement in the current symptoms is usually swift and dramatic.
Some patients prefer to indulge in past lives while they resist confronting bad feelings and bad experiences from their childhood. On the average, working in this lifetime is emotionally more taxing. Working in past lifetimes usually is mentally more taxing, and the somatics are probably more intense while working in past lives, except for reliving serious physical trauma in this life, like accidents or violence.
Indications and counter indications
For what kind of problems people seek past-life therapy? Or when do therapists who have more options, apply this therapy? We have ample information on this: a survey in 1988 among the members of APRT, the professional association in the USA, a similar survey among the members of the NVRT, the professional association in the Netherlands, the survey of Rabia Clark in 1995. Garritt Oppenheim (1990), Hans TenDam (1993) and Shakuntala Modi (1998) also present lists. The big four of motives for past-life therapy appear to be:
1. Fears and phobias.
2. Relationship problems and problems of connecting with people in general.
4. Physical complaints without medical explanation or not responding to medical care.
After those four, the most common other motives are:
5. Sexual problems.
7. Obesity and eating disorders.
Oppenheim and Ten Dam mention uncontrollable anger as a motive and Oppenheim gives some interesting specific motives like writer’s block and stage fright (Oppenheim 1990).
What problems and which patients are unfit for regression and past-life therapy? The first condition for regression therapy is that we can communicate with the patient. We cannot do regression therapy with patients who we cannot talk to because they are mentally too retarded, too heavily drugged, too psychotic – so they cannot hold on to their own thoughts and feelings, or the reverse: they cannot let go of them, or because they are too autistic. For regression we need people who can explore their thoughts and feelings and can distinguish fact and fiction. Few psychotics qualify.
Morris Netherton considers working with schizophrenics possible, but only within an institution. He starts with imagination and gradually moves to real regression. It works, but slowly and limited. With autistic children he had no success. An alcoholic has to be free from alcohol for about three days to regress successfully. People using barbiturates or other tranquillizers have to detoxify before starting regression therapy.
Roger Woolger considers working in past lives for many too intense. They have no need to reopen old sores in their psyche, but need a personal, therapeutic relationship to rebuild their confidence in life and in themselves. Others find it difficult to visualize and to internalize. Oppenheim mention as counter indications (1990):
* patients with acute anxiety attacks,
* those acutely confused,
* those in acute depression,
* those with severe acute psychotic symptoms.
* patients who ask for hypnosis to stop smoking or lose weight or improve their golf scores or achieve similar goals – they can nearly always attain their goals without deep-level probing,
* patients deeply rooted in religious teachings who back away of reincarnation,
* macho patients (including women) scoffing at anything mystical or paranormal as ‘crackpot’ or ‘weirdo.’
Patients may be neurotic, tremble with fear, hear voices, have multiple personalities, are depressive, suicidal or murderous. As long as they want to work, as long as they assume responsibility, we can work with them. We cannot work with dependent people. Assuming responsibility is a condition for any therapy that is insight-oriented.
People with ‘patient mentality’, even after apparently successful regressions, hardly improve. People addicted to their suffering are rather cases for ‘antitherapy’, jolting them out of the standard patient – therapist relationship. Others are walking case files: they regurgle all their previous diagnoses and can talk about themselves only in psychobabble or psychiatric jargon.
Also people who refuse to be patients are unfit. They refuse suffering in all its forms (they have forgotten to feel, as feeling is too painful or too threatening), and so are unfit for explorative, insight-oriented therapies. They refuse to relax and want to interpret, comment and rationalize anything remotely resembling a significant experience or emotion. Who cannot live, cannot relive. Interesting as an intellectual ball game, but a dead-end road to catharsis. People who want to get rid of their problems without finding out the causes, sometimes may be helped by antitherapy or paradoxical therapy, and often by behavioral therapy or classical hypnotherapy.
