Ronald Wong Jue, Ph.D.
Dr. Jue suggests that the acceptance of past-life therapy as a legitimate therapeutic modality will depend not only on the gradual modification of society’s attitude but also upon the responsible definition of professional relationships and standards of training. The competent therapist must have a conceptual model of the past-life process and an adequate repertoire of clinical skills.
In the last decade past-life therapy has come out of the closet. This change has been due primarily to the efforts of the Association for Past-Life Research and Therapy as well as the effort of various therapist-authors who have been willing to share their experience in working with past-life material. But as a form of therapy, this new modality has a long way to go in gaining acceptance among traditional therapists, as well as with the public at large. The philosophical and epistemological assumptions underlying past-life therapy are so radically different from conventional Western-styled therapy that it may take time for our society to shift and accept this approach as a legitimate form of therapy. But time is only one factor under lying change. Therapists involved in past-life therapy can facilitate understanding and change by defining their professional relationships among themselves and within the therapeutic community.
Past-life therapy is a paradox. Some find it difficult to accept this modality as a form of therapy because of its non-conventional assumptions. Yet if we look at the original concept of therapy, past-life therapy is in alignment with what therapy proposes to do if we adhere to the implication in the meaning of the word “psychotherapy” which has an interesting etiology. Psyche personifies the soul. It also carries the meaning of mind, breath, to breathe life into. In another context the word also means to animate, to take care of, or to teach. Therefore, the full meaning of the word is “to tend the soul,” or in our modem vernacular, the mind.
Within traditional society there is currently no problem in defining who the caretakers of the mind or soul are—that definition was taken care of in the fifties. But in the non-traditional sector, where we find faith healers, psychics, and other marginal groups who involve themselves with past-life material and whose foundations are somewhat nebulous, a doubt arises concerning the extent to which they can be considered responsible caretakers of the mind. Past-life therapy continues to straddle the fence of the conventional and the unconventional. Traditional therapists who look more deeply into the nature of consciousness are finding that past-life material must be integrated into conventional and accepted patterns of therapeutic principles, and unconventional methods into conventional ones, in order to create a responsible system of change.
There are several factors that will have an impact on the acceptance of past-life therapy within main-stream psychology. One of these is the change occurring within our belief system regarding the makeup of reality. But even though the new physics is providing new paradigms for perceiving and understanding reality, acceptance of these paradigms into the social structure is slow in coming. In the time of Galileo, even though evidence indicated that the sun rather than the earth was at the center of our planetary system, the prior belief system regarding reality was at first vigorously reinforced. Today we have a similar situation where existing belief systems continue to be supported, even when contrary evidence is presented.
Another factor facilitating the acceptance of past-life therapy may come from change in social and personal attitudes. During Freud’s time hysteria and phobias were common presenting problems. These are less frequent now. And with basic needs taken care of, individuals are now occupied with more existential concerns regarding personal effectiveness, intimacy, ecological relatedness, and spiritual issues. Other therapies relate tangentially to these concerns but past-life therapy, because it is concerned with uncovering unconscious material related to these issues, has an especial opportunity to address and resolve them.
A third factor affecting public acceptance of past-life therapy is whether or not the individuals involved in developing this modality maintain a professional attitude toward therapeutic practice and toward their relationship with the therapeutic community. Attitudes and methods of practice endorsed by past-life therapists will strongly influence the course of acceptance by the public. For the past ten years the Association for Past Life Research and Therapy has encouraged individuals to emerge from their insular positions and to share their past-life work and develop common working criteria. The next step is to develop and define a professional context for practice. This is a critical step; failure to take it will relegate past-life therapy to a form of radical, peripheral, and perhaps esoteric practice. Establishing a professional set of standards and attitudes provides a basis for establishing credibility. The defining of professional standards and relationships will set the early course of development for this therapy, and an evolving and carefully formulated system of concepts will support the validity of past-life material.
Those who have been involved with the APRT training program realize that regressing clients into past-life recall is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating therapeutic change. In all forms of recognized therapeutic systems, standards of treatment have arisen when in the course of their work, practitioners have recognized the importance of defining the attitudes and skills needed within the client-therapist relationship. But past-life therapy, like other therapies that deal with unconscious dynamics, demands that a therapist develop not only a repertoire of clinical skills but a Weltanschauung in order to be effective. If the past-life therapist is to earn assimilation into the arena of the traditional healing arts, he must maintain a conceptual model of the past-life therapy process. But many additional aspects need to be addressed as well; the recovery of material comprises only a small part of the integration process. Past-life therapy in the not-too-distant future may become perceived as simply one variation of integrative therapy.
