Educating Mental Health Professionals
By John S. Carpenter, MSW, LCSW
A number of UFO researchers and MUFON investigators seem puzzled over the recent drive to elicit professional help from those working in the mental health field. “Abductees aren’t crazy, so why do they need shrinks?” ...or, “They may mean well to help, but they just don’t know what they’re doing in terms of UFO research!”...or, “They will keep precious data and not let us know what they are learning due to claims of confidentially protecting the client.” ...or, “They will push us out of our research, claiming that we are not professionals and tell witnesses not to talk with us.”
Okay, everybody take a nice deep breath...and calm down. First of all, UFO investigators have plenty of work to do on their own. Secondly, very few mental health professionals have the time or desire to do all of the fieldwork and investigative follow-up that researchers have been accustomed to performing over many years. Thirdly, and of greatest importance, is the level of involvement and intensity to which UFO encounters have evolved. No longer are simple lights or objects in the sky the main concern. Detailed descriptions of UFO observations do not even begin to involve the human emotions in the same manner as do peculiar periods of amnesia, insomnia, odd and unprecedented dream images, and anxieties allegedly connected with actual contact with UFO crews.
Any occasion or event which disturbs human emotions and the regular processes of coping is going to fall under a need for professional assessment and guidance. This does not mean that the witness is mentally ill. Any disturbance in an individual’s normal coping process may be helped more effectively and efficiently through some form of professional intervention. Post Traumatic Stress Disorders are an excellent demonstration of this disturbance in an individual’s everyday routine which overwhelms and derails their usual methods of coping.
It is true that most mental health professionals do not have an in-depth comprehension of ufology’s most pressing questions or research needs. Of course these would be secondary to treating the individual’s needs and symptoms, anyway. But in treating the UFO abductee the mental health professional is naturally going to hear much UFO data; unavoidably, he or she will become a container for this unusual information. Many UFO researchers have likewise found themselves consoling upset and confused persons without really desiring to be thrown into the counseling role. At this point in time it seems that both roles need each other in the infancy phase of this emerging exploration of a new frontier of experiences.
The mental health professional should confidentially manage the emotional issues while the UFO researcher helps to comprehend and correlate the content of the experiences. The professional is ultimately in charge of the person’s well-being, progress, comfort, and rate of exploration. The researcher can help educate the professional as to data patterns and key questions that may actually unlock further emotional needs. The mental health professional suggests what is most helpful for the person at all times.
Confidentiality is very important and overrides any desires of any other MUFON personnel who feel they want to watch or ask questions in addition to the principal investigator. Investigators must remember that they are “guests” who have been allowed to observe a private and personal therapeutic session only at the invitation and comfort level of the subject. The subject ultimately determines who is present and what is allowed to happen in terms of recording, videotaping, or stating a preference for name-changes or anonymity. The confidential rights of the individual override any interpretation of MUFON policy about record-keeping or public reporting. The subject’s investigator is a “silent partner” in that he does not verbalize questions during hypnosis but writes his thoughts and ideas down on paper for the hypnotist to see and consider using. Both roles must be played by serious, responsible, sensitive, and non-judgmental persons. The researcher can learn much about the human condition and the depth of the emotional realm within human beings from such professional participation.
But a much greater problem now exists. There are thousands of confused and curious citizens who are quietly asking for help. They are unknowingly overwhelming researchers with many questions and needs that should include this necessary participation of mental health professionals. The problem is that very few mental health processionals have become actively involved. There are many who are curious and even sit in on sessions, but they keep hesitating to jump into active duty due to personal fears and professional insecurities.
Two concerned men with financial means to create new research projects made a commitment at the National Conference on Anomalous Experiences held at Temple University in January of 1991. They decided that one must first obtain a reasonable and realistic appraisal of the incidence of such a phenomenon in the United States - somehow! This was accomplished to some extent by their acquisition of the Roper organization to conduct an extensive series of face-to-face interviews with roughly 2000 persons on each of three occasions. These nearly 6000 individuals responded to carefully-worded questions about unusual personal experiences. The Roper organization’s professional results - with a stated possible error of only one percent - suggest that as many as 3.7 million adult Americans may have experienced a UFO abduction experience. However, this still is only a rough idea of the incidence of this implied problem.
There are those who truly believe that they have had abductions but have never been interviewed, investigated, or hypnotized. They will still fall into the “believers” category during such a survey. Then there are those who will deny such occurrences in their lives despite much suggestive evidence to the contrary. They will quickly say “no” to many of the polling questions because of the emotional need to keep these private concerns concealed. This attitude is initially quite common among those participates who fear and insanity label might attach itself to their foreheads were they to talk candidly. Even if the Roper survey were to have a 50% error statistically, then we are still estimating close to two million abduction encounters (which does not include children!)
Another interesting component of these surveys was in statistical significance of the responses from the subgroup labeled “Political Social Actives.” This group is comprised of persons who tend to be trendsetters and leaders because they are more assertive, outspoken, highly educated, and active or involved in community events. If UFOs were a worthless topic with no substance, this group would be more likely to candidly state it. Bt this subgroup reported a higher incidence of odd occurrences for every significant question. Was this subgroup just more willing to report honestly while other groups might actually be under-reporting?
A booklet titled Unusual Personal Experiences was created to include these findings, along with commentaries by Dr. John Mack, Dr. David Jacobs, Dr. Ron Westrum, Budd Hopkins, and myself. These remarks were geared toward introducing the subject of UFO abductions in an intelligent fashion to mental health professionals. Nearly 100,000 of these 60-page booklets were mailed in May of 1992 to psychiatrists, psychologists, and clinical social workers nationwide in hopes of educating and attracting more help for those who await some kind of relief or answer to their nagging, puzzling feelings. Approximately 1000 professionals did respond with an interest to learn more and possibly help. Detachable postcards from the booklets enabled them to register for notification of free educational workshops that would be held at a variety of locations around the United States. Successful workshops with an average of 100 professionals in attendance have already been presented in New York City (July 1992), Los Angeles (November 1992), and Atlanta (March 1993).
Some of these same professionals began writing to those of us who provided commentaries in the booklet. Remarks were complementary, supportive, encouraging, and even thankful. Some respondents were already inquiring about treatment strategies. One psychologist called me long-distance from Virginia in-between therapy hours when he suddenly recognized the symptomatology described in the booklet. He had tried to fit his client into a category of Multiple Personality Disorder, but it just was not satisfactory. Though she had never claimed any contact with UFOs or aliens, she had been describing precise details under hypnosis of abduction scenarios from her mysterious periods of amnesia. He now realized what she might be uncovering and asked many sincere and necessary questions. It was a clear indication of how a little education from one booklet could prove helpful to those already seeking help but possibly misdiagnosed.
Despite all these efforts the “buyer must still beware” because we have no control over what motivates a professional to get involved. We cannot vouch for their skills or lack thereof. We cannot guarantee sensitivity of non-judgmental attitudes. We know that a variety of personalities exist behind all of those fine degrees. Ultimately it still rests with the abductee to decide what is best for each of them. Eventually the network of trustworthy helpers will have expanded with increasing communication and perhaps standardization of procedures. We will have to keep trudging ahead... patiently.
This article is published with the expressed written permission of John S. Carpenter exclusively for publication on The Alien Jigsaw: alienjigsaw.com