"Past lives" gurus bring their side-show schtick to Tampa Bay

by Gary P. Posner, M.D.

The upside of the Kathy Fountain Show's new hour-long format (weekdays at 10 a.m. on WTVT-TV 13) is that if and when the Tampa Bay Skeptics are again the featured guests (as we have twice been), we will have additional time to get our desperately needed message across to the vast viewing audience. The downside is that in the meantime, dozens of advocates of the paranormal will have even greater opportunities to present to the public their own brands of pseudoscience.

Fountain's February 13, 1995, show was definitely one of the downers. According to her introductory remarks, "There are two world-renowned experts in the very controversial field of therapy . . . called 'past life regression' . . . and we are privileged to have both of these experts with us here today in the same studio at the same time." (I received notice the day before the Feb. 10 taping, but had insufficient time to arrange for any TBS members to be present in the audience.) Thus, with a studio audience in agreement, save for one or two stragglers, that they had all indeed lived "past lives," the matter came across as anything but "controversial" to the viewer.

If Dr. John Mack, Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard psychiatrist and "UFO abduction guru," derisively dubbed "The Man From Outer Space" last April 25 by Time magazine (and currently in hot water at Harvard -- see item later in article) has a psychiatrist of his own, perhaps it is Dr. Brian Weiss, author of Many Lives, Many Masters and Through Time Into Healing. If Weiss has his way, soon the numbers of "UFO abductees" (only in the low millions per Mack) will be eclipsed by those claiming to have been reincarnated since, Weiss claims, everyone has lived before, and will again.

Weiss, who says he began "entirely skeptical," told the story of the main character in his first book, a young woman ridden with phobias. Like thousands of other psychiatrists, Weiss had employed hypnosis "for years" to regress patients back to childhood in order to find the origins of their incapacitating fears. But for some reason, this one patient unexpectedly

flipped back spontaneously, it appeared to me, about four thousand years. She was in a different body, face, hair . . . and [at the end of that life she] drowned . . . in a flood or tidal wave. . . . I thought it was imagination or fantasy [but] her life-long fear of drowning started to get better. . . . She knew details and facts about ancient cultures that she had no conscious knowledge of. . . . She died in [another] middle ages lifetime, floated up to a beautiful light, which she did after every lifetime, and told me there were two people there to see me, my father and my son. And she knew nothing about me . . . [but] she told me your father is here. She told me his name -- Hebrew name -- and she's a Catholic woman. . . . She said he's here, he died from his heart, [and] your daughter is named after him. She said your son is here, he's very tiny [but his spirit is] shining brightly, [and] his heart is important also because it's turned around backwards, why he died (Weiss' infant son had died of a rare such heart anomaly ten years earlier). And she didn't know any of this.

I can't help but harbor a few questions after dissecting the above recital. Since Weiss now routinely regresses his patients to past lives (and can do so in minutes for any sufficiently suggestible attendees of his advertised $200-a-head Sunday reincarnation "workshops," such as the one on March 5 at the Tampa Sheraton Grand), why did it take so many years to stumble upon his first case? If the spirits of his father and son were present in the "middle ages," why were they not also present "four thousand years ago" or at his patient's other deaths? Why did his infant son's eternal spirit appear as that of a "tiny" infant back in the "middle ages" (that brief lifetime wasn't lived until the 20th century)? Why do the references to his father and son sound suspiciously like "psychic readings" rather than like excited hellos from long-lost loved ones with hundreds or thousands of years of wisdom and gossip to impart? And, given the unreliability of hypnosis in determining truth from fantasy (a dilemma well known to psychiatrists), how can Dr. Weiss (and, for that matter, Dr. Mack) really believe what he claims to believe?

Speaking of "psychic readings," the other "world-renowned expert" on the panel was Ted Andrews, billed as a "super psychic" and "author of more than 15 metaphysical books." As Weiss, sporting the same smile that he exhibits while discussing "past lives," looked on, Andrews proceeded to perform typical "psychometry" readings on several objects handed to him by Fountain.

