Regression hypnotherapy: As with other types of therapy, hypnotherapy can offer a variety of approaches and techniques to treat a client’s presenting condition. Each technique can have an aim and through its application, respective benefits can be observed. Behind the technique is a strategy to create change. Some strategies are brief and focused on treating symptoms, whilst other strategies deal with deeper core issues.
When addressing a presenting problem, understanding the theories underpinning a technique can help improve your skills as a hypnotherapist. From a client’s perspective, understanding these techniques can help you appreciate what to expect during your treatment and how you can benefit from the applied techniques.
The application of regression hypnotherapy is often surrounded by misconception and controversy. However, it can be a beneficial technique in therapy when used appropriately to recall and reinterpret your memories. This article will discuss the uses, benefits and limitations of regression hypnotherapy.
Regression hypnotherapy: what you do or don’t do with memories
Our minds have an extraordinary ability to interact with time lines. Within a short conversation with a close friend, you can “time-travel”, recalling the events of last week that brought back events from a few years ago. Before you know it, you are recalling experiences even further back into your childhood. The conversation then takes a sudden change of direction and you jump forward to today and then to anticipate the possibilities of next week and next year.
The benefits of living in the present are advocated by many of the proponents of self help. The practice is encompassed into the many aspects of meditation, mindfulness and self hypnosis. Outside of the practice of these disciplines, your mind is prone to wandering, making associations with events outside of the present.
At times, it can be fulfilling to reminisce and daydream, recalling meaningful pleasant moments from your past, but this ability to recall your past can vary from person to person. Even if you can remember the details of past events, it can be difficult to recall how these events have directly affected you. This is because your mind engages in a constant filtering process, giving attention to some memories more than others. Some painful memories can be filtered out of normal memory, as if to unconsciously forget: a process called repression.
The idea of repression of memories can be attributed to Freud. He theorised that memory repression served as a defence mechanism against traumatic events. These traumatic events are dumped into the mind’s “non-conscious” zone to minimise discomfort experienced at the time of the event. Nonetheless, they can continue to play a significant role in your everyday life, provoking negative symptoms that have no clear origin.
Sometimes the process of dealing with traumatic events is managed at a more conscious and voluntary level. Suppression is the deliberate intention to forget or block painful or traumatic events, even though you are aware of them. Suppression can help store the painful events in the “holding bay” of your mind. You can then return to them again when there’s more time, it’s more appropriate or you have more effective resources to deal with the event in a beneficial or less destructive way. Sometimes the associations of that suppressed event prompt a need to deal with what’s in the mind’s “holding bay” because there’s just too much material accumulating in there. You can no longer avoid it because the contents are spilling over, causing chaos in one or more areas of your life.
Regression hypnotherapy: working on these memories
Your memories and ability to imagine are some of the basic elements of your unique psyche. Some memories and projected imaginings can be negative and distressing, others positive and strengthening, but all of them determine who you are and how you experience the world around you.
When you have been previously betrayed by an intimate person and you develop trust issues or jealousy with someone that you want to get close to, you know that those vulnerable memories are the problem behind the formation of your new relationship. Sometimes you can consciously work on healing those memories yourself. Maybe your new partner is able to help you rebuild trust.
There are times, however, when some memories are not open to your consciousness. Maybe they have been simply filtered out or knowing the source of your trauma, they continue to have an overwhelming effect on you. Living “within” the traumas, you can struggle to understand how they affect you or how to objectively find a way through to resolve them. Healing those bad memories or traumas with a therapist can help you overcome that feeling of being stuck and overwhelmed by your past. By releasing the emotion of your past traumas, it can enable you to move forward. Regression hypnotherapy is an excellent way to reappraise the meaning of past events.
What is regression hypnotherapy?
In general terms, regression therapy is a type of therapy that explores past events with the belief that they continue to influence your thinking, beliefs, emotions and behaviour. You may enter the therapy very aware of past events that you want to re-analyse, knowing how they are causing your symptoms. Or you can be aware of presenting symptoms that you want to treat in a regressive style to understand why you have these symptoms, establish their “cause” or explore if you have “buried” memories of events that you want to uncover. In this context, the treatment is still solution-focused because it is acknowledging that you have a goal that you want treated in a certain way, but it aims to approach the problem from a past perspective. Having worked through those memories, you can feel more at peace with your past and liberated from your current symptoms.
Hypnosis is commonly used with regression therapy. Hypnosis can be an extremely powerful tool to regress your mind and access the most subtle details of events that have been mishandled, overlooked or buried in the deeper part of your imagination.
