What Is Regression Therapy?

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What Is Regression Therapy?

Regression therapy focuses very specifically on past events and how they influence the way we behave in the present day. This is particularly relevant to those trying to overcome childhood abuse. Still, it can also apply to people who were subject to any abuse in relationships in the past.

This type of therapy involves hypnosis, which psychotherapists and hypnotherapists alike have researched. The need for hypnosis typically surrounds the fact that many practitioners believe that the subconscious mind can repress trauma if it was inflicted at an age before the mind could figure out how to process it. So the practitioners are typically trying to drum up memories through hypnosis.

In "The Art of Hypnotic Regression Therapy: A Clinical Guide," Roy Hunter, a certified hypnotherapist, notes that regression is simply moving back in time in your imagination.

Types of Regression Therapy

These are some of the different approaches to regression therapy:

  • Hypnotic regression therapy: While all types of regression therapy involve hypnosis, this most general type does not necessarily include mentions of past lives or year-by-year age regression. It intends to help patients access their subconscious minds through hypnosis.
  • Age regression therapy: In this type of regression therapy, therapists induce amnesia in the patient and then ask them to return to past years. According to the American Psychological Association, this is controversial in the psychiatric community due to the potential for false memories.
  • Past life regression therapy: This hinges on the belief that we carry over many of our traumas from our past lives. This is very controversial and, according to the American Psychological Association, not recognized by many hypnotherapists.

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Misconceptions about hypnosis are wide-ranging. Herbert Spiegel from the department of psychiatry at Columbia University noted some of the most common misconceptions in a research paper:

  • Hypnosis is sleep: Spiegel says that hypnosis does not involve putting patients to sleep but rather a state of parallel awareness. He says this means that the person can be aware of their current state while maintaining a deep focus on another facet of their life.
  • Hypnotists cast spells on patients: The therapist who is inducing hypnosis is not casting a spell on the patient but helping them mentally induce a trance state, which Speigel says is tied to someone's ability to concentrate. He also says that everyone can access their trance state, and it's either genetically determined or learned in early developmental years. During this state, patients can more deeply focus on the topics of their past.

Techniques of Regression Therapy

Hunter described how his sessions work in his book. He says he focuses on client-centered hypnosis and therapist-led trance work. Hunter preps the client, uses regression techniques (hypnosis), and the patient experiences an emotional release, allowing him to help facilitate a subconscious relearning.

The subconscious relearning component presumably involves letting go of negative emotions or preconceptions formed during certain experiences.

While this may not be how every hypnotherapist conducts a session, it's a pretty general outline that gives you an idea of how things will go down. If a therapist can successfully guide a patient through a healthy way to handle their newfound realization, this could be helpful going forward.

What Regression Therapy Can Help With

The goal of regression therapy is to determine how your subconscious impacts your day-to-day life. It can give people the satisfaction of remembering, whether correctly or incorrectly, events from the past that dictate how they currently think or behave.

The main thing to be cautious with regression therapy is false memories. If someone wants to remember something badly enough, they can create it in their mind. This could mean that they falsely create a memory of a parent who died before they could form memories.

These are claims from practitioners that aren't necessarily backed by clinical evidence:

  • Resolving past trauma
  • Understanding where certain behaviors come from
  • Patients could understand why they have certain reactions to things

Benefits

One of the major touted benefits of regression therapy is that it provides patients access to their subconscious minds. That is the main thing that sets this form of therapy apart; however, it's hard to determine if patients are truly accessing memories or creating false memories at the suggestion of a hypnotherapist.

That said, the feeling of having accessed the past can give lots of patients peace and a sense of control.

Things to Consider

Regression therapy is pretty hotly contested, and there are some pretty tangible reasons for this skepticism.

  • Therapists forming preconceived notions about their clients: This can help them guide their patient's thoughts, resulting in memories that aren't real.
  • The risk of false memories: While they aren't necessarily intentional, false memories can be damaging. Leading questions from the therapist can cause patients to create a narrative to fulfill the therapist's wishes.
  • One researcher argues that it is based on the reincarnation hypothesis, which is not evidence-based.
  • Many people who claim to be hypnotists are not trained therapists and therefore don't know how to handle potential emotional reactions to a patient's believed realizations.

Effectiveness

In terms of regression therapy, effectiveness is mainly in the eye of the beholder. This is because of the risk of false memories and all of the other pitfalls behind the idea of hypnosis. That said, one could argue that whether or not something actually happened, what matters is what the person thinks happens and, therefore, how they handle it going forward.

If a person thinks something happened that they realized while under hypnosis, working through it and learning to deal with it healthily with their licensed therapist can be effective.

How To Get Started

If you are interested in this type of therapy, we recommend seeking out a hypnotherapist that is also licensed. Also, consider their other areas of expertise.

While there isn't just one hypnotherapy certification program, make sure you look for a therapist who has undergone some amount of clinical training. Many undergo 40 to 100 hours of hypnotherapy workshops and more than 20 hours of individual training under the supervision of a practicing hypnotherapist.

The American College of Hypnotherapy even requires 220 hours of courses and clinical experience. You can search their site to see their certifications or ask them via email or phone call.

During your first appointment, expect a session similar to traditional therapy in terms of updating the therapist on your background and reasons for seeking treatment.

From there, your therapist will talk to you about your goals for the session, as well as your long-term goals for hypnotherapy. Then they will guide you through hypnosis, often by using repetitive verbal cues.

As with all forms of therapy, feel free to ask as many questions as you want to get to know your therapist. You can come prepared with a list of questions and even ask if you can set up an introductory phone call ahead of your first appointment.

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Article Sources
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  1. Hunter CR, Eimer BN. The Art of Hypnotic Regression Therapy: A Clinical Guide. Carmarthen, UK: Crown House Publishing; 2012.

  2. Spiegel, H. (1980), HYPNOSIS AND EVIDENCE: HELP OR HINDRANCE?. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 347: 73-85. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1980.tb21256.x

  3. Andrade G. Is past life regression therapy ethical? J Med Ethics Hist Med. 2017;10:11. PMID:29416831