Article: Humanistic Considerations in Regression Therapy – Edward Reynolds (Is.2)

by Edward Reynolds

The humanistic approach to therapy, as developed by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, shifted the focus in the therapeutic process from the patient as an object to be “fixed,” to the relationship between therapist and patient as a powerful agent in producing therapeutic results. Nearly half the research in psychotherapy and thirty-five years of observing and documenting the process, ground these humanist assumptions. In a new modality such as regression therapy where the dominant legacy comes from an authoritarian approach, namely, hypnotic induction, it is important that the gains in psychotherapy as a total field are not overlooked or lost.

In every stage of regression work there is a choice between the non-authoritarian humanistic approach and authoritarian techniques. Even in the actual philosophical hypotheses and psychotherapeutic assumptions, before the patient ever enters the picture, the contrast between the two approaches is salient. It is difficult to be effective in regression work without some kind of philosophical stance, but it is easy even here to set forth postulates that have an authoritarian and non-humanistic flavor. When I explored possible hypotheses, I found myself returning to two simply stated but profound assumptions which Maslow stressed: that human beings seem to have an innate desire to grow on many levels, and that love in some form seems to facilitate the growth process.

When formulating psychotherapeutic assumptions by which one can proceed with past-life work, the choice is even more important, because it is here that the humanistic therapist moves strongly away from classical hypnosis. The relationship between the therapist and the client is seen to be highly facilitative of change. As Carl Rogers pointed out, a central dimension in conventional effective therapeutic work is the companionship offered to the patient as he walks into a frightening corner of his life. This appears to be equally significant in regression therapy, where the intensity of fears and critical self-judgment can be overwhelming. Perhaps the real transformation occurs in the energy field between the therapist and the client.

In any new therapeutic modality it seems important to formulate techniques. However, in any form of therapy and certainly not less so in regression work, it seems that models of how to do therapy can interfere with openness to what is actually happening. In the process of using regression techniques there must be great sensitivity on the part of the therapist to the experience of the patient, above and beyond technical considerations. The good therapist draws on all knowledge in a way that keeps the focus on the client rather than on the technique. The use of techniques as such seems fundamentally to interfere with the transformation that is sought. In the foreground is the relationship and in the background are the techniques. Just as humanistic therapeutic principles raise traditional therapy to a higher spiritual plane above mechanistic approaches, an emphasis on caring and sensitivity appear similarly important in maximizing the transformation hoped for in regression therapy.

When deciding when regression therapy is indicated, humanistic principles are important. The decision to use past-life therapy has to be an emphatic response to the client’s sense that it would be a helpful approach and that the origin of the problem is more accessible through this technique.

The general issue in the preparation for regression therapy is the basic one in all humanistically oriented work: the need to develop general rapport and a solid working alliance. Once this has been established, but not before, the therapist can move on to relaxation and light hypnotic techniques. An open discussion of the beliefs and assumptions which the patient holds regarding past lives, as well as disclosure regarding the therapist’s own views, is a desirable preliminary step.

Though I use hypnotic trance to get into past lives, since this seems to me to be the most effective method, I move very slowly, tuning into the pace that is comfortable for the patient, taking all the time that seems appropriate. I even use traditional inductions which are thought to promote deep trance, such as ocular fixation on a candle, or hand levitation. I try to use images and language that have been identified as particularly useful and helpful to the individual patient. For instance, some people are threatened by going into a “deeper trance” because the word “deep” suggests “death,” so words like “more profoundly relaxed,” which seem stilted for some people, work better for these patients. Avoiding language that the individual has identified as jarring seems to deepen the trance. I try to be aware of and use language and concepts that I know from previous experience with the patient are especially meaningful to him. Hypnotized people are highly suggestible to subtle nuances of language, and it seems important to be soothing and give maximum support throughout the process.

I do not usually aim to touch levels of affect in the beginning. I prefer to help a person be comfortable with a past-life experience by first asking about descriptive issues, preferably in clear either/or questions in this beginning stage. I always assure the person that he can discontinue the experience anytime he chooses. Before the actual past-life is entered into, I establish a safe place where the person can go if he becomes disturbed or exhausted, such as a secure womb, a place in nature, or a particularly happy memory.

Since for me the foundation of past-life therapy is Rogerian—unconditional positive regard and congruence—I help this attitude to bear on material that might be frightening or strange. I try to create an atmosphere that is essentially unrushed in its exploration of past-life memories that the client sees as important. Since emotional release seems to play such a strong role, I offer support, encouragement, and reassurance in these times.

When thinking about what effects change, it appears that support helps people face frightening aspects of their lives. This support plays a part in helping them examine and resolve material in a past lifetime, much as it does in the present. Being accompanied and supported by a non-judging companion often allows a person to look at how harshly he has judged himself, even without knowing the long series of specific events which have perpetuated this attitude of self-judgment. Freedom from the distorting effects of intense emotion and self-judgment helps the person to gain a clearer perspective on past events and relationships. This increased perspective can be generalized to significant people in this lifetime who have left unresolved issues in past lives where they may have played a role.

I always allow for a discussion at the end of each session about the meaning of the material, and in these discussions it is never assumed that the experiences are either real or metaphorical—that is left up to the client’s belief system. These discussions center on the relevance of underlying themes from past-life memories to current-life problems. Just as sensitivity to the client always entails protecting him from being overwhelmed and giving him control over the content which is to be worked on in any session, sufficient closure after a session is equally important. Clients need to talk about what happens in a session. It is important both to integrate new information and to attain a sense of emotional synthesis.