Before the show, three audience members had volunteered to be regressed to a past life by Andrews. This group session was taped, and a portion of the hypnotic induction was shown. It was easy to see why a suggestible volunteer/patient, wishing to be a "good" hypnotic subject, might confabulate an appropriate story on command, given Andrews' step-by-step instructions:

. . . every muscle and fiber, as the tension leaves and the arms relax. The sound of my voice will relax you more peacefully, and you will continue to hear it. And you notice this [unintelligible] house . . . is divided into cubicles. You find that the face begins to shift a little bit, seems to come to life within that photo, within that portrait. And as you look into the eyes of this figure, you realize that it has your eyes, that it's your eyes that are actually looking out from you, like the eyes are a reflection within a mirror. An individual that is related to the figure within this portrait -- it may be a brother, a sister, a spouse, a friend, a parent, begins to take form within the portrait itself. From what you see or feel, what would you believe them to be?

Weiss clone practicing in Tampa

Tampa psychiatrist Edward Klein, "who has worked extensively with [Dr. Brian Weiss]," was profiled in the March 2 St. Petersburg Times (Tampa edition). Subtitled, "Past life regression therapy has become [his] specialty," the article by Jennifer Rose Marino described Klein's first encounter, ten years ago, with reincarnation:

The psychiatrist sat in his chair. . . . Suddenly his hypnotized patient began to speak in a language he had never heard. [He handed her his] pad and pencil. She stared at the pencil in wonder and asked, "What's that?" He explained that it was a writing tool and demonstrated how to use it. He told her to write down the year. She grasped the pencil in her fist . . . and scrawled the Roman numeral "IV." "Basically, it scared the hell out of me," said [Klein]. . . . "I realized something different was happening. . . . There are things that can't be explained. There's more to life than logical explanations."

In the year 4 A.D., the invention of a calendar referring to the year "4" or "IV" was still about 1000 years away. Dr. Robert O'Hara, professor of linguistics at the University of South Florida, Tampa, informs me that only about 2-3% of the population would have been capable of writing anything (even a simple number), and stated with "100 percent confidence" that Dr. Klein's interpretation of this event is "utter and complete nonsense." But no matter. Klein has written a book, Soul Search: The Healing Possibilities of Past Lives, scheduled for publication in September. Klein is said to have performed "hundreds of past life regressions with patients who come from all over the world to his office. . . . Sessions last one to two hours. . . . It may take three or four sessions to fully regress a participant." (Obviously he is not yet ready to join the $200-a-head "workshop" circuit, where immediate results are a necessity.)

In Susan H. Thompson's March 2 Tampa Tribune article about Dr. Weiss, he says that following his discovery, "I didn't write the [first] book for about four years. I was afraid for my reputation, my career . . ." But despite the popularity of Weiss' message, with nearly 3 million books sold, Dr. Melvin Sabshin, medical director of the American Psychiatric Association, points out in the article that there is no scientific evidence supporting the validity of past life regression which, he says, the APA considers to be "pure quackery."

Big Mack attack at Harvard

Weiss may indeed have reasons for concern about his medical career if the following action sets a trend. The March 1995 issue of Philip J. Klass' Skeptics UFO Newsletter reports that Dr. John Mack's attorney, Daniel P. Sheehan of Los Angeles, has written a letter, dated Feb. 9, to consultants with the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), advising them of the following situation. Klass, who secured a copy from a source, quotes from the letter:

Harvard University has secretly convened a "Special Faculty Committee" to investigate Dr. Mack's work [in the UFO abduction field] . . . chaired by Dr. Arnold S. Relman, the former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine and a recent appointee to the Massachusetts State Board of Medical Examiners. . . . [The Committee] has written its Draft Report of its Findings of Fact against Dr. Mack before Dr. Mack was ever informed of any specific accusations of misconduct. . . . [The report] finds that it is professionally irresponsible for any academic, scholar or practicing psychiatrist to give any credence whatsoever to any personal report of a direct personal contact between a human being and an Extraterrestrial Being until after the person . . . has been subjected to every possible available battery of standard psychological tests which might conceivably explain the report as the product of some known form of clinical psychosis. . . . To communicate, in any way whatsoever, to a person who has reported a "close encounter" with an Extraterrestrial life form that this experience might well have been real . . . is professionally irresponsible. . . . The Committee [Finds] that such conduct on the part of Dr. John Mack was "in violation of the standards of conduct expected of a member of the faculty of Harvard University."

Sheehan's letter further warns that unless the Draft Report is changed before being formalized, it might later be submitted to the State Board of Medical Examiners as a formal complaint of malpractice against Dr. Mack.

This article appeared in the Spring 1995 Tampa Bay Skeptics Report.

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