by Paul A. Hansen, Ph.D.
This article addresses two of the most significant problems observed in training therapists to do Past-Life Therapy. While these appear to be unique to Past-Life Therapy, they are really two skills very basic to all modes of therapy. The problems are:
a) “Leading” clients and not staying with them.
b) Taking the clients out of their experience.
Dr. Hansen’s article addresses several basic issues. For the less experienced PL therapist, the information is vital, and for those with years of practice, a healthy review and reminder.
Staying with the Client
One of the commonly made assumptions by the beginning therapist, and sometimes experienced ones, is that it is the therapist’s job to fix or solve “the problem” for the client. Under this assumption, the therapist has to figure out where the client is going and lead the client to that goal, insight, or behavioral change. This often produces “leading” or “suggesting” behaviors by the therapist in Past-Life work. The therapist will ask “leading questions” such as: “Do you see ______?” “Are you feeling ______?” “Are you a slave?” “Is it dark out?” This same assumption may also lead the therapist to give lots of advice.
Sources of This Attitude
- When the therapist “has” to know what is happening. A good therapist will often image what the client is describing as the client processes his/her experience. As a therapist, you can easily get excited and begin to think you know what is going to happen next in a regression. You think you are “seeing” it yourself, even before the client describes it. Though you may be psychic or intuitive, and think you “KNOW” that you are seeing what the client is seeing, as therapist you must be extremely careful not to suggest to the client what he is seeing or experiencing. (“Are you seeing ______?” “Don’t you feel ______?”) If the therapist has to know what is happening every second, or has to have a definitive interpretation of what is happening, he/she is more liable to engage in leading behaviors.
- Lack of confidence. This attitude comes about in part with beginning therapists when they are not yet confident about what they are doing. They learn and retain bad habits just as people do in learning any other new skill, such as playing the piano or singing. Even experienced therapists, when learning a new process such as Past-Life Therapy, may engage in this habit. Unfortunately, such a habit may remain, even when the therapist has developed confidence in the process and in his/her skills.
- Lack of trust in the client. Another source of this attitude is the lack of trust in the client. Do you trust clients to manage their own lives? They do anyway. Do you trust them to know where they need to go in their process, to develop the solutions to their problems? I remember one of my early mentors telling the story of the therapist whose client came for solutions to his problem. Each week the therapist gave him a new solution and each week the client came back saying, “Well, that didn’t work, Doc, what should I do now?” If the therapist attempts to take responsibility for the problem away from the client, he is likely to be stuck with it. If the therapist believes it is his/her job to “fix it,” he is locked into a trap from which there is no exit.
Much has been written about the need for a therapist to be sensitive to the needs of the client. If you are not sensitive to the client, and do not stay with him/her, you are more likely to lead the client. You are more likely pursuing your own agenda, even under the guise of trying to help the client reach his/her objectives. (Emphasis added) Some common ways therapists do not stay with the client include:
- Trying subtly to lead them to some solution or conclusion that the therapist has reached.
- Making assumptions that the client is experiencing or feeling some particular thing and asking the client to confirm or deny the assumption. (“Are you a princess?” “Is there a house near you?” “Do you have a job to do?” “Is this because you are a girl?” “Are they sad to see you dying?” “Are you angry?”)
- Asking questions that demand an interpretive or intellectual response.
How to Avoid These Pitfalls
- Adopt the attitude that you trust the client to go where he/she needs to go and get what is needed.
- Ask non-leading open-ended questions such as: “What are you experiencing?” “What are you noticing?” “What comes to your awareness now?” “Notice what happens next.”
- Observe the nonverbals of the client, as you would in any other therapy session, and make comments to let the client know you are observing him/her and are empathetic to what the client is feeling. (“I can see that must be painful for you!” “You look scared.” “Feeling sad, eh?”) (A therapist must be cautious/sensitive lest one begins to “lead” the subject. Ed.)
- Remember that unless you have worked extensively with a particular lifetime, the client has no more understanding of the situation than you do. He/she has only this brief window on the life, and even that may be fuzzy and unclear. So even questions about how something happened do not work very well.
When first entering a regression experience, therapists are tempted to ask: “What do you see?” If the client does not see anything, or is not visually oriented, they may feel inadequate, guilty, or confused, and it only creates a block to further progress. If the therapist then also feels inadequate, guilty, or confused, it compounds the situation. Often a client new to the regression experience will not see anything at first, but he may sense something and only later have a visual image. Some people are not visual imagers and never get a clear visual image at all, but they can pick up information through the other senses. Roger Woolger in Other Lives, Other Selves (1988) uses an even more general suggestion: “Tell me a story about…” There is then no constraint to see or hear anything. The client can even create a story. Ask more open ended questions such as “What do you notice?” or “Tell me what first comes to your awareness.”
