In October of 2011, I was attending the World Congress for Regression Therapy in Turkey. I had the pleasure of observing a demonstration by a Dutch therapist named, Hans TenDam. A pioneer within Regression Therapy, Hans served for a time as the President of the European Association for Regression Therapy. The clever acronym for their intrepid association was EARTh. And in Hans’ dry, Dutch delivery he would begin his talks by saying “Hello, I am Hans, President of EARTh.”
I was aware of his work and reputation through a connection to my father, and was excited to be training with him. (He and my Dad had become friendly over smoke breaks, being among the few therapists at the conferences they both frequented who enjoyed the rare or regular cigarette.)
During this demonstration, Hans was walking us through what was intended as a routine past life regression (if there is such a thing). He was elegantly illustrating transformation in three broad steps.
Catharsis - the catalyzing event
Integration - the gathering of new resources/information and discarding of inessentials
Transformation - the completion and actualization of the new order
Hans’ style of guidance was confident and workman-like. Focused, resolute, and in sync with the person before him, his compassion and professionalism were the same. Working with a Turkish woman as his client, let’s call her Guna, while the group silently observed, after a brief induction she soon drifted into the consciousness of a American Indian woman on a walk. Relatively standard fare for past life regression so far, attention with the senses as she’s noticing what the Indian woman is doing - and then something happened. She described time stopping, light and dark changing completely, and an absolute and seemingly inexplicable break with the reality inside the reality she was currently occupying.
She was being visited by an extra-terrestrial. Though my memories of the wording are gauzy at best, (to have recorded it would have violated the privacy of the woman volunteering) I’ve never forgotten the moment and Hans’ message during her experience. There was a stunning pause as the revelation unfolded. Without anyone breaking the code of respect and quiet, one sensed the cacophony of opinions, excitement, and disbelief as she expressed to Hans what was happening. Whatever shock was present stood in contrast to Hans’ relaxation and stability.
When he realized what was happening, he established permission with his client to “break the fourth wall” (my words, not his) and spoke to the group. He calmly instructed us, “when this happens, whatever form an entity appears in, you become its’ therapist too.”
Immediately, as if transmitted by the tone of his voice, any fear of an alien or skepticism of a human being disappeared from my body. As it left, confidence and curiosity returned. Hans brought his attention back to her as she described the entity as a ball of yellow light with a thousand tentacle-like arms waving with lights at the end of them. It was peaceful. She described it as nonviolently occupying her body. It was lost, off-course. Without gender or human means of communication, a broken and whispered conversation unfolded.
Now working backwards through a Russian doll-like encasing of psyches, Hans would help the entity find what it needed to peacefully leave the American Indian woman’s body. He then addressed the trauma left in the American Indian woman, helping her integrate what she needed to take the story without internalizing the shock or “alienation”. And then finally, there was Guna who’s body and consciousness all this had taken place in - who was seeking transformation and may or may not have known what she was signing up for when she took this training. Hans guided her through a series of questions, like a healing interview:
“Do you need to carry any more pain?”
“Do you need or deserve to suffer?”
“And do you feel you can integrate the lessons of this experience comfortably, taking what is useful and leaving the rest?”
After a few more moments, Hans gently closed the trance. Guna slowly opened her eyes and sat up. She was applauded and praised.
I would love to know how Guna reflects on this experience now. To the best of my memory, this is what happened. And before we throw more opinions and noise on the fire, know that in an hour I saw a real Turkish woman compassionately guided from catharsis, through integration, to a metaphorical and palpable transformation. And though it may be tempting to gravitate towards the often sensationalized content of alien beings, extra terrestrials, or past lives, the coolest moment may have been the suggestion to become the therapist of whatever appears before you.
Compared to the science-fiction movies of my youth, this was also rather boring. I never cease to be amused by the distance between heightened depictions of hypnotherapy in films and on TV, and the hushed casual intimacy of the real thing which unless you are directly involved with, is generally hard to follow and again, kinda boring.
