Behind every therapeutic system there are sets of assumptions and parameters from which therapists devise direction, treatment goals, and interpretation in the therapeutic process. The existing schools of therapy are classified according to differences in their fundamental assumptions, from which our major paradigms can be stated:
(1) In the Reductionist paradigm all psychological phenomena are understood in terms of elemental factors, such as chemical, biological and physiological events. Within this paradigm consciousness is not the primary focus and is treated as an epiphenomenon. Modern allopathic medicine, psychiatry, behaviorism, and psychoanalysis are based on this paradigm.
(2) The Humanistic paradigm is one which emphasizes and values the human experience without reducing it to components or regarding it as inferior to any other phenomena. Such renowned therapists as Rollo May, Erich Fromm, Carl Rogers, and Abraham Maslow rallied against the reductionist position and helped to establish the humanistic movement.
(3) The Dualistic paradigm is one which interprets experience as an interaction between two complementary principles such as material phenomena vs. consciousness, mind vs. body, yang vs. yin, and the supramundane vs. the mundane. This paradigm is more widely embraced by Eastern philosophies, such as Taoism and various Yoga schools. Carl Jung’s psychological system is explicitly supportive of this paradigm.
(4) The Monistic model assumes that there is only one fundamental principle, consciousness, and that unitary consciousness is all that exists. The assumption is that the phenomenal world is an illusory manifestation of unitary consciousness. The paradigm has been expounded by many of the great Eastern philosophical systems such as Hinduism, especially in the Vedanta philosophy and the Upanishad literature. We also have this view expounded by the early Western mystic sages; such as Plotinus, Meister Ekhart, and St. John of the Cross. Even though this paradigm is not accepted in current psychological circles, it is being strongly supported and developed in the field of transpersonal psychology, the new quantum physics, and from the ideas being developed by physicists David Bohm and Karl Pribram.
We consider these paradigms as not mutually exclusive but as conceptual models evolving from various states of awareness regarding the nature of life. Each succeeding paradigm is a progressively more comprehensive frame of reference.
What is interesting about past-life therapy is that it embraces many elements of all four paradigms. The past-life therapy process moves a client from a position of less awareness to one of greater awareness of his own wholeness. The fourth paradigm exemplifies an end state—an enlightened perspective from which there is a realization that we exist in a sea of consciousness. Each layer of consciousness, as expressed in the mind-body-spirit continuum, intercepts and influences all other layers. Within this monistic view the ego state is a splintering of consciousness, establishing itself as an apparent independent factor of universal consciousness. As a result, the ego positions itself to experience alienation, assorted states of separation, and denial of its spiritual base. Having fallen from our Eden where wholeness is the natural state, we then play out the myth of the prodigal son, whose journey is to work toward coming home and recognizing the unitary nature of reality. Facilitating a client in this direction is what I believe is the paramount goal in past-life therapy.
The path of return is what Jung calls the individuation process in which the personality becomes integrated on all levels. The process is not a straight and narrow path. It is more often circuitous and is like a labyrinth filled with challenges and surprises. Our lives are usually a matrix of involvements and patterns, and a past-life therapist needs to acknowledge this perspective in order to deal with the multidimensional qualities, scenarios, and communications that occur in the therapeutic process.
When individual therapists want to highlight the dramatic changes which often occur as a result of the past-life therapy process, it is easy to assume that mere retrieval of a forgotten and suppressed memory is all that is needed to create change. However, therapeutic change is not linear—moving from a symptomatic situation to one which is symptom-free. If a person has a particular symptom, that symptom has impact on all aspects of that person’s ecosystem or psychological environment. Change is often lateral in its process, affecting many levels of awareness, behavior, and relationships. This form of change is an important factor to acknowledge, as a therapist needs to attend to more than one level of change in order to facilitate the integrative process.
In evaluating the therapeutic value of past-life imagery, the value appears to lie in the metaphoric qualities of the past-life scenarios and not in the content. Such past-life images can be considered a metaphor for holding together various memory and behavioral patterns of the present. When changes occur in the past-life scenario, concomitant lateral changes occur in the present-life framework, with shifts in relationships, release of negative feelings, and projections and acquisition of new-found values. Since newly-formed values can be fragile, past-life therapists need to anchor these values and to reinforce the changes. In looking at the past-life therapy process, three stages appear to unfold.
Stage 1: Identification
Here the patient relegates control to his own unconscious process so that he can begin to experience an internal scenario, a mythic journey, an identifiable figure perceived as a personal projection or subpersonality. To facilitate this process, the therapist employs skills of inducing relaxation as well as hypnosis while building a trust bond. This allows the client to let go and allow past-life images to emerge from the unconscious.
The initial phase of this stage may be difficult if the client shows hesitance or reluctance. Clinical skills are needed to confront and work with resistances. Neophyte therapists may feel that resistances need only be overcome, but resistances are maneuvers to protect the integrity of the personality and should be worked through before proceeding.
Once the past-life images begin to emerge and are articulated by various therapeutic means (role-playing, gestalt, voice dialogue), the therapist must then activate his own intuition to explore and elucidate the many levels of meaning that may emerge. For example, a female witch figure or a Queen of Sheba personality for a male client may well represent the shadow/feminine aspects within himself, the seductive mother, or a repeated self-defeating pattern of encounter with the women in his life.