For many, past-life therapy still has a sensational ring and so it attracts professional sufferers who want to add it to their collection of near-hits. Also, past-life therapy is mainly known in alternative, spiritual circles. Many have been told by people who just discovered they are psychic, that they have a hole in their aura because in a past life they dabbled in black magic. People who visited others to hear things about themselves, expect a therapist to do the same. They don’t come to do produce, but to consume. Or they want psychic surgery. They want to be hypnotized and come back to their senses when everything is over. Or they want to witness a miracle healing. The worst assume they are entitled to that. They have suffered enough and they pray so seriously for being healed. Others want to hear that they are a special, an uncommonly difficult case.
Only few past-life therapists like to work with drug addicts. They get images, but usually both chaotic and tedious. It seems as if their tapes have come loose and are entangled. Scientologists believe that each drug is tied to a specific emotion, and they rigorously pursue the separate emotion lines one by one.
Ten suitable motives for regression therapy and past-life therapy are:
* Old anguish: paralyzing fear, roaring despair, waves of grief, mountains of sorrow, maddening confusion. This comes from old traumas that we track down and resolve with straight regression.
* Be stuck. See no way out. Simmering impotent rage. Next to straight regression (often to death experiences or long incarcerations), bodily work (like acupressure) and bioenergetic interventions are indicated, till freedom has been won back and the blocked energy flows again.
* Loneliness and desolation. This requires regression to the beginning of these feelings and especially to before that: homing.
* Inhibition. Never mingling easily. Feeling an outsider, a spectator. Feeling clumsy, shy, withdrawn. Often guilt or shame are involved, real or talked into. Personification (working with subpersonalities), mainly Inner Child work, is indicated.
* Submissiveness. Over-adapting to others. Lack of assertiveness. Not being able to stand in your own space and energy.
* Be lost. Having lost the way or not knowing what way to take.
* The body resists. Physical complaints without medical cause or not responding to medical treatment.
* Ineffective insight. We know what the problem is, we know what to do. But nothing changes
* Relationship problems. Being entangled with somebody else. Efforts to disentangle are in vain.
* Self-discovery. The search for unknown, undiscovered parts of ourselves or unsuspected talents. Curiosity. Free explorations rather than therapy.
Past-life therapy often helps where other forms of psychotherapy halt. Its methodical basis: regression, is simple. Lay hypnotists can quickly score, though objections can be made against that. Practitioners at least have to be able to establish relationships of trust, to counsel, and to deal with emotions. And they need practical wisdom. A background in psychology and in other forms of psychotherapy is desirable.
Regressions and personifications quickly uncover the source of most problems. Who wants to work with those methods, but doesn’t believe in real past-life or prenatal experiences, may consider those experiences as diagnostic psychodrama and treat it as such. As long as the experiences are taken seriously as experiences.
A seasoned therapist can at many different moments during reliving and processing apply other psychotherapeutic insights or methods. Practical knowledge of e.g. Individual Psychology or Gestalt Therapy is desirable. Past-life therapy can be combined profitably with other insight-oriented forms of psychotherapy. Just finding and repeating and releasing traumatic experiences and close of with positive suggestion, often helps, but is too limited a repertory for a practicing past-life therapist.
Past-life therapy always starts just as regression therapy. Traumas, postulates or hangovers also originate in the present life, and pseudo-obsessions may come from multiple personalities. The only really specific elements in past-life therapy, compared to present-life regressions, are dealing with afterdeath and prebirth issues. With hangovers this is often necessary, with pseudo-obsessions always.
Introductory relaxation, visualization or hypnosis are usually a waste of time. The only thing that counts, is to find the right “bridge”, the most natural entry. The simplest bridge that is sufficient as an induction is localizing an actual emotion in the body. But for many people, emotions are remote or their body is remote. As many traumas, hangovers and pseudo-obsessions have some postulates tied in, we can use those as entry points. Postulates are embodied in key sentences. Repetition of the key sentence often unlocks the underlying problem.
Over the emotional bridge, somatic bridge or postulate bridge we can uncover those four types of problems. While dealing with them, we’ll find out to what extent they originated where. Sometimes we first need to resolve the traumatic death of the preceding life, before the patient can work on childhood problems, but the other way round may be more common.
Five different schools of past-life therapy
Practitioners in this field conceive of it in five different ways:
1. Real reliving is unnecessary. People only need to know what happened. If they cannot remember, we ask the higher self, interview a guide, or somebody else can see it for them. The knowledge gained often is used in a religious way: admonishment, prayer, forgiving ourselves and others, etc.
