Past Life Regression is a hypnotic technique that allows a person to access their subconscious to supposedly recall events from a past life. Are we really remembering a past life or could these memories be implanted by suggestive questioning? What ethics should be considered?
To look into past life regression, first, we must understand reincarnation. The belief in reincarnation is a part of many Buddhist traditions but is also a part of the Hindu doctrine. It talks about the cycle of birth, death and then rebirth known as samsara. This cycle is what your soul goes through as it inhibits a body, leaves the body when it dies and returns to Earth in a new physical form which can be human or non-human form. This cycle however is not infinite. When you begin each life or incarnation, you strive to be better than you were in a previous life. Eventually, you achieve liberation or moksha which breaks you free from this cycle of rebirth. It is in the cycle that karma also comes into play. Hindu's believe that karma operates across all lifetimes. So it means that the result of an action may not be experienced until the next life cycle.
While the above is based on Hindu beliefs, more and more people believe in reincarnation and feel that it is an important part of their own spirituality. In order to access these past life memories, many believe that they are stored deep within our unconscious mind.
"The figures in the unconscious could be explained by a long-lasting primeval matriarchy if only we knew for certain that it ever existed, just as the flood myths could be explained by the myth of Atlantis if only we knew that there ever was an Atlantis. Equally, the contents of the unconscious could be explained by reincarnation if we knew that there is reincarnation." ~ Carl Jung to Baroness Tinti, Letters Volume 1, Pages 208-209.
People often make the connection between past life regression and children who remember their previous life. There is however a bit of a difference. The children in this instance, are remembering information without any sort of hypnotic regression. There are also processes where information can be validated and doesn't just rely on a person's memory.
"Although there is evidence that some young children have memories of a life in the past, such as in the cases we've documented in our work at the Division of Perceptual Studies, there is very little to suggest that past-life regression typically connects with an actual life from the past " Jim B. Tucker, M.D Division of Perceptual Studies
Some spiritual counsellors say that past life regression can help with 'blocks' in your current life such as identity confusion, spiritual confusion, unexplained fears or phobias and self-destructive behaviours. To perform a past life regression session, a person will be put in a deep meditative state allowing their subconscious mind to show them mental images of your previous life. If is often done over several sessions and used a tool for spiritual healing.
A similar technique is also used not to remember a past life, but to help them recall information if they believe they have had an abduction encounter with extraterrestrials or even some paranormal related experiences from when they were younger. You will find that subjects only recall what happened to them after going through this regression therapy. While it is said to be a useful tool when used for healing, it is also important to remember just how easily our own memories can be manipulated.
One of the arguments against past life or hypnotic regression to recall events is not knowing if the memories a person is visualising or experiencing are genuine or if they are implanted.
An experiment titled The Misinformation Effect set out to prove that the type of questions a person is asked after an incident could actually influence the way they remember the details of the event. In this experiment, participants were shown footage of a car collision. The subjects were then asked a series of questions similar to the type of questions you would be asked by an emergency services worker after being in an accident. One of the key questions asked was "How fast were the cars going when they hit each other?". Some of the participants were asked this question, while other participants were asked "How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?". A very subtle difference but it is making a suggestion to your brain without you knowing it. From the study, the researchers found that by changing the word hit with the word smash, the participants remembered the footage they had seen differently. They were questioned again a week after being shown the footage. They were asked, "Did you see broken glass?". Some of the participants answered 'no', however, most of the people who had been fed the 'smashed' word a week ago seemed to be more inclined to answer 'yes' even though there was no broken glass in the footage they had been shown. The results indicated that the power of suggestion and subtle hints through wording changed the way a person remembered an event.
In 5 experiments and a pilot study, a total of 1,232 undergraduates watched a series of slides depicting a single auto–pedestrian accident. The purpose of these experiments was to investigate how information supplied after an event influences a witness's memory for that event. Ss were exposed to either consistent, misleading, or irrelevant information after the accident event. Results show that misleading information produced less accurate responding on both a yes–no and a 2-alternative forced-choice recognition test. Further, misleading information had a larger impact if introduced just prior to a final test rather than immediately after the initial event. The effects of misleading information cannot be accounted for by a simple demand-characteristics explanation. Overall results suggest that information to which a witness is exposed after an event, whether that information is consistent or misleading, is integrated into the witness's memory of the event.
Loftus, E. F., Miller, D. G., & Burns, H. J. (1978). Semantic integration of verbal information into a visual memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 4(1), 19–31. https://doi.org/10.1037/0278-7318.104.22.168
Studies indicate that just the words used in a question asked can cause a person to remember an event differently and that it is even possible to implant a memory of something that didn't happen. The way we ask a question or coach a person to remember an event can influence the way the memory recalled takes shape. The study Construction Rich False Memories of Committing Crime found:
With suggestive memory-retrieval techniques, participants were induced to generate criminal and noncriminal emotional false memories, and we compared these false memories with true memories of emotional events. After three interviews, 70% of participants were classified as having false memories of committing a crime (theft, assault, or assault with a weapon) that led to police contact in early adolescence and volunteered a detailed false account.
