Clinical Hypnosis - Memory Recall and Regression Techniques
Updated: Sep 4
There are many well authored and authoritative books and articles published on the topic of hypnosis; the concept and information is vast. Hypnosis is a very misunderstood and misinterpreted technique. For many people, due to the influence of media, the internet, or pop-culture, hypnosis is viewed skeptically. I have found through formal education, professional experience, research, and the results achieved with clients - therapeutic hypnosis is a valuable tool that can be used in many situations as a primary or supportive technique to help clients achieve their wellness goals. Therapeutic hypnosis can be used for a wide-range of purposes. This article is going discuss some of the more interesting aspects of therapeutic hypnosis memory work.
Before getting into the depths of the details, I want to define some limitations of this article. This article is not meant to be scholarly in nature, therefore, I won't be citing references for my comments. However, what I am presenting is supported by case studies and research; anyone wanting to get formal references for the information can contact me and I am more than happy to point them to the sources. Anyone can by hypnotized to some degree or another. Hypnosis is like any other skill. Some people are more adept at going into trance than others; but, overtime and with proper guidance, anyone can learn to develop deep states of trance. Rapport and trust between the client and the hypnosis practitioner is a very critical factor in the ease and ability for hypnosis to occur. In a professional setting, hypnosis is a very powerful and helpful tool to help with a wide variety of issues or challenges.
In this article, we will target some common questions that clients have regarding memory related hypnosis work. Some of the concepts that can fall into this category are: false memory syndrome, memory recollection, age regression, past life regression and traumatic event resolution.
We only use a very small percentage of our minds capability. The conscious portion of our mind is highly underutilized. Even more so, the unconscious portions of our mind are almost completely untapped as a resource. Every once in a while we hear extraordinary stories about how people have tapped into powerful emotions, thoughts, empathy, or predictive states of mind. Regardless of our amazing technical and scientific achievements, no computer exists that can mimic the flexibility or autonomy of our mind. There are various models for how the minds memory functions operate, but none of these models actually explain the miracle.
Using therapeutic hypnosis and relatively deep states of trance, memory can be accessed in a manner that is not available when only working with the conscious mind. No one knows exactly why or how this occurs. In the proper setting and situation, as measured by imaging or EEGs, verifiable changes occur in brain wave activity and type. In deep hypnotic trance states, these recordable brain waves look very similar (and may be the same) to the brain waves seen in deep relaxation sleep. You may have heard of REM sleep or rapid eye movement sleep? This is the portion of sleep where dreaming occurs and theta brain waves are observed. These theta waves, which have a rate of 4 to 8 hertz, are also observed during deep relaxation or deep meditation. For some reason, deep states of relaxation or hypnotic trance encourage theta brain wave activity and open a pathway into our memory structures.
Creating a response hypnotically in which deep trance states occur allows us to perform a variety of memory based work. The following discussion assumes a therapeutic hypnosis session has gotten to the point of a deep trance, theta wave state; or as it is sometimes known, the "Esdaile state." James Esdaile was a mid 1800's medical doctor, who used this state of "trance" to perform surgeries on his patients. They didn't have anesthesia like we do today and Esdaile found his method allowed his patients to feel no (or minimal) pain during actual surgery. In addition to being able to facilitate memory access, an Esdaile state of trance is very useful in hypnotic memory work because, if managed properly, the state can facilitate talking with the client during their trance - without disrupting their trance.
Once in the Esdaile state, a client can be assisted to explore their memory, leveraging the power of their unconscious mind to recall "forgotten" memories. This memory recollection process may be used for simple data gathering. It may also be used to help the client perform age regression where they use their vivid memories to think and feel as if they are at an earlier age. Further extension of this concept is that some people may be able to experience, what feels to them to be, prior lives. This is known as past life regression. Regression and recollection are two different things. Recollection is simply recalling previously inaccessible memories. Regression is more of an immersion process where the client may actually feel, behave, think and experience their situation as if they are actually back at the age of regression.
The access to memory recall and regression creates an opportunity for clients to accomplish an almost limitless set of goals. Some clients seek therapeutic hypnosis to resolve emotional issues. Here is a list of some common memory work objectives:
remember forgotten facts or details
find lost items
re-experience certain pleasant events, places or people
resolve past trauma or abuse
recall blocked memories
regress to a previous age
regress to a past-life
As you can see, some of the above mentioned activities have the potential to be emotionally distressing. In therapeutic hypnosis, specific techniques and methods are used to insulate or "disassociate" the client from the emotional impact of the distressful recollections or regression so they can experience them without negative impact. The goal is to resolve these types of issues in a comfortable manner and reduce the trauma.
In some situations, a person may have unconsciously blocked memories that are critical for authorities to know. This can happen when someone is a victim of a violent crime, a witness to a traumatic event or victim of sexual abuse. In these circumstances, it is essential that the victim not be further traumatized by the hypnosis memory work. Furthermore, it is very important that the phenomena of "false memory syndrome" be avoided. If there is any possibility where it can be shown that a memory has been "introduced" into the client's memory by the process or the hypnotist, that would disallow the details to be utilized for further purposes in criminal proceedings. Peter Freyd created the term "false memory syndrome" (FMS) to describe the unwanted phenomena and psychologist, Elizabeth Loftus, has provided a great deal of research into this area. Thanks to the recognition of the phenomena and the available research, a different hypnotic approach can be utilized in these situations to avoid or reduce the possibility of FMS. These techniques involve indirect methods to help a client improve memory recall while avoiding suggestions or directions toward a preexisting framework of memories. In the majority of jurisdictions, this method has been found useful and result in admissible witness testimony.
I hope this article answers some questions regarding hypnosis memory work. Hypnosis is a powerful and useful tool in helping clients resolve issues and accomplish their goals. Memory work is just a small subset of the wide ranging hypnosis possibilities. When performed ethically and professionally, hypnosis is a great option to consider.