Article: Past-Life Therapy for Phobias: Patterns and Outcome – Thelma B. Freedman (Is.13)

by Thelma B. Freedman, M.A.

The following paper presents the results of a small research study that the author carried out in partial fulfillment of the requirements for her Ph.D. at Saybrook Institute. The author examined the past-life and interlife reports of phobic people, looking for any significant patterns and also for therapeutic outcome. Her results seem heartening to our field.


I became interested in examining past-life therapy for phobias in part because I had seen its effectiveness in my own practice. Treatment of phobias is mentioned by almost all writers on past-life therapy methods, and Clark (1995) found, in her survey of therapists, that nearly all (93%) placed phobias high on their lists of successes.

However, this was all anecdotal: There had never been a satisfactory formal study of this reputed success with phobias. But I knew that outcome with phobics could actually be measured, unlike some other conditions, because the symptoms of phobia are well-known and can be found on numerous scales and checklists, as well as in all the DSM’s. In fact, phobias are often the choice for researchers in all fields precisely because the symptoms are so easy to measure. So it was not hard to design a pre/post test study for the therapeutic results of past-life therapy with phobic people, using pre/post test scales to measure their phobia symptoms. These scales would give me real numbers that could be analyzed for significance.

I also thought that people with phobias would not be hard to find, so gathering volunteers would be an easy task. I was wrong here: agoraphobics turned out to be plentiful but shy about actually volunteering, even though I was willing to go to them! Of people with other types of phobias, I had plenty.

I had another reason for wanting to study people with phobias, however. I had noticed in the mid-eighties that there seemed to be a predictable pattern that the past-life reports of my clients with simple phobias followed (Freedman, 1987). I could also find traces of this pattern in the anecdotal literature. The pattern could be broken into its segments, as follows:

  1. The person reported between two to four past lives as being causal of the phobia;
  2. Embedded within these were between two to seven incidents involving the phobia agent;
  3. At least one of these was a death experience involving the phobia agent;
  4. One of the reported past lives was the most recent life;
  5. The time between the death in this most recent life and the birth into the present life was less than 15 years.

This pattern seemed to apply to cases of simple phobia, but not as much to social phobias and almost never to agoraphobia.

Then, in 1992, de Jong published in the Journal her paper describing a pattern she had found in the past-life reports of agoraphobic clients and that she found to be effective in treatment. This was a very different pattern from the one I had found to be consistent among simple phobics. De Jong’s pattern was:

  1. The person reported (as causal of the phobia) an interlife experience in which he or she did not realize that they had died;
  2. Instead of “going to the light,” the soul simply floated aimlessly until drawn into the body of a fetus;
  3. This was not necessarily after their most recent life;
  4. This floating time was one of fear and confusion;
  5. During this time they saw other people, possibly living, but could not make contact with them.

It seemed to me that if past-life reports are fantasies, one should not expect to see such neat patterning connected with two such different conditions. After all, people can (and do) fantasize anything. Thus, my first objective became to see if these two very different patterns emerged as causal of the simple phobias and agoraphobias in my study. As for social phobias, I had no idea what might emerge as characteristic for them.

So my study had two objectives: 1) to examine the past-life reports for any patterns, those above or others, that might emerge that would be discriminatory of the phobias, and 2) to assess the therapeutic effectiveness of past-life therapy for phobias, using pre/post test measures.


Participants were recruited through newspaper advertisements, professional colleagues, bulletin board fliers, and self-help groups. In this recruitment process the idea of past lives or interlives was not mentioned to any participant, although they were told that hypnosis would be used. Treatment as such was specifically not guaranteed; participants were told that the purpose of the research was to examine a process sometimes used with phobias. Participants were neither charged nor remunerated for participation.

