Memory Manipulation in Hypnosis

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2012
A potential problem of hypnotherapy is age regression. This is where a person is taken back into childhood to re-experience an alleged trauma which is said to be causing problems in the present. And then there is age regression into “past lives” or “other personalities.”


Memory Manipulation in Hypnosis

Age Regression

A potential problem of hypnotherapy is age regression. This is where a person is taken back into childhood to re-experience an alleged trauma which is said to be causing problems in the present. And then there is age regression into “past lives” or “other personalities.” The latter, in particular, presents significant problems.

What does a therapist do when his patient seems to spontaneously regress to a “past life,” or when the patient becomes “another person,” or persons, under hypnosis? The strange phenomenon of “multiple personalities” and multiple personality disorder (MPD), which occur under hypnotic suggestion, are increasingly drawing public attention. In fact, multiple personalities and hypnosis are strongly linked in therapy. But distinguishing the natural from the supernatural in this phenomenon can be difficult at best.[1]

Although there are differences between MPD and channeling, there are cases where MPD sounds like channeling. In an interview with Jon Klimo, New York City therapist Armand DiMele stated:

In dealing with multiples you need to call on the highest possible powers a person has, and you actually invite that thing in through a hypnotic state. But when it comes in, it comes in so clearly, so beautifully, so filled with information one couldn’t have had any idea about it. I have spoken to “spirit voices” who have come through multiples that have told me things about my childhood. Specifics, like things that hung in the house.[2]

Other cases exist where the MPD phenomenon can only be described as spiritistic channeling.[3] And one common denominator in both cases is hypnosis. Therapists characteristically use hypnosis in the treatment of MPD and, as we have seen, many or most channelers use hypnosis to channel their spirit guides. Thus hypnosis may be the condition responsible for inducing spiritism in both cases.

In light of the above, is it wise to manipulate a person’s consciousness to begin with, especially when a therapist is uncertain as to what he might be opening a person to?

False Memory Syndrome

Hypnosis, visualization, and other methods are often used to uncover alleged past histories of sexual or satanic ritual abuse, which is another popular interest in much psychotherapy. Indeed, repressed memory therapy is now advocated “among the cream of the crop of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.”[4] While such abuse does exist, with children as its victims, using hypnosis for therapy in this area is problematic because it is impossible to finally separate reality from fantasy, or from spiritistic influences in hypnosis. Therapists can rarely be certain of what they are dealing with.

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus[5] is author of The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and the Allegations of Sexual Abuse. She is considered an authority on the malleability of memory, and for 25 years she has conducted laboratory studies, supervised graduate students, and written technical papers. Listen to what she says about the growing fad among therapists to uncover “repressed” memories:

Poorly trained therapists and therapists who operate under a fixed belief system (for example, “All MPD patients have been ritually abused”; “memory operates like an interior video recorder”; “healing comes only when the client assesses buried memories, resolving and integrating the trauma experience”) are at greatest risk for confusing fact and fiction. Through tone of voice, phrasing of questions, and expressions of belief or disbelief, a therapist can unwittingly encourage a patient to accept the emerging “memories” as real, thus reinforcing the patient’s delusions or even implanting false memories in the patient’s mind…. [S]uch therapists may be doing a great deal of harm to their patients and their profession.[6]

In response to therapists who use either hypnosis or other methods to uncover alleged repressed memories, she writes:

To complicate reality even further, hypnotized patients tend to be extremely confident that such pseudomemories represent real events and experiences. Once a patient has convinced herself that certain events occurred, she’ll believe it so completely that if she took a polygraph she’d pass. All a polygraph measures is a person’s conviction that something may be true or false, not the accuracy or authenticity of the event being described…. Many [therapists] invest hypnosis with magical healing powers. Hypnosis is considered a function like a sort of truth serum…. This misconception, coupled with the fact that most therapists have only a rudimentary knowledge of the reconstructive nature of memory, can lead to the creation of false memories within the therapeutic environment.

