Past-life regression therapy – in the New York Times

| 49 Comments

In a past life, I was a frog. Then I was kissed by a princess, and eventually I became the King of France. Or was it the Duke of York? No matter. At the time, I had 10,000 men, and I marched them up to the top of the hill, and then I marched them down again. When they were up, they were up, and when they were down, they were down. But when they were only halfway up, they were neither up nor down. With details like that, how can you doubt my story?

I recalled my past life when I read this article in the New York Times concerning what appear to be otherwise competent psychiatrists hypnotizing their patients and applying past-life regression therapy. I use the term therapy loosely (but I will bet that insurance companies pay for it). At least this claptrap ran in the Styles section, not the Science section. But couldn’t they have interviewed at least one person from, say, Skeptical Inquirer? Surely an expert like Joe Nickell would have had something to contribute to an article that frankly should have been an exposé rather than a fawning tribute.

Or does “objective reporting” apply only when they need someone to create “controversy” over an obvious scientific fact such as evolution or the safety and efficacy of vaccination?

49 Comments

I hate that mindset, if something is considered a puff piece for some reason reporters don’t feel a responsibility to due diligence … it’s upsetting

From the New York Times article:

In a post-Freudian world, past-lives therapy has its advantages. For one thing, it’s quick. A regression session usually takes several hours — and costs more than $100 an hour.

Several hours at more than $100 an hour; wow!

No wonder someone who finds him/herself committed past the point of no return is motivated to remember something.

Ya ever notice that someone claiming to have a past-life experience always discovers with great certainty that they were the King of Persia, and never just one of the millions of short-lived, mud covered peasants?

stevaroni said:

Ya ever notice that someone claiming to have a past-life experience always discovers with great certainty that they were the King of Persia, and never just one of the millions of short-lived, mud covered peasants?

True, but if you were a “short-lived, mud covered peasant”, would you really want to remember?

dpr

I hate that mindset, if something is considered a puff piece for some reason reporters don’t feel a responsibility to due diligence

At the New York Times, as at many newspapers these days, reporters don’t feel a responsibility to do due dilligence, period. If spokesperson or press release says it, you repeat it, and there’s your story.

OT, but this is worth PT taking the flamethrower to immediately:

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/0[…]_037811.html

they think this is meat for them.

I think instead this will backfire on them more than they could possibly imagine.

Lee was also a fan of Tancredo’s anti-immigration policies too, just fyi.

I was Shirley Maclaine in a past life. I wonder if she remembers me.

stevaroni said:

Ya ever notice that someone claiming to have a past-life experience always discovers with great certainty that they were the King of Persia, and never just one of the millions of short-lived, mud covered peasants?

This is true in the US but is not true in other areas. In India it is not uncommon among reincarnation claims for the claim to be a reincarnation of a recently deceased individual who lives nearby. There’s a chapter in Mary Roach’s “Spooked” which discusses this in some detail.

Even in the US a small fraction of such claims are not claims of reincarnation of famous people.

It would probably be more accurate to say that in areas where the primary religions do not endorse reincarnation the majority of past-life claims claims involve claims of reincarnation of famous people.

It would probably be more accurate to say that in areas where the primary religions do not endorse reincarnation the majority of past-life claims claims involve claims of reincarnation of famous people.

indeed. I bet someone has cobbled those figures into some kind of review?

it’s a great argument for how people use religion to rationalize.

Oh this is so great. Now hypnotize Intelligent Design and see if it remembers its past life as Creationism.

Karen S. said:

Oh this is so great. Now hypnotize Intelligent Design and see if it remembers its past life as Creationism.

Post. Of. The. Week.

Several hours at more than $100 an hour; wow!

Several hours is nothing compared to the 30 years that some people spend getting psychoanalyzed with no discernible effect. I am not an expert, but the historian David Stannard in his 1980 book Shrinking History describes a study that compared psychoanalysis with some kind of behavioral therapy and with merely getting on the waiting list. There was no discernible difference among any of the groups. I predict that the same will be true if we subject past-life regression therapy to the same kind of test.

No wonder someone who finds him/herself committed past the point of no return is motivated to remember something.

Precisely. Anecdotal evidence such as that described in the Times article is worse than useless because it suffers from experimenter bias.

I’m convinced that I was a very wealthy citizen of Germany who was murdered during the pogroms (I wasn’t reborn until the 50’s, that’s late enough isn’t it?) -

so I think I’ll sue for some of that Nazi gold in Switzerland. Do you think the people at Thomas More will take my case on pro bono?

Matt Young said:

Several hours at more than $100 an hour; wow!

Several hours is nothing compared to the 30 years that some people spend getting psychoanalyzed with no discernible effect.

As someone once asked, if self-help books really help, why do you need to keep buying them?

fnxtr said:

Matt Young said:

Several hours at more than $100 an hour; wow!

Several hours is nothing compared to the 30 years that some people spend getting psychoanalyzed with no discernible effect.

As someone once asked, if self-help books really help, why do you need to keep buying them?

The authors are helping themselves to your money.

