A hypnotic regression, also called an age regression, is a process in which a person in hypnosis recalls a memory or series of memories relating to a specific issue. The regression can be to empowering moments experienced in the past, or it can be to those more traumatic memories causing negative habits and symptoms in the present. Every therapist will have their own way of conducting a regression, but most of them will follow the general procedure outlined here.
Note: This procedure is specifically for regressions aimed at resolving traumatic experiences and repressed memories.
1. Induction of hypnosis
Use your favourite induction or one suited to the client and their circumstances. This subject doesn’t require much discussion here because it’s simply part of setting up the actual regression. Just to note – If the client is already in an emotional state they are already half in trance so all you need to do is get them centred and focused. The trance state does not have to be particularly deep for successful regression.
2. Establishing ideomotor responses
Once you have established a satisfactory level of trance it’s a good idea to set up ideomotor signals to allow the subconscious mind an avenue of communication that is deeper than the verbal level. Not all therapists use ideomotor signals, but they do add a dimension of depth that can be very useful. (Read this article for information on how to set up ideomotor signals.)
The initial aim of setting up ideomotor signalling is to ask the subconscious mind of the client for permission to proceed. Once the yes/no/don’t know finger signals have been established, ask the first question, which will be something like, “Is it safe and appropriate for you to remember any and all experiences you have had that have to do with your [problem]? If the signal is affirmative, you can add, “Is it safe and appropriate for you to be open to your emotions during the recall of these experiences?”
A no response to the first question can be circumvented by asking whether it would be safe and appropriate to work with the issues without being consciously aware of the memories until it is safe to do so. The subject will usually answer yes. Now, instead of conducting a conscious regression to the troubling memories, you can simply instruct the subject to perform a subconscious review of the incidents surrounding the genesis of the problem. For more on how to perform a subconscious review without recall, see Cheek & Rossi’s Mind-Body Therapy, which is reviewed on this site.
A no response to the second question – is it safe to face the emotions – can be circumvented by distancing techniques that allow the client to view the events as though they are happening to someone else. See Churchill’s Regression Hypnotherapy: Transcripts of Transformation for detailed distancing strategies and metaphors.
3. Connecting to a thought, feeling or emotion related to the current problem
This is where the regression itself begins. You begin by eliciting the thought, feeling or emotion that is troubling the subject in the present. If the subject is already in an emotional state, just ask them to name the feeling, thought, or emotion as best they can. A good idea is to also ask where it is situated in the body.
If the subject isn’t yet associated into the troubling emotion, you can elicit it by counting upwards from 1 to 10. Say something like, “I’m going to count up from 1 to 10, and at each count that uncomfortable emotion you were telling me about is going to come up in your awareness … 1 … beginning to feel that emotion .. 2.. 3 etc .. 10, feeling that emotion now.” (Avoid a too-strong elicitation of the emotion – use distancing if necessary to regain calm). At the count of 10 the subject should be associated into the emotion and you can go straight to the next step.
4. Regression to the initial sensitising event
In step 3 you counted up from 1 to 10 to elicit the negative thought/feeling/emotion – and now you simply count down from 10 to 1 arrive at the initial sensitising event (ISE). Say something like, “Now I’m going to count from 10 down to 1 and at the count of one you will be at an earlier time when you felt this same feeling, it might even be the very first time when this feeling was born.” Then count down, reinforcing the drift back in time at each count. Note: This method of counting up to 10 to elicit the emotion and down from 10 to regress is taken from Churchill’s Regression Hypnotherapy: Transcripts of Transformation. It’s not necessary to do it exactly like this and you can use whatever method is appropriate to journey back in time to an earlier incident involving the troubling emotion.
At the count of 1 the subject should be at an earlier incident or perhaps at the very first incident involving this emotion. If you suspect it’s just an “interim” incident, continue the journey back in time by telling the subject you’re going to count from 5 down to 1, and at the count of 1 they will be at an earlier time, perhaps even the very first time when this emotion first came to them. Keep doing this until the same incident gets repeated. Most often, this will be some time before the age of 7 or 8.