“I never use hypnosis!” a therapist might object. But as the Paul Ingram case demonstrates, you don’t need formal hypnotic induction techniques to induce a trance state; all you need is a suggestible client with a problem.[7]

The truth is that almost any fantasy can be experienced as reality under hypnosis, from the humorous stage pranks of hypnosis entertainers to supposed UFO abductions and past lives. Thus, fantasies about satanic abuse and multiple personalities may also be encountered as entirely “real.”

When an otherwise normal person living a normal life is hypnotized to deal with a weight problem and the result is years of therapy dealing with alleged multiple personalities or satanic abuse, one wonders if there isn’t a problem with the psychotherapy. In such cases, we believe hypnosis, and frequent therapist coaching, is the real culprit. University of California, Berkeley, social psychologist Richard Ofshe goes so far as to say, “Recovered-Memory therapy will come to be recognized as the quackery of the 20th century.”[8]

A tragic case was reported on the “Maury Povich” show, May 11, 1993, which also noted there were some 15,000-20,000 diagnosed cases of MPD in the United States. In this story, Susan Houdelette was a normal woman who went to a therapist to quit smoking. The counselor used hypnosis, and out popped 239(!) different personalities that proceeded to make Susan’s life miserable. One personality even engaged in self-mutilation, and Susan showed the marks and scars on national television. And her story gets worse because while she sued her first therapist, another was kept busy for years trying to “reintegrate” or otherwise manage the 239 personalities—personalities that no one knew “existed” prior to hypnosis. By all accounts, Susan would have continued to live a normal life were it not for the application of hypnosis.

In addition, there are thousands of victims today who, because of hypnotic regression, only think that they were subject to sexual or satanic abuse as children. This has resulted in great tragedies, including ruined families (where parents were the alleged abusers or Satanists) and patients who committed suicide. Because thousands of families have been torn apart by things like this, a national organization has been formed specifically to draw attention to the problem and to help victims of what is termed the “false memory syndrome.”[9] In its November 29; 1993, issue, a Time cover story that asked, “Is Freud Dead?” warned that repressed memories were alive and well. It noted: “Repressed-Memory therapy is harming patients, devastating families and intensifying a backlash against mental-health practitioners.”

John Weldon has experienced firsthand the destructive potential that such false memories can have. A Christian member of his extended family went to a therapist who concluded that this person’s current problems may have resulted from childhood sexual abuse. In order to test this theory and to uncover possible repressed memories, hypnosis was employed. The result was several months of therapy uncovering supposed childhood sexual abuse by this individual’s father, mother, and uncle. Yet none of the abuse had occurred, and no “memory” of it ever existed until hypnosis was used. Because the “revelations” and perceptions of having been abused were so devastating, the result was the person’s admittance to a psychiatric ward and a great deal of grief for all concerned Thankfully, proper intervention prevented a worse scenario, and when it was soon realized that no abuse had occurred, the process of healing began. ‘Today, this person is, thankfully, fully recovered and a committed Christian.

But who is the real culprit here? Dr. Elizabeth L Hillstrom, a physiological psychologist, comments that based on “statistics compiled by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (formed by a distinguished group of psychologists and psychiatrists to combat this problem), the origin [of the problem of repressed memories is a subgroup of psycho-therapists who call themselves ‘traumatists’.”[10] The problem is that the hypnotist’s suggestions “literally shape the subject’s reality when they are in [this] hypnotic state.”

Hillstrom also describes the basic premise of this group of therapists which, incidentally, in part coincides with the auditing or “counseling” premises of the Church of Scientology:

These therapists share the conviction that childhood sexual abuse is very common. They believe that the memories of such events get repressed into “the subconscious,” where they cause all sorts of problems until they are consciously recalled and dealt with. These therapists assume that the offending memories can be dislodged from “the subconscious” through hypnosis, dream interpretation, sodium amytal, trance writing, reading self-help books, participating in “survivor” groups or massage. Yet there is no scientific evidence to support their assumption that these techniques produce accurate memory recall. In fact, the evidence points strongly in the other direction.[11]

The fact that trance (automatic) writing, hypnosis, dream interpretation, and related methods are employed not only underscores the subjective and potentially manipulative nature of this “therapy,” it also reveals the possibility of spiritistic influences.