Mike Elzinga said:

From the New York Times article:

In a post-Freudian world, past-lives therapy has its advantages. For one thing, it’s quick. A regression session usually takes several hours — and costs more than $100 an hour.

Several hours at more than $100 an hour; wow!

No wonder someone who finds him/herself committed past the point of no return is motivated to remember something.

Christ. I should find a different line of work.

The New York Times you say? In my past life I was a pile of WMD’s in Iraq. Enjoy.

grasshopper said:

I was Shirley Maclaine in a past life. I wonder if she remembers me.

I don’t know, but in her past life she was Warren Beatty’s sister.

We’ve missed this stuff since the Weekly World News folded.

Good to see the NYT taking up the slack.

midwifetoad wrote:

We’ve missed this stuff since the Weekly World News folded.

Good to see the NYT taking up the slack.

Ya know, I wonder if the space alien baby that Bill and Hillary adopted after the UFO crashed on the White House lawn, back in ‘97, was at the big wedding this summer?

fusilier James 2:24

When I was a young man in college I worked with a couple of people studying past life regression. I was their guinea pig and therefore went through dozens of regressions. Never once was I anyone famous or anyone who likely left any sort of historical record. I believe that was also true of the other students they worked with.

Also I never once really believed that the images and stories that came up were memories of past lives, they seemed to be more dreamlike, but more coherent and consistent than my sleeping dreams. But they were always a past life as was suggested by the facilitator.

What was obvious to me was that the issues confronted in my “past lives” were the same issues I was having in my current life and, being a psychology major, I found them very valuable for understanding many of the issues I was personally dealing with. The sessions were very good therapy for me.

I recall that in the days when regression hypnosis was being used as the basis for sex abuse accusations …

… the UFO abduction regression hypnosis clique protested: “You’re making us look bad!”

The best scam I ever encountered was a past life regressions psychic. If the psychic screwed up any portion of the cold reading, the psychic would just say that that was from a past life!

From Ichthyic’s link:

“Somehow it’s not surprising that he was an opponent of religion as well.” Demand number 4: Civilization must be exposed for the filth it is. That, and all its disgusting religious-cultural roots and greed. Broadcast this message until the pollution in the planet is reversed and the human population goes down!

“My purpose here, of course, isn’t to suggest that Darwinism drives people mad or anything like that, but merely to point out, as I’ve done in the past, the strange attraction Darwinian theory exerts on some people who are crazy, or wicked, or both. This is a truth that’s suppressed again and again, yet it remains true.”

It’s a shame the “EvolutionNews” piece didn’t also point out the truth of the much more common strange attraction that Christianity exerts on more than some people who are crazy, wicked, or both.

I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned Bridey Murphy yet - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridey_Murphy.

It took a while for the world to realize how tranparently bogus this particular regression therapy “past life” was.

Karen S. said:

Oh this is so great. Now hypnotize Intelligent Design and see if it remembers its past life as Creationism.

Ah, but for hypnosis to work, a brain has to be present in the subject.

On the odds, wouldn’t a large plurality of us have been Chinese?

Henry J said:

Karen S. said:

Oh this is so great. Now hypnotize Intelligent Design and see if it remembers its past life as Creationism.

Ah, but for hypnosis to work, a brain has to be present in the subject.

Well said!

Actually, my mother (who has been on-and-off with New Age groups since the 60s) did past-life regression with a…I actually don’t know what he was. He seemed like a therapist, but also a New Age spiritualist and Native American fetishist, as my mother is. During regression she ‘discovered’ that in a past life she had been a preColumbian Native American - one of the peasants, not a King of Persia. When I pointed out to her that this was obviously religion, she denied it was. Past-life regression CANNOT be possible unless there are supernatural forces. However some people truly think that this kind of stuff can’t possibly be religious if it doesn’t involve Jesus.

Reading through their credentials, past-life therapists are a real mixed bag. I get real itchy when I see a self-description like this:

Astrology (as a psychological diagnostic tool) is also utilized in her counseling practice, which led to her research interest linking the fields of past life therapy, astrology and quantum physics.

Nothing screams “QUACK!” like a reference to quantum physics in counseling.

Science Avenger said:

Nothing screams “QUACK!” like a reference to quantum physics in counseling.

Anybody who actually KNOWS anything about quantum physics is, to a lesser or greater degree, frightened of it.

Anybody who actually KNOWS anything about quantum physics is, to a lesser or greater degree, frightened of it.

Sure, but only virtually.

Henry J said:

Sure, but only virtually.

The fear remains simply a potential until you actually take a good look at it and the wavefunction collapses.

This guy (subject of this article) seems like a well-meaning eccentric, but he is crossing some ethical lines.

Psychiatry and clinical psychology are important parts of medicine. Mainstream, consensus psychiatry deals effectively with common, severe, unequivocal mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major clinical depression, and so on.

