On Strange Frequencies Radio last Sunday we interviewed self proclaimed “medium” Heathyr Hoffman. Heathyr was a cast member on the first season of Syfy’s original Ghost Hunters Academy, a show in which individuals compete to have a spot on either Ghost Hunters or Ghost Hunters International. Ms. Hoffman is without a doubt very intelligent and beyond respectful. She holds a Masters degree in counseling and works is an advocate in ending domestic violence.
During the show which aired Sunday July 18th 2010, and can be found in the archives on www.StrangeFrequenciesRadio.com, Heathyr, Jason and I got into a conversation about psychology. It had to do with whether or not if Heathyr explained her “gift” to a psychiatrist, would she be diagnosable with a possible mental disorder. Heathyr said first of all she doesn’t bring her psychic abilities to work with her, but if she were to get an evaluation and discuss herself being a “medium” no diagnosis would be made based on that ability alone. She went on to further explain that there would have to be some underlining problem or cause of stress that was somehow preventing her from living her day to day life. I made the argument totally against this notion. My thought was if you were to go to a psychiatrist and tell them you were seeing spirits in a physical sense (in other words seeing people who are not there or in existence) and hearing them audibly (again hearing people talk to you or able to have a conversation with someone who isn’t present or even in existence), you would for sure be diagnosable.
Now I will be the first admit, I have no background what so ever in psychology, nor do I pretend that I do. So what I announced on the show is that I would consult with a psychologist, a therapist and a neurologist to see if the abilities that mediums claim to possess could indeed be diagnosed as some type of mental disorder. I was pretty confident in my thought process; let’s see what the professionals had to say.
First is a Psychiatrist who shall remain nameless.
“Bobby: the best advice to this question is the one that supports the facts. According to the dsm-iv, the book we all use to diagnose mental disorders, criteria needs to be met to be able to give a diagnosis. First, severity and course specifiers…a clinician takes into account the number and intensity of the signs and symptoms of a disorder and any resulting impairment in occupational or social functioning, typically mild, moderate, severe. Second, a recurrence of signs/symptoms. Third, reason for visit, are signs/symptoms creating a problem? So while the therapist may be producing signs/symptoms of a disorder, are they enough to cause impairment in her life? Would she need treatment for the disorder, if in fact a disorder existed. From what you are telling me, she is not complaining about the problem and it is not negatively affecting her work or social life so I would have to answer, in my opinion, “no”, she does not have a disorder. Feel free to respond. Take care.”
Second is an answer from a personal hero of mine, neurologist Dr. Steven Novella, host of The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, check it out by going to www.theskepticsguide.org.
It depends. In the DSM – the diagnostic manual for mental disorders – belief systems that are part of religious or cultural beliefs do not count toward the diagnosis of psychosis or mental illness. The thinking here is that if someone absorbs a belief from the culture, that is not necessarily a symptoms of mental illness.
This gets tricky, however, as those with schizophrenia or a delusional disorder will often incorporate common cultural beliefs into their delusions – but these have to go beyond the typical beliefs of the culture.
So it would depend on the details. Most people who think they have seen ghosts, or been abducted by aliens, or have psychic power, or speak with spirits are not mentally ill. They just have religious type beliefs.
Hope this is helpful,
And third is a correspondence from a psychologist.
“To: Bobby Nelson
Always difficult to answer a hypothetical question, but I don’t hear anything intrinsic to her statements regarding her spiritual beliefs per se that automatically warrants a medical diagnosis.
“Hearing voices” a complex and still poorly understood phenomenon that is clearly related to cultural and spiritual issues as well as biological and mental health issues. If you are interested in reading more, here is a place that you might start.
Wesley A. Bullock, Ph.D.”
So by the looks of it I was wrong and Heathyr was right. From what I can gather in the world of psychology most would consider people who claim to be psychic or possess mediumistic powers would be classified into a belief/religious category, which by itself cannot be diagnosed as a mental illness. Like Ms. Hoffman said it would only be diagnosable when it would interfere and or disable someone from living the normalcy of everyday life. Interesting topic, and I learned some fun stuff.