What is Past-Life Regression?

What is Past-Life Regression?

The following is excerpted from Coming Back: A Psychiatrist Explores Past-Life Journeys by Dr. Raymond Moody and Paul Perry.

Photo by Luca Lago

I first heard about past-life regressions from Ian Stevenson, a professor at the University of Virginia. He is a psychiatrist and an expert in psychosomatic medicine who has investigated reincarnation tales gathered from around the world. Typically they are tales told by young children who spontaneously “remember” past lives.

Stevenson had at one time performed some hypnotic regressions and decided that they were very unreliable methods of looking into the question of reincarnation. He believed that the patient was reproducing something he or she had learned or heard about in years past and was now—while under hypnosis—merely projecting it outward.

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. Their intent was to take a person back through their current life, layer by layer, to uncover a psychological trauma in much the way an archeologist digs through the layers of time at an archeological site to uncover relics.

Photo by DDDanny

The intention of regression therapy was not to go beyond the date on 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.

For instance, a woman who was having trouble responding to her husband’s sexual needs might go to a hypnotherapist like Denholm to see if there was any sort of forgotten abuse in her childhood that would make her sexually reticent. But in the process of regression, she might suddenly begin describing a past life in which she is a sexually abused slave girl in the roaring Roman Empire.

These were the sorts of odd things that were happening to Denholm as she conducted hypnotic regressions.

At first the experiences frightened Denholm. 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.

What Diana had to say about regressions intrigued me. Up to that point in my life I had dismissed these experiences. But here was someone I respected, talking about a phenomenon that had not been invited, but simply happened to patients in her practice.

Photo by Mark Neal

Believing that each of us is an experiment of one, I wanted to experience past-life regressions myself. I expressed my desire to Diana, who graciously offered to do a regression that very afternoon. She seated me in an overstuffed recliner and led me, slowly and skillfully, into a deep trance. Later she said I had been under for about an hour. At all times I was aware of being Raymond Moody and of being under the guidance of a wonderful hypnotist. But at the same time I went back through nine civilizations and was able to see myself and the world in many different incarnations. To this day I don’t know what they meant— or even if they meant anything. I do know that they were very intense experiences, more like reality than a dream. The colors were as real as life and the events unfolded from their own inner logic and not through any “wishing” of my own. I was not saying, “What do I want to happen next?” or “How should the plot go?” These vivid lives just happened of their own accord, like movies on a screen.

A couple of general notes about the lives I passed through in this fascinating voyage of the mind: Only two of them took place during time periods that I could recognize, both in ancient Rome. The others gave no evidence by which I could date them in terms of modern Western history. They were either prehistoric, in primitive societies, or had no historic context at all.

When I began to see these episodes they had such a familiarity that they were drenched with nostalgia. It was truly as though I was remembering actual experiences. Some were fragmentary; others were so complete and real that I felt as though I was remembering my own life by watching family films…

On the surface, it seemed that past-life regressions took place at a unique level of consciousness, one that had its own distinct features. They were not like dreams, nor were they like daydreams. These experiences had a feeling of familiarity to them. As they unfolded, I seemed to be remembering them rather than making them up.

Dr. Moody’s 9 lives as experienced during regression therapy and his subsequent studies and conclusions can be found in Coming Back: A Psychiatrist Explores Past-Life Journeys.

Dr Raymond Moody


In the reissued classic, Coming Back’ Dr. Raymond Moody investigates past lives with the new science of regression hypnosis. His goal: To discover if we can indeed recall “past lives” and what such memories tell us about the possibility that death is not the end.

A confirmed skeptic with regard to reincarnation, Dr. Moody first became interested in the phenomenon when he encountered psychologically healthy patients who, under deep hypnosis, suddenly began describing in vivid detail episodes from other historical periods they could not possibly have known. His interest in the meaning of these visions intensified when he decided to undertake his own journey into the baffling and exhilarating realm of “past life” experiences. ‘Coming Back’ is the fascinating result of his findings. Learn more about the book here.

Raymond Moody, M.D., Ph.D. is the bestselling author of eleven books which have sold over 20 million copies. His seminal work, Life After Life, has completely changed the way we view death and dying and has sold over 13 million copies worldwide.

Paul Perry is the co-author of four New York Times bestsellers, including Saved by the Light (which was made into a popular movie) and Evidence of the Afterlife. He has co-authored five books with Dr. Raymond Moody.

To read another except, please see our previous posts Exploring Your Own Past Lives and Past Lives and Living Again


  1. Donna Gabriel

    Hello, I took note of the fact that in this article Dr. Ian Stevenson was referred to in the present tense. He died in 2007.

    “I first heard about past-life regressions from Ian Stevenson, a professor at the University of Virginia. He is a psychiatrist and an expert in psychosomatic medicine who has investigated reincarnation tales gathered from around the world. “

    You should correct this.

    Thank you, Donna

  2. Claudia Lambright

    This is a wonderful article and is reminiscent of Dr. Brian Weiss’ work, which began the same way as that of Dr. Denholm…unintentionally. I was lucky to have a spontaneous vision of what I assumed was a past life, which was confirmed by a dream some 20 years later. That was just ONE of probably hundreds of existences I have experienced and learned from over the span of my “global lifetime” on Earth. I am so grateful to you and Drs. Stevenson, Weiss, Denholm, Newton, and others who help us to see the Big Picture of our existence through PLR.

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