Psychiatry is often made fun of. In some cases, such as this one, it is the psychiatrist whose behavior provokes the ridicule. However, in most cases, ridicule and scorn for psychiatry actually reflect society’s disdain for the mentally ill. (A similar situation once existed for dermatologists. In the early years of the specialty, dermatologists tended to the physicians who treated venereal diseases, especially syphilis, because they had the expertise to recognize the various skin lesions. The scorn directed at the patients was carried over to the physicians. As dermatology later became associated with high earnings and affluent patients, the stigma finally subsided.)

Claiming supernatural methods of treating disease clearly runs afoul of the professional standards that guide legitimate psychiatric and psychological therapy.

Of course, being a psychiatrist does not mean that this guy is not allowed to have his own religious or supernatural beliefs, nor that he is not allowed to share those beliefs with others. However, he should draw the line at mixing those beliefs with professional practice.

I assume that the “patients” for this “therapy” suffer from mild chronic dissatisfaction or even curiosity. It would be malpractice to try to treat severe mental illness with “past life therapy”. Even so, simply not using the term “therapy” and divorcing this stuff from professional practice would make a lot of sense.

A similar point to the absurdity of everyone having been Napoleon was made on a show I caught once: people are fixated on the big names, when history is also made up of everyone who’s been forgotten. In fact, I get the sense archaeologists are more excited to find some schmuck’s house than to find a great palace. (Or maybe not: palaces do tend to have more writing.)

And I’m sorry, but I must defend Weekly World News. They had to have been satirical, because if they really catered to the gullible masses, they wouldn’t have been so flippant with their zodiac predictions.

When they were up, they were up, and when they were down, they were down.

They must have been Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s manager:

“Silver ‘vette with gold wheels,

We see him cruisin’ ‘round the town

No, he’s never really up

No, he’s never really down

He’s just mojo …”

Sorry … it’s late; I’m getting silly …

Ah, but for hypnosis to work, a brain has to be present in the subject.

Doesn’t have to be a working brain.

Past life regression is a major sacrament of the Church of Scientology. No wonder they hate psychiatry.

Oh, Matt, the vivid detail of your past life made a total believer of me! So I hypnotized myself, and guess what? I was the Princess who kissed you! Look, I can prove it - I remember that I almost stepped on you when you first hopped onto my balcony, and your skin was cold, pale green, with small bumps and just a hint of slime. Isn’t that amazing?!

Bet we could earn $100 per head for telling that story at New Age events…

Nee-deep… Nee-deep…

Tony Robinson did a bit of a debunk of past life therapy.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/[…]/4od#2925261

Probably the most interesting bit was when he subjected himself to past life regression therapy. It felt very real to him and he wanted desperately to believe it.

At $100 per hour it looks like they are praying on people to me.

Astrology (as a psychological diagnostic tool) is also utilized in her counseling practice, which led to her research interest linking the fields of past life therapy, astrology and quantum physics.

It was while studying quantum physics that I remembered my past life as a neutrino. But I don’t believe in astrology - I’m an Aries.

Ah, but were you Catholic in that past life? (i.e., did you have mass?)

At $100 per hour it looks like they are praying on people to me.

Not to mention preying on them.…

–W. H. Heydt

Old Used Programmer

Past life regression therapy, on its objective face, is hogwash, HOWEVER it is not necessarily a waste of time. I could see the use of regression as a means of tapping into the subconscious/personality of the person being “regressed”. This reminds me of a technique I learned of when I was a young freshman and sophomore psychology major on early memories. This technique would have you ask a person about their earliest memories, having them relate as much detail as possible. Now the thing was, it was irrelevant whether or not the related memory was objectively true or not. What the person was “remembering” could be a complete fantasy, but as far as they were concerned it was an actual memory…but there was useful information in that memory, whether objectively true or false (but honestly believed).

Obtaining a set of early memories from someone I was able to determine who or what was really important in their life, who or what deeply affected them, and various aspects of their core personality. I believe that past life regression therapy could likely also be useful in this regard. The problem only comes in actually believing (or encouraging belief in it from the subject) the “past life”. Alas, I somehow doubt that utilizing the results of regression therapy in the manner of using information obtained from seeking early (actually earliest) memories is what ANY practitioner is actually doing.

I’m agnostic about the whole issue, but as most people skeptical of incarnation seem to be rational/scientific types, it doesn’t sound very logical to make fun of $100/hr sessions. If anyone knew anything about the medical industry or did any research, you would know that these fees are very common in the medical and psychiatric field. I took a test a few weeks ago for a medical problem. It cost $800+ and took 20 minutes. They didn’t find anything wrong with me, when I have overwhelming experiential evidence that there is. Now that’s junk science if you ask me.

PaulM said:

They didn’t find anything wrong with me, when I have overwhelming experiential evidence that there is. Now that’s junk science if you ask me.

They didn’t say there was nothing wrong with you, they just said they couldn’t find it. We are hideously complex systems and can be extremely hard to troubleshoot.

Medicine is very bimodal. Part of it works very well and reliably; the other part is dodgy at best and useless at worst – with not so much in the middle between the two extremes.

Joe Nicolodeon and skeptical perspirer are as loony in their own way as these fellas. Maybe they have present life that they think is a past life because its in one of those 10 to the fifty’th power multiple universes,conjured up by String theory.

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