Parapsychologist Barry Taff on psychosis and fake paranormal performers

Dr. Barry Taff, recognized parapsychologist, writes a long and disturbing commentary on his site about Psi and Psychosis: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid detailing incidents of mental illness he has experienced with acquaintances who are obsessed with the paranormal. He concludes:

The ever increasing problem of mental illness associated with the paranormal must be addressed and soon, or we will all pay the price for it in years to come.

Many of these people cannot differentiate between reality and fantasy, as they’re paying more attention to what’s going on in their heads as opposed to what’s really transpiring in the real, physical world around them. Such individuals are dissociative in the extreme.

If we ignore and neglect this problem, we will have a significant portion of our population who believes the nonsense depicted on paranormal reality shows and they will start blaming the problems they encounter in life on the paranormal as opposed to taking the proper course of action to deal with the situation. We will have many individuals who will seek the help of people totally unqualified people to assist them in their time of need.

Dr. Taft notes you don’t call in actors who play police or doctors on TV when you need help, you should not be calling in ghost hunters from TV shows (or wish they were on them). He goes on to state: “None of these performers are qualified to do anything other than following the scripted direction of their shows. The content on these shows is not real, it’s all staged for the benefit of their audience.”

People with real emotional problems need professional help. They need to stop blaming “entities” and take responsibility for themselves. He calls for change. Quite bold statements he makes. I’m curious how this will be received in the paranormal community.

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  12 comments for “Parapsychologist Barry Taff on psychosis and fake paranormal performers

  1. Massachusetts
    December 22, 2012 at 9:07 PM

    I know an MIT graduate who believes that Demons and Poltergeists are responsible when she can’t find things like bottles of soap. Seriously.

  2. David
    December 22, 2012 at 9:07 PM

    This guy may be a parapsychologist, but he still strikes me a something of a dill. I wonder if in following his chosen profession, he recognises that he’s as much a part of the problem as the individuals he’s criticising.

    Having a credulous audience of supposed researchers who appear to approach the paranormal with the assumption that they merely need sufficient proof to validate this entire mish-mash of inanity, often merely serves to give the victim the impression that their delusion may be true.

    How many times in his career did he take the time to try and guide some of these unfortunate people towards the help they so clearly needed? His anecdotes of how he spoke to apparently delusional and possibly suicidal individuals are hardly indicative of a person who is genuinely concerned about the welfare of others.

    • December 22, 2012 at 9:43 PM

      They were rather cold reactions. I don’t condone his commentary. Just thought it was interesting perspective.

      • Massachusetts
        December 26, 2012 at 11:07 PM

        It was interesting. It seems problematic for his field that so many witnesses and alleged researchers are evidently mentally ill. You wonder then whose testimony you can trust, if anyones. And more sensitivity is warranted, though I know social workers who cop a sarcastic attitude as a coping mechanism when dealing with constant exposures to severely mentally ill people: it gets exhausting, and humor, even harsh humor, is a way to deal with it long term.

        Is that really Taff responding below? Not to sound flip but I would expect his spelling to be better, which makes me wonder about authenticity.

        I don’t know what to make of the entity stuff. It’s a creepy story, it sounds nuts, and the evidence collected only works if you trust the researchers methods, accuracy, interpretations, etc. Since it can’t be reproduced how would you approach the case scientifically? Remember the faster than light tachyons last year? It sounded good but repeated trials revealed technical errors so the conclusions were flawed. But there’s no retake with alleged poltergeist or other hauntings, and few if any controls. Could the bad smells be a dead rat in the walls? Maybe, no way to know, but the narrative makes us feel it must be something evil–yes, feel, emotionally.

    • December 24, 2012 at 8:40 PM

      If you spent the last four decades dealing with such a large population of emotionally disturbed individuals you’d have a far more realistic perspective on this matter. As many of these troubled people do not respond to direct communication in these, the only thing that seems to temporarily jolt them out of their delusional state is when they’re challenged in a humorous way. What’s really upsettinuch fragmented and dysfunctional lives. In the one instance of ought any professional assistancal, she was in fact, repeatedly told by me to seek help, which she did not. These people athe woman who was clearly suicid world, that they truly believe that the rest of the world is troubled as opposed to them.