I seldom have failures because I use regression therapy with great selectivity and not until I feel that a patient is entirely ready and the problem is clear and that regression work promises an added dimension of insight. I watch my own enthusiasm and do not let it precipitate a regression that the client does not really want. In the last analysis, it is his choice and what he feels is appropriate for him.


The client was a thirty-five year old married mother of three children who lived in the Los Angeles area. She sought treatment for a vague duster of symptoms, including periodic but mild feelings of anxiety and mild agoraphobia. Traditional explorations of possible causes of the symptoms proved fruitless in an attempt to understand them. This patient, while a member of the Catholic faith, also had a belief in reincarnation and suggested that the modality of regression therapy be attempted. After a session which explored past lives, she was placed in a deep hypnotic trance in which she was asked to recall the lifetime immediately preceding the present one.

She found herself a frightened six-year-old in Hyde Park in the 1880s. She was in the grip of such terror and anguish immediately that I considered taking her out of the hypnotic state and remained alert to her anxiety throughout the session

CL:          Why doesn’t my daddy move? I want him to move (very distressed).

TH:         Tell me what is going on as if you are watching it in a movie.

This technique of distancing greatly reduces the anxiety, which can be lived through at a later time when the client is more ready, if this seems indicated. In this instance the client, in a calmer voice, then described that she and her parents were taking a ride in the park.

CL:          I dressed just like my momma. It was such fun, but the horse was frightened by another horse.

She went on to describe how the horse ran away and the carriage overturned and her father was thrown out and crushed under the carriage. She heard her mother crying in pain

CL:          Maybe my momma’s hurt. Somebody help my mommie! (Extreme agitation again as she loses her distance).

 She was instructed again to become the observer, and, in spite of the distress, moving out to the position of observer seemed to relieve her enough so that we could proceed cautiously and gradually uncover the outline of what she believed that life to be. Apparently, she was the only child of a prosperous merchant and his wife and had accompanied them on a Sunday outing. There was a carriage accident which immediately killed the father and left the mother seriously injured. The mother died two months later, and the child was taken to an orphanage run by Anglican nuns, where she remained until age sixteen. This appears to have been an unusually secluded and almost cloistered environment. At sixteen she left to care for two children of a business man whose wife was seriously ill.

After the wife’s death she continued to care for the children and eventually married their father. The marriage appears to have been primarily one of convenience and provided her with little love. Her seclusion continued and was further complicated by drug use, either through contacts her husband had to procure opium or through medical treatment. She died suddenly without prior illness of a heart attack at the age of forty-seven.

We covered the general dimensions of the lifetime in the first session and then went over each part, bit by bit. In the second session, we explored her recollections of the time in the convent school, a period filled with hard work and devotions. Even at that time she experienced great anxiety whenever she ventured outside, an anxiety which had been present ever since the time of the accident, primarily because the presence of horses in the streets reminded her of the loss of her parents. This anxiety intensified as she realized she was going to move into the new home—leaving her safe convent haven was very difficult for her.

CL:          It’s so frightening to have to go outside. There are horses in the streets.

TH:         Why is that important?

CL:          You never know what they’ll do.

TH:         Why does that upset you so much?

CL:          Because they killed my parents.

TH:         Let’s talk about the connection between going out of the house and the pain you felt when your parents died.

CL:          (Crying) My life was never happy after that. No one ever loved me again.

This was the second day’s work. The entire next session was spent in further exploring the connection between the fear of being out of the house and the experience of the sudden loss of her parents at such an early age.

One of the last sessions explored her death in that lifetime.

CL:          I am having normal afternoon tea, and suddenly my cup falls out of my hand and I see my body on the floor.

TH:         What are your feelings when this happens?

CL:          Surprised, but in many ways very relieved.

TH:         Move away from surprise to the point of understanding the meaning of that lifetime.

CL:          Yes.

TH:         What were the major lessons you were working on then?

CL:          To understand more about love and fear.

TH:         Did you gain the understanding you needed?

CL:          It’s not really resolved, but I know more than I did at the beginning.

TH:         What’s the meaning of those experiences for your present lifetime?

CL:          I’ve got to let go of the fear of loving people.

TH:         Is there anything else?

CL:          Taking risks in life is not nearly as painful as always living in fear. I need to do more of that—take risks.

The material was explored over eight sessions, with time and care devoted to the particular emotional aspects, without using desensitization through repetition. The therapeutic agent was assumed to be the supportive stance which made it possible for her to explore this material. During this period, she experienced times of mild discomfort in her normal waking state, which she associated with the past-memories.

Several years after this regression I spent some time in London and, while I was there, I checked on some of the vital statistics the client had disclosed. I did find the record of a child born with the name she had reported in the year that she had said was that of her birth. The name was not an unusual one, but it was interesting that the birth occurred in the assumed birth year. I found a report, also, of an Anglican orphanage and school in the name the patient had reported, and in the part of London in which she said it had been located. It was no longer in existence but there were records of its functioning during the time the patient felt she had been there. I did not find a record of her death in the year in which she said it had taken place.

At the conclusion of the therapeutic sessions all symptoms of agoraphobia were absent and have not returned as of this current time six years later. Her lifelong reluctance disappeared entirely, a change which she ascribed to dealing with the opium addiction in that lifetime.

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