Again, once hypnosis is employed, separating truth from fiction can be impossible. Compounding the problem, once hypnosis is employed, it is usually impossible to separate purely human suggestion from spiritistic suggestion when the latter is present.

What we have learn about hypnosis so far suggests the spirit world may take advantage of any altered state of consciousness, if it has the opportunity to do so. False memories seem to be a key method for taking advantage, whether the memories are of sexual abuse, satanic ritual, past lives, UFO abductions, or others. The purpose is to deceive and destroy, and the spirits could care less what someone believes, or whether he has good motives, or a PhD in psychology or theology. For example, some patients experience past-life recall or encounter spirit entities without warning, even when hypnotized by therapists who reject reincarnation and the occult. Can the Christian therapist automatically assume God’s protection against such things? He may be engaging in a practice that is unwise to begin with, or the patient may be dabbling in the occult. In Fisher’s The Case for Reincarnation, even reincarnation skeptic Dr. Gerald Edelstein, a staff psychiatrist at Herrick Memorial Hospital in Berkeley, California, discovered that “several of his patients have slipped into past lives” in spite of his personal skepticism, and with uniformly “positive” results emerging from the “past life” or “reincarnation” encounter.[12]

Past-Life Therapy

Past-life therapy (PLT), or so-called “reincarnation” therapy, is more widely practiced than most people might think. Clinical psychologist and hypnotherapist Jonathan Venn writes, “Past-life hypnosis has become a common practice in the United States and Western Europe.”[13] Hundreds—possibly several thousand—therapists use this method. The field has professional societies and journals, such as the Association for Past-Life Research and Therapy, and the Journal of Regression Therapy. Numerous texts have been written on the subject by clinical psychologists, and literally thousands of people have been hypnotically regressed to experience their alleged “past lives.” Illustrations include Helen Wambach’s Reliving Past Lives: The Evidence Under Hypnosis,[14] based on a thousand subjects; her Life Before Life;[15] Morris Netherton and Nancy Shiffrin’s Past Lives Therapy;[16] Dr. Edith Fiore’s You Have Been Here Before: A Psychologist Looks at Past Lives;[17] Brian L. Weiss, Many Lives, Many Masters;[18] Roger Woolger’s, Other Lives, Other Selves.[19]

“Past-life” therapy employs hypnosis to place the individual into a trance state for a specific purpose. That purpose is to send the individual “back” into his supposed former lives in order to resolve hidden emotional or spiritual conflicts that are allegedly affecting his physical, emotional, or spiritual health today. Yet the results of such therapy typically support occult New Age philosophy and goals.[20]

The basic conclusion of our own research into reincarnation is that its experiences and phenomena result from several factors: 1) suggestions of the therapist; 2) inventions or delusions of the patient; 3) spiritistic manipulation of the mind.

Perhaps it is significant that past-life therapy began to take form as a psychological treatment after the sanctioning of hypnosis by the British Medical Association in 1955 and by the AMA in 1958. However, its roots can be traced to the depth psychology of Freud and Jung:

PLT goes beyond traditional psychotherapy. Psychiatrists Carl G. Jung and Sigmund Freud both said that the individual’s worst fears, pain, and trauma are buried deep within the unconscious mind. Freud believed the roots of those problems could be uncovered in early childhood experiences. Psychoanalyst Otto Rank advocated going back further, to the time spent in the womb. With the increase in hypnotherapy, some therapists discovered that many patients automatically regressed to what seemed to be previous lives when asked to identify the source of a problem, thus prompting experimentation with regression.

