By Susanna Sweeney, MSc, MBACP, CHT
Regression hypnosis is the backbone of the work when healing complex issues with hypnotherapy such as depression, anxiety, lack of confidence, self esteem. Even without any such dramatic issues present, regression can work wonders for you when you come up against an internal block that you find you simply cannot shift by yourself.
To start this process, let’s first of all look at how deep personal issues arise. What I will describe holds true for any stubborn blocks you may come up against in yourself, but also stretches to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, low self esteem and confidence. From my observation, the underlying principles are always the same.
In my article on hypnosis therapy for anxiety,
I used an example based on my client work which illustrates in concrete
terms how deep personal issues can arise in someone’s life. Here, I
will talk in general and more theoretical terms, but hopefully in such a
way that you will be able to follow easily.
Mostly, the development of these sorts of issues is set off very early in life, usually before the age of seven.
As an evolutionary default, young minds, before the age of around seven, are wide open to their parent’s programming. Nature has made this so that we can condition the next generation to survive depending on the particular circumstances of our lives.
We can imprint upon our
children what dangers to avoid, and what behaviors are conducive to
their well being. If this programming occurs before the age of seven,
the imprint will go straight to the subconscious mind. It will go in
deep and the child will carry on the desired behaviors without ever
You can now see how this is an important evolutionary feature for the survival of our species.
However, this clever feature also brings with it certain side effects.
Say, an overwhelming event occurs at that young age. This could be an event that frightens the child, makes them feel abandoned, or even makes them feel their life is at risk. The memory associated with this overwhelming event will also be stored directly in the subconscious mind.
If such an event occurs before the age of around seven, there is no chance the child will be able to process it or make sense of it simply because children’s brains are not developed enough to process complex situations.
However, not having a conscious memory of the event does not equate the
event not having an impact. The subconscious mind will remember. And the
sensemaking system I described in the list above, with self blame at
its core, will be used ever more when dealing with situations that are
interpreted as being similar, shaping emotions and behaviors.
the real difficulty occurs because the gates to the subconscious mind
close at around age seven. From then on, reprogramming becomes much more
When the child encounters maybe only one or two
such events during childhood, the impact could lead to blocks that
manifest later in life.
When such events occur frequently or are severe enough, the impact could lead to depression, anxiety, low self esteem or confidence becoming an issue later in life.
Regression hypnosis is a wonderful tool that can help repair this
damage. Regression hypnosis allows you to work directly with the
subconscious mind on integrating memories which are otherwise
With regression, hypnosis really comes into its own as a unique method with a far superior tool kit to anything I have seen in any other form of therapeutic work.
This is because the slightly altered state of consciousness we call hypnosis allows different parts of your brain that would not normally communicate, to exchange information (1) opening the door to a great number of changes that can be made- literally- to your brain while you are in hypnosis.
Memories are organised thematically in the human mind. Say, for example, a client, let’s call him Frank, attends hypnosis because he feels blocked in progressing his career. He just cannot garner the confidence to move up to the next level in his job.
(You can read about my take on past life hypnosis here.)
Once this work is done for all incidents including the very first time
this occurred, Frank will have freed himself of the hold the past had
over him. The block will be removed. His subconscious thinking and his
emotions will change, allowing him to unfold his full potential. Frank
will then be free to design his life in the present moment as he
(This article here in Psychology Today may interest you. It agrees with me on the benefits of regression hypnosis.)
“All of this sounds very simple to do”, I can hear you thinking. “I
should be able to get there by just thinking things through logically.
Once I understand what the issue or problem is, that should solve it,
The caveat here is that there are different levels to understanding. Consciously understanding something does not equate subconsciously understanding it.
You can now see how achieving changes on a deep emotional level is a different ballgame to having a conscious understanding or appreciation of the issue. The only way to change issues at a subconscious level is by actually working with the subconscious mind.
If you have worked with a coach before you will know that coaching work
is focused on changing your behavior in the present moment. Coaches are
not trained to work with the subconscious mind.
All of this amounts to very worthwhile support, but it cannot help you with overcoming deeply seated blocks that involve the subconscious mind.
