Shedding light on ghostly phenomena
At this time every year, stories about things that go bump in the night abound. So-called "haunted" houses open to give those who dare to enter them some harmless chills, and television channels show scary movies so people can be frightened in the safety of their own homes.
But October is also the month when tales of real haunted places -- hotels, lighthouses, mansions and other buildings with deceased residents living there and trying to communicate with the living -- appear on television or in the media.
Many people believe that these ghosts exist. TV's "Dr. Phil" -- psychologist Philip McGraw -- mentioned on one of his shows last December that more than 60 percent of Americans have said that they have felt some connection or communication with a deceased person. He added that he's among those who have communicated with the dead, without the assistance of a psychic or medium.
University of North Texas professor Janice Holden is also among those who believe. Holden, a professor of counseling, development and higher education, has studied life-after-death communication, as well as near-death experiences, for many years.
"In the field of transpersonal psychology, seeing dead people is referred to as ‘after-death communication' -- ADC for short," Holden says. "ADC occurs in one of two ways: through a medium or directly."
Holden says almost all of those who have experienced ADC communicated with someone they loved. She notes the communication can range from something subtle, like finding a perfect dead butterfly a few days after attending the funeral of someone in which butterflies played a significant role, to something very overt, such as seeing an apparition of the deceased person and experiencing direct communication from the apparition.
Holden says researchers use Induced After-Death Communication, or IADC, to assist those who wish to reconnect with those who are deceased.
The procedure, developed by Allan Botkin, retired clinical psychologist at the VA Medical Center in North Chicago, Ill., involves having a person who is grieving the death of a loved one to move his or her eyes in a particular rhythmic fashion. The movement causes the person's brain to enter a higher processing mode, where he or she can confront a traumatic memory. During the therapy, people have reported communicating with dead loved ones. They also shared some of the same experiences reported by those who have had near-death experiences.
Holden examines the incidence, effectiveness and uniqueness of IADC to help those who are bereaved. She hopes to eventually study if ADC used through a psychic or medium is also helpful in resolving grief.
Contacting the dead through mediums and psychics, instead of waiting for communication to come from those deceased, is hardly a modern day innovation. Dr. Stephanie Hawkins, UNT assistant professor of English, says that between 1880 and the end of World War I, contacting mediums and attending séances was common among ordinary people in the U.S. and Britain.
"In that era, séances were viewed as popular parlor entertainment as well as studied by respected scientists and intellectuals," she says.
Hawkins points to psychologists throughout history who have thought that visions of mediums may in fact be a "genuine realm of natural phenomena."
She adds that notable scientists and others during the 1880s were fascinated by the possibility that human powers of vision extend beyond the spiritual realm
Belief in ghosts is "something that never goes out of style," Hawkins says.
It might not go out of style, but Dr. Joe Barnhart, UNT professor of philosophy and religion studies, questions the existence of ghosts.
Barnhart says that because talk of the supernatural is often controversial, he'd like a more rigorous theory to test the existence of after-death communication.
"We know there are liars in the world who intend to deceive people," he says. "Some people say they talk to people on the other side, and they may or may not be lying about this."
He says that because human are a species highly susceptible to wishful thinking, the testing of supernatural phenomenon needs to be very specific.
"We just need to conduct much more specific study about the existence of ghosts," he says. "Theories of people living after death have not been articulated in details. We need to ask more questions about this."
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