For some people, hypnotherapy is magic. The truth is more mundane. Hypnotherapy enables your mind to imagine things, to focus on single ideas, guided by your therapist, who can suggest ideas and help you create positive images and hear positive coping statements while in hypnosis.

What is past life regression?

Past life regression – not to be confused with regression, or time-line therapy – claims to help individuals uncover or re-live a previous incarnation. The theory is that while in hypnosis, people can access memories of a previous life. Unfortunately, there is no scientific proof of this. Some practitioners of past-life regression say this is because no university funding is available, so the only ‘proof’ is from ‘empirical studies’. This means that a practitioner has performed past life regression with a client and believes that they have uncovered proof of a previous incarnation.

However, for hypnotherapists who take an evidence-based approach – where they use techniques proven to work in proper research studies – there are more simple explanations of how past life regression may ‘appear’ to work. During hypnosis, subjects can be extremely suggestible, not only directly, but indirectly. A seemingly innocuous but leading question can send the subject into imagining things that simply aren’t true. For example, asking “As you see yourself in your previous life, what do you see yourself wearing?” But for someone who actually hadn’t imagined any previous existence, this assumptive question pushes them to start ‘imagining’ that life. It is, in fact, a fantasy, not a memory.

How false memories occur

There is a significant body of evidence to show that regression – asking someone to re-live current life experiences, can lead to false memory syndrome, unless the therapist is extremely careful not to use leading questions or suggestions. False memories can feel every bit as real as actual memories. And remember, this is false memories of the current life, not a previous one! If we can’t remember accurately our own lives, what chance is there of accurate memory of a past-life?

It is more likely that instead of re-living actual past lives, you are imagining (sometimes vividly) something that is being suggested, or that you would like to imagine. This is probably why the joke goes that few people imagine themselves as a serf in a former life, but usually a king, queen, duke or land-owner. When you think of the ratio of kings to serfs, and the size of the population in medieval times, this seems unlikely!

What evidence is there for past-life regression?

What has been shown is that past-life regression has some positive outcomes for other conditions, such as phobias. This may be because the client starts to feel different as they imagine themselves as someone else. But you can also do this by imagining yourself to be your favourite superhero.

Whilst there may be some positive outcomes, until there is some scientific evidence that past-life regression works, to my mind it remains an entertaining way of spending your money, but no more.

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