From what most of us have learned from TV and films, ghost hunting is exciting, right? Wrong. In fact, use of the word “hunting” is misleading: paranormal investigations mostly consist of fruitless waiting around without results. Our chance of winning the lottery is similar to experiencing genuine phenomena during an investigation. . If investigations are so dull, then, why do we do them? Okay. The friend of a friend of someone’s aunt won the lottery jackpot in some state. We can too. Let’s face it: the lure of the unknown is so irresistable to committed investigators that they are more than willing to put up with less than desirable results. Everyone else will drift away to more pedestrian thrills.
Seeking gratification in the unknown gets frustrating at times. Why not enjoy something we cancontrol in paranormal investigations? For example, we can enjoy the challenge of interviewing people who claim paranormal experience. Really? Yes. It’s because we are sure to encounter some interesting people about whom we can later tell stories around the campfire. Let’s face it: most people we interview are panicked (or worse) . . . and panicked people tend to make imaginative assumptions. To add to further difficulties, I’m willing to guess that most budding paranormal investigators are as imaginative and ready to see extraordinary events as those being interviewed. You could say it’s an occupational hazard. To overcome the natural tendency to be, uh, overzealous in our search for the paranormal, it’s helpful to remind ourselves that, when playing the role of serious investigator, we’ve got to go against our fanciful nature and play investigations with a straight face. We are, in effect, creating a science. Sure, we may explore apparent “oddities,” but that doen’t mean we turn our back on reality. In fact, it is to our advantage to be that much more concerned about the meaning of reality. This concern belongs to good science.
The initial client interview is rooted fully in reality. This interview is essential in deciding whether a client’s experience warrants serious investigation. The good news is that a well-constructed interview is not boring. In fact, it gives us a chance to be something of a psychologist in addition to being an investigator. No, our job isn’t to become a therapist who patiently listens to a client’s ghost stories. Our job is to separate out those who experience quirks of their own mind from those who present genuine events that warrant a formal investigation. [It isn’t a pleasant thing to say, but there are times when people who claim paranormal phenomena actually suffer from mental illness. These people deserve our courteous respect . . . but they are not our responsibility.] Since an investigation is no minor expenditure of time and money, we want to to certain that that we’re, well, not barking up a rubber tree.
By this time, it should be clear that the initial interview covers more than asking a few questions. Yes, we ask questions, but there’s more to the interview than questions. We also get a non-verbal feeling of who the client is, and why they want an investigation. In other words, we are sensitive to more than just words. Yes, words are important, but appearance and gestures are equally important. Moreover, we want to be aware of how words are spoken. In effect, we interview the whole person. My suggestion is that we conduct the initial interview in a very small group. To assure the correct degree of concentration, this interview should be independent of other activities.
It takes a lot of energy to interview in this way, mainly because our attention is fully focused on the potential client. We use all instinct and intuition we can muster. We are never rude. If anything, we show that we genuinely want to know the client’s experience. We look into the client’s eyes. For the inreviewer’s optimal focus, it is useful to conduct the interview with a colleague who writes down the client’s answers. Better yet, the colleague, with permission of the client, records the client’s answers on a cassette recorder. That way, investigators can later review the tape as a group.
Aside from observations, there are, of course, the actual questions. What should they be? Actually, the questions are straightforward. The art isn’t in the question. It is in receiving, and in later interpreting, answers.Good questions are surprisingly simple in a “just the facts, ma’am” sort of way. Don’t let the client begin telling extended stories. Gently remind them to stick to answering the questions. Basic questions are:
1) What is your complaint? How does the problem manifest?
2) How many times has the phenomena occurred?
3) Where is the problem located?
4) When does the phenomena occur?
5) Have you seen anything? If so, what?
6) Did you investigate further? If so, what did you see?
7) Besides yourself, who lives in this house/apartment? What are their ages?
8) Has anyone else experienced the phenomenon? Who? Will they be available for questions? If not, why?
9) When phenomena occurs, is a particular person always present? Will he or she be available for questions? If not, why?
10) Will you allow our group to investigate as thoroughly as possible?
These questions aren’t set in stone. Depending on the situation, some questions will be more relevent than others. Moreover, the client will likely supply some of the answers on his or her own. The most important point is that the interviewer briefly repeats every answer the client gives. That way, the client hears once again what he or she has said, and the interviewer knows he or she has understood correctly. More importantly, the interviewer shows that the client’s words have been heard. This receptivity establishes a strong level of trust.
Even with trust and a colleague who records answers, an interview is work. That’s because, as interviewers, we are, once again, concerned with the whole client. For example, what does the client do when you look into his or her eyes? Does the client look back . . . or does the client look at the floor or out the windows? What does the client do with his or her hands? Does the client twist clothes or play with hair? Does the client cross arms or restrict hands or arms in any way? How about the voice? Is it steady and audible, or is the client overly excited or has a tendency to whisper? How about the client’s environment or how he or she is groomed? If any questions asked seem to make the potential client uncomfortable, what are they? Obviously, we can’t ask the client about his or her mental health, but we can extract quite a bit of information from suble signs.
As soon as the interview is completed, the interviewer should go home, or to a private place (not the client’s home) to write a report of behavior that occurred during the interview. The idea is to write down the client’s behavior while it is still fresh in the mind. In addition, the investigator should write down personal feelings felt during the course of the interview. If more than one investigator was present at the interview [another witness is desirable] , this investigator should also write an independent report focusing on similar issues.
It should be noted that reports only cover observed behavior, not interpretations of behavior. Interpretations will occur when the full group of investigators has been assembled and all observations are presented to the group. If a cassette has been recorded, the cassette is played for the group. The advantage of presenting reports to the group is that all recorded behavior falls together into a general view of client and environment.
The strength of discussing a potential client in a group is that there will be a variety of opinions about the potential client and the environment in question.. An eventual consensus will be reached about the viability of an investigation. Once we have decided to conduct an investigation, we can feel confident. This confidence won’t mean that we shall experience paranormal phenomena, but it will inspire enthusiasm to persevere, even when we spend endless nights sitting in the unyielding dark.