When a leading psychiatrist, in his own words "a pharmacologist", embraces past and future life therapy, conventional thinking senses a huge shift. Rosamund Burton spoke by phone to Dr Brian Weiss in Miami about his belief in "the space between lives".
Taking people to past and future lives is not something you'd usually expect from a psychiatrist, but, then again, Dr Brian Weiss is not your average psychiatrist or even conventional psychotherapist. As a graduate of Columbia University and Yale Medical School, and with a successful private practice in Miami, his career was following traditional guidelines until, in 1980, he encountered a patient called Catherine.
"I did not believe in past lives and neither did my patient, who was a thirty year old woman suffering from anxiety attacks, panic attacks, depression and insomnia," he explains. He describes himself at that time as a "pharmacologist" who would usually prescribe medication for a case of this sort. This particular patient, though, couldn't take any medicine because she had a lifelong fear of gagging. So Dr Weiss decided to regress her back to her childhood in the hope of finding the original trauma that was causing her current symptoms.
"But," he says, "instead of going back to early childhood, she went back about 4,000 years to an ancient Near Eastern civilisation. She had a different body and remembered very vividly that she drowned at the end of that lifetime." After that one session, her fear of gagging disappeared.
Weiss performed this regression therapy with Catherine for many weeks and discovered that not only did she remember past events with great historical accuracy, but her symptoms also began to improve. Since then, he has regressed over 4,000 individuals at his clinic, and thousands more people in group sessions.
In 1988, this pillar of the medical establishment published his book Many Lives, Many Masters about Catherine's case, and the connection between her circumstances today and her past life experiences. It's hardly a surprise that it met with a lot of opposition from organised groups, such as the American Psychiatric Association. Dr Weiss believes the negative reaction arose out of presenting something so new and unfamiliar in the circles of conventional psychiatry. Strong support, though, came from other areas, mainly from individuals such as therapists and other doctors, including cardiologists, whose patients had had out-of-body and near-death experiences. "I got a very positive reaction because they had been experiencing some of the same things with their patients."
A decade and a half later, the opposition still seems to exist - Dr Weiss thinks it "probable" the American Psychiatric Association remains critical of his work. Even today, when he talks to professional groups who are sceptical about psychiatry and spirituality, and the discussion turns to past lives, they are spoken of as possible Jungian experiences, which are metaphoric or symbolic. "I know it's more than that as I see people experiencing past lives every day," he states with quiet assurance. "But it takes time to open the minds of psychiatrists, so I'm being patient and working slowly."
So why are past life experiences significant? Dr Brian Weiss believes it means that "we don't die. There is a part of us - the soul, spirit, consciousness, whatever you like to call it - that exists before we come into, and after we leave, the physical body. The message is that we are spiritual beings, that we're immortal."
"Now, reincarnation is a fact for me," he says. He has found that taking people back to past lives can heal physical and emotional illnesses. He finds, too, that the same souls meet again and again. Someone may be your grandmother in one life, your son in the next, and perhaps your husband in this earthly passage.
"We've been together with many of the same people before. This explains 'love at first sight', the concept of soul mates and families of souls."
The soul, according to his understanding, goes from body to body, rather like being in school and moving from grade to grade. "Some sceptics believe that this cannot be, because the number of people in the world is greater than ever before, so where have the souls come from? But," he continues, "this is not the only place to reincarnate, although it's a great place to learn." He thinks that we also learn in the spirit state, but that some lessons need to be learnt in the flesh.
Love is a major theme running through Dr Weiss's work. "It comes up for every patient," he says. "People are always talking about love in all its manifestations, and it appears whenever they go into past lives. When they die and float above their bodies they have a life review. Did they learn the lessons they were meant to?"
Dr Weiss has collected a lot of data over the last twenty five years and those 4,000 plus patients. Some of the most fascinating regressions he has seen include cases of xenoglossia, when people have spoken fluently in a foreign language they have never learnt in this life.
