Andy Tomlinson is a psychologist, psychotherapist, past life regression therapist.
Past Life Therapy
I remember during my hypnosis and psychotherapy training asking what to do if a client wanted to experience a past life. I was told to just treat it as if it was a metaphor. Shortly after I qualified an elderly rather prim lady came to me and said she had recently visited Venice for the first time, and yet found some of the buildings familiar, as if she had seen them before. She wondered if it was from a past life. I used hypnosis and in trance, prompted by my questions, a story emerged of her being the keeper of prostitutes for sailors in Venice. When out of trance she urged me not to tell her friends what she had been! The story that emerged was quite spontaneous and a real surprise for her.
Working with ‘past life stories’ prompts two questions; Are they real? Is there any therapeutic value for clients?
Is a Past Life Real?
Reincarnation appears to have originated in the ancient philosophies and religions of India around the second century BC, and are part of many religions including Hinduism and Buddhism. In the western world belief in reincarnation goes all the way back to ancient Greece. Pherecydes of Syros taught the concept of reincarnation and Pythagoras, Empedocles, Plato, Virgil and Ovid embraced it in their philosophies.
One area to examine for proof that reincarnation is real is with consciousness surviving physical death. Research by Dr Pim van Lommel and his colleagues from Rijnstate Hospital in Arnhem, Holland, for over 13 years investigated the experiences of 344 heart patients resuscitated after cardiac arrest. All had been clinically dead at some point during their treatment. Of these, 62 patients reported a near-death experience, overhearing conversations and looking down from above - which was later verified. During this period many had no electrical activity of the brain. This meant that their memory recall of the experience could not be explained by traditional scientific explanations. This was published in the medical journal Lancet.1
Another area suggesting consciousness survives reincarnates is the work of Dr. Ian Stevenson, the former head of the department of parapsychology at the University of Virginia and his successor child psychiatrist Dr. Jim Tucker. Both specialized in collecting the past life stories from young children around the world by interviewing them and all the witnesses to their past life experience. When children are just beginning to talk and yet have information, often verified obscure details, then other explanations like cryptomnesia and imagination are not applicable. They also looked for inconsistency or fraud by doing follow-up visits later to check for signs of any personal gains that could account for deception. In all, Stevenson and his colleagues painstakingly collected over 2,000 cases from a wide range of cultures and religions around the world.
History of Past Life Therapy
In the West work with past life regression started in the 1970s. Dr. HansTenDam led the way in Europe with his book Deep Healing. Three further books on past life regression were published: Reliving Past Lives by Helen Wambach; You Have Been Here Before by Edith Fiore; Past Lives Therapy by Morris Netherton. All these books had in common was focusing on the therapeutic use of past life regression. In the 1980s Dr. Roger Woolger, from a background of being a Jungian therapist, contributed to the therapeutic aspect of past life regression by introducing the importance of working with the body. He pioneered the technique of combining body psychotherapy with psychodrama to release traumatic memories.
At the turn of 2000 the therapeutic use of past life regression started to include age aggression and body therapy, and was named Regression Therapy. The First World Congress for Regression Therapy was held in the Netherlands in 2003. In the summer of 2006, the Earth Association of Regression Therapy was founded in Frankfurt and established a standard for regression therapy that today is a single worldwide standard.
Dr Peter Mack, a practicing surgeon from Singapore, became dissatisfied at the limitations of traditional medical practices and was trained in regression therapy. In the early 2010’s he wrote two past life books about his client’s past life regression healing stories – Healing Deep Hurt Within and Life Changing Moments. Shortly afterwards an international meeting of psychiatrists, medical doctors and clinical psychologists using regression therapy took place in April 2013 and from this the Society for Medical Advance and Research in Regression Therapy was formed with 20 medical members. It published its first book Inner Healing Journey – A Medical Perspective in which six medical doctors, including two psychiatrists, shared eleven client healing stories using past life regression.
How Does Past Life Therapy Work?
When the memories involve the current life or early childhood the term often used is age regression. When the timeline is allowed to continue backwards past life stories can appear and this is called past life regression. These stories are rich in metaphorical interpretation by the client and provide a powerful transpersonal experience for healing.
Past life regression works from within the client and is based on the principle that the client’s emotional issues and illness reflect the deeper struggles of their life. Ill health does not happen randomly, but when emotional, psychological or spiritual stresses have overwhelmed and weakened the body’s defences in the past. Something in the client’s life needs to be changed which may be their work situation, family relationships, lifestyle, rest patterns or life purpose. When they understand why they are ill and what can done differently, it allows healing to take place and is an opportunity for spiritual growth.
Everything in the Universe is energy and has consciousness. Part of this consciousness splits off and is given an opportunity to experience and grow in human life. This is called a soul and it survives physical death.
One way the soul grows is by incarnating on Earth and experiencing difficult life situations and emotional challenges. If something is not completed in one life the soul returns to similar situations until it has been mastered. It is like the Earth is a classroom with different life lessons, and when one is mastered it proceeds to the next one. An important principal is free will, to be able to respond to life situations and through this experience grow.
Critics of Past Life Therapy
Past life regression may be dismissed as a New Age fad. It is true that in an unregulated market anyone can call themselves a past life therapist, so standards are not controlled. However, psychotherapists and professionals who have undergone professional past life regression therapy training programs such as Regression Therapy work to high standards.
Perhaps the evidence for reincarnation is thought as not convincing. Or there is a cultural bias still existing from religions that in the past equated reincarnation with heresy. Maybe it touches on a taboo subject…namely death. Consequently there may be an unspoken resistance to talk about death or what may happen next.
However, there is increasing recognition of the need to take into account the cultural environment and belief systems of clients because these values reflect basic assumptions about a person’s nature and ways of coping with psychological difficulties. Currently accepted psychotherapeutic approaches take no account of the belief in life after death held by many of the world’s population. 2 The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life December 2009 survey found 24% of American Christians believe in reincarnation.
The following was written by Mário Simões, Professor of Psychiatry and of Consciousness Sciences, Faculty of Medicine of Lisbon, Portugal. He is the Director of the Post-Graduation Course in Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis and of the Laboratory for Mind-Matter Interaction with Therapeutic Intention and is trained in using past life therapy. 3
‘Being symbolic in nature, imagination permits representations of things that do not exist or which are approximations of reality. It is a capacity that allows elaboration of concepts or precognitions that would be impossible to realise in any other way. The idea of exploring reincarnation is close to the concept that a patient must re-experience the primeval drama to exhaust the emotions from it. It does not matter if the experience is true or not, but that it is experienced in a personalised way.’
In other words, from a therapeutic perspective, it does not matter if a past life is real or not. All that is important is the metaphorical interpretation of material emerging from the client that delivers a powerful transpersonal experience for healing. Respect for clients’ opinions and subjective realities is a therapeutic need and an ethical duty, even though therapists may not share the same belief.
1 - Van Lommel et al, Near-death Experience in Survivors of Cardiac Arrest; a prospective study in the Netherlands, The Lancet, 15 Dec 2001.
2 - Peres, J., Should Psychotherapy Consider Reincarnation, The journal of Nervous and Medical Disease, Volume 200, no 2, page 174.
3 - Simoes, M. Altered States of Consciousness and Psychotherapy, The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 2002, v 21, p150.