Regression therapy is claimed as a recent technique formulated in the last 20 years, but in fact has been in use in many different forms for the last hundred years or more.
In early 1900, Freud first suggested that regression is a defense mechanism. Instead of dealing with problems and impulses in an adult way, there is reversion to an earlier stage of development. In this way, people can indulge in childish tantrums or other immature behaviour patterns to vent feelings of frustration.
The basic premise of regression therapy is that every event, thought or emotion ever experienced is stored in the subconscious mind. Many are too painful to recall and are repressed. But repressing them results in also locking up a lot of emotional energy as well as valuable experience that could help in the present. It literally bars access to one route to progress with every painful or shameful memory that is suppressed, and in so doing, limits options in the present so that the individual is condemned to repeating non-productive or self-defeating patterns of behaviour.
By the mid twentieth century, this was seen as a prime cause of unacceptable behaviour in handicapped children, or children who were mentally or emotionally damaged. It was accepted that an individual’s primary behaviour patterns were fixed by events that had occurred before the age of five.
Jung had earlier argued that “the patient's regressive tendency...is not just a relapse into infantilism, but an attempt to get at something necessary...the universal feeling of childhood innocence, the sense of security, of protection, of reciprocated love, of trust.”
Starting from this insight, Blakely Children’s Hospital in Manchester, England, developed a form of age regression, not as a spoken therapy, but enacted by children with emotional development problems, usually attachment disorders triggered by mental or physical handicap, abuse, neglect, or separation from birth parents, so that they had difficulty in forming emotional attachments or loving relationships.
Blakely acheived excellent results from a programme of taking children from the age of seven upwards and putting them into residential treatment as part of “family” communities, where the newest arrivals were treated as the youngest and longer-term residents began to move up the pecking order, taking newer residents under their wing like younger siblings.
In this way, children who had “missed out” on earlier stages of normal development and become “fixated” in inappropriate behaviour, were regressed to a period before their problems became fixed and encouraged to develop more normally a second time around. The treatment also worked for children with developmental problems such as autism, with the enthusiastic support of their delighted families.
In 1920, Crookshank wrote, "The only satisfactory method of curing illness is to uncover the repressed frustrations of fears, griefs, hatreds, and loves; to try and help the person to come to terms with himself and divert his energies to more positive and appropriate channels."
After 1960, age regression became an adult therapy in its own right, with the object of recovering past memories under hypnotism to relive and rewrite damaging former experiences, not only in the current life cycle, but in previous lives. The theory was that when the original experience was replayed and amended, it changed all the results of the previous negative imprint. Depending on the type of emotional trauma, all physical ailments could be traced to earlier experiences and relieved by releasing the negative energy trapped in repressing awareness of the event.
Kris suggested that “the process of emotional regression may be self-directed, socially based or hypnotically induced with the purpose of conditioning, self-knowledge or psychic healing.”
Although to some, the idea of remembering past lives may seem fanciful, many people have been surprised by the detail they could recall back to the point of birth and beyond. One astonished client under hypnosis recalled suckling and was amazed to discover that the action was sustained, not by the tongue and cheeks as she had supposed, but by pressure from the back of the soft palate. Many remembered the pressure and terror of birth itself, whilst others claimed to re-experience past moments of death.
In 1900, Jung claimed that we all have three levels of consciousness: a superficial awareness; an unconscious mind, and a connection with a universal unconsciousness shared by all humanity. Current forms of regression therapy start from this premise, so that it does not matter if you believe in reincarnation or not, every individual can learn from past experience, whether it be their own, or memories from their ancestral heritage.