The Perils of “Past Life Regression”

Q: What is your opinion on past life regression therapy?
RT, Bangalore

A: Indulge in it, if you must. Just don’t take it too seriously. After all, “past life regression therapy” is a treatment based on a delusion.

The person practicing this “method”, makes 2 presumptions:

a) That reincarnation is a fact

b) That memories of past lives can be evoked under a hypnotic trance

Assumption a) is a matter of faith. I personally believe in reincarnation: it seems to make sense to me – but I know that that is all it is, a belief, and not a fact – there is, of course, a difference.

Assumption b) is really when reality start going down the rabbit hole. What possible proof can there be for the premise that the patients’ memories are true?

Sure, everyone’s read those compelling stories, where people remembered events that turned out to be uncannily consistent with past events, events that apparently the person could not possibly have known in this lifetime: For example, a 4 year old girl in rural India spontaneously starts speaking in Latin – this is the sort of story that is compelling enough to make one ponder the possibility of reincarnation and memories of past lives.

But these anecdotes of memories from a past life, have one thing in common – the memories seem to be spontaneous.

In past life regression however, these memories are created – they are not memories but exercises in pure fantasy. (Yes, this includes Dr Weiss’s books.)

Consider a typical past life regression session:

You have a therapist who fervently, often fanatically, believes in the method. (By the way, a warning: Never trust a therapist who only swears by one method.) The therapist has the belief that these memories can be evoked. But this belief is a delusion. There is no proof other than faith.

The therapist not only believes in PLR, but he also needs a client who shares this belief. Fortunately for the therapist, the client or patient usually wants to believe in the method. Even if they proclaim that they are actually skeptics. Many people who go to PLR “therapists” often have had a significant loss and are unable to reconcile to their loss. Or else they are going through stress currently, and feel like victims of their circumstances.

So, in the creation of the delusion of past life regression, the therapist and client are mutually complicit. In this shared environment, therapist and client both begin to create a story. Under a hypnotic trance, the therapist guides the patient back to their “past”. Slowly, the patient “remembers” a past life, perhaps he was a King, or a prisoner, or an animal.

These so called “memories” are merely creations of the mind. The therapist communicates their belief, and unwittingly encourages the patient to think of fantastic stories about their past.

(Hypnosis , of course, increases “suggestibility” – the tendency to be affected by another person’s suggestions, making the client open to the imbibing and reflecting the therapist’s beliefs.)

PLRT might have been acceptable if the “memories” were understood to be stories, just like the ones that people tell when given the Thematic Apperception Test – these stories are not true, but they reveal a lot about the person’s fears, hopes, disappointments, and dreams.

Instead, past life regression therapists do a disservice to their clients by creating or reinforcing the belief that these stories are actual memories of past lives.

People might experience a transient relief, it might give them a meaning about their present lives that otherwise eludes them. But any meaning derived through past life regression is tenuous and unreal. It does not positively change a person. Many people stagnate, their psychological growth stunted, as a result of past life regression, as they begin to dwell on some mythic ancient past that has little relevance to their current situation.

Their “memories” become their refuge, as they shrink away from a mature and clear perspective of their current situation. In short, they regress psychologically, the only kind of regression that this therapy achieves,

PS: I have to emphasize that I don’t doubt the intention of the therapist – he or she is probably a well meaning person who want to help. But past life regression therapy is based on a faulty premise at best and a delusion at worst.