Any famous, contemporary haunting will be trumpeted by both advocates: “It’s real! I saw it!” and naysayers “Hokum! No such thing as ghosts. You imagined it all.”
A fundamental problem is that it may well be impossible to prove the existence of ghosts. We use scientific methodology to chase psycho-spiritual phenomena. Something inevitably gets lost in that translation. And, instead of paying attention to the witness, we may have preconceived notions about what we think he saw, and we let those block us from hearing what he’s trying to describe.
Most ghost stories are shared by people who truly experienced something. There are so many sightings. If all the witnesses were residents of mental hospitals, or on drugs, that would be one thing. But they’re not. For the most part, they are everyday folk who’ve stubbed toes on the inexplicable. They are puzzled. They may be frightened. They don’t know where to go for support.
Ghost hunting telecasts may not offer much, therapeutically: they may provide sensationalized accounts, sometimes filmed in the Blair Witch style – via jerky hand-held camera. We hear plenty of “OMG!” but never see for ourselves what the ghost hunters supposedly do. There are shadows and sounds, but so what? Most houses have those.
What about the church, you ask. What indeed. The church, which should offer triage for spiritual fears, in fact often brushes them off, minimizes them, or blames the victim “Now, now Mr. Jones . . .” It may be more difficult to run for office than to qualify for exorcism, or even short of that, to find and obtain the specialized kind of spiritual/emotional care needed. It takes open-minded, educated clergy. We are no longer a culture in which everyone attends church: far from it. So while that may be a resource for some, many won’t go there for help.
Psychology specialists’ approach is often a diagnosis of some emotional or mental dysfunction. The very idea that independent ghostly phenomena exists and was experienced may not be accepted. It can be written off as delusion, subconscious, “waking dream,” etc. Again, the kind of psychology professional who is attuned and can be of real support to people experiencing the inexplicable does exist – but like clergy who are able to be of genuine help, they may be a select island in a sea of naysayers.
My take is that ghosts exist, regardless of our recognition that they do (or don’t). They exist whether we see them or not (in many cases, one individual in the room sees or hears something, the others miss it). Witnesses deserve support, and if requested, assistance. They don’t deserve to be confronted with doubts, negativity, minimizing, or explaining away what occurred. Would you do that to a victim of other traumatizing events? Of course not. A comparison might be a victim of a home invasion: this person feels a sense of invasion, as well as loss of personal property. A person who’s experienced paranormal phenomena may feel spiritually/psychologically invaded, and may experience a loss of certainty/security.
The motivation of those supporting the person who’s seen ghosts (ideally, clergy, psychology and medical professionals) should be to support the witness, and to work towards his health and peace of mind and spirit. They should not be there in order to gain anything personally (book, internet, or movie fame), nor to “disprove” or “debunk” the paranormal, nor to use it as a ladder to participate in that exorcism one always wanted to perform, or some new therapy. It’s not about them. The individual(s) who experienced the ghost deserve quality support without strings.
It may help to take this out of context. If you got sick, you’d go to the doctor without having to be part of his research project (unless he has your consent). If you call in a gardener for your yard, you expect him to clean up the weeds, not to tell you the weeds are all in your mind.
What kind of help might be valuable, what might be detrimental, what’s ethical, and what keeps the matter centered on the witness and what he experienced rather than hijacking it for other purposes?
I used to assist in ethical inquiries in difficult hospital cases: we had to consider things like beneficence (will it do the patient good?), maleficence (will it be harmful to the patient?), justice (is it fair?), autonomy (the patient’s right to decide). These are good criteria for working with those who have encountered the unexplainable, too, whether you are a doctor, clergy, a counselor or psychologist, or a friend.
Like cancer patients or lepers, people who witness paranormal phenomena can victimized. They may be told they must have somehow invited the event, or that they are in some way to blame. The outcome is that people may be reluctant to share what they’ve seen: they don’t want to be labeled as dysfunctional or crazy.
While ghosts and other odd phenomena have been reported for as long as mankind has been telling stories round campfires, such tales are relegated to the rubbish heap in modern times. We don’t buy it. We bring in magnetometers, EVP recorders and other devices to “prove” the existence of ghosts when all these may prove is that the equipment picks up something – not precisely what it detects.
Our go-to position often, sadly, is to discredit the witnesses. That’s wrong: they’re just reporting what they’ve experienced. Monday morning quarterbacking isn’t helpful: you weren’t there, you don’t know what took place. Picking it apart later disrespects the witness (as well as demonstrating narrow-mindedness). It may well be that we cannot explain what happened: so don’t try to unless you’ve been asked for your thoughts.
I hope these thoughts are helpful for both those experiencing paranormal phenomena and for those who may be called in to support them. They can be summed up as follows:
- Be of support to the witness
- Don’t pass judgment on the event, don’t diminish the experience or the viewer
- Don’t blame the witness
- Don’t assess the phenomena unless you are asked to and have some knowledge in the field.
- For someone traumatized, seek qualified and open-minded professionals (but not so open-minded their brains fall out): clergy, psychology/counseling, parapsychologists, medical, etc.
- In working with those who have experienced ghosts, be ethical: do good, don’t do anything that might cause harm, allow them a say in their fate/how you proceed.
- Be sensitive
- Be kind
For more ghosts, please see: https://www.amazon.com/Jan-Olandese/e/B071FK9L75