The Church does not permit the use of past life regression therapy because it is based upon a belief in reincarnation which is not a Christian belief.
For those who are unfamiliar with this practice, past life regression therapy is a form of hypnotherapy which claims to enable a person to journey back into a past life while hypnotized. Past life regression is one of several uses for the controversial recovered memory therapy, or RMT, which is also used to uncover suppressed memories of incest, satanic ritual abuse, space-alien abduction and regression into infancy.
Proponents of RMT (and past life regression therapy) are an eclectic mix of feminists, Christians, New Agers, and science fiction enthusiasts. And, in spite of its total lack of scientific evidence, 28 percent of U.S. therapists also subscribe to belief in past life regression therapy, including the likes of Yale educated Brian L. Weiss, M.D., Chairman Emeritus of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami.
Most professional medical associations do not agree with Dr. Weiss, however, and have taken a stand similar to that of The American Medical Association which stated in 1993 that recovered memories are “of uncertain authenticity which should be subject to external verification. The use of recovered memories is fraught with problems of potential misapplication.”
Many courts of law also refuse to accept testimony from people who have been hypnotized for purposes of ‘recovering’ memories, “because such techniques can lead to confusion between imaginations and memories.”
This confusion, also referred to as “false memory syndrome,” has resulted in many damaged lives as a result of family members recalling alleged past abuse which, in many cases, never occurred. The False Memory Syndrome Foundation, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is comprised of prominent researchers and clinicians from the fields of psychiatry, psychology, social work, law, and education which provide assistance to victims of this syndrome.
One of the problems with RMT, whether it be of a past life or alien abduction, is that it is relatively easy for a therapist to implant a false memory.
For example, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, cites numerous studies of this phenomenon, including one where researchers successfully convinced half the adult participants that they had been lost in a shopping mall at the age of five even though it was not true. Several of these participants provided detailed embellishments of the alleged event.
In the case of past life regression, Psychologist Robert Baker found that belief in reincarnation is the greatest predictor of whether a subject would have a past-life memory under therapy. He also demonstrated that a subject’s expectations significantly affect the past-life regression session.
In his demonstration, he divided a group of 60 students into three groups. He told the first group they were about to experience an exciting new therapy that would help them uncover past lives. Eighty-five percent of these students remembered a past life.
To the second group, he said they were about to experience a therapy that may or may not engender past-life memories. Sixty percent of these students said they remembered a past life.
To the third group, he said they were about to experience a crazy therapy and that normal people generally do not experience a past life. Only 10 percent of this group had a past-life memory.
The power of suggestion is not the only reason why people might believe they lived a past life. A new study done at Maastricht University in the Netherlands found that patients who had undergone hypnosis in order to remember past lives were more likely than other patients to have bad memories.
Another study, conducted by Susan Clancy of Harvard University, also found that people with memories of alien abduction had similar problems with poor recall.
This type of therapy should not be considered harmless, however. The state of Washington once allowed individuals to receive RMT therapy under their Crime Victim’s Act, until a study of its effectiveness revealed some alarming trends.
For example, once patients began RMT therapy, suicide attempts increased by 500 percent. Hospitalizations rose almost 300 percent. Self-mutilation increased by more than 800 percent. Unemployment increased by 700 percent. One-hundred percent of the participants were estranged from their family with nearly half becoming separated or divorced during the time of therapy. Not a single patient was well after three years of intensive therapy.
A long history of fraud is also associated with “past life” memories. One of the most notorious examples is the famous Bridey Murphy case which occurred in 1952, an event many believe was the start of the “past life regression therapy” craze in the U.S.
The case involved a Colorado housewife named Virginia Tighe who began speaking in an Irish brogue after being hypnotized by an amateur hypnotist. During a series of six sessions, Tighe began describing a past life she claimed to have lived in Cork, Ireland where she was known as Bridey Murphy. The story turned into the best-selling book, The Search for Bridey Murphy, that had journalists combing Ireland looking for any details that might confirm what appeared to be proof of reincarnation.
They found nothing, however, and Tighe was eventually exposed as a fraud, writes Deal Hudson in an article, “12 Claims Every Catholic Should Be Able to Answer.”
“Virginia’s childhood friends recalled her active imagination and ability to concoct complex stories (often centered around the imitation brogue she had perfected),” Hudson writes. “Not only that, but she had a great fondness for Ireland, due in part to a friendship with an Irish woman whose maiden name was – you guessed it – Bridie.”
In spite of cases such as these, an ever growing number of New Age practitioners continue to hawk this therapy.
“While this may be convincing to some, it certainly isn’t to anyone familiar with the mechanics of hypnosis,” Hudson writes. “Almost since the beginning, researchers have noted that patients in deep hypnosis frequently weave elaborate stories and memories, which later turn out to be utterly untrue.”
Some Christian therapists involved in past life regression therapy will try to “Christianize” it by using images of Christ leading a patient down a path into another life, but belief in reincarnation is simply not Christian.
Unfortunately, as many as 22 percent of Christians in America believe in reincarnation, including many Catholics who do so only because the Church has never officially condemned the practice.
However, as this blog reports, the only reason why the Church has not condemned belief in reincarnation is because it is so obviously opposed to the Christian perception of life after death that she saw no need to do so.
“Why has Christianity always rejected the idea of reincarnation?” asks Cardinal Christoph Schonborn in his book, From Death to Life: A Christian Journey. “As far as I know, the Church has never formally condemned the doctrine of reincarnation: not because she might regard it as a doctrine that could be compatible with the Christian faith, but on the contrary because reincarnation so obviously contradicts the very principles of this faith that a condemnation has never seemed necessary.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is quite clear on the subject of reincarnation. “Death is the end of man’s earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers man so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny. When ‘the single course of our earthly life’ [Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 48, 3] is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives: ‘It is appointed for men to die once’ [Heb 9:27]. There is no reincarnation after death” (CCC No. 1013).
For the sake of their spiritual and mental health, Christians should not be involved in past life regression therapy.
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