Past-life re­gres­sion ther­apy grows in Le­banon

Pop­u­lar­ity of al­ter­na­tive prac­tices rises as peo­ple shun tra­di­tional ap­proaches

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - 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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