The Holographic Nature of Past-Life Experiences
In many years of doing past-life therapy I find that the past-life experiences generated by the client have remarkable connection and congruency with the client’s present life concerns. It’s as if each past-life experience accessed is a miniature holograph of the client’s current life core issue. Each scenario from a past life contains a holographic representation of the core issue. A holograph is like a photograph but with major differences. In a photograph any piece of the picture contains only a part of the item or scene pictured. By contrast, in a holograph each portion of the picture contains the whole picture, though the smaller the piece, the less clear the picture. The past-life experience contains the “whole picture” though it may be unclear, until you assemble more of the pieces. Exploring more of the pieces will help the core issue become clearer. The more fully they are explored, the better the client will understand their meaning. Therefore, it is important to know how to keep the client in the experience.
Keeping the Client in the Experience
If we, as therapists, help clients to explore fully and thoroughly the past-life experiences they have and see their meanings, then clients will have a better understanding of possible resolutions of their core issue and current life concerns and problems. Therefore, helping the client to stay with and in the experience long enough to explore fully that small segment of the life (and thus of the core issue) is an essential therapeutic skill. Jumping to more and more experiences may only serve to distract the client rather than make things clearer.
Therapists can easily take the client out of the experience. Asking a question at an inappropriate time will do it, such as in the middle of a catharsis (crying, anger, etc.). Even worse is asking questions that require the client first to come out of his/her experience, think about it or interpret it, and then try to answer your questions. Here are some obvious examples. “What are your thoughts about _____?” “Why did you do that?” More common and more subtle: “How do you feel about ______?”
These will pull the client out of his/her experience. “Whys” are never wise! Even beginning therapists know they should be interested and concerned about how or what the client feels, but asking an intellectual question is not the way to do it. I once observed a trainee ask a client who, as a mother, was sobbing in grief over the death of her child: “How do you feel about that?” The client said somewhat incredulously “What?” as she was yanked out of her experience.
Even a casual observer just off the street could observe that the mother was experiencing grief. Rather, encourage the experience, validate it. If you must say something, try phrases like: “It really hurts, doesn’t it?” “Such a deep loss!” This lets the client know you are really there with him/her and feeling empathically. All most of us really need to heal our pain and grow is to have someone walk along the path with us in our pain.
If it is important to you, as the therapist, to elicit a word describing the client’s feelings, say something like “Notice the feelings you are having right now.” Then perhaps later, when they are out of the catharsis, ask “What words would you use to describe what you were feeling when you were crying?” But don’t do it when they are in the midst of the experience. [Emphasis added] A way to check yourself is ask yourself (as therapist) if I were with a mother who has just now seen the death of her child and is sobbing, would I ask: “How do you feel about that?” Of course not! It would be callous, even cruel. You’d say something like, “I know it must hurt a lot!” It lets the client know you are there with her, feeling with her, caring about what she is experiencing.
Another way the therapist can take the client away from his/her experience is with touch. In past-life work clients often tap into emotional experiences and feel the feelings appropriate to that experience. If the therapist is uncomfortable with the client’s emotions, crying for example, and feels obligated to “comfort” the client, touching them will often take them away from the experience and back into the here and now. If the client reaches out a hand, take it warmly and gently, but do not automatically think that you must “do something” the moment a client gets into an emotional catharsis (anger, crying, even panicky breathing).
Often the degree to which the therapist is uncomfortable with clients remaining in their feelings and experiences indicates the therapist’s own level of discomfort in staying with his own feelings and experiences. This is an important area for the therapist to monitor. In fact, therapists should always be aware of their own experience as they work with clients. Awareness of one’s own feelings and reactions will reduce the risk of counter transference distorting the session. I would like to offer a few very simple suggestions for keeping the client in his/her experience.
- Keep the client noticing what is happening, what is being experienced. Do this by not asking for interpretations (“why” questions) and by suggesting to “Continue,” “Go on to what happens next,” “Notice what is going on now” or, “Notice what is occurring in your body now.” Suggestions or questions that require the person to go into the experience more deeply, or to be more observant are useful. For instance, if the client is feeling sad but doesn’t understand why, suggest: “Notice what kind of sadness that is.”
- Observe the client very closely for nonverbals. Always position yourself so that you have good visual contact with clients, especially their faces. When you notice small changes in facial muscles, or expressions, or unusual body movement, comment on it, and invite them to share with you what is occurring. “Looks like that hurt” or “I wonder what just happened” or “You seemed to react to something just then, can you tell me about it?”
As a therapist, and especially in working with recalled past-life experiences, you are always on the outside looking in. You can only participate as much as the narrator (the client) is willing and able to describe what is happening. If the client only gets a small fragment of the picture, he will have much less from which to draw meaning later in the integrative phase of the session. Try to help the client make it as rich and full an experience as possible by taking him/her into the experience more deeply. You are the respectful outsider, observer, and fellow voyager, never the primary participant. It is only later that you attempt to “go for the meaning,” in which you help the client extract meanings and interpretations from the experience. At that point the questions asking for interpretation may be useful. Quality past-life regression therapy (and really, any other kind of therapy as well) requires that you help the clients to stay with their own experience, and that you allow them to set their direction and goals and not “lead” them. A little Koan may be useful to keep in mind: “Noticing carries you to being!” We get so used to zipping through our lives that we don’t take time to smell the daisies. Help your client to smell the daisies!