What Is Regression Therapy?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated January 24, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Have you ever felt that your past has been holding you back? You may sometimes wish you could be more present or let go of painful memories. Perhaps you struggle to remember something, but you feel that it could be hidden somewhere in your mind. 

Regression therapy might be a helpful technique for these feelings. This type of therapy works to help you remember or let go of painful memories. If you're considering regression therapy, there are several aspects you may want to learn about first. Note that certain forms of regression therapy are often unsupported by research. Consider your options with caution.

Regression Therapy Can Help You Work Through Past Events

Regression therapy is often dedicated to uncovering things from our past that may be contributing to our current mental state or harmful habits. There are two commonly practiced types of regression: age regression therapy and past life regression therapy.

Age regression targets a past event or multiple events that may have happened during childhood. Past life regression is often used to help individuals resolve issues from their past lives by recovering lost memories.

Regression psychology can be controversial, and some may be hesitant to try it. However, there have been cases where people have experienced positive results.

How Does Regression Therapy Work? 

Regression therapy focuses on a specific approach to psychotherapy that may help people improve their emotional and cognitive health by resolving past events. 

These therapies often aim to tap into the subconscious part of our minds using different methods. During a session, a therapist may use leading questions, subconscious mind treatment, or clinical hypnosis to help you regress.

Addressing Past Issues 

When a therapist helps you regress to (go back to/relive) an earlier time or a previous life, their goal may be to help you resolve your problems in the present. They might use regression techniques to find and resolve feelings about past situations, so you can feel better about your current situation and improve your daily life. In many cases, regression therapy is used to heal trauma. 

People with a diagnosis of complex PTSD or PTSD may benefit from retrieving memories in this way. However, regression may also carry a risk of flashbacks or remembering difficult emotions that remind you of traumatic events. Speaking with a therapist about your mental health before trying to retrieve childhood memories from your subconscious mind could be beneficial. 

Past feelings may cause you to feel or behave in ways that don't make sense to you in the present moment. For example, these feelings and behaviors from the past might cause you to experience the following: 

  • Fears and phobias without knowing why

  • Guilt for no understood reason

  • Difficulty being intimate

  • Relationship issues

  • Mental health conditions or symptoms 

  • Flashbacks or panic attacks

Using Hypnosis

Although there can be many potential techniques for conducting regression therapy, hypnosis or hypnotic regression therapy are common. Psychoanalysts often use hypnosis as well. Hypnosis often involves becoming detached from external or environmental stimuli and becoming cognitively focused on one's emotions or inner thought processes. 

Regression Therapy Types

Age regression therapy may take you back to an earlier time in your life. Alternatively, past life regression therapy goes beyond your current life and into previous reincarnations if you believe in past lives. 

Age Regression

In age regression therapy, you might learn about things that happened to you when you were young. In some cases, this therapy may uncover memories that surprise you because you were unaware of them.

The goal of regression therapy may not be to re-experience the memory but also to bring it to your conscious mind, where you can deal with it intentionally. Regression theory is often based on the belief that we can free ourselves to feel different about similar experiences by processing these memories and the emotions surrounding them.

You may engage in child work in age regression therapy, such as playing with toys or coloring with your therapist. Many practitioners in this field will help with inner child work by helping you heal relationship problems with yourself and integrating your inner child with your current self as one complete person. 

You may experience conscious awareness of your inner child and the things they went through. Regression therapists might help you through age regression therapy by observing and asking leading questions based on evidence-based research on the treatment of trauma and childhood experiences.

Age regression therapy is not related to fetishes, nor is it sexual. The treatment is professional and carried out by a licensed psychologist.  

Past Life Regression

Past life regression therapy may focus on taking you back to "past incarnations" to potentially support you in dealing with problems that arose before your current lifetime. 

Many people feel past life regression therapy makes sense because they're unsure why they live with fears, guilt, or other difficulties. They may also hold certain spiritual beliefs that allow them to benefit from this form of therapy. 

Although many individuals feel that past life regression is helpful, science and modern psychology do not back up the existence of past lives at this time, and past life regression is often considered a pseudoscience

In a past life regression session, you may be able to retrieve childhood memories from another life or experience hypnosis that takes you back to past lives. The reincarnation hypothesis states that all humans, no matter who they are, have reincarnated or will in the future. Hypnosis may lead an individual to see scenes or experiences from past lives that may have shaped their lives today.

Psychologist Brian Weiss has studied past life regression in this field. He has written a few books with Crown House Publishing about this practice and how it might impact an individual's emotions and daily experiences. 

Common misconceptions about past life regression are that it's only available to people who believe in spirituality and is not readily available to anyone. Many licensed psychologists believe in and practice this type of therapy. 

You can read the clinical guide on past life regression with the New York Academy Bestseller, Many Lives, Many Masters, by Brian Weiss. Although there is limited research supporting this practice, and it's believed to hold ethical concerns by some in the psychology field, some individuals who have tried it have seen improvement in their mental health.

Hypnosis 

There are several potential stages to regression therapy, beginning with hypnosis. Below is a brief explanation of each stage. 

Relaxation

Relaxation is often the first part of the hypnosis phase. The therapist may talk to us slowly and gently, guiding us through a systematic process to relax our body and mind. If we have trauma, we may stay in this phase for longer. Relaxation can be essential to opening ourselves up to suggestions.

