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Hypnotherapy and Past-Life Regression Therapy: Science or Hocus Pocus?

Hypnotherapy and Past-Life Regression Therapy: Science or Hocus Pocus?


Kevin Coleman
University of South Carolina

Hypnotherapy and Past-Life Regression Therapy: Science or Hocus Pocus?


Abstract
Our group researched the practices of hypnotherapy and past-life regression therapy and focused
on determining the scientific validity of both practices. The first questions we were encountered
with answering was What is science exactly? and What is hocus pocus? We settled on
the definition A branch of study that deals with a connected body of demonstrated truths
(science, n.). And for the definition of hocus pocus we settled on A jugglers trick; conjuring,
jugglery; sleight of hand; a method of bringing something about as if by magic; trickery,
deception (hocus pocus, n.). So when examining hypnotherapy and past-life regression
therapy, we sought to see past the common cultural stereotypes about each and focus on whether
or not the body of scientific evidence for each practice presents a convincing argument. After
researching hypnotherapy, we found that hypnotherapy has a large body of experimental
evidence supporting its use and this evidence deemed hypnotherapy as effective as many other
forms of therapeutic treatment. As for past-life regression therapy, the small body of supportive
evidence comes almost entirely from individual instances relayed on blog posts, thus not
presenting a very convincing argument. Based on the lack of experimental evidence and
scientific reasoning behind past-life regression therapy, we deemed past-life regression therapy
hocus pocus rather than science.

Hypnotherapy and Past-Life Regression Therapy: Science or Hocus Pocus?


As a subset of psychotherapy, hypnotherapy has proven effective in many circumstances
for patients who are optimistic about the treatment. One broad way that hypnotherapy has helped
many patients in need is through pain management during childbirth, surgery and chemotherapy
treatments. During childbirth, one of the most painful experiences any woman can experience,
hypnosis can help increase endorphin production, which will help with pain management, and
hypnosis can help women become less aware of the pain they are feeling. Also, hypnosis was
widely used during surgery for many years before anesthetic was developed, and still proves
effective today when trained hypnotists put themselves into a deep trance before the operation
(Hypnosis, No Anesthetic, For Mans Surgery).
Also, hypnotherapy has demonstrated its effectiveness when used to assist in addiction
recovery, primarily from nicotine addiction. When patients seek professional help for nicotine
addiction, they usually go to psychologists, psychiatrists, or therapists. Sometimes during
treatment, especially if the patient makes little progress for a substantial amount of time, the
professional will recommend hypnotherapy as a supplementary form of treatment. During
hypnotherapy, the hypnotherapist will hypnotize the patient, and then engage in introspective,
thought-provoking conversation. The hypnotherapist may pose questions such as What will
happen to your body in ten years? and How do your family members feel after you pass from
lung cancer? in efforts to help the patient gain an accurate perspective on the effects of their
nicotine addiction (Derrer). These questions would not have such a strong effect on the patient if
they were not hypnotized, because when in a hypnotized state the patient is less likely to create
mental obstacles and arguments against the therapists reasoning. Also because hypnosis allows
people to be more open to suggestions, patients under hypnosis are most likely to be willing to

Hypnotherapy and Past-Life Regression Therapy: Science or Hocus Pocus?