These subjects themselves have been - for better or worse - loaded with emotion and largely stripped of reasonable conversation. I‘ve recently been enjoying working with Alan Steinfeld (see above video). Alan has been working with the alien-abduction and extra-terrestrial communities for decades and himself has an abduction story. In 1987, he and two friends fell asleep in their car on the side of a country road. What happened afterwards has seemingly and potentially traumatically been wiped from Alan’s memory and we have been using regression to retrieve the memories of his experience.
Now - there is a lot to contextualize there.
1) I am agnostic to the truth of what occurred in 1987. The focus is on Alan’s truth because
2) hypnosis for memory retrieval is not something I generally do and highly dubious not because hypnosis is a false magic trick, but because it has been generally proven by modern neuroscience that this is simply not how our memory works. We cannot access a static reliving of the way things were through hypnosis because time passes and what memory stores - citing Dr. Joseph LeDoux, and my friend and mentor, Melissa - is an emotionally filtered and unconsciously curated reconstruction of what our body feels to have happened (also Bessel van der Kolk). Knowing and operating from a more sound sense of our self, we can set the intention more accurately for a calm exploration of these growing and changing narratives. In cases of retrieval, of course, we are looking for what is not there. And with compassion to any person who, like myself, has ever struggled to remember something or sought to better their memory, I will
3) still work with people who want to explore this territory. I simply insist we have this nuanced conversation and understanding of the memories we’re exploring. The reframing of how we’re even considering the memory usually provides people some relief right away.
When working with the regular groups I lead in past life regression, there is a constant theme of animal experiences. Often times, people have experiences as dogs or cats, underwater creatures, birds, camels… and often time, these experiences are lovely. Perhaps silly-sounding and easily dismissed, judging by the facial expressions and the verbal descriptions of the feelings during these experiences, they are amazing. I’m left marveling at how powerful it is to sincerely and momentarily touch another animal’s consciousness. Personally, when it comes to the subject of alien life, on one hand it seems impossible to me that we’re alone in the universe. And on the other there are the questions of communication and how we see what is already around us.
One of the most unexpected pleasures to emerge in the sessions with Alan thus far is a non-human exploration of time and physics. In his stories, it is very clear that the beings he’s contacted by interact with time differently than we do, and perhaps we can’t understand it through our human apparatus. Ideas like this are pretty consistent with the stories and literature on the subject. I don’t interpret this as distraction or detour, but rather instruction. The first step in our exploration is to look differently at time. What that means? We’ll see.
One of the many things I appreciate about Alan is his awareness of trauma. He’s not blind to it’s impact on the brain and memory. Back in Turkey in 2011, something else Hans emphasized was the literal and metaphorical “alienation” that exists in the personalities and psychology of people that had interest in, or interacted with, extra-terrestrials. There is a broad isolation and persistent non-conformity in the individual that usually manifests as problematic to a certain kind of orthodoxy. What is marginalized and discarded by one group however, can be a superpower with another. The reminder for the therapist is to remain vigilant of projection, disassociation, and/or transference.
Whether we can achieve a new and different understanding of time or language (as explored in the film, “Arrival”, which I felt was a rather inspired take of the themes), we can agree English is a limited tool set. Generally, stories of alien-abduction are not met with compassion. As the horror movie-trope of the asylum casts those amongst us in need of mental health assistance as monsters, the fear-based weirdness and hollywood disaster movies haven’t helped us talk to each other about these stories impacting some of us in very real ways. All of this contributes to why I’m thankful again, to have strangely useful training in a therapy that can imagine another way.
Ever since beginning to work with Alan, I’ve had a few friends open up to me about experiences and feelings that might otherwise sound crazy, but rather remind me of Hans and Guna. We can agree it is bizarre and surprising - those things we sometimes call crazy, and at others might find perfectly acceptable… It’s at least as weird to be human as it is to imagine other beings. If you’d read this far, please do check out the video above. And watch for Alan and I’s work to continue. Resisting the urge to close with an outer-space pun - “it was out-of-this-world”, etc. - I’ll just say that I do not know where this will lead.