Visualization

Next, the therapist may move you on to the visualization stage of hypnosis. Instead of asking if you see a particular thing or feel a certain way, the therapist may ask open-ended questions. These questions may allow you to talk about whatever you recall, even if it's something the therapist doesn't know.

As you see a memory in your mind's eye, you might feel the way you did when it first happened. Your emotions may feel more sensitive than usual. You might also feel compassion for the younger person you were when the event occurred. If you remember an incident of abuse or violence, you may feel upset. Before the therapist guides you to awareness of your surroundings, they may help your younger self process the emotions or the memory that has come up for you. 

Consciously Examining Memory

Once you explore and re-experience a past situation, a therapist may help you transfer that knowledge to your conscious mind. They may tell you about what happened or offer a session recording. Once you're aware of the memory you discovered, your therapist may help you begin to put it into perspective.

Finding the Significance

After rediscovering a memory, you might begin to understand why it matters to you. How has it affected your life? Now that you remember it, how do you feel about yourself, those involved in the event, and the world in general? What have you learned?

Learning from the New Information

If you've recently recovered a memory, you might use it to understand yourself better. You might also know more about other people in your life. Your therapist may help you apply this new information to current feelings, conflicts, and behaviors.

Controversiality

While some may say that they've benefited greatly from age regression, hypnosis, or past life regression, this type of therapy still hasn't gained widespread acceptance in the mental health community and often lacks credible research. 

Some therapists may believe in the benefits of age regression but don't believe in reincarnation, so past lives may not be something they work with. Two aspects of regression therapy that have caused controversy are the lack of evidence for its effectiveness and the possibility of creating false memories.

Furthermore, many therapists avoid this therapy because they're concerned it might be a waste of time. They feel it's more effective to spend time on therapies that have been proven to work in many scientific studies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. At the moment, there's little research to confirm the effectiveness of regression therapy, but many assert there have been dramatic results in this type of therapy.

Does Regression Therapy Create False Memories?

If a therapist isn't careful to ask only open-ended questions, they may inadvertently cause a client to imagine something that never happened. 

Opponents of regression therapy often point out that false memories may become indistinguishable from memories of events that did happen. Many opposers of this therapy also claim that false memories may lead to false accusations of abuse. 

Is It Safe To Do Age Regression And Past Life Progression On Your Own?

It may or may not be possible to do regression therapy on yourself through self-hypnosis. You may ask yourself what happens if you remember something and don't know how to deal with it. You could put yourself in a situation that causes considerable emotional pain or confusion. To be as safe as possible, consider choosing to work with a licensed therapist instead.

Who Benefits

For those interested in pursuing regression therapy, finding a therapist who has been trained in this form of mental health care can be beneficial. It can also be helpful to talk to a therapist who works with people who have faced abuse or violence, especially if you believe you may have experienced a trauma related to these areas. 

Professional Training

The International Board for Regression Therapy offers accreditation to therapists who have studied regression therapy and demonstrated their ability to practice it. One part of the training may be learning the "proper hypnosis techniques." People who try to tackle difficult memories without adequate training in hypnosis may unintentionally cause a worsening of symptoms in a patient. 

Regression therapy can be performed during in-person therapy sessions as well as through internet-based therapy. According to the World Psychiatry Association, there is "considerable support" for internet-based therapy when dealing with common mental health conditions. 

Alternative Solutions

You might choose to partake in several alternative solutions to regression therapy from home or with a counselor. 

Visualization Exercises

Envisioning what you remember about what you have experienced may be beneficial. For some, visualization may come easy, but for others, it can be difficult or impossible to recreate sensations or images in your mind

Practicing creative visualization at home may better prepare you for hypnotherapy. It may also allow you to experience other parts of your life in more detail.

Try Meditating And Inducing A Trance

Meditation is another exercise that has proven health benefits and could be beneficial if you plan to try hypnotization. If you try regression therapy in the future, consider practicing meditation first to improve your focus and grounding.

Regression Therapy Can Help You Work Through Past Events

Get Support From A Professional 

If you’re wondering why you feel, think, or behave the way you do, you might benefit from regression therapy. Consider working with a qualified therapist who can help you find the best therapeutic modality for your psyche. Online therapy may be a practical choice if you're looking for modern therapy. 

Studies show that most individuals feel most comfortable in their own homes. Additionally, 71% of individuals who participated in another research study on online treatment modalities believed online therapy was more effective than traditional in-person counseling. 

Working through past events to resolve current conflicts and feelings may benefit those who decide to try it. Although regression therapy is not for everyone, you may be able to find treatment for a wide variety of concerns through an online platform such as BetterHelp. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors.

Therapist Reviews

"In one session Douglas has helped me realize and find a way to break a pattern that I've been having for the last few weeks and probably lifelong. This is going to help me improve my relationships and my life will be more fulfilling. I'm glad I got to talk to Douglas, I can sense he is a great professional."

"Mary Smith is very thoughtful and a great listener. I can tell she has a lot of experience dealing with many situations and people, which gives me comfort. She always stays on track with my concerns and goals, and always offers relevant suggestions and tools to help me to conquer issues. I recommend Mary Smith to anyone who feels stuck in their toxic ways formed by difficult past experiences, but you want to overcome them. I believe Mary has the skills to help someone who wants to change for the better."

Takeaway

If regression therapy sounds appealing to you, a counselor may be able to help you get started. Exploring your past (through any form of therapy) may help you transform your life and focus on the present. Consider reaching out for support.

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