2. People have to relive, but not in full. They only have to understand what happened. If, unfortunately, reliving becomes difficult, tense or painful, we get them out and have them replay everything from a distance, without having to feel the impact. Like an American colleague said: “Reliving trauma is only retraumatizing.”
3. Full reliving is in itself healing.
4. Full reliving is the first step only. Repetitions are necessary till the traumatic episode is being relived calmly.
5. Full reliving is necessary, but only new understanding brings full release. The original experience remains charged, but appears in a new light. People are no longer burdened. They are unstuck.
The first approach is not true past-life therapy, but a psychic consult telling people what they have done or experienced in past lives that explains why they are not radiantly happy today. The consult may be complemented by psychic treatment like Reiki, aura healing or chakra healing. For people who cannot work themselves (autistics, psychotics, retards, infants) a godsend. For people who do not want to work (professional patients and professional consumers) an escape. For people who want to work and who can work a delay – and a handicap, as they cannot enter later sessions with an open mind. Franklin Loehr wrote in Psychography:
The clinician himself is not — repeat NOT – to use regression therapy of his clients for his own psychic development. The client’s past-life recall is his experience. For the clinician to “feel along with it,” to psychically pick it up or even to precognitize it, detracts from the quality of the client’s experience. I learned this early. I have 40 years experience as a psychic channel . . . but I scrupulously keep my work with a recall client to that of a clinician and counselor only. I remember speaking for a group of regression therapists, and overhearing one boast how he could “go along all the way” with his client. No! Your client pays you to be a skillful psychotherapist, not a sidewalk fortuneteller.
In the Netherlands, quite a number of people advertise themselves as past-life therapist, and then tell you about your previous lives. It is rarely useful, often the reverse. In Japan, Hiroshi Motoyama works this way. Just like many of his colleagues in the West, he advises to meditate and pray (Motoyama 1992). It is unsound psychology, even worse: it prevents people to heal themselves. Other so-called therapists croon at every incident during the reliving that people should forgive. The clients hardly understand what is going, they don’t know the causes, they don’t know the consequences, but something bad is going on, so let’s forgive and ask for forgiveness! I have witnessed sessions that were interrupted every ten or fifteen minutes by visualizing golden cups filled with a radiant golden liquid. Yes, your guess is right: forgiveness to the brim.
An interesting variant of this first school is exploring past lives by testing the arm or an other body part. Kinesiology is using the body of the client as an oracle. It resembles swinging the pendulum, but uses variations in muscle tension. It is no therapy, but an interesting alternative as induction and exploration. Ultimately, it comes down to reliving. This method may be indicated for people who have difficulty visualizing. The findings of kinesiologists correspond fully with experiences from regular past-life regressions. Kinesiology has all the advantages – and disadvantages – of consulting the subconscious by using the body. If the conscious part is done also, the disadvantages may be compensated and the advantages may remain.
Many therapists of the second approach easily consult the higher self of the patient and evoke spiritual guides. Guides may be asked if regression is permitted or useful and what would be a good entry point. Sessions may wobble between regression and channeling. Some therapists let their own guide communicate with the guide of the patient. Naturally, many sessions are about the deceased, including attachments. In the better sessions, guides do not present themselves as higher beings, but as friends and acquaintances from past lives, or a deceased family member of this life. Some therapists working this way add – rightly – that a guide who prescribes you what to do, is not a guide, but an intruder.
This approach has its limits. Real neurotics cannot be helped this way, because it contains little psychotherapy. The darker sides of human nature, and evil, also cannot be dealt with this way. This approach is not enough grounded for that. But pretty often it may work, and if it works, it works simply and quickly. Especially sessions with children may be beautiful.
A good example of the third approach to past-life therapy is Brian Weiss’s report on the hypnotic sessions he did with one of his patients. To his surprise, those sessions spontaneously led to past lifetimes. In the same hypnotic condition, messages came through from guides, which explains the title of the book: Many Lives, Many Masters (1987). However, somebody who lacks a body is nor necessarily a master, and it remainbs strange to find that an intelligent, critical and well-educated psychiatrist drops his jaw when things are said from the Beyond that range from quite reasonable to platitudes and generalities.
