The Fear Doctor

Some time ago, never mind exactly when, I was sitting with a psychologist who was a prominent member of the American Psychological Association.  I was surprised by her visit, because I have had to battle against the close-mindedness of some psychologists and academics for as long as I can remember.  It should be noted, however, that after "Paranormal State" aired, I started receiving e-mails on a regular basis from scientists, psychologists, psychiatrists and other medical/scientific professionals who were believers in paranormal research.  They feared, however, being open about their beliefs because they believed it would cost them their job. 

This psychologist, on the other hand, wasn't concerned about any of that.  In fact, she acknowledged that there is a stigma, or a prejudice, within the scientific community against anyone who believed in the possibility of supernatural phenomenon.  I argued with her - and she agreed - that there are more in the field who believe than don't.  If only more of them would come out about it, I argued.  But she had something else on her mind.

It started off by her asking me, "what do you do, exactly, when you investigate these claims?"  I was a bit puzzled.  After all, she sought me out, so in theory she must've seen my show or at least Google'd me.  Nevertheless, I tried to explain to her what I did as best as I could. 

"Well, when I get a case request from someone or from a family seeking help, we do intake evaluations," I explained, trying as best as I could to use lingo that she was familiar with within her own field.  I absolutely believe a lot of what I do is not unlike a counselor or psychologist, at least in the beginning stages.  "We talk with them, interview other eye-witnesses, try to piece together exactly what THEY think is going on.  It's not always easy.  Whenever we talk with clients, they're all over the place.  And then there's the emotional/psychological aspect."

She asked me to elaborate.

"Well, almost always, the client is frightened.  And due to that fear, they are put in a particular state of mind.  If at the time of the call they just encountered something terrifying, they are definitely all over the place and panicked.  And when we show up, one of the first things we have to do is assess the environment."

"But where do the ghosts come in," she asked?  "You talk a lot about the clients, but how do you get to the part in dealing with the anomalies?"

"Well, that depends.  Every case is unique.  Sometimes certain cases fall under a structure we've come across enough to where we see certain patterns.  But a lot of times our first job is to help get the clients in a comfortable setting.  And it's my belief that they [the client] hold the key as to why they're being haunted."

I explained to her, or rather asked her a hypothetical: why is this family experiencing phenomenon in a 50-year-old house where, all the previous owners never reported ever experiencing anything?  And even in a home where previous owners have all had experiences, why did the client choose this house?  Why is it affecting them more?  I also explained that, contrary to popular belief, most hauntings we investigate involve locations where there isn't a history of paranormal phenomenon.  Yet, the house may still have some sort of traumatic event that occurred there, like a murder.  But three or four families will have lived in that house without ever experiencing anything.

So, why this client?  Why them?  Why now? 

"Often, the answers lie within the clients themselves," I explained.  Lorraine Warren and her late husband, Ed, called it "The Law Of Attraction."  I explained to the psychologist that we've tried to explore this theory and so far, at least within our world, it's held up.  That people often attract the unexplained.  Not always.  Sometimes the house is indeed haunted with or without anyone there.  Bigfoot will march across the forest whether someone is there to snap a picture or not.  But often, with spirits, it seems, there's meaning there.  Even in poltergeist phenomenon, as Dr. Ian Stevenson pointed out, there tends to be a deep-rooted psychological or emotional trauma that triggers the phenomenon.

"Whether it's paranormal or not is often irrelevant.  We can hook up cameras and all the tech toys all damn day, but in the end, we're trying to solve a mystery.  Why are they being haunted?  By whom?"

"And how do you determine that," she asked?

"Honestly, I don't always know.  I guess it starts with what they claim they've experienced and then exploring why they believe they experienced it.  You see, they can be a family that has experienced the paranormal for ten years.  If we go in there for just a week and don't find any activity, we can't tell them that there isn't any, or that it's all in their heads.  We've been there for only a fraction of the time.  Paranormal phenomenon that they witness is so random, and rarely active on a daily basis.  And if it is, it usually centers on someone."

"So how do you solve a case, then?"

"We try to pinpoint what they're afraid of.  Even if it turns out to be, in theory, a benevolent spirit, you have to admit that if you're walking in to your bedroom and you see an apparition appear before you and they're wearing 19th Century clothing, and then they just vanish, that that'd scare you."

She agreed that it would.

