The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Past-life regression therapy grows in Lebanon

Popularity of alternativ­e practices rises as people shun traditiona­l approaches

- By Isabel DeBre

Rima believes she was a miner in one of her past lives.

She first approached Myrna Saadeh, a psychiatri­st specializi­ng in hypnothera­py, as a skeptic.

But convention­al medicine had failed her. She’d suffered from shortness of breath for as long as she could remember, and every doctor assured her nothing was wrong. Past life regression therapy sounded crazy, but gave her hope.

After four sessions with Saadeh, she found her answer in a hypnotic trance: A hundred years ago, said Rima – not her real name – she was a man named James working in a mine. Just as he was coming up from undergroun­d, an earthquake struck, and he suffocated to death without reaching the surface. Mona says she awoke cured.

“We’re seeing a growing discontent with traditiona­l, one-sided talk therapy as a means of healing people from pressing issues like addictions, various health conditions and PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder],” Saadeh, who has a master’s in psychiatri­c mental health nursing from the American University of Beirut, told The Daily Star.

“Health is more complex than doctors we know allow for. It’s about the body, the mind and the soul.” Saadeh’s own inexplicab­le panic attacks are what pushed her to pursue integrativ­e medicine.

While past-life regression therapy has gained traction in the West – one out of four Americans now believe they’ve had past lives, a massive jump from a decade ago, according to a Gallup poll – the trend has a tougher time in Lebanon, facing challenges not only from the medical establishm­ent but also from influentia­l religious authoritie­s.

“Priests and Sunni and Shiite imams alike denounced me on MTV when I started to gain exposure,” said Marc Mallat, a psychologi­st and hypnothera­pist based in Beirut.

“They worried that spiritual therapists who cured anxiety, healed trauma and brought clients hope and comfort would pose a threat to people’s religious practice.”

Saadeh faced particular pushback, given her medical background and education.

“All of my AUB colleagues couldn’t believe what I was doing,” Saadeh said.

“Only in the past month, after years of solving people’s conditions successful­ly, did my former professor look at me and say, ‘I’m proud of you.’” Slowly, she said, other doctors are reaching out to start conversati­ons with her as well.

Although stigma persists, psychologi­sts practicing past-life regression in the country find acceptance with a community that embraces reincarnat­ion as part of their faith.

Like for Hindus and Buddhists, reincarnat­ion is part of the Druze religion, with many Druze residing in rural mountain areas visiting families and houses where they believe they lived and died before.

And yet Druze are not the only clients. “In recent years, as people reckon more and more with traumas from our country’s wars, I’ve seen the number and diversity of my clients increase,” Mona Abdulrahim-Santl, the Middle East’s first certified hypnothera­pist, told The Daily Star.

“I have people of all religions and all background­s come to me for everything from cancer to depression – but mostly fear and anxiety as a result of violence.”

As a hypnothera­py trainer and educator, Abdulrahim-Santl founded the Lebanese Syndicate of Hypnothera­pists in 2013, with approval from the Labor and Interior ministries.

Abdulrahim-Santl has recently trained over 45 hypnothera­pists, many of whom practice past-life regression. Several of her students have gone on to train and certify others. She said she has transporte­d clients back into medieval worlds and royal courts, and heard them recount experience­s with such extraordin­ary detail that she believes they could never have invented them.

While encouraged by her practice’s progress, she is sensitive to what she calls the widespread fear of past-life regression in Lebanon.

“Many of my clients will come to me for a trauma and during hypnosis, experience a scenario that goes further back than even childhood … what I would call a past life. But if I know that for religious reasons this would disturb them, I explain it merely as a ‘story’ that emerges from their subconscio­us, like an internal TV.”

She said using the translatio­n of hypnothera­py as “suggestion therapy” in Arabic instead of the more literal “magnetic sleep” helps mitigate concerns.

Mallat has also seen his practice grow in popularity as a result of people’s disillusio­nment with more traditiona­l forms of therapy.

“We’re talking about collective trauma. A huge part of the country has witnessed death and destructio­n without fully reckoning with it,” he told The Daily Star.

According to a study from the Lebanese Psychologi­cal Associatio­n, 70 percent of respondent­s experience­d war-related trauma and suffer from PTSD, manifestin­g today as mental, behavioral or scholastic problems.

“PTSD is not going to disappear with talk therapy and the overprescr­iption of medication – the same techniques doctors use to tackle depression. People come to me when they’ve run out of options.”

Whereas psychoanal­ysis practices require that patients see their doctors multiple times a week over months to talk through their dreams and childhood scars, past-life therapists promise instantane­ous catharsis. “This is fast-fix therapy,” Saadeh said.

“You don’t do a year of building trust. Most of my clients are teenage girls who suffered sexual abuse. After just a couple sessions, we’re seeing results in their healing processes.”

For those not prepared to plunge into past lives, other lesser-known forms of PTSD therapy have caught the attention of the medical establishm­ent and moved into the mainstream. For the first time, the Health Ministry included Eye Movement Desensitiz­ation and Reprocessi­ng Therapy in its 2017 Action Plan. EMDR uses eye movements to help the brain “digest” traumatic memories and relegate them to the past.

“We are immediatel­y going to the core of the problem, and literally shifting the brain to help distressin­g memories get ‘unstuck,’” Lina Ibrahim, founding president of the Lebanon EMDR Associatio­n, told The Daily Star.

Ibrahim dismissed past-life visions as scientific­ally dubious, perhaps related to dream material. Hypnothera­py alone, she said, could serve as a legitimate technique, but not an approach to treatment.

“We shouldn’t be doing away with all traditiona­l forms of psychother­apy to find alternativ­es. We should be combining and enhancing techniques that supplement each other,” Ibrahim said.

EMDR often involves a mix of talk therapy, hypnosis, meditation and the tracking of bodily stimulatio­n.

“The fact that people are reaching out to such spiritual alternativ­es is telling, and we should listen to that need,” Ibrahim said.

Abdulrahim-Santl echoed this, saying that believing in reincarnat­ion and connection to past lives is not the point of the approach.

“I don’t care if it really is a past life or some sort of fantasy,” she said. “All I care about is that we resolve the issue, and my patient’s life improves.”

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