More interesting is that people may be cured dramatically, just by reliving, without any therapeutic processing. Unfortunately, in practice this is not always the case, but it is enlightening to have another extensive case study. This is an honest book from a distinguished and unimpeachable psychiatrist, who reports in wonder, but truthfully about an experience that went against the grain of his profession. A convincing book from a courageous man.
An example of the forth approach is the oldest known form of regression therapy: dianetics of L. Ron Hubbard (1950). All episodes of lessened consciousness, physical or emotional pain lead to engrams, as he calls them. Identifying and repeated reliving of those engrams leads to discharge. His ideas resemble those of Columbus: obstinate misconceptions, but epoch-making results. Like many pioneers, his significance is more in opening new territory than in developing a handy conceptual framework. His methods are rigid, probably effective, but inefficient. Intense opposition against his approach has led to a self-contained empire of cleared people, maintaining itself with the ample proceeds of the time-consuming clearing of others. Out of dianetics came scientology, operating under duress. Scientology is a bastion, formed by a religious denomination, by copyrights on each sentence, and a tenacity resembling Jehovah’s Witnesses. Scientologists don’t canvass at your doorstep, but harass you by mail. Let’s describe briefly the therapy of Ron Hubbard without the jargon, and without fully justifying his methodology.
The remigrant or patient holds in his hands two tin cans or other electrodes connected to an E-meter, measuring skin resistance. The therapist, called auditor, keeps track of the meter. The auditor counts back in time, till he hits a traumatic episode, indicated by the E-meter showing lower skin resistance. He dates this period precisely and establishes its duration precisely. By questioning, he clarifies the initial situation. He asks the remigrant what he sees. From an often insignificant detail he develops the situation in full. Then he asks the remigrant to go over the whole episode in his mind. The E-meter shows to what extent this is done effectively. Then he asks to tell the experience. Usually, emotions have lessened somewhat in the telling, but did not discharge completely. He has the agony traversed many times till the remigrant remains completely calm. The auditor then asks if there is another situation linked to this one, which has to be traversed. If the E-meter shows a reaction (similar to the use of finger signals), he searches for those other episodes and processes them likewise.
Often the remigrant blocks. He prefers to avoid an experience, doesn’t see anything, impressions remain vague or he glosses over things. So the engram is not released. Questions that open the engram are: ‘what can you sense? What precisely do you see? What can you confront? What can you be responsible for?’
Many engrams are anchored in postulates: the conclusions and decisions we used to deal with the situation. Examples are: “It isn’t really happening.” Or: “I will nevermore show how I feel.” Remigrants can recount an episode in four or five versions before they recount what really happened, what they really did. Even then, processing may be incomplete because the embedded postulates still have to be resolved.
Hubbard’s procedures are strict. The auditor has the remigrant recount a traumatic episode till the E-meter shows no reflections anymore. Hubbard gives several examples of the tenacity of scientologists, including one case of forty hours working at one situation (Hubbard 1958).
Later approaches that connect past-life therapy to behavioral therapy, are in one respect even more primitive: discharge is sought by mere repetition, while scientology stresses confronting the situation and taking responsibility, be it in a mechanical way.
Stanislav Grof is an example of the fifth, cathartic approach. Typical for Grof’s approach is strongly somatic induction (forced breathing) and strongly somatic processing. Other therapists stress mental processing: understanding and reinterpreting. Often a therapy has positive effects, but takes long or leads to inconclusive results, because mental processing was neglected, or the reverse: because somatic processing was neglected. Occasionally, mental processing and somatic processing have both been done while the emotions have been neglected. Lasting catharsis presupposes that work has been done and results have been booked on four levels: mental, sensory, emotional and physical. Well-known examples of this fifth school are Morris Netherton, Roger Woolger and Hans TenDam.
