Past life regression (PLR) may be both an experimental technique and a form of therapy, but it has scientific credibility only if reincarnation itself is proven scientifically to exist. The existence of reincarnation is not yet a scientific truth. Recent studies indicate that reincarnation merits acknowledgment as a scientific hypothesis because it can be falsified or confirmed through scientific investigation. For this reason Dr. Ian Stevenson's international field studies are immensely important. Any idea that has clinical usefulness has clinical validity, but the clinical validity of PLR has yet to be convincingly demonstrated.
The most famous case of past life regression (PLR) is undoubtedly that of Bridey Murphy. It is a historical case. In the mid-twentieth century Morey Bernstein, a Colorado businessman who had practiced hypnotism for ten years with hundreds of different persons, decided to attempt to regress someone to one or more past lives. He chose as his subject a woman called Virginia Tighe, knowing that she had the ability to go into a deep trance with ease. Between 29 November 1952 and 29 August 1953 Bernstein made six attempts to facilitate the regression of Virginia. During those sessions she recalled one brief life as a baby who died. After that there emerged the figure of Bridey Murphy – more formally Bridget Kathleen Murphy.
Following her first experience as Bridey, Virginia mutated into her alter ego whenever invited to do so in a trance state. She proffered a significant amount of information about Ireland, none of which she had any explicable way of knowing as Virginia Tighe. She said she had been born in Cork in 1798, the daughter of a Protestant barrister called Duncan Murphy and his wife Kathleen. She had a brother named Duncan Blaine Murphy, who had married Aimee Strayne. Another brother had died in infancy. At the age of twenty, Bridey said, she was married in a Protestant ceremony to a Catholic, Brian Joseph McCarthy, the son of another Cork barrister. Brian and Bridey moved to Belfast, where he attended school and eventually progressed to teach law at Queen's University. They had no children, and Bridey lived until she was sixty-six.
No record of any of these facts has been identified in Ireland. However, during her narration of her experiences as Bridey, Virginia mentioned the names of two Belfast grocers, Farr's and John Carrigan. It proved possible to verify that two grocers with those names did operate retail enterprises in the city at the appropriate time. She said that her address in Cork was The Meadows, and it was established that there is an area in that town named Mardike Meadows. Queen's University in Belfast is of course a renowned educational establishment. Virginia used certain distinctive words that on investigation proved to be in use in Ireland at Bridey's time, such as 'ditched' for 'buried', a 'linen' to mean a handkerchief, and 'lough' for river or lake. It was pointed out by those convinced of the veracity of Virginia's recollections that a girl born and raised in the United States, as Virginia was, would be unlikely to have been acquainted with these terms. Investigative reporters connected that there was some evidence for 'something', as yet unexplained. Credible hypnosis experts claim to have debunked this case, but the late Professor Ian Stevenson who has investigated maximum cases of children remembering previous lives, considered it worthy of closer scrutiny.
"Looking For Carroll Beckwith" (Robert L. Snow, 1999, Looking for Carroll Beckwith. Pennsylvania: Daybreak books) is an interesting case of past life regression. Carroll Beckwith was a minor portrait painter who had lived and worked in New York city in the late 19th and early20th century. He had never done anything outstanding that would make him immortal as an artist. Captain Robert L. Snow is a commander of the homicide branch at the Indianapolis Police department. He discovered while under hypnosis that he was Carroll Beckwith in a previous life. Snow wanted to disprove the images he had experienced while under hypnosis as a form of cryptomnesia. Mr Snow was already disenchanted with hypnotherapeutic procedures in child sex abuse cases. The regression took place in 1992 and Captain Snow was able to find 28 details to his regression that could be proven or disproven.
Instead of disproving the veracity of his images, Mr Snow proved that most every recollection he had while hypnotised actually took place nearly 100 years earlier. While holidaying in New Orleans, Captain Snow entered an art gallery in an obscure side street where he encountered the painting of his memory: the hunchbacked woman. He learned that Beckwith's personal diaries and an unpublished autobiography existed in a local library in New York. For a detective that was a definitive piece of evidence to close or prove the case. From Beckwith's diaries, he found that 26 points of 28 matched with the life of Carroll Beckwith. His recollections included that Beckwith used a walking stick even though he was not disabled, visited France, drunk wine (Whiskey was the popular drink in US), disliked painting portraits, upset over bad picture hangings and lighting in art shows, painted the portrait of a hunchbacked woman, mother died of blood clot, wife Berth was childless, Berth used to play piano or sing for friends etc. Captain Snow got the name of the previous personality's wife incorrect but his frank admittance of it adds to his credibility. Mr Snow claims that he has more proof of his previous life existence than most murder cases and is convinced that he carries some of the memories of Carroll Beckwith. Parapsychologists could offer alternative explanations even for such apparently true memories. Captain Snow simply concludes in his book: "I cannot accept that, with the billions of people who have inhabited the Earth, my case is unique, that mine would be the only case since John the Baptist, who some say that Jesus describes in Mathew as being a rebirth of Elijah ".
Extreme skeptics of past life regression might explain away the flash backs of hypnotic remembrances of previous lives as "walk in" phenomenon which has not been discussed in the scientific literature of parapsychology.