by Hans TenDam
Dr. Hans TenDam shares his thoughts and experiences about the so-called “false memory syndrome,” something of concern to all past-life therapists and, in fact, to all who use altered states in their work. Dr. TenDam grounds his theories in what he has actually seen with clients.
The False Memory Syndrome is a bogeyman hindering the acceptance of our profession. It has been discovered that clients who graphically “relived” sexual abuse by a parent when they were very young, had often “remembered” something that did not happen. It has led to court cases and negative publicity. It sometimes leads also to extra work for us as therapists. I have had several clients utterly shaken because of the false accusations of a daughter. The therapist or psychiatrist involved had worsened things further by prohibiting the daughter from having any contact with her denying parents anymore. Yet upon investigation, the daughter’s claims proved to be totally unfounded.
This is not to say that sexual abuse of children does not occur. Sadly, it does occur, and sometimes the accusations are found to be true. But as we all know, it is possible for a therapist to lead a troubled client into so-called “memories” of childhood abuse through the misuse of hypnosis and repeated “leading” suggestions over many sessions.
It is sometimes said that if memories from childhood may be false, memories from a previous life must be even more unreliable. Though I cannot prove it, I’m pretty sure this reasoning is rubbish. Let me explain why this is most probably so.
False memories exist, but they don’t have the character of a “syndrome.” This is just added to make it sound like it is a professional diagnosis, as if people talking in this way know what they are talking about. They don’t. Let us assume for the moment that 20% of all hypnotherapists and regression therapists use past-life therapy, that is, accept experiences from apparent previous lives as at least therapeutically valid. What is the percentage of therapists involved in false memory cases who are past-life therapists? I would not be surprised if that percentage would be nearer to 2% than to 20%.
In 1950 Ron Hubbard published “Dianetics.” In that book he wrote about his experiences with his type of regression. One of his supposed “discoveries” was the incredible number of successful and unsuccessful abortion attempts in the United States. He had found horrible evidence in a large number of his subjects of terrible experiences in the womb because of unsuccessful abortion attempts: they reported being stuck by needles, affected by burning poisons, being hit by sticks, even by kicks at the belly, falls from stairs, etc. Interestingly, in all his later works, Hubbard never returns to this issue. Why? Because he discovered past lives.
Hubbard had a primitive and time-consuming, but effective, way of regression: he had people repeat and repeat and repeat the traumatic episode until there was no longer a skin galvanic response. He went from the present back through life to the birth experience. The idea was that if all “engrams” were erased, the person would be “clear.” And whatever else being clear was, it certainly meant to be free from fear, anger, shame and other limiting emotions.
What he did find, of course, was that most people apparently were not clear even if the whole time-track from the present back to the birth had been examined and the engrams erased. To his surprise, he then found strong charges resonating from before birth, strong experiences of being hit or cut, of falling or suffocating, or the like. He placed those experiences in the only time-period that seemed possible to him: in the womb. Later, of course, he discovered previous lives. But he had originally found traumatic death experiences from previous lives, and not recognizing them as such, he had forced them into the prenatal period as the only logical time period possible. Thus, he decided these terrible experiences must have been the result of abortions or attempted abortions.
The same, I submit, has been happening in recent years. Therapists working with sexual fears or problems discover strong charges, strong trauma, and when they do attempt regression, they may find sexual or violent abuse. Now if the therapist has some experience and knows what he is doing and at the same time knows that past lives “don’t” (“can’t”) exist, he has no choice but to project the clear and present symptoms of for example sexual abuse into a repressed area of childhood. So false memories are born.
Of course some of these memories are accurate. But there are clients who are psychotic or borderline, who may deliberately make things up until even the therapist believes in them. I think only a weak and inexperienced therapist will fall for that. And of course there will be some therapists without the power of discrimination who may misguide their clients. Some are properly university-trained professionals. Many of the cases I know from the Netherlands involve fully qualified psychiatrists. But although lack of professional grounding and gullibility may be factors in producing false memories, I expect that the main reason is prejudice, a lack of an open mind, especially about the possibility that the memories come from a past life. As Ron Hubbard did, such a person can place sexually traumatic memories in only one place: the present life.
One question that is relevant here is the question of objective truth in therapeutic reliving. The general idea among past-life therapists is that it doesn’t matter, the therapeutic effectiveness is what matters. I think that is true and at the same time I think it is false. If during or right after the session we are involved with trying to check the reality of what is happening, our session will go nowhere. If the patient is bothering about it, he will block; if the therapist is bothering about it, the session degenerates into a third degree, rarely conducive to good therapy. So we start to take things at face value. That is how it should be, in therapy.
But ultimately, the question of reality is important. When a person gets rid of a certain sexual problems, but falsely believes now that she was raped by her father and uncle when she was four, we have done bad therapy. If something in an apparent previous life is assumed to be true, while not so, the consequences are less serious. Still, people have brains, they have minds, they think, they want to know. Finding the truth is a catharsis of the mind and so becomes part of therapy. In most past-life sessions we never may have objective, effectual corroboration of the content of the session. But the clearer the experience, the more detailed, and the more consistent, and the more the relived experiences and the consequences of them fit with other experiences and with the person as he is now, the less doubt we need to entertain. We are not dealing with issues that can rigorously be judged as true or false. But there is a tremendous difference between the very likely and the very unlikely, between the isolated incident and a strong pattern through places and times, including the present life.
In normal, sane people (like us for example) true memories work out quite differently from false memories. Many of us have had the personal experience that some sessions or part of sessions continued to grow inside us after the session. They became clearer, new details emerged, one understanding after another joined, till the whole experience suddenly clearly and satisfactorily fitted somewhere in our mind ‑ and in our soul. Whoever has some experience of integration, knows this experience. Other experiences may be impressive at the moment but afterwards somehow they dilute, they pale, they lose life. Sometimes a true experience is lost this way, because of unresolved other issues in us, but true integration is impossible without basic truth.
I remember regression experiences that I placed in a mythical past, I thought just at the dawn of Atlantis. Much later I found out they were in China, probably a few centuries before Christ. My romantic notions and probably my romantic desires had placed them in a fairy tale country. But the basic events and the feelings involved in them and the relationship to myself as an individual, have remained. They just became more solid. There is partial truth, and as therapists we know that usually the more the body is involved in memory, the less chance of fantasy.
Paradoxically, this is one of the main reasons for the false memory syndrome. The therapist sees and the client feels in their bodily reactions, in posture and tensions, in body parts turning cold, in blushing, in panting and struggling, that a rape has been going on. Even a good actor or actress cannot work that up without previous experience. This rape happened, somewhere, by someone, and it is relived here on our couch. But the “where” and the “who” are the tricky parts. The rape may have occurred in a past life a hundred or more years ago. Trust what is happening, but be careful with labeling.
As I implied above, past-life therapists are probably much less likely to falsely place such memories in a client’s childhood than conventional therapists are. Past-life therapists, after all, are willing to place traumatic memories in a past life if that’s where they belong; conventional therapists are confined to the present life only. It would be nice to know from colleagues which cases of false memory syndrome they know of and how often in those cases a past-life therapist was involved. I would bet it is very seldom.