      • December 27, 2012 at 7:18 AM

        Barry,
        I think you’re rather missing the point here. Dealing with this type of person for the last four decades should have provided you with an appropriate level of understanding or at least professional tolerance.
        If my psychiatrist, surgeon or any other “professional” published something like this, not only would I be questioning their credibility and dedication to their profession, I’d like to think their professional association would also be taking them to task.
        Perhaps your essay was lighthearted and maybe the target audience appreciated your humour and approach to your clients, but when I read it, it came across very poorly. It also reflected very badly on a profession which at best, struggles for anything approaching legitimacy.
        I guess, ultimately this is not much more than a bunch of criticism from people lurking around an Internet forum, however had the essay been mine, I’d have been more than a little concerned about the general response you appear to have gotten in this forum at least.

        Like all Internet stuff however, who really cares what anyone thinks, so long as I have an audience…

  3. December 23, 2012 at 1:43 AM

    I found Taffs comments quite disturbing and unethical. Is he registered with the APA or any other professional body as his language use is continually stigmatising and diagnosing people outwith a clinical setting is also a major ethical concern.

    Further to this it’s really, really unethical to present the testimony of individuals where they might be identified or recognised as evidence from authority (a psychologist) that they are mentally ill. Taffs commentary is highly, highly problematic.

    Particularly when Taff appears to be mocking these individuals.

    A horrible, unethical and shocking post.

    • December 23, 2012 at 7:49 AM

      Thanks for your opinion. I agree. It was shocking.

    • May 19, 2014 at 6:58 AM

      I don’t think the comment is actually Dr. Barry Taff. I’ve done a lot of homework on the entity case, as well as Dr. Taff. I was suspicious of his authenticity at first, but he checks out. However, the comment in this thread (taking into account, the extreme grammatical errors) suggests that the person who is claiming to be Dr. Barry Taff does not have a degree in anything. Most likely a troll.

  4. SR
    December 23, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    The way he insisted on telling us what all the women looked like and how pretty they were was rather disturbing. It seems that he could have made a more powerful argument without the “she was beautiful on the outside but not the inside” and with some compassion toward those he diagnoses (which it doesn’t seem he is actually trained to do) with severe or specific mental illnesses.

    The people who are mentally ill are not the ones who deserve derision. Those who don’t believe but knowingly profit off the illness or lack of understanding of others are.

  5. D.W.
    December 23, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    There is an unhealthy mix of delusional thinking, shoddy and horribly patchy healthcare provision, and extremely dangerous weaponry in this country. Although, this man’s statements might be unethical, he’s highlighted some glaring short-comings in American culture. “We” ARE a bunch of nuts with guns : at least enough so to make me seriously worried about ever having a kid here.

  6. spookyparadigm
    December 23, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    1.) The guy sounds like a huge jerk, for a couple of reasons.

    2.) If you helped publicize the most sensationalized case of ghostly sexual assault, seriously, glass houses.

    3.) Which gets to the real story here. Woo mythologies have for a long time used and banked on the creative juice provided by mentally ill people. There are any number of examples, including people who helped create alien abductionism who are, to be kind, “eccentric” (or look at some of the recent controversy in the implosion of alien abductology, its a horrid mess). Or some of the people involved in Bigfoot contacteeism that are spawning a whole new direction for that tawdry “field.” But probably the best example I can think of, where an entire field of paranormal “science” was spawned in no small part from the ravings of someone mentally ill, is ufology and Richard Shaver. Richard Shaver was in and out of mental hospitals in the 1930s and 1940s because voices issuing from his arc welder told him of a terrible civilization under the earth, left over from a secret history before modern humanity. These Deros tormented people on the surface, made them do bad things with radio waves, and abducted and tortured surface dwellers. Shaver was likely inspired by pulp fiction sources which routinely trafficked in such ideas. But his inability to differentiate this from reality led him to write letters about this to Ray Palmer, one of the publishers of said pulps. Palmer edited Shaver’s letters, and starting printing them in the mid-1940s as true accounts. Soon others started writing in, either as jokes or perhaps modifying their own personal mythologies. The flying cars in this mythology then turned into flying saucers, as Palmer was the first publisher to exploit the flying saucer fad of summer 1947, working with first witness Kenneth Arnold, and “investigating” several early UFO mysteries and otherwise creating the origins of the UFO.

    I think the essay is correct in noting that the lack of any standards attracts many people, as does the nature of the material. But that isn’t the real issue. It’s that those in the “fields” who aren’t mentally ill, will at times either wittingly or unwittingly, use the mental illness of some of these people to promote themselves and the “field.”

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