by Rabia Clark, M.A.
This article is a continuation of an article on page 97 of the December 1993 issue of The Journal of Regression Therapy. It gives additional findings from Rabia Clark’s research project on past-life therapy as it is practiced today.
Just what is past-life therapy? Is it a legitimate therapeutic technique–or is it more allied to spiritual healing? And, if it is a part of the psychological therapies, how can it be integrated into the “mainstream?” How can the spiritual views of the field be integrated with the more traditional cathartic methods? How has past-life therapy been researched so far?
Early studies on past-life therapy (PLT) were focused on the idea of proving the validity of reincarnation (Chet Snow and Helen Wambach’s studies (1989) are among these early efforts). Hazel Denning explored using past-life therapy to resolve guilt issues (1984, 1988). Winafred Lucas published several reports about using the Mind Mirror to measure brainwaves of both client and therapist while doing PLT (1989). John Z. Amorozo investigated the role of PLT as a form of transpersonal therapy in his dissertation at Union Institute. Helen Wambach studied 26 past-life therapists (1986) to ascertain PLT’s role in healing, reports on xenoglossy, karmic ties between present and past lifetimes, and reliving the death experience. The usefulness of PLT as reported by clients, and whether or not the client benefits from listening to an audiotape of the session afterwards, was investigated by Karl Schlotterbeck (1986). The Journal of Regression Therapy and the Newsletter are to be commended for presenting papers and special issues on many facets of the practice of PLT. In addition, there are other books dealing with PLT techniques in detail. They usually contain case histories. Among them are Lucas (1993); Ten Dam (1989, 1993); Schubow (1989); Moore (1976); and McClain (no date). (See references.)
Spiritual and Cathartic Methods in PLT
In reviewing the data from my study of 136 experienced past-life therapists, I was interested to find two recurring themes: the spiritual and the cathartic. The therapists focusing on cathartic methods are combining PLT with more traditional dynamic models, such as the Jungian approach of Woolger. The spiritual focus of PLT brings the therapy into alignment with what is now being identified as transpersonal psychotherapy. This goes beyond the three earlier types of therapy (dynamic/Freudian, behaviorist, and humanistic) to include them and to also include studies of consciousness, meaning and purpose, healing, death, birth, rebirth, psychic phenomena, visions and trance states, and other areas which stretch therapy beyond the limitations of the individual ego into the collective consciousness. First, let’s look at some of the spiritual factors in PLT.
I asked a series of questions in my study to ascertain how frequent psychic phenomena were in past-life sessions. The answers were surprising. Eighty-nine percent of the therapists have clients who sometimes experience inner light during the session, 97% of the therapists use imagery with light for healing in some sessions, 89% of the clients report feeling energy flowing into their body, 86% of the clients are reported to experience other dimensions (including other worlds, Atlantis, Lemuria, futuristic scenes, angels or light beings), 68% of the therapists have clients who find themselves in past lives together. It would be interesting to find out what techniques evoke these responses – or are they spontaneous? Do clients of the same therapist tend to have similar psychic experiences? If so, it may be elicited by the therapist, without their being conscious of their influence. It certainly would be unusual to find these phenomena in most traditional types of psychotherapy. It seems that past-life therapists are open to extrasensory perception phenomena, and so are more likely to find them reported by their clients. These phenomena may be another hallmark of past-life therapy, since they occur so frequently. They may just go along with the interests of this particular group, as 92% of past-life therapists in the study report a belief in reincarnation.
The death in the past life is reviewed 98% of the time. After leaving the body behind, the life just remembered is reviewed, to understand how it relates to the problem in the present life (94%). PLT has developed many ways of dealing with death in a past life, and with the review of the life just lived. The client is frequently asked to leave the body behind, and go to an interlife state where a review of the past life is accomplished. The whole area of death and after-death experiences in PLT is a fascinating subject and has been reported in several books and articles. Research is underway about death anxiety and PLT. This whole area is a fertile one for future studies and conference presentations.
A Higher Self or inner guides are evoked by 88% of the therapists to get a broader perspective in the interlife state. The use of what is called “the higher mind” (94%) is also very common, and has not been previously documented. How these inner helpers are accessed, whether they are all the same being, and what uses are made of them in therapy would be an interesting study. They probably are a projected part of the client. These techniques have also been used in cases of multiple personality disorders. So the technique of using inner advisors is not specific to PLT. While in the between-life state, about 92% of the therapists explore what happens there. These techniques as they relate to past lives are possibly a contribution of PLT, and may have been influenced by what is reported in near-death and out-of-body experiences, which are recent areas of study, first brought to the medical community by Moody and Kubler-Ross.
I find it interesting that 96 responses say, “The client and I are connected psychically and I can see and feel their images, and I base some of my responses on those intuitive impressions.” Eleven percent respond that this was their most frequent style (15 therapists). A psychic connection between therapist and client seems to be common in past-life therapy. The Mind Mirror studies by Lucas mentioned earlier are a good start on verification of this interesting phenomenon.