The use of PLT as an alternative therapy led to the formation of the Association for Past Life Research and Therapy (APRT) in Riverside, California, in 1980. It is estimated that roughly 80 percent of patients who seek PLT do so in order to eliminate a phobia, habit, or negative tendency.[21]

How do we explain “past-life” experiences? Because hypnosis induces a state of trance conducive to spiritistic manipulation, and because the entire purpose of past-life regression is to encounter alleged previous lives, spiritistic influence is certainly one logical explanation because reincarnation philosophy is so antibiblical.

Few authorities on reincarnation experiences match the stature of parapsychologist Dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia. Even he has accepted spirit possession as one of the possible explanations for reincarnation phenomena.[22] In terms of the episodes he considers, “… We can grade the cases along a continuum in which the distinction between reincarnation and possession becomes blurred.”[23] Although he finds possession problematic in some ways, he does not rule it out; furthermore, the dilemmas surrounding his view of possession are solved when the biblical Christian interpretation of demons is allowed.

People who have these experiences, which are similar in impact to near-death experiences[24] and alleged UFO abductions,[25] can be profoundly affected by them. They may produce dramatic life and worldview changes that harmonize with occultism:

Twenty-five therapists reported taking their patients through past-life deaths. Seventy-two percent of those who went through the experience observed it while floating above their bodies; 54 percent perceived a white light and moved toward it; 15 percent reported a tunnel. Of those whose physical problems were connected to death experiences, 60 percent reported relief of symptoms after going through the death.

The apparent ability to relive death experiences may hold the most promise for PLT. Most patients discover that though circumstances leading to death are sometimes traumatic, death itself is pleasant. The past-life death experience is used in alternative treatment of the terminally ill to help them overcome their fears of dying. It also seems to help people who are not terminally ill to overcome fear of death, and in some cases helps patients realize how to better fulfill their soul’s purpose. In regression a great deal of pain in past-life death is associated with regret over opportunities not taken.

People who undergo PLT say they come into contact with their own inner wisdom, which continues to guide them long after the therapy. They also often change their view of their life, seeing it as part of a spiritual progression in which the soul constantly strives for perfection. They say they become aware of certain universal laws, such as karma, self-responsibility, and the right of others to progress in their own fashion. They learn there is no “good” or “bad,” but that everything is relative, an opportunity to learn and advance.[26]

Individuals who come to believe in reincarnation through PLT are convinced that when they die, they will not encounter divine judgment like the Bible clearly teaches (Heb. 9:27), but simply other lifetimes in which to continue their spiritual evolution and goal of self-perfection. If so, there is no need for any person to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Savior from sin and judgment. Reincarnation is an ancient Hindu idea based upon the concept of karma, that we slowly “atone” for and eliminate our own “sins” in each successive life until we finally achieve perfection at some distant point in the future.

Reincarnation insulates those who accept it against the basic gospel message. The apostle Paul tells us, “By this gospel you are saved…. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:2-4). However, one who believes in reincarnation cannot logically accept his need to believe in Christ as Savior from sin. If he is going to atone for his own sins (pay off his “bad karma”) over many lifetimes and achieve his own perfection, why does he need to believe in Jesus Christ? Indeed, Christ could not have atoned for our sins if we are to atone for them ourselves.

On the other hand, if through His death on the cross, Christ atoned once for all, for all sin (Heb. 10:10, 14), then reincarnation could not possibly be true. If Jesus Christ paid for all sin, what sin (or “karma”) remains for us to atone for? “He himself bore our sins in his body” (1 Pet. 2:24). “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Eph. 1:7). “He forgave us all our sins” (Col. 2:13),[27] In essence, past-life “therapy” often becomes a form of questionable or occult practice leading patients to adopt an occult worldview and to seek out such activities as developing altered states of consciousness, psychic powers, or spirit contact.