According to Ron Hubbard (1958) 82% of people clearly improve psychologically and physically after past-life therapy. General belief or disbelief in reincarnation has no influence on its success. The only condition is that apparent experiences from other times are accepted as meaningful subjective material, without continuously wondering about their objective truth. Several studies show that past-life regressions diminished psychotism scores, and enhanced the reality perception scores of patients. Also extraversion increases, another indication that reality orientation improves.
Rabia Clark writes that therapists report most often success with relationship problems and phobias, and the least success with obesity, addictions and depression. Brian Weiss found (1993) the success rate increasing from 50% to 70% by careful intake and by carefully connecting past-life experiences to (childhood) experiences in this lifetime.
Success certainly is not only a question of the right methods. Past-life therapy, like most psychotherapy, is more than applying skills; it also depends on the person of the therapist. A good therapist is weathered and mild, all friendliness and scars.
Early works. Ron Hubbard wrote Dianetics (1950), a thick and controversial book of somebody who became even more controversial since. For the practicing professional, study of this work is a must, despite the prolixity and obstinacy that seem to be inherent in pioneering works. Hubbard’s later book about past-life regressions (1958) is the opposite of prolix, but unfortunately badly organized and presented.
One of the first books about the relationship between past lives and therapy, from Inácio Ferreira (1955) is interesting to read, but at the same time disappointing, Mediums identify the causes of eleven psychiatric cases in past lives. The cases seem valid and the restimulations in the present life are interesting and credible. What is being done with that? Absolutely nothing. This is no precursor of past-life therapy. Karl Muller (1970) later gives many examples of spiritist past-life therapy, mainly about karmic obsessors.
Another early book is that of Denys Kelsey and Joan Grant (1967), but they do not give examples from sessions. Kelsey’s new book, posthumously published, does (Kelsey 2007).
Works in English. Past-life therapy really starts in 1978 with the now classical works of Edith Fiore and Morris Netherton. Another good read is the book by Glenn Williston & Judith Johnstone (1983). Florence Wagner McClain (1986) wrote a practical and informative brochure, an almost ideal introduction to regression therapy for potential clients. The only objection is that she suggests that anybody can experiment with regressions and that guidance is just knowing what questions to ask. Joel Whitton (1986) is interesting and illuminating, especially about the intermission period, but uses classical hypnotic induction and classical psychiatry and hardly offers specific methodology.
Past-Life Therapy in Action by Dick Sutphen and Lauren Taylor (1987) is the best presentation of Sutphen’s way of working.
Roger Woolger wrote one of the best books on past-life therapy (1987). He makes it crystal clear that regression is only the beginning of therapy.
The first, already mentioned, book by Brian Weiss (1988) was the report of a psychiatrist that stumbled into past lives. His second book (1993) is already much more interesting. His colleague Robert Jarmon is a psychiatrist who likewise discovered past lives by accident. Though the regression techniques and insights in the whole process remain somewhat superficial, we have her a true, professional therapist at work. Also interesting is that he intersperses regression cases with other cases from his practice as a medical doctor and a psychiatrist, like near-death experiences and psychic experiences of non-psychic people. Good stories, well told (Jarmon 1997). A third American psychiatrist, who stumbled into past lives and wrote about her findings, is Shakuntala Modi. She gives interesting statistics of her therapy practice (1997).
Garrett Oppenheim gives good examples of therapies (1990). Winafred Lucas wrote and edited two volumes in which she has ten therapists explain their way of working (1993). A must for the practicing therapist!
Rabia Lynn Clark wrote her doctoral thesis on past-life therapy (1995). She inventorizes how past-life therapists work, what they work on, how long and with what results. Hans TenDam wrote Deep Healing (1996) and Andy Tomlinson recently described his therapy work and its consequences (2006).
Works in German. The first German past-life therapist who published, was Thorvald Dethlefsen (1976). Werner Koch is an other therapist, apparently experienced, but posturing as if he invented past-life therapy (1992). Far better are the books by the Swede Jan-Erik Sigdell (1993, 2006) who worked many years from Switzerland and now in Slovenia. Good reads are the books by Ulrich Kramer (2006). Marianne Carolus explains past-life therapy in anthroposophical terms (2006).
This text is an abbreviation and an update of chapter 16 in Hans TenDam’s Exploring Reincarnation (2003).