Don’t Trust Past-Life Regression!

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This week I read an article on Jezebel about a “skeptic” who underwent past life regression and surprise! She was super convinced that it was real and an awesome experience. I’m a skeptic, too, and allow me to give you an alternative perspective: past-life regression is stupid, and occasionally dangerous, nonsense.

The writer claims that she was a skeptic, relying on the fact that she once made fun of a past-life regression, and that she doesn’t believe in an afterlife, and that she jokes about astrology. But she also admits that she is scared of ghosts and doesn’t sign “important paperwork while Mercury is in retrograde.” The fuck? I honestly can’t tell if that’s a joke or not. At first I assumed it was, but then she went on to describe her past-life regression session in glowing terms so now I’m not sure. Heads up: you were not a skeptic. You were someone who made jokes about superstition because you thought it would make someone think you were smart, when you’re actually not very smart.

A skeptic, in fact, should be someone who thinks critically about everything, including and especially their own experiences. A skeptic understands that their own perspective on things can be warped. They understand that there are con artists in the world who know how to manipulate others and will do so for money or fame. Madeline Davies is not, I assure you, a skeptic.

As exhibit one, I present the fact that she wrote an article about seeing “a certified past life therapist” without ever asking who is certifying past-life therapists and how does one get that certification. Is it like certifying a saint, where you have to show “proof” of three verified past-life regressions? I’m guessing not, because no one has ever shown any proof of a past-life regression, probably because there’s no such thing as reincarnation and even if there was there’s no such thing as old memories sticking in your new brain matter and even if there was there’s no way for anyone to dig those memories up.

Certified Past Life Therapist Ann Barham, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California in case you want to make a complaint about such a person using their position to peddle outrageous nonsense, has all the hallmarks of a classic con artist, according to Davies’ account. For instance, Barham reassures Davies that no matter what happens, Davies is not gullible. Even if it turns out that her entire “past life” is obviously just a recounting of an episode of Joanie Loves Chachi, this is just due to the “Jungian concept of synchronicity.” Instead of being skeptical about why Barham is giving her a defense against accusations of stupidity, Davies instead lists two more ways to say the same nonsense, each one more hilarious than the last: “the acausal connection of two or more psychic and physical phenomena”, and “the psychological profundity of coincidence.” Yep, you’re definitely not just super gullible. It’s Jungian!

It never seems to even occur to Davies that she is paying for Barham to make her regress into a past life, but Barham herself is already offering excuses for why what happens may not be real, and may just be her psyche offering symbolic metaphors. If you can actually make a person remember a past life, and if you are charging them for the honor of doing this, why would you need to couch your services by telling clients that even if it’s not real, it’s still beneficial? Would a brain surgeon tell a patient that even if he’s not actually cutting the tumor out of their head, just poking around in there should do the trick? Does an IT person tell you that even if she’s not actually running a virus scan, playing Minesweeper on your laptop will be just as good? They don’t, because they perform actual services and aren’t afraid to be sued when it turns out that they weren’t performing the service they advertised.

Sure enough, Davies experiences a vivid hallucination during the session in which she thinks she’s a British soldier colonizing Africa in the 1800s, and later thinks that maybe some of the details came from movies she’s seen or a college course she took on the survey of Africa(!).

She still thinks the experience was fantastic and highly recommends it to readers, with nary a word of caution. Again, for a skeptic, it’s amazing that it doesn’t occur to her that there are inherent dangers to this. Davies’ attitude is basically “sure it may not be an actual past-life regression, but you should do it anyway because of what your psyche will reveal!” Here’s the number one problem with that: there are innumerable cases of people having incredibly dangerous false memories implanted during these kinds of “regressions.” She mentions that this has happened “on occasion,” which is a ridiculous downplaying. It’s extremely easy to plant false memories in people, and it sends people to prison, makes them think extremely horrific things happened to them, damages them psychologically, and ruins their lives.

Meanwhile, there is no certification for a past-life regression therapist. It’s just a con artist who is taking your money. Sure, maybe you’ll come away with a positive experience, and maybe it won’t break your bank because some stupid blog paid for you to do it and then write about it, or maybe the con artist did it for free for the advertising. But maybe you’ll drop a few thousand dollars just to let a con artist manipulate your memories.

Instead, you could spend that money on an actual psychiatrist, therapist, or psychologist who believes in science-based healthcare and who will help you work through whatever issues you have without putting you into a vulnerable state and telling you that you were Cleopatra’s handmaiden.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Oh man, once in college I took a sociology course called “Science, Knowledge, and the New Age” and long story short it turned out to be the exact opposite of what I thought it was, and basically peddled all sorts of nonsense for which I ended up being the token skeptic. Anyway, one day the prof led us in a group past life regression. In what I’m sure had nothing to do with the dim lights and my chronic state of sleep-deprivation, I did in fact end up having a fairly clear vision. Turns out I was a kitty! The lesson I apparently learned in that life is that there’s nothing better than soft hands and a warm lap. Which, you know, is honestly a lesson I will stand by.

  2. Past life regression = present life gullibility. Why don’t believers follow the concept to a logical conclusion?

    If it had any validity, why would there be a job for archaeologists? Couldn’t one simply regress someone back to the Neolithic and let them share their experiences with the development of agriculture and townification, for example?

  3. Its actually dumber than that. There probably are not enough “live things” in the history of the world, to date, unless you start including extinct species, and bugs, for every person in the world, or even the US, to be “regressed” plausibly, without either a) implying that people are every only reborn once, freeing up a whole lot of past people to be the past selves, or b) proposing that there are giant gaps between “when” those people where last alive and now. In short – there isn’t enough bloody history for it to be true in the first place, since it seems that everyone who *ever* goes to one of these people has a “successful” regression.

    Well, I suppose you could also argue that this is kind of like a Evo-Psyc study, and only the people that have past lives go looking for them (i.e., a massive bias, due to who is being “studied” as to the super high success rate). But, really, even then, you would have to get “some” that didn’t have one, just by pure freaking chance.

    1. Oh, not only do they have a successful regression, but they go to some of history’s most famous points. And just happen to remember them the way most people do. And they’re never the infamous. And no one ever has “I was a neolithic farmer in what’s now Iraq. I had three wives and eight children before I died at age 42. Nothing anyone alive today remembers happened during that time.”

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