He tells a story about a child who died when she was about five years old, and whose parents moved to another area, and later had another daughter. When the second daughter was about six years old, her parents took her back to where they had lived previously, and the child spoke of places like the cinema and the restaurants she had never seen before.
One of the most famous past life cases, though not one of Dr Weiss's patients, is that of a woman called Jenny Cockell, who was born in 1953 in England. While still a young child, she told her parents that she had eight children that she had died young and she had to find them. She also said her name was Mary, and that her husband was irresponsible. She even drew a map of the town where she lived, which featured a church, and a large building. Her parents did not have the funds to research her claims, and Jenny grew up, married, and had two children.
One day, she went to the library and compared the map she had drawn with maps of different towns. It was similar to a place called Malahide near Dublin. She travelled there and, as she walked down the main street, had a strong feeling of déjà vu. She also found the church she had drawn, and discovered the large building she remembered was the hospital where she had died.
The house she had lived in was now deserted, but she was told by neighbours that a family called Sutton had lived there in the twenties and thirties. Mary Sutton had died of complications during childbirth, and her children had been separated and sent to orphanages. Jenny discovered that five of the eight children were still alive, and she was able to unite them again. She told them about their childhood, including details that only a mother would know.
In Same Soul, Many Bodies, Dr Brian Weiss's most recent book, one intriguing story is about a woman with a limp. She remembers a past life in early Roman times in which she was a gaoler in Northern Africa. According to Weiss, she was very cruel and would disable the legs of prisoners so they couldn't escape.
"Her karma," Dr Weiss says, " - and karma is not just an Eastern concept, karma means the results of your actions will come back to you, that which you sow you will reap - was manifesting as leg problems in this life, and they cleared up after she remembered that (earlier) life."
He relates for the first time in Same Soul, Many Bodies the experience of taking people to future lives. One of the case histories chronicles a man thinking of suicide because he is facing bankruptcy. By showing him the consequences of his suicide, the grief of his wife and sons in one future, and comparing that scenario with his life in an alternative future when he chose not to commit suicide, Dr Weiss suggests it "helps him to make better decisions now" by revealing the outcome of his actions.
This distinctly unconventional psychiatrist believes there are many possible futures, and is very much influenced by the work of quantum physicists, who talk about such realities as flexible futures and parallel universes.
As he sees it, "Every time we make a decision we make a new universe and a different future, and a whole new set of possible futures."
Dr Weiss puts his patients into a deep hypnotic state, and then leads them to their past or future lives. He is adamant the patient never loses control, and always has the ability to leave a life if they choose and return to the present. As he wanted to understand and experience for himself what his patients were going through, he has been regressed by another therapist, and also by his wife, who is a hypnotherapist. Dr Weiss relates he was a Catholic priest in one life, a Buddhist in another, a Muslim in a third. In this life, he is Jewish.
"All religions say it is about love," he says. "We could all become extremely loving and compassionate people, but instead we're creating violence and hatred. I think we create these because of fear. We fear other people, poverty, death, illness, so we create these things looking for security. But real security comes from love, from within." It is perhaps for this reason that he is such an advocate of meditation, which he sees as a technique to understand at a deeper level, and to become aware of, what is going on inside you.
Today, in addition to travelling the world (his books are now in thirty five languages) giving seminars and workshops, as well as working in his private practice, he is Chairman Emeritus of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami. Dr Weiss still sees a need for drugs, but does not medicate as much as he did in the early eighties.
"I do both," he says. "If someone has a biological depression, I use medication and also regression. Medicine is very useful for someone who needs it. It creates equilibrium. As the depression lessens, the patient's ability to concentrate improves." Even someone with more serious bipolar disorder who needs to be on medication long-term can still benefit from meditation and regression, he advises. That self-applied "pharmacologist" label almost seems to belong to a past life.
For anyone wanting to experience a past or future life regression, there are practitioners trained by Dr Weiss in Australia, and you can email his office via the website www.brianweiss.com to get a contact list.
- Top Stories