try to fight their nicotine addiction (Derrer). When used as a supplement with other forms of
therapy, hypnotherapy has proven itself to have great value in the psychotherapy process.
While hypnotherapy has many positive effects, criticisms of hypnotherapy still remain
prevalent in the medical and psychology communities today. First of all, hypnosis carries with it
a stigma of being a magicians trick or a sort of gag meant to make people act comically for
entertainment purposes. Also, conclusive evidence has not been found to explain exactly why
hypnosis is or why it carries such powerful effects with it, so the mysterious quality to hypnosis
has been an obstacle as well to the widespread acceptance of hypnotherapys legitimacy. While
hypnotherapy remains somewhat of a new and slightly experimental form of therapy, the positive
effects of hypnotherapy and substantial body of evidence supporting its lasting effects cannot be
denied. Because of the growing body of evidence in support of hypnotherapy, it would be unwise
to deem it hocus pocus when it is in fact a form of science, one that is expected to become
increasingly accepted by the medical community in the near future.
While hypnotherapy may have been gaining widespread acceptance in recent history, the
subset of hypnotherapy known as past-life regression therapy is an even more fringe and
experimental form of hypnotherapy. As the name suggest, past-life regression therapy focuses on
the recollection of memories from a patients previous lives which his soul or spirit has lived
from a prior generation, and once these memories have been recalled the patient may learn
practical life lessons from these memories (Olson). Since this concept seems odd and difficult to
explain to westerners, an example may allow for better understanding of past life regression
therapy. Robert Snow, a retired Captain of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, was
coaxed into going to a regression therapist by a colleague, and to his surprise he experienced a
past life during his therapy session ("Past Life Regression Story of Carroll Beckwith | Robert

Hypnotherapy and Past-Life Regression Therapy: Science or Hocus Pocus?


Snow").. Snow claims he had memories in the first person of the life of a French painter named
Jack who died in 1917. Snow recalls certain vivid details and events, and after much research
and studying to try to find how he had these memories, He came to the conclusion that he had
been Carroll Beckwith, who had indeed used the name Jack, in a prior lifetime ("Past Life
Regression Story of Carroll Beckwith | Robert Snow"). This bold claim by a former cynic
certainly provides some support for regression therapy, despite the heavy criticisms it faces.
The criticisms of new and experimental forms of treatment are always numerous, and
past-life regression therapy is no different in this respect. The primary criticism stems from the
regression therapists role in the process, as a guide to the experience. Transcripts of these
therapy sessions demonstrate how therapists can be leading patients to certain answers through
their questions, thus damaging the legitimacy of the patients past lives. Also, these therapists
may be creating vivid, life-like daydreams for their patients through hypnosis and jumping to the
conclusion that these realistic dreams reveal patients past lives. Whether or not past-life
regression therapies are creating false memories, their scattered success stories provide some
insight to their value. Similar to the placebo effect, past-life regression therapies may be helpful
to whatever extent the patient believes in the treatment and holds an optimistic attitude about the
potential benefits. However, positive benefits do not prove the authenticity of this treatment.
Given that reincarnation as a process lacks evidence in support of its existence, and even
eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism which believe in reincarnation do not support
the notion that memories may be passed from one life to the next, the chances of past life
regression therapy recalling on actual memories are slim. Because of the lack of evidence for
such an experimental form of therapy, past-life regression therapy cannot yet be called science,
therefore it remains to be hocus pocus.

Hypnotherapy and Past-Life Regression Therapy: Science or Hocus Pocus?


References
Derrer, D. (Ed.). (2014, October 5). Hypnosis to Quit Smoking: Benefits and Risks. Retrieved
November 30, 2014, from http://www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/hypnosis-for-quittingsmoking
Olson, B. (n.d.). I Cried, Shivered And Shook! The Physical, Emotional And Psychological
Impact Of A Successful Past-Life Regression by Bob Olson, OfSpirit.com Editor. Retrieved
November 30, 2014, from http://www.ofspirit.com/bobolson22.htm
Science, n. (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2014, from
http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/172672?redirectedFrom=science#eid
Hocus pocus, n. (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2014, from
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hocuspocus
Hypnosis, No Anesthetic, For Man's Surgery. (2008, April 22). Retrieved December 2, 2014,
from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/hypnosis-no-anesthetic-for-mans-surgery/
Past Life Regression Story of Carroll Beckwith | Robert Snow. (n.d.). Retrieved December 2,
2014, from http://www.iisis.net/index.php?page=semkiw-reincarnation-robert-snow-past-life