A question about doing Age Regression Therapy with a client who suspects sexual abuse, and is concerned with creating false memories using hypnosis.

Answered by Calvin D. Banyan, MA, CI, BCH

Question:

Cal... Since you appreciated that question so much (question #9 below), I have another. Another client I am working with for smoking cessation revealed to me that she thinks she was molested as a youngster (by her father) but has no memory...just a hunch. How would you suggest approaching the AR? She had the concern of formulating a false memory...what is the possibility of that and are there steps to avoid it or how would I work through it. She also confided that she had been raped in college but that the possible molestation was the thing she wanted to work on first.

I have no problem with you posting my question and name. I really appreciate the input. Any books or videos that you would recommend that would help demonstrate/reinforce these methods? Thanks again for your time.

Chris Hinckley

Answer:

You have asked a string of very good questions. I wish I could go into much more detail. But I will try to give you as brief and complete an answer as I can for each question as I see them.

Question: First question is how would I approach doing Age Regression Therapy (AR) with this client?
Answer: I tend to be very cautious when it comes to situations like this. I want to know why she wants to uncover this information. She probably thinks that this suspected abuse is affecting her life in some way, such as interfering with a relationship, or affecting her mood, or causing her to abuse alcohol, drugs or cause her to experience an inability to quit smoking.

So, I would ask her about how she thinks uncovering the suspected abuse will help her. When we find out what that is, I believe we have found out what she really wants. Then we can use the hypnotherapy process to help her achieve her goals (e.g., quit drinking, feel better about herself, have a better sexual relationship, quit smoking, etc.). Now we have moved a little away from the need to use age regression to find out if she was sexually abused. But it is interesting that the issue came up while you were doing smoking cessation work with her, so I suspect that there is a relationship between her difficulty in quitting smoking and an emotional problem, perhaps resulting from the suspected abuse or rape.

Then I would proceed as outlined in the 5-PATH system. When I come to doing the AR (Phase II in 5-PATH®) I would use Affect Bridge to go back to the cause of the problem (the Initial Sensitizing Event/ISE) and go through the Subsequent Sensitizing Events (SSE's). If the abuse comes up as being associated with the problem then it is handled just as any other ISE or SSE is handled (Informed Child Technique, etc.).

Question: What is the possibility of creating a false memory of sexual abuse? And, How can I reduce the danger of false memory?

Answer: In this case, the subject of false memory generation in hypnosis needs to be addressed with your client before the hypnosis session begins. She needs to know up front that hypnotic age regression is not 100% reliable or accurate when compared to factual history. Furthermore, it may in some cases be much less accurate than 100%!

Here are a few things that can interfere with the accuracy of an age regression:

  • If the hypnotherapist leads the client to an alleged or suspected abuse while the client is in hypnosis. By this I mean suggesting in any way that any kind of abuse had occurred by anyone, even if it had been substantiated.
  • Any kind of previous talk therapy (counseling, psychotherapy, etc.) that suggested that abuse may have occurred.
  • Any kind of belief at all on the part of your client that such an abuse had occurred.
  • Any kind of wish/desire on the part of the client that it had occurred (not that the client would want abuse to occur, but there may be a strong desire within the client to find the cause of the problem. If the abuse scenario seems to be believable to the client, on a unconscious level she may wish to find it in her past in order to provide a kind of closure or answer to the problem, or to please others [i.e., a therapist, parent, priest, etc.] who believe in the abuse scenario).

One of the first rules of hypnosis that I learned from Gerald Kein, BCH, is that generally speaking, your client will tend to experience in hypnosis what she expects to experience! If she expects to be age regressed to a suspected abuse event, there is a possibility that she will have that experience, whether or not it ever really ever happened! (Obviously, hypnosis is a state of heightened suggestibility.)

This is why I prefer to work on issues and goals (the changes they want to make) rather than do age regressions to "see" if they have ever been abused. When we work on issues or goals, we can use Affect Bridge as a connection back to "where it all began" rather than just following the suspicions of the conscious mind. (I wish I had room to go on more about this, like I can in class.)

