by Thelma B. Freedman, M.A.
Case studies are an important method which professionals in many disciplines use to share and illustrate information and techniques. In this one, the author suggests the use of past-life reports as a technique which she found helpful in dealing with a recurrent nightmare-apparition.
Evelyn Fuqua, in her article in Volume IV, 1, of the Journal, suggests the use of past-life report therapy with children’s recurrent nightmares. She discusses her young client Ben, who suffered from a recurrent nightmare of being shot by Germans during World War II. Ben had realized at the age of nine that his recurrent nightmare might have a basis in a past life and requested appropriate therapy. Fuqua tells us that Ben was already familiar with the concept of past lives; thus, the association between a past life and his recurrent nightmare was a natural one for him to make.
To say that Ben was unusual in his nine-year-old’s awareness and acceptance of past-life report therapy is to make an extreme understatement. He was probably a lucky one in a million.
Sadly, many children in our culture suffer from recurring nightmares, and for the most part, they go right on suffering from them after they become adults. Fuqua suggests that these nightmares may sometimes have past-life roots, and I find that I agree with her. Early recognition of this possibility could lead to proper past-life therapy for the child and eliminate the nightmare and the associated psychological fears.
Fuqua’s paper reminded me of one of my very first past-life report cases, about fourteen years ago. My client, Joan, was in her mid-thirties, married and with three children. She had experienced a recurrent nightmare all her life. Perhaps, to be more accurate, I should call her nightmare a combination nightmare-apparition, for that is what it was.
It was, according to her, always the same: she would become cold and terrified in her sleep and would wake to find her room filled with an eerie silvery-blue light. Standing watching her was an “old man,” dressed in “old-fashioned, rumpled clothes.” This figure never moved, but he seemed to peer at her from beneath the brim of his battered hat, pulled down low on his forehead. Upon seeing him, Joan always screamed, and this broke the spell: he faded away and the silver-blue light went with him.
There had been some changes over the years. Joan said that in her childhood the nightmare had occurred two or three times a week; now, it came only every two or three months. However, in her childhood the “old man” had stood across the room; over the years he had been getting closer until, at the time she came to me, he was standing very near her bed. Joan had learned to live with her nightmare, but now in her thirties she was terrified again because she was afraid of what would happen if the man got close enough to touch her, as she was sure would happen soon.
As Joan spoke to me she actually trembled with fear. She had not come for past-life therapy, but rather in the hope that hypnosis per se could help her. It wasn’t even her own idea. Her sister had suggested it, and she had gone along with the idea in an “Oh well, why not?” spirit. Joan had no faith in therapy of any kind, and she didn’t hesitate to say so. When she told me why, I didn’t blame her.
Joan had had loving parents, who were concerned about their young daughter’s recurrent nightmare and asked their pediatrician about it when they first became aware of it. Joan was three or four at that time. The pediatrician told them not to worry about it, that it would go away within a couple of years. When Joan was eight and it had not gone away, her parents took her for advice and therapy to a child psychiatrist. She visited him every week for a year, but the nightmare continued as before. The psychiatrist finally told her parents that Joan was a healthy, bright, normal, and overly imaginative little girl, and that the nightmare would go away in a couple of years.
By the time Joan was in her middle teens the nightmare was occurring every two weeks or so, and she and her family had learned to live with it. However, during these teen years Joan began to sense that the figure was a little closer to her each time. This was so frightening that she again sought therapy, this time from a psychologist her parents knew slightly. He administered “a lot of tests” over the first few sessions, and then began a course of therapy which lasted for about six months. They talked a great deal about Joan’s childhood, and the nightmares continued. The psychologist finally concluded that Joan was fine and healthy and that the nightmares would go away in a couple of years.
In college, when she was 20, Joan’s roommate prompted her into counseling at the college student counseling center. After a few sessions there she was told she had deep-seated hostilities toward her parents and that the nightmares would go away in a few years, as soon as she had graduated from college and was truly independent from her parents. She was also advised to begin an active sexual life at the college, to relieve her tensions.
Her final therapy experience came soon after she married, at the age of 26. Her new husband, alarmed by the nightmares, took her to a psychiatrist, who admitted her into a local mental health center for evaluation and observation. She spent three weeks there and was released with a diagnosis of generalized anxiety and a prescription for a tranquilizer (which did not stop the nightmares but made her very dizzy). She and her husband were told that the nightmare would probably subside over the next few years.
As previously stated, Joan had no faith left in therapy. However, hypnosis had never been tried before, and she was willing to try anything.
One thing I discussed frankly with Joan was the possibility that she had been sexually abused by this “old man” in her childhood and had repressed the memory. I was a little cautious about bringing this up at her first session with me, but I reasoned that somewhere in all the therapy she had experienced, someone must have raised this issue. I was right. Far from being shocked by the idea, she laughed. It seemed that all her last three therapists had suggested this; had believed it, in fact, and had tried to get her to remember it. The psychiatrist in her childhood had probably believed it, too; Joan remembered a lot of playing with dolls with male and female body parts.
