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The Professional Investigator?

PSI’s Dave Wood looks at just what people mean when they claim to be ‘professional paranormal investigators’.

The term professional seems to be of great importance to many paranormal investigators. Many groups who are dismayed at the inappropriate behaviour of others will describe themselves as ‘professional’ to set them apart from these transgressors. To reassure potential clients that they will ‘get on with the job’ and not run around seeking the thrills. Why then do so many people in the field get annoyed at investigators describing themselves as professional? What does professional mean, anyway?

Is professional an adjective? ‘To be a professional’. The Chambers Dictionary defines a professional as ‘belong to a profession’, ‘a non-manual occupation requiring some degree of training’, ‘undertaken as a means of subsistence’. Clearly under this definition most paranormal investigators are not ‘professional’. Even in the rare case of someone ‘making a living’ of investigating, they tend to be event managers rather than investigators. Similarly most investigators are not trained, although a professional trainer trains PSI investigators. Conversely an amateur is described as someone who takes part in something ‘for the love of it’, ‘not as a profession’. This clearly is more applicable to most paranormal investigators.

However, what if professional is a noun? ‘To display professionalism?’ Chambers defines ‘the competence … of those who are highly trained or disciplined’. Under this definition the term professionalism seems more suitable to paranormal investigators who are trained or who display discipline in their work. Similarly, as investigator is not a profession in itself, it is a composite of other trades and disciplines. A group may have its professionalism comprised of people who are professional researchers, professional event managers, professional interviewers or managerial professionals.

Conversely to be amateurish is defined as engaging in something which is ‘done imperfectly and defectively’. Depending on the investigators in question this may be the last thing that would describe them. This brings us back to the need for the definition. Few investigators describe themselves as professional for the status of the label, it is more often to set themselves as different from ‘imperfect and defective’ amateurs, where professionalism and amateurishness are dialectically opposed.

So who is wrong or right? Clearly those who cling to the definition of a profession as one belonging to the ‘old’ professions is out of date. Those who insist a professional is one who is paid describes the noun – ‘he is a professional investigator’. The converse is the adjective – ‘they display professionalism’.

So both are right depending on the context. For those on the outside wondering about the credibility of a paranormal group, look for those who claim to be a ‘professional team’ or a ‘team displaying professionalism’ rather than those claiming to be ‘a team of professionals’.

Of course in an unregulated field like paranormal research, groups can describe themselves as anything they wish whether they are or not. The important thing to question a group about is their evidence of conduct, ethics and methodology. Any paranormal investigation group must prove to you it deserves the label it carries.