Hypnosis is a state of heightened suggestibility that encourages hyper-focused attention and concentration into what you imagine. A hypnotic induction is typically used to create this focused state. Suggestions are then employed to facilitate an imagined “time travelling”, going back in time to recall specific memories. You may travel back to events from a few weeks ago or any significant event further back in your lifetime.
Depending on the therapeutic context of your goal, different techniques can be used to access the memory, then observe and reframe the meaning or significance of the memory. You may want to reframe events that left you with pain or feelings of embarrassment, guilt, shame, distrust, worthlessness and fear. At that time, you may have been surrounded or compromised by conflicts, limited resources, biased values and other stresses. These blocks self-sabotaged your secure and confident handling of the past event.
Regression hypnotherapy applied by a skilled hypnotherapist can transform and reframe the meaning of the event. When applied carefully, it can add new understanding and insight into the beliefs that shaped your perceptions and your reactions to the event. The process can transform, heal and resolve the memory “wounds” without “planting” false memories or accusations of wrong-doing. In the session, counselling often follows the hypnosis to help evaluate the development of these insights and new states of awareness. They can be further embraced with hypnotic progression to apply the new learning into associated goals.
Is regression hypnotherapy the same as past life regression?
Regression hypnotherapy aims to explore past events from your “current” life experiences. The general form aims to access and observe memories within your “subconscious” mind.
Age regression is another type of hypnotherapy that explores past events from your “current life”. It aims to regress you back to a specific age and relive the state of mind from that age. Some clients may think, speak and act in ways appropriate to that age. The client can then reinterpret their present life with new insights. Clients who are highly suggestible and imaginative may respond favourably to “age-related” suggestions. Some people consider this type of regression controversial.
Past Life Regression is based on the (spiritual) belief and existence of past lives – long before your current life. Some hypnotherapists may believe in past lives and are prepared to treat you within your religious beliefs. Others do not share the same spiritual beliefs or recognise it as a valid therapeutic treatment. Instead, they view it as controversial or an indulgent imaginative experience.
As the client, you may already believe in past lives and want to access and benefit from past life regression therapy. Or maybe you are just curious about which “past lives” will come to the surface in a treatment session.
Some people want to access past life regression treatment because you cannot identify any valid reason for your current negative symptoms. This does not mean that there aren’t any valid reasons – you may not have engaged in an objective therapeutic process to establish any validity.
Different techniques are used in the treatment process for all of the above types of regression hypnotherapy, depending on the approach of the hypnotherapist. Some hypnotherapists are more client-centred and others therapist-led in their style.
The techniques used may also depend on the client and the presenting condition. For example, inner child therapy encompasses many of the general techniques used to re-evaluate the meaning of past events and address unmet childhood needs. Gestalt therapy can be integrated into regression by taking the adult empathic mind back to the childhood mind. The two perspectives can communicate in a “here and now” interaction to encourage understanding, healing and compassion. “Sensation” therapy focuses into the bodily sensation as the cue to connect you with the past event that is causing your current symptoms. This cue-accessing technique can be used with other cues e.g. an emotion or other sensory experiences.
What happens in a typical treatment session?
Hypnotherapy treatment sessions will follow a typical hypnotherapy practice session. The preparation stage can include a discussion of your goals, presenting symptoms and background. The right questions analysis and responses given by the hypnotherapist will draw your attention into the pathway of relevance, build rapport and expectation. In a client-centred approach, the hypnotherapist will be using many of your reactions and dialogue patterns to build relevant suggestions. In a therapist-led approach, the hypnotherapist will have a more authoritative style and use fewer questioning techniques.
A discussion of hypnosis will precede the hypnotic induction stage in which suggestions are used to focus your attention and imagination to the regressive process. It may use breathing techniques or other suggestions of relaxation. In the regression stage, the hypnotherapist will take your imagination back to a past event to analyse the details. A client-centred hypnotherapist will use open-ended questions to guide your recall and will be careful about leading your mind and “planting” memories. You may (or may not) interact with the hypnotherapist verbally or by using ideo-motor responses (or you may just discuss the regressive experience after the hypnosis is complete).
The emotional expression stage enables the repressed (or suppressed) emotions to emerge and be identified. Depending on the past event and the techniques used, it may be re-experienced in a complete or detached way. In the relearning stage, the past event is re-interpreted and connecting negative emotions released. New positive emotions are identified and reintegrated into the past event. The conclusion stage may involve discussion and counselling to evaluate the process alongside the treatment goals or presenting condition.
The process may be complete or be just one stage in the treatment plan. With regression hypnotherapy, it isn’t necessary to painstakingly regress you back through every event in your life as is often criticised by advocators of solution-focused hypnotherapy. Often, the initial “causal” event, the most emotional event and the most recent event may be sufficient to influence therapeutic change.
What conditions can regression hypnotherapy treat?
The aim of regression hypnotherapy is to identify and treat how past events affect your day-to-day life. For some people, establishing a past cause, where the behaviour comes from or the reason “why” you have your current symptoms can release internal conflicts about your history. When you know why, you can feel more at peace with your underlying motives for current feelings and actions. In your treatment, you can then establish a more coherent way forward.
Numerous benefits have been cited in previous research including removal or improvements in symptoms, reductions in fear, increased purpose and ability to cope with life, etc.
Regression hypnotherapy can be used to treat many conditions including:
- Fears and phobias, anxiety, panic attacks, and health anxiety that have no established cause.
- Resolving past traumas.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Excessive emotional states e.g. jealousy, anger, depression, guilt, shame, low self esteem, low self confidence, etc.
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), self harm and unwanted habits.
- Migraine and unexplained pain.
- A variety or relationship and intimacy issues including vaginismus, erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, inorgasmia etc.
- Sleep problems and insomnia.
Concerns and limitations of regression hypnotherapy
Regression hypnotherapy is surrounded in controversy for various reasons, over and above what can come from general misconceptions of hypnotherapy from the media and films with similar titles (e.g. Regression, 2015):
The risk of creating false memories: Memories are malleable and are prone to suggestion, especially when the treatment is therapist-led. Not all claims of sexual abuse are false, but jumping to conclusions on the basis of a hypnotherapy regression treatment can harm relationships, lead to damaging legal action and cause distress for all people concerned. A client-centred hypnotherapist is more likely to ask open-styled questions without contaminating the client’s memory.
A therapist may have preconceived notions about a client’s past: Therapist bias can enter the therapy room from generalisations made from past treatments. Whilst therapists continuously work on their “blind spots”, it can be a reason for leading a client into creating memories that aren’t real and wrongly diagnosing a client’s cause of symptoms.
Not all “hypnotists” are trained hypnotherapists: Untrained and novice therapists may use scripted approaches and are unable to treat emotional reactions to a client’s past traumas.
There’s limited scientific research: There’s limited research in the efficiency of regression as a treatment approach and some people question the need to “dig up the past” when there are other treatment approaches are available. There is also limited evidence in the existence of past lives and it is considered controversial to force these religious (or any other) beliefs onto a client who is not seeking this type of therapy. However, treating a client who does believe in past lives with past life regression is more likely to create a favourable outcome for the client. Past life regression therapists argue that past life stories don’t have to be factual as healing takes place within the metaphor of the past life story.
Some clients may not benefit from regression treatment: Treatment obstacles can include a client’s receptiveness to hypnosis, those who struggle to visualise or who may fear being regressed to a major trauma, especially those with serious mental health problems. Furthermore, a client having secondary gains can be a reason to maintain their negative symptoms and resist the emotional relearning from the regression treatment process. A skilled hypnotherapist will adapt their approach to the client’s needs and will use regression selectively.
Despite concerns about regression, many people say that they benefit from this type of treatment. However, its effectiveness is very much in the eye of the beholder and some may consider regression to be a “helpful” placebo. Trying to prove whether something did or did not happen can be a pointless exercise without evidence. However, when a client “thinks” that something has happened in their past before hypnotherapy treatment has begun or when a past event is uncovered during the hypnotherapy treatment, it’s more beneficial to establish how to deal with this memory and its connected emotions when going forwards.
Regression hypnotherapy: a client-centred approach
Some people question the need to “go back to the past when it is already over”. Dwelling on the past and rereading the same chapter in your life can seem like you are reopening wounds and encouraging self sabotage. It can be argued that technically, you don’t go anywhere. You are always in the present, only going back to the preserved past that your carry now. You recollect the events from your past that continue to impact on your emotions, behaviour and formation of new beliefs.
Undoubtedly, going back to the past with a fixed mind-state would keep you stuck in a loop of regret, anger, guilt and shame. Regression hypnotherapy can help remind you that you are the author of your past. You can rewrite the meaning of that past chapter or continue the book of your life with new chapters that demonstrate your growing acceptance, trust, gratitude, forgiveness and self appreciation. Regression hypnotherapy can be enlighten and liberate you from your past and open the way forward into your future.
If you have exhausted all of your conscious efforts to resolve your psychological problems and are prepared to dig deeper into resolving your condition, regression hypnotherapy can offer you a potential solution. Regression hypnotherapy is just one tool in a hypnotherapist’s toolbox to influence therapeutic change. For an experienced and skilled hypnotherapist who uses a client-centred approach, it can be combined with other methods to form an individualised and beneficial approach to your condition.
For more information on regression hypnotherapy, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff