At the United Paranormal International website (unitedparanormalinternational.ning.com), a member recently posed an excellent question: most paranormal groups claim to offer clients “help,” but what really is this “help?” The question goes to the heart of paranormal research and is one I’ve been contemplating for some time. What “help” can paranormal groups really offer to clients? I’m sure many will not like my answer: not much.
Groups’ claims of assistance, while generally well-intended, often go far beyond factual reality. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying paranormal groups are pointless. Instead, I think we need to be clear on our limitations. We need to recognize what we truly can and cannot accomplish. I believe the only legitimate “help” falls into the categories of so-called “debunking” and support.
I personally dislike the term “debunking” since it seems to have a negative connotation. Instead I prefer the wordier (but I believe more accurate) “seeking natural explanations for suspected ‘paranormal’ activity.” I think this is one of the most important “helps” a group can provide clients. A legitimate paranormal group should be well-versed in indentifying “normal” things which can mimic the “paranormal,” for example high EMF, faulty plumbing, poor or aging construction and so forth. An important function of a legitimate group involves educating a client on these types of things which at first glance appear “mysterious,” but actually have perfectly natural causes.
The other area of “help” involves support. It’s in this area of “support” where many groups over-sell their ability to “help.” We are dealing with the unknown. The very best we can accomplish is verifying a reported activity has no apparent explanation. However, simply because we don’t find an immediate explanation, doesn’t mean it’s automatically “paranormal.” The best we can do is verify for the client that something without an apparent “natural” explanation is happening. We can reassure the client that he or she isn’t imagining the activity. I believe this is a great service in itself since many times people feel better simply knowing it’s not “all in their head.”
We cannot prove the existence of the paranormal. It bothers me when a certain television program constantly tells people their site is “haunted” (the same show took a much more realistic and cautious approach in its early seasons by claiming only that “unexplained” activity was present). We can document anomalies which point to the possibility of something unexplained happening, however, as mortals, we cannot “prove” existence of the spirit world.
Similarly, we cannot legitimately claim to “cleanse” locations. First, any sort of “cleansing” is a belief-system based activity and not fact. As a belief-system based activity, its success or failure has much more to do with the belief-system of the affected person than with the belief-system of any particular group. Second, if we assume entities in need of “cleansing” are spiritual beings, as mortals in the material world, we are sadly deluding ourselves if we believe we have any sort of power over these entities.
One area of support I rarely see mentioned involves referring people to professional medical assistance. There are numerous medical and psychological conditions which can mimic the paranormal. The Catholic Church refuses to even consider exorcism until a person undergoes a full medical evaluation to eliminate that possibility first. Yet, some groups apparently believe they can handle such things on their own. No amount of “investigation” or “cleansing” will help if there’s an untreated medical condition as the underlying cause. We do no “help” by playing into people’s delusions. Most of us are not medical professionals and we have absolutely no business playing doctor or psychologist, but I believe we do have an obligation to seek this help for those we believe need it.
So there you have it. What help can paranormal groups legitimately offer? They can help clients discover “normal” explanations for apparent “paranormal” activity. They can also offer clients support when activity is discovered with no apparent “normal” explanation. “Cleansings,” “proving” hauntings, even identifying specific “ghosts” I believe all go beyond our legitimate capabilities – at least at the present time.