Past life regression (PLR) is the alleged journeying into one’s past lives while hypnotized. While it is true that many patients recall past lives, in actuals they are false memories. The memories are from experiences in this life, pure products of the imagination, intentional or unintentional suggestions from the hypnotist, or confabulations.
The practice is widely considered discredited and unscientific by medical practitioners, and experts generally regard claims of recovered memories of past lives as fantasies or delusions or a type of confabulation.
Some New Age therapists do PLR therapy under the guise of personal growth; others under the guise of healing. As a tool for New Age explorers, there may be little harm in encouraging people to remember what are probably false memories about their living in earlier centuries or for encouraging them to go forward in time and glimpse into the future. But as a method of healing, it must be apparent even to the most superficial of therapists that there are great dangers in encouraging patients to create delusions. Some false memories may be harmless, but others can be devastating. They can increase a person’s suffering, as well as destroy loving relationships with family members. The care with which hypnosis should be used seems obvious.
Some therapists think hypnosis opens a window to the unconscious mind where memories of past lives are stored. How memories of past lives get into the unconscious mind of a person is not known, but advocates loosely adhere to a doctrine of reincarnation, even though such a doctrine does not require a belief in the unconscious mind as a reservoir of memories of past lives.
PLR therapists claim that past life regression is essential to healing and helping their patients. Some therapists claim that past life therapy can help even those who don’t believe in past lives. The practice is given undeserved credibility because of the credentials of some of its leading advocates, e.g., Brian L. Weiss, M.D. There are no medical internships in PLR therapy, nor does being a medical doctor grant one special authority in metaphysics, the occult or the supernatural.
Many Lives, Many Masters - Some Views !! The author has conducted his research without scientific protocols or peer review, yet as a "scientist", Dr Weiss should have the skills and resources necessary to have conducted his "investigation" properly and scientifically. The fact that he chose not to has, I believe, discredited his book as a work of fairy tale-like fiction. I will go through some of the claims made in the book, page by page, and show how it's full of nonsense. Page 27-28 – In regressing under hypnosis an anonymous patient called Catherine to a “past life”, Dr Weiss claims that Catherine can “vividly” see that, “The year is 1863 BC”. Yet this date could not have existed at that time, so how could Catherine possibly have seen it? In later hypnosis sessions, Catherine was only able to reveal the date of her past life if she could “see or hear” it: so it makes a complete nonsense of history to be able to “see” a date that didn’t exist contemporaneously. Page 28 – In another hypnosis session, Catherine claimed that her daughter from 1863 BC, called Cleastra, was her niece in the present time called Rachel. Why didn’t Dr Weiss question Catherine more closely about this astonishing claim? It could simply have been the result of Catherine’s vivid imagination. How precisely did she know? No details, scientific basis or substance are provided; it was just presented by Dr Weiss as a fact. Page 29 – Catherine states now that she is in the year AD 1756 and her name is Louisa. Why no surname mentioned? With a surname in more modern time such as the 18th Century, the existence of such a person could be verified. Throughout the book, Catherine never states and is never asked for a surname. Neither is any specific address given or asked, which could be factually verified. Page 116-117 – Under hypnosis, Catherine describes herself as a 35-year-old German pilot in the Second World War shot down in France. Again, no specific detail is garnered by the questioning of Dr Weiss that could have proved beyond doubt whether such a pilot actually existed; such as what was the pilot’s full name and rank and squadron? This hardly seems the work of a true scientist. One could go on and on with the poor quality of evidence presented in the book.
Psychologist Robert Baker demonstrated that belief in reincarnation is the greatest predictor of whether a subject would have a past-life memory while under past life regression hypnotherapy. Furthermore, Baker demonstrated that the subject’s expectations significantly affect the past-life regressive session. He divided a group of 60 students into three groups. He told the first group that they were about to experience an exciting new therapy that could help them uncover their past lives. Eighty-five per cent in this group were successful in “remembering” a past life. He told the second group that they were to learn about a therapy which may or may not work to engender past-life memories. In this group, the success rate was 60%. He told the third group that the therapy was crazy and that normal people generally do not experience a past life. Only 10% of this group had a past-life “memory.”
There are at least two attractive features of past life regression. Since therapists charge by the hour, the need to explore centuries instead of years will greatly extend the length of time a patient will need to be “treated,” thereby increasing the cost of therapy. Secondly, the therapist and patient can usually speculate wildly without much fear of being contradicted by the facts. However, this can backfire if anyone bothers to investigate the matter, as in the case of Bridey Murphy, the case that started this craze in 1952.
The Bridey Murphy Case
In 1952, Virginia Tighe of Pueblo, Colorado, was hypnotized by local businessman Morey Bernstein. Allegedly, Virginia spoke in an Irish brogue and claimed she was Bridey Murphy, a 19th-century woman from Cork, Ireland. Bernstein says he encouraged past life regression and his subject cooperated. He hypnotized Tighe many times. While under hypnosis, she sang Irish songs and told Irish stories, always as Bridey Murphy. She gave a birth date as1798, described her childhood in a Protestant family in the city of Cork, her marriage to Sean Brian Joseph McCarthy, and her burial in Belfast in 1864. Bernstein’s book, The Search for Bridey Murphy (1956), became a best-seller. (Tighe is called Ruth Simmons in the book.) Recordings of the hypnotic sessions were made and translated into more than a dozen languages. The recordings sold well. The reincarnation boom in American publishing had begun.
Newspapers sent reporters to Ireland to investigate. Was there a red-headed Bridey Murphy who lived in Ireland in the nineteenth century? No records were found that matched Tighe’s claims for Bridey’s birth, upbringing, marriage, or death. (One supporter of the story, Bill Barker, did find a record of a clerk named John M’Carthy working in Belfast between 1858-1862.)
One newspaper, however, the Chicago American, found Bridie Murphey Corkell in Wisconsin in the 20th century. She lived in the house across the street from where Virginia Tighe grew up. What Virginia reported while hypnotized were not memories of a previous life but memories from her early childhood. Whatever else the hypnotic state is, it is a state where one's fantasies are energetically displayed.
Many people were impressed with the details of Tighe’s hypnotic memories, but the details were not evidence of past life regression, reincarnation, or channeling. They were evidence of a vivid imagination, a confused memory, fraud, or a combination of the three.
It is indicative of the typical lowering of the standards of critical thinking regarding the paranormal or the supernatural that defenders of fantastic confabulations and preposterous stories find easily accessible information to be incontrovertible proof of their veracity.
For example, Tighe talks about kissing the Blarney stone and knew that the act requires the assistance of someone who holds you as you lean backwards and face up to kiss the stone. This is common knowledge and photos of this are available in hundreds of sources, yet this fact has been cited as strong evidence that Tighe really kissed the stone in a previous incarnation. Yet, these same proponents of the strange and occult are not concerned that the kind of reincarnation they are considering contradicts everything we know about human consciousness and the brain, especially about how memory works.
Memories exist in neural connections in the brain. Brain traumas and diseases like Alzheimer’s reveal that when these neural connections are destroyed, memories are destroyed. When the brain decays and dies memories will be destroyed. There is no logical reason for maintaining that there is a parallel entity (spirit or mind) that exists independently of the brain and which maintains memories that will be accessible to us only after we die or after this imagined parallel entity enters another body.
As Martin Gardner says, “Almost any hypnotic subject capable of going into a deep trance will babble about a previous incarnation if the hypnotist asks him to. He will babble just as freely about his future incarnations….In every case of this sort where there has been adequate checking on the subject’s past, it has been found that the subject was weaving together long forgotten bits of information acquired during his early years” (Gardner 1957).
When you hear hoof beats think first of horses, not centaurs – PLR is hogwash.