5. Interactive therapy to heal the past
Once you’ve located the ISE you can proceed to resolve incompletions and integrate disowned aspects of the personality in or order to achieve completion, resolution, acceptance and forgiveness. There are various ways of doing this using parts therapy, transactional analysis, inner child work, and Gestalt. (Note that we’re not actually “healing the past”, we’re healing the presently occurring re-enactment of a past event.)
For a process using the Child, Parent, and Adult ego states derived from transactional analysis, see the article on Resolving the ISE in hypnosis.
6. Hypno-analysis to heal the present
Step 6 involves analysis to discover how misconceptions developed as a result of the initial trauma affect the current life situation, bringing forgiveness and acceptance to the adult self. The previous step was about resolving incompletions relating to the initial incident and establishing the innocence of the child. Now we need to free the adult from all the self-criticism that will have built up over the years as a result of the initial incident.
For this you need to make use of the Adult perspective. In the previous step you will have identified one or more negative lessons that the child learned about life as a result of the trauma. These negative lessons, or misconceptions, commonly involve guilt – for example, “I’m bad, therefore I can’t expect love,” “I must make myself unattractive in order to survive,” “I must do something to protect myself,” “My feelings caused daddy to leave us.”
Now encourage the subject to examine their life from that point to the present, identifying instances where that misconception impacted on their lives: “From your Adult perspective, I want you to scan over your life from when you were so young right up to the present and see just what has happened in your life because you believed you were not worthy of love (or whatever the particular belief is).” Let the subject recount their findings. Then say, “Do you see that you had no choice but to act this way, influenced by your understanding of the incident? So forgive yourself … it was out of your hands. All this pain based on a simple misunderstanding. But now you understand.”
7. Extracting the lesson
This step begins the forward-looking process, moving from the past to an empowered present and future. All the suffering caused by the initial event will have deepened the subject and taught them valuable lessons about life. The suffering will have made them special in some way – because the fact is they’ve survived and are here to tell the tale.
Ask the subject to once again scan their whole life and to tell you what deep and positive lesson they have learned about themselves as a result of their difficulty. This is a good place to drop in some empowering metaphors about other people who have suffered and who turned their suffering into their greatest gift – for example Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Jesus.
When the subject has identified the deep, soul-level learning they experienced as a result of their trial, you can put them in a bind by saying, “Are you saying that if X hadn’t done what they did, you might not have learned this?” This will force them to link their greatest gift with their greatest suffering. Be sensitive here – not everyone will be ready for this. If in doubt, leave it out.
8. Future pace
At this point you can do appropriate positive suggestions to strengthen aspects of the self that were overlooked or deflated as a result of the trauma and resulting misconceptions about life. For example, if someone has made themselves unattractive in order to punish themselves, reinforce their inner beauty and how good it will be to live in the world being their natural, attractive self.
Test the depth of the subject’s acceptance of their new freedom by doing a future pace – i.e. bring them into a situation that would previously have triggered the negative response and ask them to relate their new behaviour and feelings. Get them to associate deeply into a new way of being in the trigger situation, giving support and guidance where necessary.
9. Post-hypnotic suggestion for further healing
The session is almost at an end now, so give positive suggestions for the continuation and deepening of the change, for example, “Every day you discover more of how easy it is to let your natural attractiveness show itself in the world and you notice so many little ways in which people show you appreciation as you appreciate yourself more and more.”
10. Termination of trance.
Count the subject up to waking awareness.
For a detailed exposition of regression hypnosis, we recommend Randal Churchill’s Regression Hypnotherapy: Transcripts of Transformation. Read the review of Regression Hypnotherapy, or get it from Amazon.
Russel Brownlee – Expert hypnotherapy and life coaching.