The most frequent techniques or areas in PLT are as follows: Releasing guilt was used by all of the 136 therapists in the study. It is used in every session by about 30% of them. Catharsis is also very common, about 94% use it, though only 22% use it every time. A spiritual focus is important for 98%. It is always used 62% of the time. Rescripting techniques, which ask the client to change unpleasant scenes, are used by 70% of the group, but not regularly. (This is not an easy technique to use, as clients resist changing past-life scenes if they believe they are real.)
The strong focus on both catharsis and on spiritual issues appears to mean that both of those areas are of prime importance in PLT, and may be unique to PLT as a combination. The spiritual focus is used in every session about three times more often than are cathartic techniques (62% vs. 22%). (The term “spiritual focus” was left up to the individual therapist to define.) There seem to be two trends in past-life therapy today, the spiritual and the cathartic. Of course, catharsis does not necessarily leave out the spiritual focus. However, Woolger (1987) seems to imply that the spiritual experiences are not as valuable as the cathartic ones (pp.310-311). He prefers to deal with the shadow and with complexes, using a Jungian model. Some therapists do combine both of these viewpoints.
Gil and Brenman (1959) say the important role of the therapist in working with catharsis must be taken into account. When the client experiences a revivification of the traumatic memory without the presence of the therapist, no change occurs. The supportive help of the psychotherapist is what makes the difference. Why this is the case is a mystery. Also, even with the presence of the therapist, it is not predictable which cases will be effective with abreaction, and which will not be.
The cathartic release of traumatic memories centralized around a core issue is an important focus of past-life therapy. Caetano (1988) is the main proponent for the core issue theory. Clark (1991) disagrees with her, preferring a non-linear system of time where what seem to be other lives may be images from the collective unconscious in parallel dimensions in the eternal “now.” This is a quantum theory model, and Caetano’s is a Cartesian/Newtonian model. Both seem to be useful in therapy, though no studies have been made to compare them.
Further work with catharsis is done with release of energy stuck in the body as a result of accidents, and is used by 67% of the group. It is used both with accidents in this life and in past lives (Hansen, 1987). This is an interesting concept, and goes back to the Freudian beliefs of energy being stored and then released in the body, the hydraulic model. Gill & Brenman (1959) comment that it would be impossible these days to duplicate the kinds of results gotten by Janet, Prince, Breuer, or Freud, because there has been an “important cultural change in the ‘style’ of neuroses, and that the ‘good old fashioned hysteric’ is rapidly disappearing from the psychiatric scene.” (p. 345).
They say we would be dissatisfied with the primitive theories, such as the abreaction technique, which is an anachronism, coming from an era where “the search for the specific traumatic memory was the leading, and indeed at that time revolutionary, preoccupation of the therapist.” (ibid, p. 346).
The search for this earliest memory was based on the ideas of the release of the strangulated affect attached to a specific repressed traumatic memory as the critical process in cure. We can see that PLT therapists releasing energy stuck in the body after an accident (in present or past lives) are working with this older model. Gerber’s (1988) model, that the memories may be found in subtle bodies instead of in the physical body, is an updated version, and is more acceptable to some members of the spiritual faction of PLT.
I call it a “faction” as I noticed throughout the study that therapists with the most formal psychiatry and psychology training often expressed firm opinions that all past-life therapists should be trained in therapy techniques before practicing PLT. The other viewpoint, that training in metaphysics and spiritual disciplines were essential for PLT therapists, was also important to many. It seems that we want to be associated with people who are like us, and who hold our models of reality. Yet, since 92% of the therapists in the study believe in reincarnation, and about half of them are interested in proving their client’s images are real, it does seem that the two camps have beliefs in common. Hopefully there will be more dialogue around the spirituality vs. catharsis theme, and some way of integrating the two.
The APRT Spring 1995 Conference in Washington, D.C. will highlight the idea of past-life therapy entering the “mainstream” of psychology. I can’t help but wonder just what this means. If it indicates that we will be accepted by the American Psychological Association as a “proven” and “effective” method of psychotherapy, I don’t think we have much chance of going in that door any time soon. It if means inclusion in those therapies practicing under the umbrella of transpersonal psychotherapy, then there may be a warm welcome for us there. In fact, I think we’re already a long-time member of that group. Past-life therapists have presented papers at the Association of Transpersonal Psychology conferences at Asilomar, California, and in New Science conferences in Ft. Collins, Colorado, among others. There are more areas where our viewpoint would be welcome, for example, in conferences on imagery and hypnosis, near death experiences, and reincarnation. Hopefully more of our members will expand their scope to give presentations in these situations where our techniques have common views. That will be a way to enter the mainstream, as a transpersonal type of therapy.
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