Previous lives or pure bunk?
One advocate of regression therapy says it doesn’t matter if past lives exist
Every time she stepped into a plane, train, or car for 15 years, Patricia Walsh had a panic attack. On one airplane ride, the sensation was so bad that the Vancouverite spent hours over the Atlantic Ocean crying, shaking, and trying to claw her way out of the plane. Nothing helped. She saw psychologists and psychiatrists and took antidepressants, but the feelings of fear never went away.
Then, as a student of Deep Memory Process in New York, she underwent a past-life regression. In a trance, she remembered herself as a young boy being pushed onto a train during the Holocaust. In the vision, she died on the train in fear.
“It was terrifying, because it brought up the roots of the panic,” Walsh told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “But I can also tell you, that session cured it.”¦So either past-life regression is metaphoric or it’s real. The psyche doesn’t care. The psyche will use it to heal itself, and that’s a lot better than Prozac.”
To Walsh, the connection between past-life regression and psychology is too vivid to be ignored. She is the Vancouver representative of Roger Woolger Training, the New York–based Deep Memory Process school founded by a pioneer of past-life regression as therapy, Roger Woolger. Woolger has degrees in psychology and medicine. Many healing professionals, Walsh said, are encountering the transformative power of past-life regression, just as Woolger did.
“We’re looking for the therapeutic value to the psyche,” she explained, noting that the institute has synthesized Gestaltism, psychodrama, Reichian and Jungian analysis, and other recognized transpersonal (spiritual) frameworks. “Cognitive-behavioural is the flavour of the day for [mainstream] psychology. It’s not about delving into the subconscious.”¦The whole approach is that we are a mechanism that can be controlled, medicated, and cognated. But we’re not just biomechanical beings. We have this whole thing called the soul.”
Walsh has regressed more than 120 times, has guided over 7,000 regressions, and claims to have seen proof that patients really are delving into past lives, spontaneously doing such things as speaking Aramaic or medieval French. Past-life regression therapy heals, she said. She doesn’t know how. It just does. So it should be taken seriously by mainstream psychologists, Walsh argued, if they truly want to help their clients.
But one guardian of rationalism says the therapy is dangerous. Past-life regression is pseudoscience and thus is simply “evil”, according to B.C. Society for Skeptical Enquiry chair Lee Moller. Especially if it’s presented by a Health Professions Act–regulated clinician.
Not only is it snake oil, he said; psychology has a foul history of using regression to create false memories, which have ruined lives. Plus, he said, it doesn’t matter if it works, and it does very much matter that it’s not real.
“It is imperative upon society to shut these people up,” Moller told the Straight. “It may be true that patients feel better, but it’s based on a lie.”¦Would you be happy to have your doctor lie to you if it makes you feel better? No.”
Furthermore, Moller said, according to science, people do not have a soul. If we do have souls and past lives, then there must be a god, he argued, so there’s a “hidden religious subtext within past-life regression”.
In fact, he said, it’s part of a general, creeping pseudoscience that’s compromising rational advances. He lumps in that group spiritualism, alternative health care, traditional Chinese medicine, radiopathy, healing-touch therapy, feng shui, and psychoanalysis—even the kind you get from a registered clinician.
“The list is so long, it’s incredible,” he said. “And why is it? It’s because everyone is fundamentally afraid of the same thing: death. So anything to beat that. The world would be a better place without the thousands of bullshit pseudoscientific medical cures out there. And they’ll never go away. They’ll be with us till the end of time, because they feed off the one thing all people fear, and that’s dying.”
David Cox, director of clinical training in Simon Fraser University’s psychology department, confirmed that the university does not teach past-life regression. And the B.C. College of Psychologists agrees with this stance: you can’t advertise yourself as both a registered psychologist and a past-life regressionist.
But according to Walsh, it ultimately doesn’t matter whether the past lives are true. The psyche loves to tell stories, she explained. The right brain functions through imagery, imagination, and visions. To shut that down in favour of a left-brain, logic-only approach is to dismiss half of what makes us human, she said.
“If psychology is going to continue to contain itself to the left brain, it’s going to continue to get left-brain results,” she argued. “We don’t find this stuff [past-life regression] amazing. We find it normal. Rope burns can appear on people’s wrists when they remember being tied up. The psyche is so much more amazing than people give it credit for. We’re not just a mechanical being stuck in time and place that bumps around on the physical plane. It’s not even a question for me.”
Walsh pointed out that medicine and science are increasingly looking beyond their narrow constraints to push into the unproven edges of the disciplines. Why should phenomenologically observed past-life regression, she said, be discredited any more than theoretical quantum mechanics?