Joan said none of these therapists had been able to state conclusively that sexual abuse had occurred. Further, she indicated she had been a virgin when she married. Considering the spectrum of sexual abuses inflicted on children, this may not have totally eliminated the possibility of abuse. In any case, Joan accepted that hypnosis might reveal the truth. This was very important to her.
I must admit that I, like all those other therapists, assumed that Joan had probably been sexually abused in some way by the “old man.” It did not occur to me that a past-life report might be involved. Joan went into hypnosis easily and I used guided imagery to lead her into a clearing in the woods (she loved camping and the woods, so I knew this was an acceptable image for her). In the clearing, I brought down a white light which surrounded her with calm and safety. Then I asked her to bring the “old man” into the clearing, at the side opposite from her.
She had no trouble doing this. He stood just as he did in her nightmare, in his old-fashioned, rumpled clothes, watching her from under his hat brim, although she could not actually see his eyes. At my instruction, she asked him to look directly at her, but after a moment she reported that he would not do so.
However, she said that she now felt he wanted something from her. Naturally I instructed her to ask him what it was, but again, after a few moments she said that he would not reply. In short, he would neither talk to her nor look directly at her. He simply stood there.
At this point I asked her if she still wanted to explore any childhood experience she might have had with this man. She said she did. I then instructed her to calmly go back in time to a point five minutes before she had last seen him. I was still not considering the possibility of a past-life report, and expected a memory from her childhood to surface.
Instead, she found herself as an adult woman on a stony hillside, watching her little daughter gather the sparse wildflowers that grew there. The man was nowhere to be seen. However, as she described the scene, she became confused, because she wore a long old-fashioned skirt, and her daughter was not her present daughter. I realized that we might have slipped spontaneously into a past-life report, and I asked her where she was, telling her that she knew this and would become aware of it when I counted down from five to zero. Her response was, “I think I’m in Spain.”
At this point I brought her back to present time and full alertness. This is a matter of personal policy with me: I will not explore a past-life report unless the client approves, and not just in hypnosis. I suspected that she had stumbled into one. I wanted to be sure that she knew that we were into a whole new dimension of experience and that she had no qualms about moving into it. She didn’t. She was amazed and asked me if she could get stuck in the past-life report. I reassured her and we headed “back to Spain,” as she said.
Actually, as it turned out, we headed back to England, because I instructed her to go back to the time when she was a child in that lifetime. I reasoned that we might as well take the past-life report chronologically. The “old man” would appear sooner or later.
Joan reported a life in the early 1800’s. She was raised in an English seacoast town and when she was fifteen her widowed mother, knowing her own death was imminent and wanting to see her daughter secure, arranged a marriage for her to a prosperous local shopkeeper. Her mother died soon after the marriage.
Her new husband was in his forties, a dour and upright citizen. He was the man of Joan’s nightmare, her apparition. The young girl was, at first, entranced by her charming new home, her pretty new clothes, her new status as the wife of a prosperous man. But he was, of course, too old and too settled in his ways for her.
He was frank with her: he had married her because he wanted a housekeeper and a hostess, and because he hoped for a son to inherit his business. As time passed and she failed to become pregnant, he grew more and more distant toward her. She was soon lonely and bored, and the inevitable happened.
Fishing ships put in to the town to sell their catches, and she fell in love with a young fisherman from one of these ships. She ran away with him to his village in Spain, where he introduced her as his wife. She settled down as a village fisherman’s wife, and soon had a baby daughter.
Her life in Spain was not altogether happy. Her “husband,” like the other men of the village, was away for weeks at a time, and although the village women had an active life of their own, they never quite accepted her, the “foreign woman.” Nevertheless, she was fairly content, raising her child and participating in the life of the village as much as she was allowed.
One day, when her “husband” was away on his ship, she and her daughter were gathering wildflowers on a hillside. This was the initial scene she had experienced when we began the session. The child was a little distance away, picking flowers. When Joan looked up she saw her true, English husband striding up the hillside toward her, his clothes travel-stained and rumpled. He had tracked her down. He was followed by the women of the village.
He came up to her where she sat on the ground, wildflowers in her lap. He said nothing, but stood staring down at her, a look of scorn and hatred on his face. After a moment he gave her a savage kick. As if on cue, the village woman nearest to her scooped up a stone and threw it. The other women followed suit, howling epithets at her and pelting her with stones. She died, stoned to death by the “virtuous” village women who were outraged by her English husband’s story. The last thing she saw before she died was her husband, standing silently by, watching her writhing body from underneath his lowered hat brim. She could not see his eyes.
After we finished exploring this past-life report I knew that these two had unfinished business. They must forgive each other. Accordingly, I instructed Joan to place herself once more in the clearing in the woods that started the session. This time I gave her no white light and instructed her to confront her husband, ask him first what he wanted from her, and then ask his forgiveness for having run away from him. She must also forgive him for having acquiesced in her brutal death. He had been a cold and unforgiving man, and she, a romantic, dreaming girl. They had married for their own self-centered reasons, and the tragedy which followed was predictable.
Joan now realized this, and in the clearing she again asked the “old man” to come forward, calling him now by name, William. She was crying as she asked him what he wanted from her. This time she got an answer. He said he wanted her back, as his wife.
At my direction, she explained to him that their time was long past, that she had moved into another life and that they must forgive each other so that he could do the same. He seemed to understand, looked at her, took her hands, and spoke to her, agreeing. Then he smiled and faded away. Still crying, Joan called a “goodbye” to him as he went.
Before bringing her to alertness, I suggested she could remember these events if she wanted to. She did and also expressed a feeling of lightness and freedom. She “knew” her English husband, William, would not trouble her any longer. I was not too sure, but she was right. I last talked with her five years ago, about nine years after her past-life report, and she had not experienced the nightmare again. When I asked her if she missed it, she laughed, “No, not a bit! But sometimes I wonder where he is now.”
I have related Joan’s experience in detail to emphasize my agreement with Fuqua’s suggestion that childhood recurrent nightmares may have roots in past-life experience, and that if they do, they should be eliminated in childhood with past-life report therapy. As in Joan’s case, well-meaning but inappropriate therapy is ineffective, and it is time-consuming and expensive.
Although most children with recurrent nightmares probably are not taken for therapy and, even when adult, may never seek therapy for them, they still suffer the psychological uncertainty that Joan suffered. Consider: For over thirty years, Joan feared that there was something “wrong” with her, that she was somehow strange and different. Her parents, her college roommate, and her husband believed this, too. Although most sufferers from recurrent nightmares may not seek therapy for them, they, like Joan, believe there is something “wrong” with them, some dreadful, dark “wrongness” festering deep in their unconscious. They learn to live with the nightmare, often by hiding it from others, but they never learn to like it and they live in fear of it.
Had it been possible for Joan to have been treated with past-life report therapy in her childhood, it is likely that she would have been freed from her nightmare within one or two short sessions. Past-life report therapy was not readily available in her childhood, of course, but the situation is different today. It is appalling to realize that large numbers of children suffer from recurrent nightmares. It is probable that not all of these nightmares are past-life related, but it is easy to find out if they are by simply asking the “Upper Mind” at the first session if the nightmare is connected with a past life. If it is not, no harm done. But if it is, those children can be freed from them. Whatever unfinished business the nightmare represents can be brought to a conclusion, and the child get on with his or her life free from the nightmare.
Fuqua notes (p. 53) that the ego-strength of children is quite fragile, and that children need to develop a sense of their own unique personality and talents of this lifetime. I concur with this but disagree with her corollary conclusion that because of these factors, past-life report therapy should not be used with children until “all other methods have failed to help the child” (p. 53). As in Joan’s case, “all other methods” may take quite a while to try!
The roots of my disagreement may lie in our different conceptions of past-life report therapy methods. What follows is a brief review of my own concepts, which I admit are iconoclastic. I have kept them brief and limited to the treatment of children.
Past-life report therapy is often practiced as a therapy of violent abreaction to trauma. If this is Fuqua’s concern, I agree with her. This approach is probably not advisable with children. However, the basic idea of the benefits of abreaction stems from a psychoanalytic model of psychology and has been seriously questioned over the last fifty years. Past-life reports do not need to follow this model. It is my practice to structure the session(s) to minimize/eliminate extreme abreaction and I get excellent results. I give instructions to all my clients to remain calm, that they can leave the situation at any time, can choose at all times whether to experience or perceive events, and that they will enjoy the experience. They do, and as I say, I have obtained excellent (and rapid) results.
This approach is very suitable for children, especially if the instruction to “observe rather than participate” is stressed. Thus, the child need not be placed directly into frightening adult traumas. With this gentler approach, and given the highly-hypnotizable nature of most children over five, past-life report therapy for children’s nightmares should require only one or two short sessions and probably be quite enjoyable for the child. In this approach, the prognosis for elimination of the nightmares is excellent while, at the same time, the child’s ego-strength, personality, and unique talents are not threatened.
With such a rapid, non-traumatic approach, the premise of trying “all other methods” first seems unnecessary. Past-life report therapy should be the therapy of choice. Only then, if it fails to achieve desired results or if the child’s “Upper Mind” says there is no past life connection, should other modalities be considered. In essence, one or two sessions of past-life report therapy are much less costly in time, money, and (if utilized as above) emotional stress than longer courses of more conventional therapy. In Joan’s case, this approach was more effective than years of other therapies.
As therapists who deal with a wide assortment of clients, we might make a difference in the lives of children by simply asking our adult clients if any of their children have recurrent nightmares. If they do, we might be able to help. One or two sessions might well free the child from the nightmare and from whatever unfinished business the nightmare represents, and if we approach it correctly, it should also be an enjoyable experience for the child.
Fuqua, E. Using Past-Life Concepts in Child Therapy. The Journal of Regression Therapy, IV (l), 53-59, 1989.