"So most of our cases that we respond to come with the belief that there's a real threat.  Real, imagined or perhaps explainable.  But they're still scared.  If there's a spirit there and it's causing the family to be scared, our theory is that the house now belongs to the living, and if there are spirits, then there should be some other place for them to go.  We don't treat every alleged spirit as malevolent, even if the clients believe them to be.  And then sometimes the spirits have definitely done things to frighten them, like poke them or move things around them.  This is the living families house now, and so there's a conflict.  And we have to resolve that conflict."

"And what exactly is the conflict?"  I had to give this psychologist credit, she was great at catching areas where I was being vague or general.  She certainly made me think hard.  After all, rarely do I get asked in such great detail, to explain what I do.  I'm now known all over the world for being a paranormal investigator, so usually people just come to me with their stories, or ask what my scariest case is, etc.  But not this lady.

"The conflict?" I responded.  I took a moment to think about it.  "Well, it's fear.  They're frightened.  Intimidated.  They didn't sign up to host a house full of spirits.  They want to get along with their lives.  Sometimes there isn't anything there but they believe it because they're scared of something else.  Like God punishing them or the Devil.  No matter what, they're afraid."

"So is it safe to say that fear is the symptom and if they're no longer afraid and living healthy, normal lives, then you would consider that solving a case, or at least successfully resolving a case?"

I hadn't thought of it so clinically, but thinking about it, I thought that was a great way of putting it.  If we find evidence of a malevolent spirit, and we deal with it, and we bring in a priest to do an exorcism.  Or a medium to convince the spirit to move on.  Or we explain to the client that there may be another reason and we deal with the "real-world" issues... well, I can't imagine the clients suddenly being happy and content if they're still being thrown around by a malevolent spirit.  So I suppose the exorcism worked.  Or the cleansing worked.  Or just getting them to understand or educating them gets them to overcome their fears and now life returns to normal... I suppose that's the best indicator that the issue, paranormal or not, has been resolved.

With that said, I responded, "yeah, I guess that's exactly how you can put it. "

"So, you're some kind of fear doctor."

This time it was I who asked for an elaboration.

"Well," she said, "your work mainly entails dealing with people who believe they are victims of the supernatural and they are afraid.  Once you deal with their fear, be it real or imagined, whether it's a demon or a spirit, then you've eliminated the symptoms and now they are fine.  Fear is the symptom, and you try to determine what type of Fear it is, and you have your methods of treating it, and once it's gone, your work is done.  You're like a doctor.  Only you specialize in fear."

I had never thought of it that way.  I'm a fear doctor.  Sounds slightly shamanistic.  Only I don't perform house blessings or exorcisms.  If I am the doctor, as she said, then bringing in a priest would almost be my version of writing out a prescription or treatment for that specific fear.  And unlike a shaman, who is arguably brought in to consult with matters that are always otherworldly, if we find no reason to believe that anything paranormal is happening, or that it may be something else like mental illness, trouble dealing with the loss of a loved one, we bring in counselors, psychiatrists, etc.  Much like a doctor putting in a referral for you to see a specialist.

Yes, the symptom is fear.  And my job often is to determine what exactly that entails.  And then we try to solve it.  Resolve it.  And move on.

I was afraid when I was young.  Sometimes all it takes is someone willing to listen.  Sometimes more drastic methods are needed.  I wear different hats.  I'm an investigator, a counselor, and at the end of the day, it's my job to decide how to go about resolving the case for the client.

Before the psychologist left, she urged me to seriously consider getting my Ph.D in clinical psychology.  She was very serious and hoped I'd pursue it.  I asked her why.  "Because you're already a great psychologist, Ryan, you're just missing the degree."

So I've been considering it.  In the mean time, some may find the term cheesy, or self-serving.  Almost as if I've opened up my own university (Buell-U!) and have taken it upon myself to declare myself so great of an expert that I may as well be a doctor!  For the record, I don't have any definitive answers when it comes to the paranormal.  As an investigator, all I can do is use my experience and my resources to do what I can.  Much like a doctor, using the advances in medicine and their knowledge to treat a patient with a disease.

Only in this realm, there is no degree nor official board to certify experts in the field of paranormal investigation.  So, I consider her name for me a term of endearment, as well as one that suggests promise.  One that needs continued work.  A doctor is not an expert for life.  They call it "practicing medicine" for a reason.  They practice. 

So... why the name fear doctor?  I guess it's the best way to describe what I do and who I am.  And all the dangers and responsibilities that go with it.