But, let me go on for a few more lines because I think that this next point is important, and may need to be discussed with your client. If abuse is "uncovered," you need to have your client consider that it may not actually have occurred. BUT! And it is a very large "but." If the child she once was, thought or believed that the abuse (or any other potential ISE) had really occurred, or even if the adult (at the subconscious level) believed that it had occurred, the effect on her life is exactly the same as if it had actually occurred in factual history! Her perceptions are her reality.

Let me repeat that: The effect on her life is exactly the same, as if the event had actually occurred in her factual history! Her perceptions are her reality. So, while doing the therapy, you need to address it as if it had occurred, without question. You need to remove the effect of the event, whether it was real or imagined (you can never know for sure).

As a hypnotherapist, you need to keep this in mind, whenever you are doing an age regression and dealing with ISE's and SSE's. For example, sometimes children have a difficult time telling the difference between what happened in a dream, and what happened in real life. An event that occurred in a dream could be an ISE! It was real to the child, but the incident, never really happened. Now I'm not saying that it is likely that a child would dream up a sexual abuse incident, but you do have to keep it in mind, and you may need to inform your client of such a possibility. It would be terrible if someone was falsely accused of doing harm to any child (or anyone else) when the event did not really occur.

Question: How would I work though it?

Answer: As I said before, I would use the 5-PATH® system.

Phase I: Direct Suggestion (DS) for smoking cessation (this is why she came in to see you). If she is unable to quit after a good DS session, then there is more to this smoking habit than just habit. She is probably using the cigarettes as a way of coping with an emotional problem (perhaps the suspected sexual abuse or the known rape incident, or both, or those two things and more!). Cigarette smoking can be used as a thought-stopping technique, or as a diversion away from painful thoughts and emotions. We also do this with food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, working, and so on.

Phase II: Age Regression for smoking is done differently. We (at Banyan Hypnosis Center For Training & Services, Inc.) will routinely AR the client to the first cigarette and have the adult/client go in and talk the (usually) teenager/client out of smoking (a variation on the Informed Child Technique). For more information on this approach, please take a look at my article on smoking cessation on this web site under free articles.

If this AR to first cigarette proves to be unsuccessful, then there we have more evidence that there is an underlying emotional problem. In this case we need to AR to the cause (uncover the ISE, etc.).

Phase III: Forgiveness of Others, is the beginning of the forgiveness work. Here we need to forgive the one person who hurt her the most. This person is usually related to the ISE and is reasonable given the known history of your client (reported in the pre-hypnosis interview and uncovered in the AR). This is why AR is Phase II and forgiveness of others is Phase III. This process is a good way to address one main emotion, anger. You may need to help your client work on forgiving more than one person in order to complete this phase of therapy. Helping her work through the forgiveness of the one that hurt her the most, makes working with others in her history, easier, and she may be able to do the others on her own.

Phase IV: Forgiveness of Self, is the ending of the forgiveness process. Here the client forgives herself. This phase addresses feelings of guilt and any feelings of anger toward herself. This is usually the last phase of therapy. At this point, we have usually worked through the issues, and provided enough direction (in the form of suggestions for change) with the client. Remember to do DS at the end of each of the Phases II through V, for the issue that your client came in for.

Phase V: Parts Mediation Therapy is used when, after you feel confident that you have taken care of the cause of the problem, but the problem still remains. In this case there is something in the present that is reinforcing the problem behavior. This is called a Secondary Gain Issue.

If for some reason Parts Mediation Therapy does not give your client relief from her problem, then suspect that there is one of two things happening. There may be another major issue to contend with besides the ones worked on in your previous sessions. For example, in addition to the suspected and known sexual abuse, there may be other issues such as a feeling of parental abandonment, or otherwise seemingly unrelated fear, etc. Or, you may have missed the ISE for the issue that you were working on (you didn't go back far enough into the client's history during the age regression). If you miss the ISE, you have not gotten to the "root" of the problem, and it may just spring up again, or you may not even get a temporary relief of the problem. Hey, I never said it would be easy! If you are doing this kind of work, you need to be making $60 to $100 per hour or more.

Question: Can I recommend any books, videos and/or training to help you to improve your skills/confidence in this area?

Answer: Yes. I recommend the videos by Gerald Kein (click here for more details on these videos):