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Mediumship and Mental Illness

PSI’s Emma Llewes looks at the role of context in paranormal experience. Head in Hands

Chris, 34, from Swansea, cradles a cup of coffee and says “I receive divine information. Prophecies. Predictions of the future. Big changes are afoot. Mankind will face big challenges.”

Sam, 27, from Peterborough, sits back and reports “Yes, the angels visit me and give me signs that they have been. I find feathers; it’s their way of saying they are watching over me. My guides protect me and direct me.”

Sam is sitting in a psychic development circle in the local spiritualist church. Chris is detained under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act in a secure hospital.

The context in which reports are made can and do affect the way in which reports are handled and the credibility which is cast on the information given. Sam and Chris’ statements could easily be made in either of the above situations. In Sam’s psychic development circle the context is correct for the public sharing of that kind of information; therefore little attention is drawn to it. As Chris sits in the dayroom of the secure hospital and chats with other patients and care workers, it may be thought that the content of Chris’ conversation goes someway towards supporting his detention under the Mental Health Act.

Put Chris into Sam’s development circle and he is warmly welcomed as someone sharing similar beliefs and ideologies as the other people in the group. Put Sam in a situation outside those which welcome spiritual reporting and people may think that she is having delusions or hallucinations, perhaps indicating psychosis or schizophrenia. When receiving reports it is important that we consider the context in which they are reported and received, but it is equally important that we are able to remove contextual bias in order to effectively consider the information.