Currently, metaphysical assumptions and karmic principles are placed alongside acknowledged therapeutic principles to explain the dynamics of what is being experienced by the client. This dual focus creates a quasi-therapeutic system, so that the process appears at times to be more metaphysical than therapeutic. The intermixture of metaphysics with conventional therapeutic dynamics creates a difficult challenge for the past-life practitioner. With physics, it is possible to extract conceptual models from the “new” physics or from the old metaphysics, but with past-life therapy we need to redefine and refine these models within the therapeutic context. This conceptual model-making interfaces with a strong therapeutic training orientation as the ground for past-life practice. If these two areas can be aligned, we can develop an idiosyncratic therapeutic system that attends and heals both the physical and the psycho-spiritual aspects of the human psyche.
Professional relationships in past-life therapy must also reflect earnestness on the part of a therapist to establish his credentials and competency. There are four basic assumptions that, if embraced by a therapist, earmark a professional orientation to past-life therapy:
- Past-life therapy is a psychological approach whose power rests upon a therapist’s sensitivity, training, and ability to understand and to work comfortably with the dynamics of heavily charged unconscious material, as well as with the innate healing potentials within the Individual. This is a general assumption that could apply to all forms of therapy that deal primarily with unconscious material A commitment to clinical training and to the development of one’s own intuitive skills is needed for meeting professional standards.
- The process of past-life therapy has many dimensions. Some of these include abilities to: (1) elicit unconscious material; (2) mobilize and confront unconscious problem patterns; (3) facilitate integration and release of polarized and fragmented segments of the personality; (4) articulate and conceptualize the dynamics of the therapeutic process; and (5) implement and reinforce new attitudes, solutions, behaviors, and perspectives for the client. If a therapy is to have its own identity, the developers must establish its idiosyncratic world view, as well as its theory of neurosis and mental health.
A therapeutic system maintains its own set of practices and strategies unique to that system. Once a system of values, attitudes, and strategies has been established, a training program with standards and membership qualifications has to be developed so that past-life therapy can relate to a larger society. This is an important consideration since systems of therapy are sustained by the-fact that not only do they affect the individual but they have an impact on societal values.
- The background, breadth of experience, and training of a past-life therapist includes a solid grounding in traditional psychotherapeutic principles allowing a therapist to work with the problems and aspects of resistance, transference, denial, sub-personalities, confabulation, and other dimensions of the psyche within the therapeutic context. Nothing can replace the training that most therapists undergo when they enroll in a masters and doctoral level clinical program. In such programs individuals are trained to handle and work with the full range of unconscious material. Just as it would be erroneous to think that a midwife can do the work of a pediatrician, one cannot assume that those who know the preliminary strategies of regression can omit learning how to handle the more severe neurotic and psychotic types of behavior. The past-life therapist must come to terms with his/her own limitations and realize the importance of sound clinical training which involves personal therapy, peer review, and ongoing feedback from professionals.
- It is important that a therapist understand and take responsibility for his belief system and for how that system may potentially affect his client. He needs to be aware of how his belief either limits or broadens his way of perceiving and working with the unconscious material and the innate spiritual resources of the client. Within the past-life therapy context, where therapist as well as client can work while in an altered state, unconscious projections carry a strong impact on the process. If a therapist is not knowledgeable about the transference and counter-transference process in therapy, delusions can be perpetuated, free expression of feelings can be inhibited, and spiritual or deep transformative resources can be ignored.
It is from these assumptions that we can begin to establish a set of standards for what constitutes a professional and can designate a baseline for evaluating competency. I am suggesting that we need to create sets of standards and levels of expertise and certification to judge and to qualify people in their practice of past-life therapy. There are various levels possible within the therapeutic arena, where individuals can be trained to the level of M.F.C.C., M.S.W., Ph.D., or M.D. Each of these levels carries its own professional standards and training requirements. We may want to examine past-life therapy from this standpoint of its need for different levels of certification as a basis for defining professionalism in the field.
The above issues remain important considerations if the field is to continue to grow and to integrate itself into the mainstream of the healing arts. Consumers are often confused by the barrage of false hope and promises that are foisted upon them by the peripheral therapies. If past-life therapy is to move beyond superficial sensationalism, then defining professionalism within the context of research and basic therapeutic arts will serve as an important step in that direction.
Defining professional relationships within the field and with other fields of therapy can create a synergistic situation for both therapist and consumer. By educating the general public regarding training programs and standards, past-life therapists can facilitate consumer awareness in the selection of a therapist and can also develop a professional referral system. There is no way that one can control the indiscriminate use of past-life therapy, but standards and public education can go a long way in preventing nonprofessionals from continuing their practice and can foster professional integrity in the field.
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