Peering Into the Past

Brought to You by Creative Healing for Youth in Pain

Rebecca Cherry, MD, MPH
November 28, 2022 / 3 mins read

It's not uncommon for people to approach me with the goal of understanding their emotions. Sometimes they have anxiety, which is contributing to chronic pain. Sometimes it is a specific fear. Or it might be a tendency toward depression.

Since they have lives which -- on paper -- sound wonderful, what might be at the root of their (or their child's) unhappiness? Could there be some deep memory or association which they have not identified? Can hypnosis help them discern the source of their feelings or uncover some hidden episode from their past?

Using hypnosis to recover memories is a practice fraught with complications. There is a very real risk that a person might -- completely unwittingly -- create a false memory. This memory might function as a way to better understand their current situation, but at the risk of implicating other people in some history of harm. In fact, this possibility of false memories has been widely recognized, to the point that memories recovered by hypnosis are not considered valid testimony in a court of law.

So, peering into the mysteries of the past to better understand the present is not an approach I recommend. This is not to say that a person's past has no role in helping to improve the future by addressing a problem in the present. My preference is to use memories differently: to identify times when a person demonstrated strength, capability, or some other quality which could now serve them again.

Looking back in time, a person can identify resources which they had -- and which they still have. They can dust off these strengths, bring them up to date, and apply them to the issue of the moment.