So when we apply this to a past life or hypnotic regression session, could the questions asked by the therapist actually cause a person to remember something that never happened? Is the person really recalling their past life or are they being led or coached in a way that causes their mind to conjure a memory that didn't happen? Whether it is a past life or another form of regression, there is no real way to tell if the subconscious is recalling a genuine memory or making one up. I would love to hear from someone who performs past life regressions in how you navigate this and if there is a protocol in the way questions are asked (as I am sure there must be) to avoid this.
So we have to ponder, if a person has the power to manipulate how you remember an event or if they can even make you remember something that didn't happen, what ethics should be considered?
Part of the discussion around past life regression and one that must be discussed is the topic of ethics. While it is something widely used particularly in the paranormal field, it is also important to point out that the paranormal field is largely unregulated and this is where problems can arise.
Past life regression therapy is used by some physicians in cases with some mental diseases. Anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and gender dysphoria have all been treated using life regression therapy by some doctors on the assumption that they reflect problems in past lives. Although it is not supported by psychiatric associations, few medical associations have actually condemned it as unethical. In this article, I argue that past life regression therapy is unethical for two basic reasons. First, it is not evidence-based. Past life regression is based on the reincarnation hypothesis, but this hypothesis is not supported by evidence, and in fact, it faces some insurmountable conceptual problems. If patients are not fully informed about these problems, they cannot provide an informed consent, and hence, the principle of autonomy is violated. Second, past life regression therapy has the great risk of implanting false memories in patients, and thus, causing significant harm. This is a violation of the principle of non-malfeasance, which is surely the most important principle in medical ethics.
Is past life regression therapy ethical?
Gabriel Andrade J Med Ethics Hist Med. 2017; 10: 11.
Published online 2017 Dec 2.
Whether you agree with the above statement or not, it is still something that should at the very least be discussed. Consent and informed consent are also two very different things and again something not often explored enough in a paranormal setting. Dr Ciarán O'Keeffe has been doing a lot of work in the area of ethics in general, to highlight the responsibility paranormal investigators must play when it comes to ethics and in particular, dealing with private cases. Check out Ethical guidelines for the investigation of haunting experiences.
If we apply this to past life regressions, I think that there is a notable difference between doing a past life regression for a bit of fun VS someone who maybe has some mental health issues and would be highly suggestible. We cannot ignore that there are individuals out there that seek to exploit people's vulnerabilities for money. I wish that were not the case but we all know or at least have heard of people who are so desperate for answers that they have paid people ridiculous amounts of money to do clearings or rid them or curses or even of energy that they have been told they carry with them from a past life. There are some people that deflect responsibility for things happening in their current life and that blame is shifted to 'their previous life' as a method of avoidance and will do or pay anything to have it lifted. In some cases, they believe it will 'fix' their problems. Some people may feel they are helping others and they do so with the very best intentions not realising the mental repercussions this work could have on a person. I was also disturbed yet not surprised to see that there are Tik Tok and YouTube videos that allow a person to do their own 'at home' past life regression by watching a video to put them into a meditative state to access their past life memories (not something I would recommend). If you are going to go down the path of past life regression, I would only do so with someone who is qualified to do so. One of the items mentioned in the above paper was the lack of peer-reviewed guidelines for paranormal investigators and the general public to refer to when it comes to investigating hauntings. This should also apply to past life regression therapy. It means that if someone is seeking to have a reading done, they can source one knowing what they should look for to protect themselves and it can help them to choose a reputable provider. I would also add that you hope that the therapist is also bound to confidentiality as psychologists are and the hypnotist should also be a qualified counsellor at the very least. Don't be afraid to ask someone for their qualifications before your session, in fact, most will already advertise their qualifications which is standard practice. If they are offended or not willing to answer, they aren't the person you want to guide you through this process.
I personally have not had a proper past life regression session and while I am intrigued, I don't think I would necessarily see it as any more than a bit of fun for myself and I would be quite skeptical about it knowing how easily our own mind can turn on us and how easily a memory can be implanted. I did have once a person who was a psychic medium tell me that my husband was my brother in a previous life which was kind of disturbing because not only did I not ask for this information or any kind of reading, it also left me feeling a bit weird and uncomfortable! There are however some people who have told me that knowing about their past life has been an essential part of their own spiritual journey and that is great for them so it is really going to come down to your own beliefs and spirituality. I do however feel it is important not to push this onto people that may be experiencing hardship in life or suffering from mental health problems as a 'solution' to their problems. Remember our minds are powerful tools and our subconscious can be our own enemy.
Do you believe we reincarnate? What are your thoughts on past life regression?
Is past life regression therapy ethical?
Gabriel Andrade J Med Ethics Hist Med. 2017; 10: 11.
Published online 2017 Dec 2.
Baker, Ian & O'Keeffe, Ciarán. (2007). Ethical guidelines for the investigation of haunting experiences. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. 71. 216-229.
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