Because of the subtlety of the spiritual implications involved, past-life therapy is no less profound in its destructive potential than are similar areas where spiritual warfare is unsuspected but just as pervasive, as in clinical or near-death experiences,[28] or in UFO phenomena, particularly the categories of close encounters, abductions, and the “contactee” experience.[29]

Furthermore, are Christian therapists who utilize hypnosis immune to “past-life” phenomena by definition? Are they immune to other subtleties of spiritual deception when they place their clients into trance states? What if the client has been dabbling in the occult? How does the patient know that she will remain free from spiritual deception when she allows herself to be placed into a trance state?

That past-life episodes can spontaneously occur in routine therapeutic hypnosis is clear from Raymond Moody’s Coming Back: A Psychiatrist Explores Past-Life Journeys:

When asked about past lives, it was difficult for me to hide my skepticism…. There the matter stood until I met Diana Denholm. She is a lovely and persuasive psychologist who used hypnosis in her practice. Originally she used it to help people stop smoking, lose weight, and even to find lost objects. But some strange things had happened, she said. Every once in a while, a patient would start talking about experiences from a past life. Most of the time these events occurred when she took people back through their lives to recover a lost, traumatic memory, a process known as age regression therapy. This technique would help them find the source of phobias or neuroses that were creating problems…. The intention of regression therapy was not to go beyond the date of the patient’s birth certificate, just far back in their current life.

But occasionally, patients would slip back even further than seemed possible. They would suddenly begin talking about another life, place, and time as though it were right there before their very eyes…. At first these experiences frightened Denhohn. She thought she had done something wrong in her hypnotherapy, or perhaps she was treating someone with multiple personalities. But when this happened a few times, Denholm began to realize that she could use these experiences to help treat the patient’s disorder.

With research and practice, she became quite proficient at eliciting past lives from people who would allow it. Now she uses regression therapy regularly in her practice because it frequently cuts through hours of therapy by plunging right to the heart of the problem.[30]

Moody himself allowed her to elicit nine of his own alleged past lives,[31] which soundly converted him to a belief in reincarnation. Psychologist Edith Fiore, author of You Have Been Here Before, relates MPD to past lives. She first observes that “sometimes multiple personalities emerge under hypnosis.” Then she theorizes they may be “nonintegrated” past-life personalities, or split personalities, in this life.[32] But she also accepts that “they could also be [spirit] entities of some sort.”[33]

So is the Christian who practices yoga, or other occult forms of meditation, or who plays with the Ouija board, or who experiments in séances with “good motives,” immune from spiritual deception during hypnosis?

In his study of channeling, Professor Jon Klimo states, “Many hypnotherapists help the client contact an ‘inner advisor’ for gaining access to information that the normal waking self does not have.”[34] Apparently, many Christian therapists do something similar. But as we have shown elsewhere, it is difficult to distinguish supposed “inner advisors” from spirits.

So what should a Christian psychotherapist do if “entities” or “past lives” or “multiples” appear as a result of the hypnotic trance state? Again, should Christian psychotherapists believe that they will never, under any circumstances, encounter spiritual deception or bring unforeseen problems into a person’s life when they toy with a person’s consciousness and induce trance states in them?

Martin and Deidre Bobgan also have a number of questions about the Christian use of hypnosis:

An occult practice in the hands of even a kind-hearted doctor can still leave the Christian open to the works of the devil. Why would occult hypnosis leave a person open to demonism and medical hypnosis not? Does the doctor have spiritual authority to keep Satan away? Is Satan afraid to interfere with science or medicine? When is the Ouija board merely a parlor game? Where is the boundary between a parlor game and the occult? When is hypnosis merely a medical or psychological tool? Where is the boundary between the medical or psychological and the occult? When does hypnosis move from the occult to medicine and from medicine to the occult? Why is it that some in the church who know that hypnosis has been an integral part of the occult nevertheless recommend its use? Paradoxically and sadly, though the experts cannot agree on what it is and how it works, hypnosis is being cultivated for Christian consumption.[35]


