There’s a lot of confusion about what hypnosis can and can’t do when it comes to memories. Sigmund Freud developed the theory of repressed memories, Freud believed that when a memory was too traumatic to remember it got repressed. A lot of people still subscribe to this idea of repression and believe they need to recover repressed memories in order to overcome phobias, anxiety, etc. It is believed that traumatic memories can be recovered hypnotically. This hypnotic technique can be very useful, many people have benefitted from it but it needs to be used very carefully.

So Can Hypnosis Help To Recover Repressed Memories? 

It’s quite possible that hypnosis can help to recover repressed memories, people have used hypnosis to recover keys, jewellery and stuff. Police have used hypnosis to collect evidence and even to catch criminals although such techniques are not used in most parts of the today. In the U.K evidence obtained through hypnosis cannot be used in court and very strict protocols have been put in place to ensure the evidence of children is not corrupted through suggestion. 

Your mind cannot tell the difference between a real or imagined event. When I hold my workshops I explain why this is a benefit of hypnosis and show exercises to prove it works. So, it’s possible hypnosis can be used to create memories. Whether or not hypnosis can help you to recover memories depends on why you want to and whether you can deal with what comes up. 

As a person begins healing, feeling safer and more secure memories often emerge anyway so healing should be a priority as opposed to the recovery of memories. 

The Satanic Panic

The idea of repressed childhood memories was a popular one and hypnosis was believed to be an effective way to recover repressed memories until the 1980’s. A lot of innocent parents were wrongfully convicted and a lot of families were broken up. A very famous example of this is the satanic panic which lead to 12,000 unsubstantiated cases of Satanic ritual abuse, read more about the satanic panic on wikipedia, This idea of repression still persists today, I often get clients that believe they have repressed memories. Some cannot recall large chunks of their childhood, most people cannot remember much before the age of three.

Toxic Shame Is Repression 

Toxic shame is created through repression. If a child is growing up in a dysfunctional environment they need to know about it so they can function and stay safe but they don’t want to see their parents as bad because that could be life threatening, they would live in a constant state of fear. Such a child is going to internalise dysfunction and abuse, they’re going to see themselves as bad and develop toxic shame. Trying to cope with toxic shame leads to toxic coping behaviours such as acting out, narcissism or acting in through addictions and self harm. 

I do believe it is possible that memories can be repressed and that hypnosis can help to recover them but due to cases like the satanic panic hypnosis has been labelled pseudoscience. I don’t think it is ethical or good for the profession to try to recover repressed memories with every client. Such an approach is certainly not good for most clients

If I work with a client who believes they have repressed memories I do it on the basis that their mind cannot tell the difference between a real or imagined event and whatever comes up may not be real. I only use regression to cause hypnosis as a last resort, if a client has a problem we just can’t shift by any other means. I would never use this type of regression on someone who does not appear totally mentally and emotionally stable, I certainly wouldn’t use it on someone who may be prone to psychosis. 

Clean Language

It’s important to use clean language when working with clients in both the pretalk and hypnosis part of the session. I never lead clients or project my beliefs onto them. The language you use can have a big impact on a person’s memory, there have been many studies that prove the effect that language can have on memory. One very famous study showed participants footage of a car crash; they found that people’s memory of the incident varied depending on the words interviewers used. If the interviewer used the word crash the participants gave a much more severe account of the incident than if a word like bump was used. You can read more about the study here,

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