For those who believe in reincarnation or the idea that the soul survives after death, past life therapy is the process of unearthing old memories stored in your soul from a previous lifetime. You might assume that the biggest revelation you'd receive during a session would be, quite simply, what happened in your past life. But, according to certified past life therapist Ann Barham, LMFT, most clients realise something that's arguably more applicable to their current life. "They lose their fear of death," she says.
Barham explains that there's something specific to the process of past life therapy that leads her clients to this realisation. A normal session, she explains, can last over two hours and begins when she eases the client into a state of deep relaxation, often via hypnosis or guided imagery. Once they're in this state, Barham says, the client will start to receive images from their former life. Some people liken it to watching a movie in their minds, but others have a far less visual experience and undergo what Barham calls an "intuitive download." Suddenly, the client will describe a memory from a past life as if it's been in their mind all along.
This process continues, with Barham guiding the client through the major events of their past life, until they reach "the death experience," as she calls it. "Almost universally, right around the moment of death, people move into this very peaceful, pain-free, love-filled space," Barham says. She describes this "space" as a plane of existence where one doesn't have a physical form — just their awareness.
"They’re still very present and very much alive, they’re just not in a physical body," Barham says. "And many clients really like [being there]." Experiencing this overall safe and comforting place, even if it's only in their mind, "definitely diminishes [their] concerns about death and dying," she adds. However, if a client's former self died suddenly or violently, there's a chance that they're less willing to experience this moment. "But I’ve never had anybody so freaked out that they don’t want to go through it," she says.
It's not uncommon to be afraid of the uncertainty surrounding death. And, if you fully believe in the concept of past lives, seeing how your former self died and learning that the process of death is relatively peaceful, will likely be a source of comfort. But, if your fear of death is greater than a general fear of the unknown, you might not benefit from this aspect of past life therapy.
If you live with intense, constant concerns about dying, you're better off getting in touch with a therapist who specializes in anxiety, says Ken Goodman, LCSW, author of The Anxiety Solution Series, and a Los Angeles-based therapist specialising in the treatment of anxiety.
"The fear of death can consume a person’s thoughts and ruin their quality of life. With the help of a cognitive behavioural therapist who specialises in anxiety, people can learn to stop thinking about death and focus on living their life," Goodman says, adding that, to get his patients to face their fears, he'll ask them to write down the imagined scenarios that contribute to their death anxieties and then read them aloud to him. "This will help desensitise the fear," he explains. "Anxiety suffers need to learn how to not take their thoughts seriously and not engage the worry."
Although Goodman didn't directly discuss the effects of past life therapy, he states that it probably isn't useful to expose someone with a deep-set fear of death to the nitty gritty details of death and dying: "I don’t want to feed an imagination that already imagines the worst." So, you shouldn't sign up for past life therapy in the hopes that it will help you overcome a death phobia.
Rather, past life therapy gives people a chance to see how their soul or consciousness may have been transferred from one body to another. It helps if you go into your session already believing that death has a spiritual element to it, but even if you're just curious about what happens after we die, you might come away with a pretty reassuring answer.