  1. Jon Klimo, Channeling: Investigations on Receiving Information from Paranormal Sources (Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1987), pp. 237-38; James G. Friesen, Uncovering the Mystery of MPD (San Bernardino: CA, Here’s Life Publishers, 1991).
  2. Ibid., p. 238.
  3. cf. Willis Harman, Howard Rheingold, Higher Creativity: Liberating the Unconscious for Breakthrough Insights (Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher, 1984), pp. 119-20.
  4. Leon Jaroff, “Lies of the Mind,” Time, Nov. 29, 1993, p. 55.
  6. Elizabeth Loftus, The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and the Allegations of Sexual Abuse (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1994), pp. 85-86.
  7. Ibid., pp. 254-55.
  8. Jaroff, “Lies of the Mind,” p. 55.
  9. The False Memory Syndrome Foundation was founded in 1992 in Pennsylvania; as of 1994 it had over 8,000 requests for assistance. See also Claire Safran, “Dangerous Obsession: the Truth About Repressed Memories,” McCalls, June 1993; Lawrence Wright, “Remembering Satan,” Parts 1 and 2, New Yorker, May 17/24, 1993, Martin Gardner, “The False Memory Syndrome,” Skeptical Inquirer, Summer 1993; Kendrick Frazier, “The False Memory Problem: A Plea to Psychotherapists,” Skeptical Briefs, June 1993; Leon Jaroff, “Lies of the Mind”, Time, 29 November 1993.
  10. Elizabeth L. Hillstrom, Testing the Spirits (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), p. 66.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Joe Fisher, The Case for Reincarnation (NY: Bantam, 1985), pp. 37-38.
  13. . Jonathan Venn, “Hypnosis and Reincarnation: A Critique and Case Study,” The Skeptical Inquirer, Summer, 1988, p. 390.
  14. Helen Wambach, Reliving Past Lives: The Evidence Under Hypnosis (NY: Harper & Row, 1978).
  15. Helen Wambach, Life Before Life (NY: Bantam, 1979).
  16. Morris Netherton, Nancy Shiffrin, Past Lives Therapy (NY: William Morrow, 1978).
  17. Edith Fiore, You Have Been Here Before: A Psychologist Looks at Past Lives (NY: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1978).
  18. Brian L. Weiss, Many Lives Many Masters (NY: Fireside, 1988).
  19. Roger Woolger, Other Lives, Other Selves (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1987).
  20. Interview, “Humble Teacher, Deadly Master: The Thoughts and Techniques of Harunaka Hoshino,” Ninja Masters, Winter, 1986.
  21. Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1991), p. 435 emphasis added.
  22. Ian Stevenson, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1978, rev. 2nd ed.), pp. 374-77.
  23. Ibid., p. 376.
  24. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Facts on Life after Death, eBook. See also our The Facts on Near Death Experiences (eBook.)
  25. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Facts on UFOs, eBook; John Weldon, Clifford Wilson, Close Encounters: A Better Explanation (San Diego, CA: Master Books, 1978).
  26. Guiley, Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical…, p. 436.
  27. Good critiques are found in John Snyder’s Resurrection Vs. Reincarnation, Norman Geisler and J. Yutaka Amano’s The Reincarnation Sensation, and Mark Albrecht’s Reincarnation: A Christian Appraisal.
  28. Ankerberg and Weldon, The Facts on Life after Death, eBook.
  29. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Facts on UFOs eBook; John Weldon, Clifford Wilson, Close Encounters: A Better Explanation (San Diego, CA: Master Books, 1978).
  30. Raymond Moody, Coming Back: A Psychiatrist Explores Past-Life Journeys (NY: Bantam, 1992), pp. 12-13.
  31. Ibid., pp. 13-25.
  32. Edith Fiore, You Have Been Here Before: A Psychologist Looks at Past Lives (NY: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc., 1978), pp. 12-15.
  33. in Mark Albrecht, Reincarnation: A Christian Appraisal (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), pp. 71-72.
  34. Klimo, Channeling, p. 223.
  35. Martin and Deidre Bobgan, Hypnosis and the Christian (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, 1984), pp. 53-54.

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