Altogether, 27 participants completed the study, some of them multi-phobic. At intake, each participant completed consent and recordkeeping forms, and a 16-item anxiety-level scale for each of their phobias. This scale was one of two devised from the Scale of Diagnostic Criteria for Panic Disorders, DSM-III-R. (The DSM-IV was not yet available at the time the study began). The 16th item on the scale was “none of the above;” if anyone had checked this at intake they obviously would have been ineligible for participation. None did. Checking at least three items for each phobia was required for participation.

Also at intake, each participant was guided into hypnosis by means of eye fixation and guided relaxation, and this was deepened by guided imagery of walking through a woodland scene and then to a beach. Once on the beach, they were directed into a “magic chair,” where an assessment was made of their level of hypnosis. This was done by means of Tart’s Self-Report Scale of Hypnotic Depth (1970). A level of 5 or deeper was required; this level was chosen because James (1993) had found that people who reached these levels were significantly more apt to report past lives, and because these levels gave some assurance to me that the participant was truly in hypnosis.

Four participants did not reach the required levels. For the 23 who did, once they reported their hypnosis level their “Upper Mind” was accessed. At this point I defined their Upper Mind to them as “the part of your mind that is wise, knows everything, and wants the best for you.” After establishing ideomotor responses (finger signals) for communicating with the Upper Mind, I asked whether any past lives were involved in the development of their phobias, whether any interlife experiences (defined to them as “the time between lives”) were involved, and whether any experiences in childhood or earlier in their (present) lives were involved. These questions were asked in the above order of all participants, no matter what their phobias. I used this order because although past lives have been much publicized, de Jong’s particular interlife experience has not. Thus I reasoned that if these reports are fantasies participants would be most likely to report past lives in connection with their phobias of any type, especially if given the chance to do so first.

These questions were the first time past lives or interlives were mentioned to the participants. Whatever the answers, the Upper Mind was then asked how many such experiences were involved, and whether it was permissible for the participant to explore them. The answer in every case but one was “yes.” In that case, the participant was informed directly by her Upper Mind (“it just came to me”) that she could get over her agoraphobia by herself and had no need to explore the reasons (from her childhood) for it. We went no further with the session. Two months later her outcome scale as well as her behavior showed that she had, indeed, got over her agoraphobia by herself.

After getting this information and permission from the Upper Mind I asked the participant to give a reasoned judgment whether or not he or she wanted to explore some or all of the relevant experiences then and there. All said yes. I then gave instructions that the participant would remain calm and comfortable no matter what happened and would suffer no distress, and then asked the Upper Mind to guide the magic chair “wherever we need to go first, entering at a calm moment just before the relevant experience.”

In the case of past lives, we explored the past life carefully and fairly completely, to get a sense of the life as a whole before the phobia-related incidents were accessed. In the interlife experiences, participants reported “just floating” when the magic chair stopped, and we then moved backward to the moment when the floating had begun. This was invariably the moment immediately after a death in a past life, but the participant did not realize that the person was dead. I then gave directions to move forward to see what happened next, then back again to the moment after the death, and so forth until the participant suddenly realized that the person back there had died. I did not directly suggest this to them. Then we moved back into the life to explore it a bit, ending this with the death experience again. This time, however, I instructed the participant to “do it right” and they moved upwards and into brightness.

As is my practice in all past-life work, in all cases I instructed the participant to say goodbye to the prior persona, thank them for their good qualities, and leave whatever negatives “back there” that they thought they should.

I proceeded in this way with all participants until all phobia-related incidents had been explored. Sessions were approximately two hours long. Some participants were able to access all relevant material at the intake session and that became our only session; others took two or three sessions. No one took more than three, or more than seven hours total. For participants who had multiple phobias we explored all phobias for which they had completed anxiety-level scales at intake.

Two months or more after the last session with each participant I mailed them the second set of anxiety-level scales, one for each phobia for which they had completed scales at intake. Their scores on the two scales, intake and follow-up, were statistically compared to examine the effectiveness of treatment.


