What Is It: Past-life regression therapy is a form of hypnosis and attendant talk therapy that essentially suggests that we carry evidence — emotional, psychic and occasionally physical — of our past lives into our current one. (You have to accept the idea of pseudo-reincarnation or past lives, period, to get with it.) By accessing those memories and talking through them, past-life regression can help us confront issues in our current life.
Personally, I’m a bit of a pragmatist: I was intrigued by the premise of past-life regression when I got the cold email about it, but I didn’t really put much stock in it. As a fairly confirmed skeptic, I thought it would be interesting to experience something outside of my comfort zone, so I dove in.
“We unconsciously carry forward experiences, attitudes, and relationship dynamics from prior lives into our current lifetime,” therapist Ann Barham writes on her website. “By bringing these memories into conscious awareness, we can release or diffuse the energy and emotional blockages that keep us stuck. Typically, [a past life regression] therapist guides the client through the significant events of the lifetime, through the death experience, and then a ‘life review.’ This is where the purpose of that lifetime, the lessons learned, and decisions made are examined from a higher, spiritual perspective.”
Barham’s new book, The Past Life Perspective, explores past-life therapy through a series of case studies culled from her practice.
Who Tried it: Alex Heigl, PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly associate editor
Level of Difficulty: I’d say anywhere from a 1-5, depending on your experience with guided meditation or hypnosis. My weapons-grade anxiety makes it difficult for me to relax to the point where I believe my subconscious is truly taking over — your mileage may vary. And while Barham warns that it can be painful to experience things from your past lives — including, but not limited to, their deaths, for example — I didn’t find it particularly trying.
About the Process: Past-life regression is essentially guided hypnosis. You’re put into a deeply relaxed but still conscious state and asked questions about what you see or feel; images and sensations that appear are then interpreted into a cohesive vision of a past life. After being guided through this narrative, Barham’s session involves using the uncovered narrative to illustrate problems in your own life and how lessons learned from the regression can be applied to them.
I’m still having a hard time figuring out exactly how successful my session with Barham was. After being guided into an extremely relaxed but still conscious state — as I mentioned earlier, I think it’s virtually impossible for me to get my mind to slow down to the point of “deep hypnosis” — I was able to envision/uncover/”re-live” a past life as a Depression-era man living with his family in California. Possibly involved with a WPA job, he was working as part of a road crew and attempting to support a wife and two children. I remain somewhat skeptical of the process — at times I felt like I was just filling in details because I was being asked to, rather than uncovering something “real.” But that’s a whole other can of worms: Where were these images coming from? If I was consciously constructing a narrative because I felt like I was being asked to do so, what was my guiding process for this? If I was constructing a narrative instead of “discovering” one, why did I pick the one that I did, one that was relatively mundane, kind of depressing and more or less the complete opposite of my own life experience? And if the details were coming from my subconscious, uh, where and how?
Different unexplainable moments during my regression, numbered in order of most disconcerting to least:
1. A strange heaviness all down my left side, and only my left side at one point — phenomenon like these are typically chalked up to injuries sustained by one of your past lives, so maybe my dude had a stroke?
2. A man with blue eyes. My dad has blue eyes, but it’s apparently a recessive trait in my family — both my sister and I are brown-eyed — though the image of the man I may or may not have been was clearly blue-eyed, albeit with brown hair.
3. A recurring image of the northern California coastline, somewhere around Monterey, possibly. Wind-swept, a very literal end-of-the-earth kind of setting.
The Verdict: A person I interviewed prior to my session summed things up far better than I could: “I don’t know or care whether these are actual lifetimes my soul had. That’s beside the point. The narratives and issues I saw mirrored to me issues that I was grappling with, and gave me different perspectives on my own ingrained patterns about those issues.” [Emphasis mine.]
We can debate the metaphysics of past-life regression until we’re all blue in the face, but the point is that it’s a form of therapy regardless, albeit a nontraditional one. If you’re able to uncover, deal with, and feel better about issues you’re facing via past-life regression, then it’s a success, and probably a more fun one than your usual therapy session.
If you’re interested in experiencing a version of past-life therapy, Barham’s website offers an $8 guided recording that will walk you through the steps she takes to help people access their past lives.