Psychotherapy, when done well, will provide a secure connection with the
therapist, a safe place to express emotions and troubling thoughts, a
place to gain cognitive understanding about yourself, a place of holding
during a crisis period, a place that can help you integrate troubling
childhood memories, or perhaps, if nothing major is bothering you, a
place where you can reflect and become curious about yourself.
Again, these are all very worthwhile supports. But can psychotherapy help you to resolve issues held in the subconscious mind?
Psychotherapy, no matter what school is involved, is essentially talk therapy.
You talk to your therapist. You talk about issues. You talk about
emotions. You talk about body sensations. With someone who is trained in
process work, you may experience a certain amount, but by enlarge you
will ‘talk about’ a lot.
And while you are talking, you are operating from the conscious mind. And the conscious mind has strong defenses built all around it that make sure that change in adult life becomes very difficult. (You can read about these defenses in detail in my article on suggestion hypnosis.)
Essentially, in psychotherapy you are constantly working with a paradox. You are working with the conscious mind while you are really trying to access the subconscious.
If you work with a good and experienced psychotherapist and if you can get around the defenses enough, you will be able to catch some glimpses of the underlying subconscious material from time to time.
But these, in my experience, remain isolated glimpses. A certain amount of change can be affected with psychotherapy, but very often people come to the limit where they find they are no longer making progress.
If or when this occurs for you, consider giving regression hypnosis a go.
Regression hypnosis has attracted some bad press in the past when
it’s been associated with the controversial ‘False Memory Syndrome’.
is not possible for me to cover this topic in depth in this brief
article. Suffice to say that any well trained, experienced and ethical
psychotherapist or hypnotherapist will steer clear of making any
suggestions to their client what the nature of the memory to be
uncovered is or may be.
Rather, protocols for regression hypnosis are typically carefully designed to facilitate the client discovering memories on their own. The client is also left to interpret the memories on their own. The hypnotist acts as a mere facilitator in the process, asking questions and giving prompts for the next step.
The fear of false memories is also closely linked to one of the most prominent hypnosis myths that hypnosis is a tool for accurate recovery of memories. Rather, I find it much more useful to focus of the theme underlying the memories that emerge during regression hypnosis.
In the example above, Frank's theme was around memories that made him feel unworthy. I see my task as a hypnotherapist as helping him to process the theme. In that context, the particulars of the memories that emerge are not all that important.
Some people fear they might become overwhelmed by
hypnosis. Again, this fear often has to do with internalized hypnosis
myths which are useful to explode before you embark on regression
One such myth is that regression hypnosis supposedly stirs up traumatic memory in an uncontained and chaotic way which could lead to the client going into crisis.
While there are some people
who regression hypnosis won’t be suitable for, and who should not
attempt it because it may cause problems for them- in my experience,
nothing could be further from the truth.
In my experience, regression hypnosis facilitates integration much better than many other forms of regression work that I have seen in action in my time around the healing world, including Holotropic Breathwork and Rebirthing. Typically hypnosis clients will leave the session feeling grounded and able to return to their everyday lives, even if the memories they dealt with in the session were quite heavy.
In summary, it is that in my experience, this work is very safe and very contained. You should take care however, to pick a suitable practitioner to work with. Find some tips on this and on how to get the best from this work in my article on life regression hypnosis.
In addition, if you are currently taking medication for depression or anxiety, you won’t get the best results because such medications are designed to suppress emotions.
One piece of hypnosis research I came across, however, made a lot of sense to me. This piece of research was by David Spiegel who used brain imaging techniques to pin down what features are characteristic of the state of hypnosis.
One of those features was the ability for certain parts of the brain to communicate that normally don’t. And from observation, that is exactly what appears to be happening in regression sessions.
I believe that science is only in its infancy when it comes to researching what exactly happens in the brain, and how this connects to emotions and body sensations in particular. Over the next decade we may see a lot more studies, now that modern brain imaging techniques have become available to assist in research.
I hope you have found this article on regression hypnosis illuminating. I was my goal to shed some light on the mystery. Please follow up on the links I provided for further reading.
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