Reviewed by Roger J. Woolger, Ph.D.
(as included in the The Journal of Regression Therapy Volume VII, No. 1, Fall 1993)
William Baldwin’s eagerly awaited manual Regression Therapy; Spirit Releasement Therapy is a brilliant, daring tour de force whose appearance I am delighted to celebrate. What Dr Baldwin has done in this manual is to painstakingly integrate an enormous range of techniques as well as much accumulated wisdom gleaned from Past-Life Therapy, spiritual possession syndrome, soul retrieval, inner child work, multiple personality disorder, and traditional psychotherapy.
The introduction offers a very useful and concise overview of spirit possession syndrome throughout history. Then he traces the development of early dynamic psychiatry and its concerns with multiple personality and the splitting of the psyche as it interfaces with spiritualism from the eighteenth century onward.
In section two he presents an up to date survey of the principles and techniques currently used in present life and past-life regression by hypnotherapists and psychotherapists working in the field; outlining induction techniques, ways of working through the life, the death transition and many other techniques, and giving lots of useful examples of how to use them. This section alone could be a book in itself.
Section III – Recovery of Soul-Mind Fragmentation—although relatively short, is in many ways the pivotal section of the book, theoretically speaking. Here Dr Baldwin outlines and integrates the shamanic concept of “soul loss” in reaction to trauma with psychiatric views of personality splitting and the kind of dissociation to be found in extremis in multiple personality disorder. The key concept here is the idea of subpersonalities or fragmentary souls. This notion figured quite prominently in the early psychiatric work of Jung, Janet, and Assagioli, and later came to form the basis of those techniques for the psychotherapeutic integration of the personality developed by Psychosynthesis, Jungian analytical psychology, psychodrama, Gestalt therapy, Voice Dialogue and, most recently, Inner Child work.
The longest section in the book is IV – Spirit Releasement Therapy. This describes the highly original battery of techniques William and Judith Baldwin have developed during their years of research and therapeutic practice. Like the second section it is virtually a book in itself because of its extraordinary comprehensiveness and mass of technical detail. The Baldwins describe and illustrate therapeutic strategies for working with a huge range of possessing entities or psycho-spiritual formations (to try to coin a phenomenologically neutral term). Most importantly, they provide careful batteries that enable the therapist to make a differential diagnosis in difficult cases (e.g. spirit possession syndrome versus multiple personality disorder). It is precisely such crystal clear differentiation between the different orders and types of attachment, along with an abundance of clearly illustrated case examples that makes this section so valuable and quite unique.
The final section is more by way of an appendix to the main text. It outlines the clinical research project Dr Baldwin conducted to test the effectiveness of Spirit Releasement Therapy. Readers of this Journal will have seen this material summarized in a different form (Vol. VI, 1, Dec. 1992, pp. 48-61).
It hardly needs to be said that the whole idea of attributing numerous varieties of psychopathology to the intrusion of non-resident spirits or entities is one that has been assiduously resisted and ridiculed by mainstream psychologists and psychiatrists for most of the century. If the “straight” psychological world scoffs at past lives and reincarnation, it is openly contemptuous about practices that go by the name of exorcism, depossession, or spirit releasement (Baldwin’s own user-friendly coinage). Even within APRT an underground debate has been going on since the very inception as to whether past-life therapy belongs to the psychically inclined or the clinically trained and whether we should allow the cathartic expression of feelings or rise above and transform them in the light—ultimately the same antagonism between soul versus spirit.
The very fact that Dr Baldwin does not publish separate books on past-life therapy and spirit releasement is of crucial significance in and of itself. First of all he refuses to separate the endeavors of psychiatry and spiritual healing, and, secondly, he implicitly recognizes that regression therapy and spirit releasement therapy complement, in the sense of complete each other. As he describes it:
The purpose of regression therapy is to heal the scars of the soul. Nothing is left out, no human experience is denied; the aim is uncovering the truth. No amount of narrowly defined professional training, no restrictive religious training, no arbitrary limits of any kind can be allowed to interfere with the exploration of the spiritual reality (p. 38).
This long overdue reintegration of the spiritualist/shamanic perspective back into psychotherapy and spiritual healing is, I believe, the next and essential stage in the development of psychology—a kind of return to the source. And right at the vanguard of this reunion we have William Baldwin’s remarkable book. It is a milestone we will all look back to. I predict it will be referred to and argued about for years.