Our past always runs with us
We know and recognize things because we remember them. Without memory we would have a hard time finding our way in the world.
You could say that we mainly live in a “remembered present”, to use a familiar phrase from Gerald Edelman. In psychotherapy you therefore always work with things from the past: emotions, beliefs, body sensations and behaviour that are reactivated in the here and now. All therapy considered in this way is regression therapy.
Regression” literally means “going back”. In the context of psychotherapy we mean by this that someone relapses in behaviour and functioning. This compared to what you would normally expect from her/him. A person reverts to behaviour from an earlier period in her/his life, usually childhood. A brief example to illustrate: an employee who performs excellently in her work does not get out of her words during a performance interview. She feels insecure, nervous and confused. People don’t know her like that. During this conversation her behaviour is very different than expected. The competent employee seems to have turned into an insecure and nervous child. In this case you can think of regressive behaviour.
Regression therapy is very suitable if you respond “out of context”, that is, if your behaviour, your emotions and thoughts are very different from what would normally be logical and appropriate in the situation in question. In everyday terms, we speak in this case of an overreaction. Your behaviour, emotions and your physical response then lack a logical connection with the stimulus (also called trigger) that activates you. Often you know that it is an old kind of feeling and behaviour, something you have experienced much longer and more often. We consider these kinds of overreactions in our psychotherapeutic work as involuntary trances, also called natural trances.
Usually, with an “out of context” response the whole person is in an uproar. We explore all responses with the client. For example, in a regression therapy session we first look at the situation and context in which you showed the regressive behaviour, and we investigate the possible triggers that triggered this behaviour and how you reacted to it. We then pay attention to what you do, what you experience in your body and how it makes you feel. Obstructing beliefs and self-judgments also often come to surface.
Consciously “regress” to let an involuntary, natural trance dissolve
The above reactions, the mental, emotional and physical reactions of the client, are the building blocks of a session. With all of these responses we build a “bridge” between the “out of context” experience of the here-and-now and underlying memories of there-and-then, earlier in the client’s life. By focusing your attention on this, the involuntary, natural trance is deepened. This way memories from past situations can be activated and you can see situations again or relive feelings from there and then. With the conscious attention of the here-and-now you can process old feelings, let go of pent-up tension and pain, and revise old judgments about yourself. This conscious attention and feeling the connection with your adult capacities and insights, together with the safe guidance of the therapist, ensure that you can distance yourself from the traumatic experiences.
This method appears to be very suitable for processing traumatic experiences and PTSD. Traumatic events are often unexpected, overwhelming and therefore confusing. Your body experiences everything, but your conscious mind is not able to register everything clearly. That is why traumatic memories are often unconscious and implicit: the sensory impressions, emotions and body sensations are registered unconsciously. The conclusions, judgments or generalizations that you have ever drawn from this loaded or confusing situation have also arisen unconsciously.
The explicit, conscious, memory storage is completely or partially blocked. According to neurological researchers, the hippocampus (part of your brain, responsible for your sense of self and time) is completely or partially turned off during a traumatic situation due to an overload of adrenaline or cortisol in your body.
Working with emotions, body feelings, mental conclusions and beliefs
During a regression session we first pay attention to what you have carried with you physically and emotionally, you make contact with it and feel it. This gives your emotions and your body an opportunity to express or complete those things that were inhibited or blocked at the time of the traumatic experience. This has a beneficial effect. You “shake” the traumatic experience out of your body, as it were.
We also track down the limiting beliefs that you have taken with you as conclusions from the loaded situation and you develop healthier beliefs for the here-and-now. This generally happens in the integration phase of a session in which you as a client look with adult eyes at what you experienced as a child.
Integration in your memory and with your life story
An important beneficial effect of regression therapy is memory integration. We store our experiences in different layers of our memory:
- The first layer, implicit memory, begins in the womb and is dominant during the early years of life. This part of your memory is also dominant during traumatic experiences as a result of the (partial) shutdown of the hippocampus.
- Later in life you acquire an explicit memory, where factual and autobiographical information is available.
Memory integration comes about because you gain more insight into the implicit puzzle pieces from the past. If these can become explicit and you therefore know them, you are able to live more in the present and you can make choices about how you want to live your life.
In a broader sense, regression therapy can contribute to narrative integration. We speak of “narrative integration” when you can consistently tell your own life story. We also derive this term from the more neurologically oriented view of psychotherapy. We gain insight into the meaning of our life by connecting the storyteller of our left hemisphere with the storage of autobiographical memories on the right. More information? Click here!