Years ago, I had a client who came to see me because she wanted to have a session of age regression hypnotherapy. She wanted to find out if her father had sexually abused her as a small child. She had a feeling it had happened but did not have any memories of it.

Regression in hypnotherapy takes many forms. Some people believe in past life regression and that they are able to access memories of previous lives whilst in a state of hypnosis. Some also believe that it is possible to access memories from this current life to discover details that might not have been acknowledged at the time.

I’ve seen a few TV shows and even one which was based on a real life crime where hypnosis was used to access past memories. However, I believe that this is a task that should come with a warning label for two big reasons.

Firstly, your unconscious mind will repress some memories to protect you. It does so in order that you are able to get on and function without the weight of those highly emotive memories troubling you. If you are not emotionally robust enough to deal with those memories this is a real benefit to you. If your unconscious is telling you not to open Pandoras box, it might be a good idea to leave it well alone.

Of course your unconscious may also represent memories for resolution. This normally happens at Christmas dinner whilst carving the turkey. There will suddenly be a random memory that pops into your head and you find yourself sobbing with the sherry with no idea why that memory popped up at that moment in time. The reason why it happens then is because you’re feeling resourceful. When you are feeling resourceful enough your unconscious decides you’re ready to resolve the memory and serves it up in your unconscious mind. It’s purely a coincidence that the memory shows up at a point in time when you’d rather not have to think about it.

The other reason why we need to be careful with recovering memories is because as good as hypnotherapy is, there’s no guarantee that the client will represent only factual information. For example, what happens when you have a very strong belief about something, even if that belief is inaccurate, would you recall the facts and prove your belief wrong or would you represent only what you believed to be true.

Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist talked of how, as a child, whilst out with his nurse the young woman was robbed of the family kitty whilst she tried to protect the young Piaget from himself being taken by the robber. Later in life he recalled the incident in good detail. Then one day the family received a letter from the nurse who had since left the family, confessing to having stolen the kitty herself. The memories that Piaget had of the incident were false memories.

Our memories do not work like computer hard drives. When you save information to a computer and later retrieve it, it will be exactly the same information as it was when it was saved. With human memories, the information is changed every time it is retrieved.

In addition, we piece information together in the most logical way, but not necessarily the most true and accurate way.

So when the client asked me if I could help her to recall the lost memories of being abused, I declined. The ramifications of a false memory would have too devastating an impact upon too many lives.

By Gemma Bailey