The Paranormal and Psychology Guest Blog by Ann Gimpel

Wikipedia defines Paranormal as “a general term (coined ca. 1915–1920) that designates experiences that lie outside the range of normal experience or scientific explanation or that indicates phenomena understood to be outside of science's current ability to explain or measure.” In this rather hard core definition, werewolves, vampires and other mythical creatures do not meet criteria to be considered paranormal. Paranormal refers to one’s experience of unusual phenomenon, rather than the unusual phenomena themselves. I found that out firsthand when I submitted a werewolf short story to a paranormal magazine. They loved the story, but informed me the topic didn’t fit the paranormal genre.

Psychology is the study of the mind. Because the mind is capable of a great deal, including madness, it’s a pretty broad field. The two come together in a highly specialized field called parapsychology. Those of you who are old enough might remember a television show called The Sixth Sense. It starred Dr. Michael Rhodes, parapsychologist. A university researcher, he was always hanging about in graveyards, crypts and other spooky places doing parapsychological research and solving mysteries. The series only ran for a couple of seasons. I think Night Gallery might have bought it for reruns.

I bet if we were all together in a room and I asked how many of you have had paranormal experiences, between a third and half would raise your hands. These types of things are really fairly common. Interestingly, children have far more in the way of inexplicable experiences than adults. This is because, by the time we’ve grown up, most of the magic’s been drummed right out of us. I’m always grateful whenever I go to a science fiction and fantasy convention and see hordes of adults dressed up like their favorite SF/F characters. It gives me hope that imagination is still alive. At Norwescon last year, I had dinner next to a Klingon family. Mom, Dad and two children all dressed to the gills, including blacked out faces and pointy ears.

Aside from Dr. Rhodes, what is the nexus where the paranormal and psychology come together? To address that, we need one more definition. The psychotherapy relationship is one place where clients can experience unconditional positive regard. No topic is off limits. Nothing is too bizarre. I’ve told clients for years that it’s their hour. They can bring up whatever they’d like.  If they want to tell me about their dead Aunt Sara and her nightly visits, that’s just fine. If they almost got into an automobile wreck at exactly the same moment a dear friend died, that, too, is fair game. Part of what psychology does is help people put life experiences into some sort of perspective. 

The depth psychologists, like Jung, were intensely metaphysical. He wouldn’t accept anyone as a patient who hadn’t had their astrological chart done. Jung would study their chart, looking for points of concordance between the potential client’s planets and his own. Keep in mind, Jung was an MD. He graduated in 1900 and went to work in an insane asylum long before we had decent medications to quell the severely mentally ill. The only weapon in his arsenal was talk therapy and he had lots of extremely ill patients who got better. In his later years, as his reputation for dream analysis grew, he was able to focus exclusively on private patients and left the asylum behind.

In recent years, psychology has moved away from the paranormal. As third party payor systems (e.g. your insurance company) have proliferated, no one wants to pay for extended depth-oriented analysis. What insurance wants is a highly-structured, time-limited, cognitive-behavioral approach, which works fine for a certain type of client with a particular type of problem. Unfortunately, no one approach works for everyone. We are all individuals. Some of us are more metaphysically oriented than others. Some of us lead with our feelings. Some with our minds. What used to be an intimate relationship between therapist and client has morphed into a ménage á trois: you, me, and your insurance company. Probably time to move on before someone kicks the soapbox out from under my feet!

Circling back to the title of this blog post, psychology is the study of the mind. Paranormal refers to something unusual perceived by the mind. Looking at it that way, the two fit together nicely. I’ve found my psychology background incredibly useful writing science fiction and fantasy. I was the kind of kid who thought monsters lurked in the closet. Now they hang out under the bed. Nothing like the dead of night to stoke one’s imagination. 

Tell me your paranormal experiences. I’d love to hear about them.

~Ann Gimpel is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lifelong aficionado of the unusual, Ann began writing speculative fiction a few years back. Since then her short fiction has appeared in a number of webzines, magazines, and anthologies. Her longer paranormal romance and urban fantasy books are available in e-format, print, and audio. In 2014, after two dozen books with publishers, she made the leap into self-publishing. She’s loving the freedom and it’s possible she’ll never look back. Learn more at

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