The dynamic phase of this stage manifests when the therapist enters into a dialogue with the client, helping the client to focus more clearly on the perceptual and emotional issues. This dialogue can be creative and transformative as the therapist helps the client to see through the persona, or the masks of personality. By directing the energy and attention of the client to confront and encounter the characters in the past-life scenario, whether they be the enemy, the persecutor, the victim, the teacher, or the lover, the client begins to understand his/her own created world view. By empathically identifying with the characters in the regression, the client begins to understand how the psyche draws from the world the necessary situations, persons, and props to develop the drama for his/her own personal and spiritual growth. Therapeutic techniques as found in Gestalt therapy are useful in helping the client to empathize and to identify with the various aspects of past-life experiences. This process of identifying with parts of the projections can then lead a client away from over-focusing on “content” to becoming more involved with “process”.
The success of this identification stage can be measured by the ability of the client to see the past-life experience as a metaphor for the present life and how past-life experiences act as matrices holding the energy patterns or life scenarios which are repeatedly played out. By creating an affect bridge between the past-life experience and the dynamics of the present situation, the client then moves to the second stage of the past-life therapy process.
Stage 2: Dis-Identification
Life mirrors paradoxes and other levels of meaning, and life situations become a series of Zen koans. A client comes to a paradoxical realization that nothing is what it appears to be. Unveiling a migraine headache leads to a past-life experience of a tragic death involving a blow to the head area. A cancerous situation unmasks repressed self-hatred and anger. A series of tragic life experiences may reveal an indomitable spirit and an inner strength. Themes of power yield to themes of impotency. Karmic laws become the modus operandi for the scenarios that develop from one past-life pattern to another.
Reliving a past-life experience is like going into the “green room,” the backstage room of a theater where a player removes or puts on the accoutrements of the role. In this special room, one realizes his/her true nature as distinguished from the role being played. It is this realization that is at the heart of the dis-identification process. Seeing the function of various roles in the spiritual development of one’s being or soul, a person begins to release the investment of energy once locked into rigid roles. Roles are then seen as social conventions, vehicles for discovering and expressing certain awareness and wisdom. From this point of awareness, a client can then play with that emotional energy or role without rigid expectations and seriousness. The client discovers a psychological freedom to decide whether or not to articulate that role. S/he also begins to feel the freedom to choose and integrate the energy with other parts of the self. With this freedom, lightness of spirit, and process of dis-identification, the client is then led to the third stage of the past-life therapy process.
Stage 3: Transformation
Here a client begins to feel a re-contextualization of his/her life. Life takes on a different perspective as s/he becomes both a participant and witness to life processes. Seeing life as holotropic (moving toward wholeness), a client begins to shift attitudes and perceptions regarding past traumas and events, psychological scripts, particular parents as necessary factors for growth, and attraction or repulsion for certain individuals.
During this stage, the therapist guides the client through past-life experiences in a way which allows the realization of the “rightness” of life patterns and how all that has transpired has had functional value in the client’s life. This is a realization that allows the client to understand the unitary nature of life and consciousness.
Past-life scripts can be rewritten or released, depending on the choice of the client. With the release of self-defeating patterns, a client becomes more attuned to living in the here-and-now, perceiving and experiencing the importance and meaning of the “what is” in the world. When understanding emerges as to the internal mythic process and how the past-life scenarios connect with present-day situations, the client begins to appreciate life as the great teacher. Relationships begin to take on deeper meaning when it is realized that all relationships are opportunities for personal growth.
One salient characteristic of this stage is that clients begin to experience more synchronistic events in their lives. Synchronicity, according to Jung, is an acausal connecting principle that manifests itself through meaningful coincidences. There are no rational explanations for these situations in which a person has a thought, intuition, or inner psychological state that coincides with an event.
For example, a client feels ready for a new relationship and suddenly meets a person that resonates to that need. A client becomes clear as to what type of job s/he needs to support a system of values and at a dinner finds him/herself unexpectedly seated next to a person who has that type of job opening. Even though it is often difficult to explain the coincidences, these events are intuitively experienced as significant. By surrendering to their inner life in the past-life process, clients become more connected to their outer life. This process of feeling connected continues as clients experience synchronistic events which offer them perceptions that may be useful in their psychological and spiritual growth and which may reveal to them, through intuitive knowledge, that their lives have meaning. Each synchronistic event becomes an affirmation for the feeling that there is a pattern of underlying oneness. These affirmations become reinforcers for sensing that life is a spiritual path for self-discovery, and clients find themselves gaining more trust in themselves and the world.
In this transformational stage, clients also exhibit a greater sense of self-esteem and worthiness. Their inner life now has value, becoming a gyroscopic beacon for personal growth and direction. Emerging from the cave of illusions, a client begins to “see” more deeply the significance of life and its evolutionary process. It is as if past-life therapy affords clients an opportunity to remove the spiritual cataracts that have prevented them from perceiving the unitary nature of life.
The above three stages are but an outline of the past-life therapy process. Therapists do not necessarily take a client through all three stages in one sitting or period of therapy. These stages are more a general map of the territory that unfolds as a therapist guides the client through an inner journey. Past-life therapy is still in its infancy. Besides incorporating traditional therapeutic techniques, past-life therapists are now developing new intuitive skills to work with the levels of consciousness and accompanying phenomena that are elicited within this process.
If we, as therapists, can guide our clients through their own journey using our best skills and the clients’ experience of past-life images, we may find ourselves developing past-life therapy as one of the most challenging forms of integrative therapy yet to takes its place in the psychological arena.
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