What is regression hypnotherapy?
Regression hypnotherapy, sometimes known as ‘age regression’ or ‘regression to cause’ (R2C), involves taking a client, in their imagination, back to past memories of events, with the intention to modify or use the clients response to the memory in order to affect a change in their current situation.
Regression is a therapy modality that is most commonly associated with hypnotherapy, rather than other talking therapies. As well as developing analytical therapy, Sigmund Freud was recorded as having been key in the development of regression therapy in psychiatry, as well as its use within hypnosis. However, Freud openly admitted that he was not a good hypnotist, and as such, often reverted to using regression as a non-hypnotic talking therapy approach. Though regression can be used with a therapy client out of hypnosis, in hypnosis the regressive state is often more easily connected to by the client, as well as being more easily recalled, more vividly experienced, and more likely to be a genuine memory (i.e. a memory that is not modified by conscious ‘filtering’).
Clients experiencing a regression in hypnosis are much more likely to ‘revivify’ and experience the memory as if it were actually happening, rather than just experiencing it as ‘recalling a memory’. From an experiential perspective, a true revivification during a regression is more like being in a dream – the client is there in it, and it’s happening in real time, without them necessarily realising it is a dream. Whereas, a standard regression is more like daydreaming – the client can experience it as if it is happening, but whilst remaining aware of their actual surroundings, and the fact that what they’re imagining is just that, their imagination. Whether a client regresses or revivifies, the client benefits from being in hypnosis during this process, because as well as the benefits listed above, the client is also able to ‘lock in’ any changes made throughout the regression on a subconscious level.
Regression hypnotherapy techniques
There are a number of ways to use regression in order to create therapeutic change. However, first, the hypnotherapist has to regress the client. There are a couple of different ways to do this. Regression approaches can be broken down into three different categories, specific age regression, free-floating regression, and the ‘affect bridge’ or ‘somatic bridge’. With specific age and free-floating regression, the hypnotherapist will either use direct suggestions or metaphorical constructs (such as a ‘time machine’) in order to regress the client into their past. The ‘bridge’ type regressions are slightly different, and rely on using direct suggestion to generate an emotion or symptom in the client, then having the client go back to the first time they ever experienced said emotion/symptom in relation to their issue.
Once the client is in a regressed state, the hypnotherapist is then able to conduct therapy on or within the memory. However, sometimes simply re-experiencing a memory can be enough to generate insight for the client, or for them to be able to experience a cathartic release of emotion. When we talk of a release of emotion, this does not mean that all clients experiencing regressions will experience negative emotions and have emotional outbursts, in fact it’s something that the well-trained hypnotherapist will aim to avoid if at all possible (more on that shortly). Sometimes though, to overcome a problem, the release of a long-repressed or ‘squashed’ emotion is exactly what a client needs, and in these cases, a regression can be the perfect tool for the job.
As well as simply experiencing the regressed memory, sometimes the hypnotherapist will need to employ other methods during a regression hypnotherapy session. Dissociation is an approach that is commonly used within regression to allow clients to distance themselves from potentially disturbing memories, or to see them from a different perspective. Again, this can be achieved with direct suggestions, asking a client to step out of the memory, and watch from a third person perspective, or by use of metaphor, such as watching the memory playing on a TV screen.
Sub-modality changes can also be applied during a regression in order to change the way a client responds to a memory. The regressed memory can be altered by the hypnotherapist in various different ways, changing how the memory is seen, heard, felt, and generally interacted with. These changes alter how a client interacts with their memory, and can even reduce the emotional and cognitive responses related to the memory.
Inner-child therapy approaches are often used alongside regression hypnotherapy, especially in cases where a client has issues with ‘acting out’ type behaviours. Using regression to help a client to develop a healthier ‘inner child’ is a very powerful approach when used at the appropriate time during the hypnotherapy process.
