past life regression therapy
Maybe it's time to take a step back in time ... to examine the here and now. (Illustration by June Le, Minneapolis College of Art and Design)

What Is ‘Past Life Regression Therapy’ and Is It Actually Real?

The idea of exploring a ‘previous self’ may have little evidence to support its validity, but if your intentions are in the right place, it can be very insightful.

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past life regression therapy

The idea of exploring a ‘previous self’ may have little evidence to support its validity, but if your intentions are in the right place, it can be very insightful.

Recently, an old BuzzFeed video from 2018 has resurfaced and is recirculating the internet. In the video, hypnotherapist Lisa Machenberg aids the viewer in a 20-minute-long meditation. Machenberg claims the video is a form of “past life regression therapy” and could help viewers uncover past lives. But what is past life regression therapy exactly? Can it be trusted? And, most importantly, how can it help the viewer?

What is Past Life Regression Therapy?

Past life regression therapy assumes the existence of past lives and reincarnation. The goal is to hypnotize the patient and then, by asking various questions, reveal details and events about the patient’s past life that may be floating around in the subconscious mind.

 

While the theory of reincarnation is definitely not a new concept, it did not become popular in the Western world until the mid-20th century with the Bridey Murphy case. Bridey Murphy was the name a Colorado housewife named Virginia Burns Tighe uncovered while undergoing past life regression therapy by an amateur hypnotist.

Tighe was able to recall detailed information about her past life as Murphy, a 19th century Irishwoman. In her descriptions, Tighe gave the names of her past life’s parents, her husband and even her grocer. As Tighe’s story became more well known, it sparked a craze and an increased interest in past life regression therapy. Psychiatrists, psychologists and mediums began to develop the method for their own patients.

I was recently recommended Buzzfeed’s video by a friend who has an affinity for horoscopes and tarot cards. Although I was skeptical about the legitimacy of Machenberg’s ability to bring about memories of my past life, I let myself be immersed in the calming music and her soothing voice. I made a conscious choice to take heed of Machenberg’s advice to not worry if my experience was “fantasy, imagination, metaphor or memory.”

To help focus the mind, Machenberg tells the viewer to pick an intention for the meditation. The intention I picked was a worry that popped into my head, and with it I let myself drift away.

I was amazed by the experience I had and how it related to my intention.

In my past life, I was a girl in an early North American English village who was afraid of the woods and who eventually died at a young age due to a fever. Other people who’ve watched the video have much different stories.

One friend of mine described being a lone survivor in a disaster that left their town completely destroyed until they eventually succumbed to hazardous gasses.

Another friend described watching the ship they were on capsize in a wave during a fierce storm in the middle of the ocean.

Were any of our visions truly a long-dead life reaching across millennia to connect our present and past together to reveal some sort of deep truth about our soul? Honestly, who’s to say?

Can it be trusted?

Since its inception, past life regression therapy has been met with scrutiny. Experts have pinpointed the source of the recovered memories to cryptomnesia. Cryptomnesia is when a person remembers a forgotten memory but believes it is something new and original. The phenomenon happens to me all the time when I think I’ve created an innovative business idea just to realize I’ve forgotten I already saw it on a “Shark Tank” rerun.

As people investigated deeper into Tighe’s story, many researchers began to believe her past life’s memories were really forgotten details of Tighe’s own childhood. The strongest piece of evidence came when investigators discovered a woman named Bridey Murphy Corkell, an Irish immigrant, who lived across from Tighe’s childhood home in Chicago.

Many ethical concerns have also been raised about the legitimacy of the therapy. Past life regression has been used to treat anxiety disorders, mood disorders and gender dysphoria. Some worry that the practice could possibly plant false memories into a patient’s mind. Others argue that it’s unethical to ask a patient to give consent to a treatment that has no evidence backing it up.

Tighe’s story is incredible, but there is no real evidence to support the existence of past lives. So, what value can be found in past life regression therapy?

What’s the point?

Even though I am highly skeptical of mystical forces providing insight into my life, I genuinely like reading my horoscope or setting out tarot cards. Deep down, I know each are random and general enough to encapsulate whatever may be occupying my mind. But I still find value in taking the time to consider what the randomness might reveal to me. I find the introspection helpful as I consider what my horoscope says or the meaning of the cards I’ve laid out. It narrows down my thinking and allows me to focus on what is truly troubling me.

While I’ll need more proof before I embrace my former life as an early North American settler, I do believe that what my mind provided as my past memory is useful to my current situation in life. Maybe a young girl who is afraid to venture in the woods but eventually dies due to a fever relates to my hesitance to experience new things out of fear. Perhaps it’s better to explore new, unchartered possibilities because life happens no matter what.

I completely believe I would have not been able to come to my conclusion without Machenberg’s help.

Whether past life regression therapy actually provides a connection to earlier incarnations is still up for debate. In the meantime, the curious should check out the Buzzfeed video and explore their own subconscious.

The best advice for the viewer who wants an enjoyable experience, and to maybe gain some insight into themselves and their current situation, is to just give in. Don’t overthink it; it is best to let Machenberg’s voice and suggestions lead your mind to wherever it may wander.

Besides the Buzzfeed video, other hypnotherapists have created meditations to facilitate past life regression. While exploring past life regression therapy, please be aware of its shortcomings and keep in mind the lack of evidence for its legitimacy. What can be discovered during the meditations may provide insight into current life situations, but they aren’t necessarily fact. And most importantly, have fun!

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