In recent months several people in hypnosis forums have hotly debated the topic of regression. Here is a brief summary of arguments for and against this technique...
Those who use regression often state the opinion that it is very useful in helping the subconscious discover and release the cause of a problem, and that effective use of regression therapy often gets lasting results.
Those who oppose the use of regression usually state one or both of the following reasons for opposing its use: (1) the risk of false memories, and/or (2) the belief that clients do not need to experience abreactions (emotional discharges) while remembering unpleasant experiences from their past. Occasionally a third reason is posted, criticizing hypnotherapists who use regression with almost every client.
While I both use and teach regression therapy, my objective in this article is to discuss both sides of the debate...and do so with the experience of 27 years in the hypnosis profession. I will start my discussion with the two primary issues raised by those who oppose it.
Risk of False Memories
This concern is very genuine, with a basis in the misuse of regression through inappropriate leading.
Sadly, there are many examples of false memories cause by hypnotists who projected their own preconceived opinions into a trance journey for their clients. A number of these bad examples happened in the mental health community by therapists doing "memory reconstruction," resulting in litigation by family members who fought allegations of past abuse.
Unfortunately people in the hypnosis profession have also jumped boldly into regression without adequate training, implanting false memories in some of their clients. One event that got national media attention resulted from a man who took a short hypnosis course, and then regressed a client back to alleged abuse from a priest. It later turned out that the hypnotist (deliberate choice of words) did inappropriate leading and projected preconceived opinions into the session. The result was a tainted trance, as well as bad publicity for our profession.
Unless you understand the risk of false memories and know how to minimize this risk, you may very well wish to listen to the critics regarding this issue. I myself was on the receiving end of a mishandled regression, and wrote an article appearing on my website.
Paul Durbin has some important articles on his website relating to false memories; and you may also wish to do some additional research regarding the risk of false memories.
That being said, asking the "W" questions helps to minimize the risk: what, when, where, who, why, and how (which ends in "w"). Also, a good pre-talk with a client helps reduce the risk; because anytime emotion is involved, our perception of an event can differ from facts. This is obvious when two children at school witness a fight and give different versions to a teacher just five minutes later.
There is another concern that regression skeptics sometimes bring up: the risk of abreactions, and how to handle them properly.
Concern over Abreactions
Abreactions can scare those who are not properly trained in how to help facilitate emotional discharges during a client's regression. So, from a certain point of view, I agree that anyone not properly trained in regression therapy should avoid using it. However, it is important to know how to deal with the rare spontaneous regression.
Recently a hypnosis instructor told me that the official course that he teaches in behalf of the organization he belongs to actually instructs hypnotists to bring someone out of hypnosis if they go into a spontaneous regression and start having emotional discharges. The client is supposed to be awakened without any formal release or resolutions of said emotions.
This would actually leave a client with unresolved emotions at the surface! In my opinion this would leave the client in a totally unnecessary state of anxiety after awakening.
If you are not trained in regression, but a client goes into spontaneous regression and starts displaying emotions, guide the client to his or her peaceful place and give suggestions for the client to deal with the problem at the appropriate time and place. Reinforce his or her ability to remain calm by helping to establish a peaceful place trigger.
During the summer months I received an email from an experienced hypnotherapist who told me that he avoided using regression because of the possibility of "opening a Pandora's box" of unresolved issues. While I've had a few clients over the years that needed several regression sessions, this is the exception rather than the rule.
Now let's discuss the benefits of competent client centered regression...
Discovering the Cause(s) of Problems
One of the gemstones of hypnotherapy I learned from Charles Tebbetts in 1983 involved four primary hypnotherapy objectives: suggestion and imagery, discover the cause, release, and subconscious relearning (or reprogramming).
It was Charlie's opinion that if we simply suggest away the symptoms (which he called "band-aid therapy") without discovering and releasing the core cause, the subconscious was fully capable of either returning the same problem or another one that was worse. An example was a client pulling hair and eyelashes. After the behavior was "released" with hypnotic suggestion and NLP without discovering and releasing the cause, several weeks later he was scratching his arms with his fingernails and drawing blood.
Some years ago a business told me personally that his employer told him to either deal with his fear of flying and see a new client in Sydney, or face a demotion. He saw a hypnotist who used a quick phobia release, which apparently lasted long enough for him to have a pleasant outbound flight to Sydney. Three weeks later, on the return flight, his subconscious bought back the phobia with a vengeance! He told me that he was so terrified flying six miles above the Pacific Ocean that he literally believed he was going to have a heart attack.
In the above example, this man's core cause of the fear of flying was still buried in the subconscious; and it took only one regression session to discover and release the cause.
Over the years I've seen a number of clients who have experienced backsliding after seeing another hypnosis profession who failed to discover and release the causes of their problems.
There are two primary events to discover: the Initial Sensitizing Event (the first time a client is sensitized to the emotions surrounding a problem), and the event that activates the problem (which Tebbetts called the Activating Event). They may be one and the same, or they may be separated by days, months, or years. BOTH events, if separate, must be discovered and released.
If you have not received formal training in regression therapy, I suggest that you network with another hypnotherapist who is already trained and experienced...and/or seek formal training yourself. In my professional opinion, you will be doing both yourself and your clients a service!
My 27 years of experience demonstrates to me the value of regression therapy. That being said, let me respond to the final concern of regression skeptics...
Should We Use Regression for Most Clients?
My response to the above question is a resounding NO!
Charles Tebbetts warned against the exclusive use of any technique, even parts therapy (which he pioneered). Instead, he taught us to fit the technique to the client rather than vice versa.
Over the years, way less than half of my clients ever experience hypnotic regression. Likewise, less than half experience parts therapy.
That being said, I will continue to argue FOR the client centered use of regression to discover and release the causes of problems as long as it is facilitated by hypnotherapists who are competently trained.
Are some professionals making mistakes with hypnotic regression? My answer is YES; but let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. There will always be a place for client centered regression.