In all, 27 people participated in this study; between them they suffered from 52 phobias. Seventeen had multiple phobias. Twenty-three participants reached the required levels of hypnosis; they comprised 39 phobias. For the four who did not reach the required level, we merely talked about their phobias at intake, although outcome was secured from them.

Upper Minds proved to be correct in their initial assessments of how many past lives or interlives were involved; not so exact in the number of childhood experiences involved.

The appended graphs present the results of this study visually, for both of my objectives. The line graph presents the outcome results; the bar graph, the patterns. Because many participants had multiple phobias of different types, I considered the phobias themselves (rather than the individual participants) as the units of study for the analysis. Both graphs reflect this focus.

Objective 1: Patterns

There was only one claustrophobic in this study; she reported an interlife experience as causal of her claustrophobia. This was identical in its elements with the interlife experiences reported by the agoraphobics. For this reason I have grouped agoraphobics and claustrophobics under the heading of “space” phobics. However, this may have been pure chance. The bar graph and the table below present the raw percentages visually (there was some overlap.)

N=39 phobias Past Lives Interlives Childhood only
Simple phobias: N=25 84% 4% 16%
Social phobias: N=6 34% 0% 67%
Space phobias: N=8 25% 63% 38%

(p = < .005, Chi-square)

Some of the groups are very small and this has been controlled for in the analysis. However, it makes prediction less than certain. Nevertheless, one can surmise that simple phobias are more likely than not to be associated with past-life experiences, social phobias with mostly childhood and some past-life experiences, and space phobias with mostly interlife and some childhood experiences, as well as occasional past-life experiences.

In general, both de Jong’s and my patterns as described above were supported. However, minor adjustments can be made in each. Because the overwhelming majority of phobias were simple phobias, this data is the strongest. In the following, only the phobias that were said to be related to past lives or interlives are discussed, because it is only those that these two patterns would apply to.

Simple phobias (reporting either past lives or interlives):

This group was comprised of 16 participants, with a total of 22 simple phobias. Of this group, 95% of the simple phobias were said to have been caused by at least one past life, and 5% by an interlife experience as well. No simple phobia was said to be related to an interlife experience only. From one to four past lives were reported as causal of the phobias, with X of 1.96. From one to five incidents were reported, with X of 2.76. Sixty-three percent of simple phobias were said to be related to at least one past-life death experience; the range for phobia-related death experiences was from 0 to 3 for any one phobia.

As for whether a phobia-related past life was the most recent life, for only 27% was this true, for 36% false, and for the rest the data are uncertain. For the 27% in which the most recent past life was said to be phobia-related, the time between the death in that life and the present birth was from 3 to 43 years. However, the 43-year interval was unique: for the rest, the interval was from 3 to 19 years.

Agoraphobia (space phobias, includes one claustrophobia):

This group is very tiny: only five participants. However, what they reported supports de Jong’s pattern in general. Of this group, 80% (4 of the 5) of the space phobias were said to have been caused by an interlife experience only, and 20% (1) by past-life experience (2 past lives and no interlife experience).

Participants in the interlife experience reported floating after they had died in a past life, with no awareness that they had died. They floated for an indeterminate length of time until they felt themselves drawn into the body of a fetus. This floating experience was somewhat confusing but not frightening, although this may have been a result of my general hypnotic suggestion to all participants that they would remain calm and comfortable no matter what happened. They saw no people, alive or dead, while they were floating.

An interesting thing about this interlife experience is that in all cases the prior past-life persona died either unexpectedly (one was struck by lightning) or in a state of unconsciousness; one died suddenly as a very young (3-years old) child. Two came to realize that the past-life persona had died in a coma and that they had been floating “in and out” for some time before death actually occurred. When it did, they had simply “stayed out” without realizing that they had died.

A final word about these patterns: All of the space phobics had multiple phobias, so that in addition to their space phobias they had either simple or social phobias as well. While 4 of the 5 reported the interlife pattern as causal of their space phobias, they all reported past-life experiences as causal of their simple and/or social phobias. These past-life experiences followed the pattern for simple phobias as described above.

Objective 2: Outcome

Outcome was assessed by means of Sandler’s A-test (two-tailed), applied to the differences between the intake/outcome anxiety-level scores. The line graph presents the means of the intake/outcome scores for three groups:

Group 1: Those who reported past lives/interlives as causal of their phobias while in hypnosis;

Group 2: Those who reported childhood experiences only while in hypnosis;

Group 3: Those who failed to reach the required levels.

Within each group, the phobias are presented by type. I have pooled the simple and social phobias because there is no significant difference between them in their outcome within each group.

1 Past Lives/int Simple/ social
2 Childhood oAnly Simple/ social
3 No hypnosis Simple/ social

(Sandler’s A-test, two-tailed)



Objective 1: If these past-life and interlife reports are fantasies, it is unlikely, I think, that these simple and space phobic people would have reported the two patterns described above so differentially. This is, I think, especially true because they were first presented with the option of reporting past lives, not interlives, in connection with their phobias. One might say that the interlife choice was their second choice, and it was presented as a choice after the past life option. Since past lives have been so well publicized, one might surmise that if these reports are fantasies, all (or most) participants would have related all of their phobias, of all kinds, to them. This becomes more true when one considers that although the near death experience (NDE) reported by Moody (1975) and others has also been well-publicized, the interlife experience reported by these space phobia participants is very different from that and has not been publicized or even reported except for de Jong’s brief paper in the Journal. Since none of the participants belong to APRT or take any particular interest in past lives, it is extremely unlikely that they had read her paper. Yet the space phobia participants in Group 1 reported de Jong’s pattern in its general outlines. Similarly, the simple phobia participants reported Freedman’s pattern in its general outlines.

Both of these patterns seem to be supported, with minor changes, by this study, which suggests that these reports, at least, may not be fantasies. That does not mean that they are true memories of past events, however. This was a small study with small sample sizes, conducted by one investigator. It needs to be replicated many times with larger samples before any firm conclusions about this objective can be drawn.

Objective 2: Past-life/interlife therapy in hypnosis was extremely effective for all those who reported them (Group 1). For those with simple/social phobias, exploring the causal childhood experiences only was also effective, but not for those with space phobias (Group 2). It is possible that a larger sample would find this effective also with them, however, since the sample here was only 3. Simply talking about the phobias at intake (Group 3) with no hypnosis was only slightly and not significantly effective. It is possible that some of these results may be somewhat attributable to hypnosis itself, or to unconscious suggestions from the investigator. Further studies may clarify these issues.

The results attained, however, strongly suggest that past-life/interlife therapy is a therapy of choice for phobic people whose Upper Minds place the cause of their phobias there. It was very effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety rapidly, in from two to seven hours, and can be begun (and often finished) at the first session with most people. Exploring relevant childhood experiences in hypnosis seems also helpful, especially for those with simple/social phobias and somewhat (but not statistically significant) with those with space phobias as well. Considering the estimate of 28 million people in the US who suffer from anxiety disorders and the amount of resources invested yearly in their treatment, any therapy that gives such rapid and apparently effective relief should be a therapy of choice, regardless of whether these reports are true reincarnation memories or fantasies.



Clark, R. L. Past-Life therapy: The state of the art. Austin, TX: Rising Star Press, 1995.

Freedman, T. B. Therapeutic uses of hypnotically-facilitated past-life reports: Two cases. Master’s Thesis, Saybrook Institute, San Francisco, CA, 1987.

de Jong, M. Agoraphobia: Trauma of a lost soul? Journal of Regression Therapy, VI (1), 37-41, 1992.

James, R. T. Regressed past lives and survival after physical death: Unique experiences? Journal of Regression Therapy, VII (1), 33 – 50, 1993.

Moody, R. A. Life after Life. Covington, GA: Mockingbird, 1975.

Tart, C. T. Self-report scales of hypnotic depth. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 18. 105 – 125, 1970.


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