This article was written in response to a question I was asked. A woman contacted our group and reported that her daughter had been admitted to an in-patient psychiatric facility for the treatment of bipolar disorder--a mental illness--and though the doctor had given her medications to stop the hallucinations she was experiencing, she continued to see full-bodied apparitions, and was reportedly was communicating with them. The woman asked me how to tell the difference between hallucinations caused by her daughters mental illness and real spirits that may haunt their home and the grounds of the mental hospital.
Having some background in the medical field, mental illness, cognitive psychology, vision, and--of course--ghost hunting--this was a question that I was willing to address. The answer was very clear to me, and my answer was roughly as follows:
"The most important issue is your daughter's medical and mental health. You are doing exactly what you need to do at the moment, seek the appropriate care from someone who is qualified to provide it. The question of seeing spirits is secondary to your daughters needs at the time. Though anything is possible, many individuals report seeing apparitions, and perhaps even communicating with them, and yet they are still able to function in day-to-day life. "
"I can't stress enough that it is up to the medical and mental health professionals to diagnose and treat any underlying problems first. At some point in the future, it may be possible to fully explore a possible paranormal angle to what your daughter is experiencing, but now is not the time. "
"In my opinion, you are doing everything possible to support your daughter in this difficult time. Is it possible that your daughter is seeing and communicating with apparitions and spirits? Yes, however, since your daughter has been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, your focus should be on the treatment necessary secondary to this diagnosis as recommended by qualified professionals. I would be very leery of any unqualified individual--be it a psychic, ghost hunter, or other--who suggests that your daughter has been misdiagnosed and is a victim of the medical establishment, i.e. a sensitive young lady that is only being persecuted and treated for a wonderful gift she has. The doctors treating your daughter are medical and mental health professionals with extensive training and experience based on an accepted body of scientific knowledge. Psychics and ghost hunters don't fall within this category, and you don't want to risk your daughter's health by following the advice of some misguided crackpot."
"In time, we may come to a place where a person is treated more holistically, i.e. spiritual, metaphysical, and other needs are comprehensively addressed, at the same time that someone's medical needs are taken care of. There are indications that we are moving in that direction considering the use of energy-centered treatments, massage therapy, acupuncture, and other forms of treatment that have been used throughout human history, but that--in general--western medicine has been slow to accept, but at this time, I want to stress you are doing the right thing. The fact that you even asked this question tells me that you are heavily involved in, and committed to your daughter's well-being."
So, did I give her the right advice? I believe that I did. Visual hallucinations, though relatively rare, can be caused by a wide variety of medical conditions ranging from the relatively benign to the very lethal, and I would hazard that most ghost hunters and psychics aren't qualified to diagnose these conditions. Leading someone down a path that interferes with their treatment for a legitimate medical condition can result in some very serious consequences. Since most of us aren't practicing doctors or nurses, however, there probably isn't much liability involved based on the advice we give as paranormal investigators. Regardless of how you feel about these areas of expertise based on your personal experiences, we do have to acknowledge that the fields of mental health diagnosis and treatment, and medical science are established bodies of knowledge based on scientific research. Ghost hunting and paranormal experiences are not.
The diagnosis and treatment of any complex medical condition is often compared to peeling an onion. There are many layers. Also, in general, you treat the most serious condition first. I can relate this to my experiences in the diagnosis and treatment of medically-based vision disorders. I've treated child after child that was having trouble reading due to vision problems. Sometimes, these children had seen doctor after doctor, and therapist after therapist, in an attempt to treat their learning/reading problems. Once a vision disorder was diagnosed, I was able to treat it with a high degree of efficacy, and eliminate it as a potential source or factor contributing to the child's learning/reading problems. In some cases, vision was the only problem. In other cases, vision was a component, but one that could be treated. Once treated, since the majority of learning is visually-based (no offense to my non-sighted friends reading this), the child was much more able to benefit from other treatments and therapies such as reading therapy, occupational therapy, and classroom interventions/modifications.
The point is that in the case of hallucinations, we need to look for a medical cause first. Once any underlying medical and mental health conditions are treated, perhaps then we can explore the paranormal aspects of the issue.
I encourage all team members to respond to questions we receive if they have anything valuable and relevant to offer. But, due to past experiences with individuals whom I consider ignorant and self-serving, I monitor responses in certain cases very closely.
Consider the following scenario:
A team members response is to immediately begin doing historical research on the area, and excitedly relay the fact that there is some history that indicated that the mental hospital had been built near the site of an old French/native American battleground, indicating the possibility that there may be spirits of this ethnic group on the property.
Subsequently relaying this information to the mother would be, in my opinion, very inappropriate and possibly detrimental to her daughters care. Suggesting, that yes, there is a possible paranormal cause to the visions the daughter is experiencing, and, thus, implying that the doctors were treating a paranormal experience as a mental illness could set up a conflict between the mother and her daughter's treatment team--based on what?--the historical research and insinuations of an amateur ghost hunter with no experience or interest in the well-being of the individual which generated the original question?
Does everyone who sees a full-bodied apparition need to go to the doctor for a CT scan? I don't believe so, especially if there is a documented paranormal history associated with the location, the apparition is that of a recently deceased loved one--the most common type of apparition according to some research--or the person has a life long history of such experiences. Of course, there are multiple factors involved in making such a judgment, but realize, that as paranormal investigators, we may have to address this question with our clients.
For myself, I have seen an apparition on one occasion...of a loved one that had passed relatively recently. And I have heard and seen some strange phenomena. Of course, if you catch it on tape, its not a hallucinating is it? However, if I suddenly began seeing apparitions frequently and it was impacting my life in the form of lack of sleep or other way detrimental to my health or my ability to function, I would be making an appointment with a doctor ASAP, and not depend on a ghost hunter with an EMF detector to diagnose my problem.
Bobby Elgee; Sights Unseen Paranormal