Multi-Level Regression

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners.


to Free Gestalt Dynamics

By Aksel Aas Sogstad (Oslo, Norway)

Generally, when the causes of unwanted patterns seem to originate from the past, regression may be an appropriate therapy to provide an emotional foundation and inspiration for positive change. For this to prove successful, it is necessary to be able to establish an interactive dynamic, usually as a gestalt-like dialog. In the rare cases when this seems difficult or even impossible, it may be useful to perform Multi Level Regression to regress the client even further back as somebody other than him or herself, for example, as his or her own parent.

We can all become aware of unwanted patterns in our lives. It is worth noting that such awareness is a positive thing in itself, as it motivates us for change. Unwanted patterns may involve relational issues or things that just have to do with ourselves. When we have an understanding that the causes of these patterns originated in past situations, it may be appropriate to use regression.

One aspect of regression is to utilize the restricted focus of hypnosis to create a realistic emotional experience, and leave out any ruminating over the past. For example, regressing to an episode in hypnosis, we may experience that bitterness, if this was developed later, now is not present to hinder release, because at the time of the episode no bitterness had evolved. This facilitates a more fertile foundation to perform therapy. In most situations, it will be enough to go back to one or two earlier episodes in the client’s life in order to release unwanted patterns.

These situations are best built up in an open and intuitive way, to ensure that the therapist does not transfer his or her own view onto the client. Sometimes these episodes will have a dramatic character, like the client who regressed back to a situation in the family kitchen watching his father, drunk on moonshine, hitting his mother, and ending up himself getting belted when the client tried to protect her. Sometimes these episodes will be peaceful and happy, like the client who wanted to recharge her artistic creativity, who regressed to crawling around the garden as a toddler, investigating the shape and color of the inside of a tulip, or the woman who enjoyed her 10th birthday that went fabulously well, as a message to herself that everything was perfectly okay. For most people, the dramatic character of the episodes will be something in between these extremes.

The intensity of the drama in the regressed episodes, however, is not the deciding factor for the therapeutic value of the regression. The deciding factor has more to do with the client’s, and of course the therapist’s ability, to create a constructive dynamic in the regressed situation. But sometimes it seems to be difficult, if not impossible, to facilitate this type of dynamic. At these times, I have found it useful to perform what I have termed Multi Level Regression, which is to take the client back to a further link from the current regression as somebody other than him or herself, for example as the parent.

I developed this method intuitively when I was treating a woman in her seventies, who wanted to investigate her relationship with her mother. She informed me that throughout her life, her mother had been very egoistical and difficult, and still was, now in her nineties. I took the woman back in time to her childhood, where she developed a scene with her mother and father present. Her mother was completely uninterested in the child, and saying so clearly as well, refusing to have anything to do with her, like there was a wall of glass between them. The father cared about the child, and she found comfort sitting on his lap. There seemed to be nothing that could be said to build some form of resolution toward the mother.

I suddenly got the idea to ask the woman to go back in time as her own mother. As a young mother, the client’s mother was resentful because she was not allowed to have an abortion. As a child, the client’s mother was simply egoistical. The client’s mother had a good relationship with her father as a child. She wanted to be loved, but had no understanding of the need to love others. I had planned to have her (now as the client’s mother) take back the love given from her father and admit some of it to her daughter (the client herself), but without success. There was absolutely no love to give.

The result of the regression was a deepening of the acceptance of the fact that her mother was unable to take any interest in the welfare of others than herself, and of course, because of this, not being able to take care of herself either, being a burden to all her surroundings and her daughter in particular. The client had suffered a lot under this, right up to this time, especially because well-meaning people around her had always encouraged her to show her mother more love and understanding, as we in general do, hoping that it will somehow someday make a change.  But it is not so with the sociopath. Giving love to the sociopath is like trying to fill a bottomless pit. The sociopath will only respond to love if it is to her or his advantage. The client had developed certain psychosomatic illnesses as well as MS. I felt sorry for her. Upon leaving, she said it seemed easier to lift her legs.

Just recently (a few years after the first meeting), I did a regression with a client in which he seemed unable to create a constructive dynamic. He only was able to sit there observing his parents’ constant arguments, a situation that was still relevant today, when he does his best to help out a difficult family situation with a sister suffering from schizophrenia. Remembering the regression I had done with the woman, I regressed him further back as his own father to his childhood, again into a similar circumstance, but this time he was able to be free enough to create a constructive dynamic, acting out the role of his father as a boy, having to take care of his siblings in a home with an alcoholic mother lying on the sofa and an occupied father at work in the office. Armed with this energy and emotional understanding, he was then able to go back to the first regression and create some useful dynamic arguments with his parents, and his father in particular.

In my opinion, regression is a tool that should be used sparingly, and multi-level regression even more so.  It may, however, prove useful in the very few cases where the client seems unable to create a dynamic in a regular regression session. One may of course question the factual content of multi-level regressions, but this does not matter as long as it is made clear that this is done for therapeutic purposes. Also, we do in fact have a lot of information about our parents, as well as our grandparents, and this will enable the client to create realistic scenarios for doing therapy.