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Have you ever met someone who felt familiar and thought, maybe we knew each other in a past life? Past life regression therapy exists to help people explore lives gone by. But does it work, and is it even a good idea to begin with? Here’s what experts in science and spirituality have to say about it.
The concept of a “past life.”
Past life therapy presupposes reincarnation, the concept that our soul or consciousness lives on through multiple lifetimes.
As child psychiatrist and past-life researcher Jim B. Tucker, M.D., tells mbg, past life therapy operates from the idea that there is “carry-over from one life to another,” and we all possess “some type of consciousness entity (or in religious terms, a soul) that experiences successive lives.”
Some people believe that memories, feelings, and even traumas from past lives can still affect them today. Past life regression expert and author of The Past Life Perspective Ann Barham explains that most of her clients want to explore their past lives in order to resolve issues from previous lifetimes or simply learn more about themselves and the nature of reality in general.
“Usually a client comes to me because they have some issue or problem they can’t resolve,” she says, whether it’s within a relationship or an internal struggle.
In her work, Barham has seen that learning about past lives can help people “look at what’s been carried forward [into this lifetime] so it can be processed and released,” noting that sometimes, our prior life experiences can affect us in ways we’re not consciously aware of.
What is past life regression therapy?
When you receive a past life regression therapy session, the therapist guides you into a relaxed state (not unlike hypnosis) and prompts you to recall memories from your past lives.
Barham, who’s been doing past life regression therapy for over 20 years, explains that this can help you identify details about the individual you were, the circumstance of your past life, key events, places where energy or emotions have been blocked or stuck, and even other people in that prior lifetime that may be here now.
In a session, you also might be guided through the death of that past life and into the realm between lifetimes, she adds.
There, “we can do a life review and look at the lessons [from past lives] and how they might be impacting the person.” Once someone figures out what aspects of their past lives they’re carrying into their present one, she says, “we do additional release work to let go of whatever they’re still carrying from that experience.”
In this work, it’s not uncommon to call on higher guidance, whether from a spiritual guide or your higher self. Barham notes her clients will “often get some pretty deep and helpful guidance for the next steps in their current life or an overall message.”
Practices to get in touch with your soul (and potentially past lives).
According to Barham, doing past life regression work on yourself is very different from going through a guided session. However, there are some strategies that she believes can help you tap into your inner knowing and potentially a past life memory, which she outlines in her book.
Before you get started with any of them, she cautions that you never know what could come up (upsetting memories aren’t off the table) and should proceed slowly and with caution.
Look for clues about your prior lifetimes.
One of the easiest ways to start tapping into a past life is to look at the things that feel familiar and natural to you. Whether it’s a person, place, skill, career, or even type of cuisine, Barham says you could be carrying that from a past life.
Take stock of your dreams.
Dreams are another area that can offer us clues into past lives, “particularly if you have recurring dreams—ones that are particularly vibrant and when you wake up you’re like was that a dream or was that real?” Barham says. You may actually be pulling up material from a prior lifetime, so give them consideration and take time interpreting them.
“Before you go into meditation, or go to sleep at night, ask for information about a prior lifetime that is affecting you now,” Barham says. Whatever you’re wondering about, simply ask yourself to dream about it or get information in meditation. “Some people do get spontaneous downloads of recollection when they do this,” she adds.
What does the science say?
As with most gnostic disciplines, past life regression therapy (and even the idea of past lives in general) isn’t supported by modern science.
There are some anecdotal reports of children making claims about past lives and saying accurate things about a period of time they should arguably have no knowledge of—but additional evidence remains elusive.
Tucker, the director of the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies, since the late ’90s has been studying children who report past-life memories. And while he finds past life regression therapy interesting, to say the least, he and his colleagues are “quite skeptical of it” and do not recommend it.
“Although there is evidence that some young children have memories of a life in the past, such as in the cases we’ve documented in our work at the Division of Perceptual Studies, there is very little to suggest that past-life regression typically connects with an actual life from the past,” Tucker says.
So far, the division’s research indicates that while “the subjective experience of reliving a previous life may be impressive to the person having the experience, […] the ‘previous life’ may be a fantasy, like most of our dreams,” and even if past life regression therapy improves various physical or psychological symptoms, it “does not provide evidence that a real previous life has been remembered.”
Past life regression therapy operates from the idea that we can access lessons from previous lives—which is not supported by science. However, those who are more spiritually inclined might find value in exploring a new side of themselves and their (potentially everlasting) soul. As Barham puts it, past life regression “really broadens people’s perspective on what we’re doing on the planet, why we’re here, and the connections we have—so it’s just a great way to explore: What is this existence all about?”