What regression therapy can help with
Regression hypnotherapy is often the last approach used by the professional hypnotherapist, and can be applied with any client where there may be a past event contributing to the clients current problem. Regression is best left until after behavioural, cognitive and analytical approaches have already been used, and if the problem is still not resolved. The only time a hypnotherapist may use regression as a standalone approach is with fears and phobias, as these often originate in childhood and solely relate to events that may not be consciously remembered. That said, regression therapy can be very helpful at helping address a range of issues, such as:
- Anger management
- Bereavement and loss
- Childhood anxiety disorders
- Dental hypnosis
- Eating disorders
- Headaches and migraines
- Memory enhancement
- Nail biting
- Pain management
- Panic attacks/disorder
- Performance anxiety
- Phobias and fears
- Psychogenic infertility
- Psychosexual disorders
- Skin conditions
- Sleep disorders
- Smoking cessation
- Speech impediments
- Sport hypnosis
- Stress management
- Terminal illness
- Weight management
Potential limitations of regression hypnotherapy
As mentioned above, regression is a powerful tool for generating change within the hypnotherapy session. However, if a therapist opts to use regression as a first approach, instead of using less intrusive behavioural and cognitive approaches, this can cause disturbance for the client. Use of regression, especially when relating to problem memories that may be unpleasant, disturbing or even traumatic, is something that needs adequate client preparation. Just ‘dumping’ a client into a past negative memory without doing any resource-building work with the client beforehand is a recipe for disaster (and for intense abreactions). As mentioned previously, sometimes an emotional release can be cathartic for the client. However, that is not always the case. Sometimes it is just unnecessarily traumatic.
Unfortunately, there are some less well-trained hypnotherapists out there that are taught that a client must have an emotional reaction to a regression in order to ‘prove’ the therapy is working. In reality though, a client can experience a regressed memory from a completely safe and ‘dissociated’ perspective, and gain the same insight and positive changes that they would if they were experiencing it first-hand. The key here is getting good hypnotherapy training, and for the hypnotherapist to be able to recognise what type of regression approaches (and therapy techniques used within the regression) are appropriate for each individual client.
Another area of concern with regression is the potential for ‘false memories’ and memory corruption, as well as the issues presented by clients who actively request a regression in order to ‘find a memory’ of something negative that they believe happened to them in the past. As we know, memory is not always an accurate representation of past events, and should never be treated as such. Regression in the hypnotherapy session should be used only when the hypnotherapist feels it is appropriate to do so, and not when a client requests it. Certainly regression should not be used to go looking back into the past to try and find negative or potentially traumatic memories, without doing any other therapeutic work with the client beforehand or to support the process. False memories are a naturally occurring phenomenon, and can also be caused by a poorly performed regression, or use of regression with a client who is actively seeking to find a past negative memory (for whatever reason).
In order to avoid corruption of memories, a regression therapist must be skilled in the application of ‘clean language’ and ‘clean questioning’. Regression isn’t something that can be done safely or effectively using a ‘hypnosis script’. As such, those hypnotherapists who are reliant on scripts are often not well-equipped to deal with a regression, because a regressed client will not be able to stick to a script, and their regressed experience may be something that needs active direction and management from the hypnotherapist.
Note: My intention with this section is not to scare any prospective regression hypnotherapists away from using regression, but only to ensure that you learn to use regression appropriately, and with the respect and skill that it requires, in order to ensure your clients have the best possible regression experience and outcomes.
One final limitation of regression that you may not necessarily think of, is the fact that many people only learn to use regression to work on problems. However, regression, when performed properly, can work just as well when taking clients back to positive memories too! This has a range of applications, such as for resource building, as well as being used to connect people with positive past memories where this may benefit them – such as helping a bereavement client connect to positive times they have had with the person/thing that they have lost.
How to learn regression hypnotherapy
To learn how to safely, effectively and appropriately use regression within your hypnotherapy practice, you must also learn how to apply behavioural, cognitive and analytical approaches too, getting a broad understanding of the 4 key hypnotherapy approaches. All of this information, including full regression training, is included within my book, ‘The Beginner’s Guide to Hypnotherapy’, and within our online hypnotherapy training. For full information about our hypnotherapy training options, click here: