Psi in Psychotherapy: Conventional and Nonconventional Healing of Mental Illness, Alex Tanous, Elaine Schwinge and Andrew F. Bambrick
This is a book of just 173 pages, subtitled Conventional and Nonconventional Healing of Mental Illness, a big topic. It includes a foreword, a preface, an introduction, a postscript, an afterword and a bibliography, to supplement the body of the work, which was written in the 1980s, the reasons for which become clear. As a motivating taster, the first 6 pages are of quotes about the book from the great and good in the field of parapsychology, none as far as I can gather from psychiatrists or psychotherapists. Most praise the bold concept of psychics working with psychotherapists, not entirely novel in that prayer has frequently been resorted to over the years, in order to supplement the efforts of doctors. The paranormal has of course been credited over the centuries with being both the cause and the healing agent of both mental and physical illness. It may influence mental states by causing distress, the consequences for example of proximity to poltergeist activity, by creating symptoms directly, through possession for example, and the unexpected manifestation of precognition or telepathic effects between patient and therapist during therapy, which may or may not be helpful. This book focusses only on the deliberate use of telepathy to diagnose and the transmission of healing energy.
To be fair, according to the author of the preface the aim of the book is for Drs Alex Tanous and Elaine Shwinge “to present the reader with a practical treatment manual…for emotionally troubled patients”, describing their approach and citing five cases. It should be pointed out for clarity at this stage that Dr Tanous, the well-known psychic in question, as mentioned in his biography in Chapter one, was not a medical man but impressively took degrees in history and government, philosophy, theology, counselling and guidance, and divinity. The Introduction, which is attributed to all three authors, points out the ever increasing popularity of unconventional healing, and the very pertinent fact that whereas conventional healers are “taught to hold in high regard analytical thinking”, non-conventional healers “were educated by mentors in the development of high level intuition to help in the diagnosis and prognosis”, often using healing energy as well. It could be argued that experience creates memories which fuel intuition, which may be defined as a feeling accompanied by a thought that arises spontaneously in response to an external perception which may have prompted sympathetic feelings (i.e. empathy). The exact source may not be immediately apparent, but almost certainly a result of much used association pathways. Perhaps I speak for myself, but I would suggest that conventional healers use this all the time, saving time and incidentally impressing patients.
Dr Shwinge is clearly a well-trained psychiatrist and psychotherapist. The authors are keen to be seen to be as respectable as possible, and the third author, Andrew Bambrick, a psychotherapist, was it seems employed in order to “... to articulate procedures to be employed at various stages of therapy”. No more is said about his role. Chapter two delineates as methodically as possible the model of illness and the rationale and process of the therapy they employ. Drs Shwinge and Tanous are careful to be above board, requesting with the client’s permission to invite the psychic to make a diagnosis, and clarifying his role which is time limited and not to interfere with the relationship with the psychiatrist. That the aetiology of symptoms include genetics and memories of childhood experiences is not uncontentious, but what may lead to head scratching by conventional types is the assertion that the healing process involves the” identification of dysfunctional genetic experiences in the client’s memory.” This would seem to imply that past lives may be the cause of current troubles, which possibility is touched on by Drs Callum Cooper and Stanley Krippner in the foreword, although they add, citing the work of Arthur Hastings, that intuitive impressions of past lives inherent in dream symbolism may not be veridical but may be of value in emotional processing. However, in one case cited incidences that happen at birth and subsequently are referred to as genetic memories, which is less problematic therefore. Tanous’s chief role then includes as part of the assessment process identifying these genetic and childhood components, through noting the patient’s aura and via his clairvoyant and telepathic abilities. Apart from discovering past life events, it may be asked why this relevant information may not be gleaned by simply asking the patient in the normal fashion. Perhaps, if Dr Tanous did indeed use his psi faculties for this, it added to the positive impression made on the patient, which may have opened channels to healing powers, arising either from the psychic or the patient himself. (The shamans of Amazonia have described to me that their herbal medicines work better if they are seen to commune with spirits while they are in trance.) The psychic’s role in the middle phase of the procedure is to reinforce the treatment plan and “to transmit healing energy to provide emotional catharsis.” One suspects that is not a psi effect, but likely to be an outcome of his sympathetic non-judgemental stance, effective at unblocking dissociative barriers.
Chapter 3 describes the relationship of body, mind and spirit, unattributed but clear from the content that these are the views of Dr Tanous. He is surely a Christian idealist, though the model he presents seems to have more in common perhaps with Buddhism. Be that as it may, what he has to say is compelling metaphysics, updated in that he brings in 20th century concepts to his argument, talking about energy, altered states of consciousness, evolution and the physicist’s search for a Grand Unified Theory. He even attempts a definition of consciousness, citing Freud (personal), Jung (collective) and Jesus (Spiritual). He implies that the meaning to life is of course the attainment of the latter, through which healing can take place. All this is very inspiring and rather beautiful. One hopes fervently that evidence will accrue to confirm what is a coherent and trending hypothesis for those searching after meaning. Do the cases described in the following chapters provide any is the next question.
Four cases of the healing of physical ailments are initially described, superficially impressive, but lacking in detail to make a clear judgement. The lung cancer may possibly have responded to the concomitant conventional treatment. Pituitary tumours have been known to infarct and disappear. Back pain is notoriously responsive to placebo and hypnosis. Bedridden elderly are responsive to kind care, and her detached retina could have healed itself. Without much more detail, it is impossible to rule out normal effects. It is worth noting though that evidence is accumulating that the immune response is susceptible to mental attitude.
The following chapters contain case studies which constitute the data which may demonstrate the thesis that the role of a psychic in psychotherapy is helpful. Five cases are described, by Dr Shwinge one presumes. The first is that of a depressed man who accidently ran over and killed a child with his car. It is not clear from the otherwise long and incident filled history when this occurred, rather vital to know as if it was before the other crises, the psychological consequences may have been sufficient to be the major cause of his symptoms, and treatment limited to the processing of that alone, perhaps reducing the number of sessions required from 47 over 2 plus years. Dr Shwinge’s history taking and goal setting is nevertheless impressively comprehensive. She also incidentally mentions frequently the use of medication. Whether or not Dr Tanous’s insights aided her is I think a moot point, as they could have applied to anyone, employing the Barnham effect as Dr Cooper points out, for example suggesting inherited genetic tendencies, maladaptive family patterns and the need for hope, which applies to all.
The next case is that of an anxious obese woman. Dr Tanous psychically identified the primary trauma as due to falling off her bike aged eight, which caused her to regard extra weight as protective. It is recorded that the patient was duly astonished, having then recalled the incident. He went on to make suggestions that she should find binge eating unappetizing if she kept this insight in mind. One is strongly reminded of hypnotic procedures.
Similar criticisms could be applied to the three other cases, leaving one unsure that, as described, they can be said to offer any real evidence of the paranormal, and whether these apparently psychically derived insights could not be achieved by standard methods applied by Dr Shwinge. She does though explain at one point to a patient that Dr Tanous is able to identify traumatic memories, “genetic” or childhood, more quickly. One is left in no doubt, however, of Dr Tanous’s empathic charisma, which cannot but be helpful.
The case histories in themselves are of interest, and a budding psychotherapist might learn from them how to be thorough and at least reasonably methodical in taking histories, interpreting and setting goals.
From the parapsychological point of view, the foreword by Drs Callum Cooper and Stanley Krippner and afterword by Dr Adrian Parker comment in more detail on the background to the book, the questions it throws up, and the current status of the increasingly popular topic of clinical parapsychology. As Dr Parker points out, even the Royal College of Psychiatry has a burgeoning Spirituality section. As academics they apply refreshing scientific rigour to their observations, as well as clarifying the various discrepancies inherent in what I suspect was the unedited manuscript published long after Dr Tanous’s death. The placebo effect is discussed and the fact that some experiences that might be considered clinically psychotic in some cultures are considered normal and helpful. (I would add that beliefs, in the context of survival, are generally neither true or untrue, but rather useful or not in the formation of an immediate action plan.) Dr Parker concludes very wisely that it is important to choose your therapist, from whatever discipline, from their track record.
Last but by no means least is the most useful bibliography of the paranormal and psychotherapy compiled by Dr James Carpenter in 2018., covering Eisenbud (1946) to Evenden and Cooper (2018). This and the fore and after words, including their respective references, more than make up for the limitations of the main text when it comes to satisfying the implications of the title. I therefore heartily recommend this book as a primer to all involved in the complex business of psychotherapy, if only to allay alarm at the possibility of paranormal occurrences in what conventionally aspires to be a process of psychological science. It is in fact an art, with all that that implies.
Eisenbud, J. (1946). Telepathy and the problems of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 15,
Evenden, R. E. & Cooper, C. E. (2018). Positive psychology in the clinical parapsychology
setting. Paper presented to: 4th Applied Positive Psychology Symposium,