This is part of Mindstream’s editorial package on Parapsychology Research, highlighting findings and discussion from the Parapsychological Association’s 2023 convention.

By Liza Horan

Parapsychological researchers are going beyond investigating the what and how of psi phenomena by identifying how to integrate their findings to improve health care, and by exploring the readiness of mediums to professionalizing their vocation.

The study and practice of the mysteries surrounding human phenomena have existed for millennia. What was once reserved for the domains of philosophy and religion is now spread across a variety of disciplines, from neuroscience (medical) and mental health (psychology) to beliefs (sociology, philosophy) and unseen forces like energy and healing (quantum physics, spirituality).

Parapsychology usually sits within the psychology department at a university, but it can be woven into other major areas of study. The PA has a list of universities that offer parapsychology, plus a Mentorship programme. The Society for Scientific Exploration offers a student membership, and The Scientific & Medical Network’s New Paradigm Explorers is a community for young people, undergraduates, post-graduates and early-career professionals to connect and learn about studying and working in consciousness studies.

The research community gathered at the PA convention revealed itself to be a collegial, cooperative and interdisciplinary niche, exhibiting scientific rigour and warm-heartedness equally. For a topic that, ultimately, offers evidence of human interconnectedness beyond the physical, it was affirming to feel and see this in action. These are academics, Ph.D. candidates, Master’s students, independent researchers, and professional colleagues who have bucked the security of “safe” topics of study and work to focus on this “frontier science” of parapsychology. They are quick to admit that there is more acceptance for what they do among peers than within their own university departments.

The Parapsychological Association and like organisations are part of a large and longtime campaign under way to shift the bias of materialist science toward a more open and exploratory oeuvre. More than 450 scientists, professionals, doctors, and thought leaders have signed the “Manifesto for a Post-Materialist Science,” which challenges conventional scientific dogma that “the mind is nothing but the physical activity of the brain.” The Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences and The Galileo Commission share this mission.

In addition to demystifying psi phenomena, the community is working to normalize the topic in general and to integrate it with other disciplines.

Researchers say that people experiencing “exceptional” or “anomalous” or “paranormal” phenomena may experience negative emotions — such as fear, shame or confusion — if they don’t understand what’s happening, don’t feel safe sharing the experience with others, and don’t know there’s an evidence base for it. As a discipline, parapsychology is not yet understood by clinical psychologists or others in the medical field. This means people having mystifying experiences often don’t know where to turn for information or support and, worse, they may get falsely diagnosed for a natural experience.

The fear of sharing is real.

“Normalization is really important. So many people still can’t talk about their experiences,” University of West Georgia (U.S.) Psychology Professor Dr. Christine Simmonds-Moore shared. “Even two years ago when I did a ghost survey, I had many people grateful for the survey to be able to express themselves for the first time. Research can help because people are able to share their experiences and realise, Oh, there’s a label for this! This is not something that necessarily means I’m suffering from a mental health issue.”

The gap between natural psi experiences and mental health care may be attributed to a lack of education on this topic for clinicians and therapists.

“Most [negative] effects people feel after an anomalous experience comes from the reaction of others or your expectations about how others will react. And, unfortunately, that’s currently being reinforced by medical and mental health professionals because they’re unconfident about supporting people as they disclose these kinds of experiences for fear of endorsing what they see as delusional beliefs. But, in fact, all the client wants is … just to be heard; to be taken seriously, to be respected as a human being,” says psychology professor Dr. Chris A. Roe of the University of Northampton’s (U.K.) Exceptional Experiences & Consciousness Studies Research Group. “The more we can do to support that, the better. The onus is on us (in parapsychology) … to make sure that we reach out to those communities and translate what it is we do in accessible language so that they have a foundation to be able to support people in the way that they want to.”

Research by Dr. Elizabeth Roxburgh, senior psychology lecturer at Canterbury Christ University (U.K.), showed that patients want the topic normalized in conversation about health and they want information on seeking the right therapist or practitioner for support. She also found that trainee therapists want to learn about working with those who have anomalous experiences within the academic curriculum, and that working therapists would like exposure to this topic.

Some efforts to close the gap between parapsychology and the medical field include an IONs research project that pairs medical intuitives with physicians to help inform causes of disease and treatment plans; and The Emergent Phenomenology Research Consortium, which is devoted to de-pathologizing spiritual and psi experiences among clinicians to improve healthcare treatment and outcomes.

Beyond the research field, the larger industry around parapsychology includes practitioners (healers, mediums or spiritual professionals); business products and services for the trade, which ranges from professional associations to insurance providers; and the public, enthusiasts who participates in psi on their own or the products and services of professionals. All aspects show a growth trend. Still, psi professions suffer from a credibility issue in wider society due to the lack of government oversight.

Dr. Siri Zemel’s research at IONS shows an appetite among the U.S. workforce of mediums and channelers to professionalise the vocation. This could mean an agreed set of research, training and/or certification; the crafting of ethical standards and scope of practice guidelines; and the formation of a not-for-profit professional association; among other developments. “Ethical responsibility” was their top concern.

In the UK, the field of psychic mediumship and healing is self-regulated by such organisations as the Spiritualist National Union and the British Alliance of Healing Associations. There are rules and mechanisms for consumer protection.

The industry stands to grow as the research community surfaces its evidence to a wider audience, practitioners professionalise the field, and the public speaks more openly about psi phenomena.

View the Parapsychology Research package main page


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