Sunday, January 26, 2014

 

How can ufologists best help or support UFO abductees?


Recently, a notice was posted online which noted that a support group for UFO abductees was going to be created in a nearby city.

I was curious, because 20 years ago, I had been approached to create such a group. This was during the period when UFO abductees were just becoming more common and there was a great deal of attention focused on them. (It's waned a bit since the, although the abduction phenomenon still is significant in ufology, but has morphed a bit to become more of a contactee movement.)

Anyway, I responded to the post online, offering encouragement and asking about the clinical professional who would be leading or facilitating the group.
Excellent! Which local clinical therapist will be facilitating? The abductee support group I helped with in Winnipeg back in the 1990s had a psychologist and a counselor for referrals too. I think both might be necessary, especially if some abductees are experiencing significant anxiety. We helped a number of people through their fears and concerns.
The reason I know the importance of working with a clinical professional was because several of the abductees who were members of the group turned out to have issues best dealt with by professionals, not ufologists. One woman had been raped and her memory of her "abduction experience" was a screen for the horrific trauma she had endured. Two other abductees attempted suicide because they were living in fear and paranoia since the aliens were watching them day and night. Others had showed signs of other issues that needed the assistance of professionals.

Such trauma is clearly beyond the realm of ufology, and it is clearly in the best interests of "experiencers" to help them as best as possible. 

I was surprised that my query about this new group working with a clinical professional was met with hostility. The poster responded:
Do clinical therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors facilitate alcoholic anonymous, cocaine anonymous, or al anon meetings? They don’t...
[It would be bad] If everyone has to talk in front of a psychiatrist who is not an experiencer that is treating it as mental illness. He knows NOTHING about UFOs. People need a safe environment ..., not a court room or mental examination room.
I was aghast. This was hardly the reaction I had expected. It showed a lack of understanding of both how clinical professionals view people in need and also how support groups for people with various issues are actually developed. It's also not a matter of speaking in front of a psychiatrist who would be judging you on your sanity. If a person is traumatized by his or her abduction experience, it is all the more important to have someone present who can help.

I tried pointing out:
It's not a matter of treating abductions as mental illness. It's that abductees experience trauma and have symptoms of anxiety and other issues, which can and should be treated by professionals. And yes, many 12-step programs are led by clinicians.
Instead, the group 
...will be called "experiencers anonymous." It will be modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous and the famous and extremely popular experiencers sessions held every morning at the International UFO Congress in Phoenix every year.
The group advocates a different perspective. 
Safe space with people who personally KNOW what you are going through is so healing in itself.
If it is truly run under the guidelines of an Anonymous program, no one is allowed to start, organize, or run an Anonymous program unless they qualify to be a member. In this case a contactee and/or abductee. The meetings can be opened or closed, according to group conscious. There ARE NO LEADERS, only trusted servants...
I am disappointed, to say the least. My own experience in working with abductees and support groups has shown that there are many inherent problems in such an approach. I documented this in detail in my book, Abductions and Aliens. Here is what my work taught me:
I firmly believe that abductees should be helped primarily by qualified clinical or medical personnel. This is not to say that all abductees are in need of medical attention. What this does mean is that abductees who are bothered or upset by their experiences and who are highly anxious should be seen by clinical psychologists or psychiatrists who have the experience and training to deal with emotional problems and mental health issues.           
The reason for this is because, as revealed in the literature, many abductees display symptoms of severe trauma, possibly as a result of their experiences, and also possibly from earlier times in their lives. As compassionate and caring researchers, we owe it to those who seek our help to provide them with the best assistance possible, regardless of our own biases and beliefs.
(For a better understanding of my thoughts and experience in working with UFO abductees, I recommend reading the entire book.)

And as for abductee support groups, my firsthand experience suggests a need for caution. And yes, 20 years ago, I predicted the comparison with Alcoholics Anonymous.:
In 1994, I faced an interesting dilemma when asked by one abductee about the availability of a local support group. He had read about abductee support groups in some of the popular abduction literature, and expressed a keen interest in talking with other abductees, discussing their similar problems and sharing coping strategies.           
On the one hand, support groups are a valuable tool in assisting individuals come to terms with their shared life experiences. This is true whether the group is one devoted to abductees or is a more traditional service such as Alcoholics Anonymous. The theory behind their use by counsellors in abductee recovery is that abductees will find solace and support from other abductees, and feel safe in talking about the intimate details of their encounters.           
The down side of this is that because abductees’ memories are often vague and distorted, and may be influenced by popular media, a detail found in one abductee’s story may be incorporated consciously or subconsciously into another abductee’s memory through contagion. This argument is at the heart of the noted case of Betty and Barney Hill, for example, where Betty’s describing of her dreams to Barney are thought by some to have influenced his own recall of events.
Furthermore, if an abductee does have a morbid fear of aliens harming him or her, listening to others tell of their own suffering in alien hands may cause deeper fears to form.           
Among abductees, there is a great sense of camaraderie and sympathy. While each has his or her own subtle differences in their experiences, all abductees appear to share a sense of ‘not belonging.’ They often are ostracized by their co-workers, their friends and their families.
Abductee support groups act as surrogate families for these who are in such distress and need some love and compassion. Some abductee support groups were founded by abductee therapists; others by abductees themselves wishing not only to help fellow experiencers but also as therapy for their own emotional crises.           
The ultimate benefit of abductee support groups is debatable. On the one hand, abductees need some kind of support or assistance from people who have an understanding of their experiences and who are going to be non-judgemental. But there are some caveats which much be addressed, too. From a research point of view, once one abductee speaks with another, there is always the possibility that the stories of their own experiences will begin to blend together. This form of data ‘contamination’ is a problem for abduction ufologists wanting to sort out the phenomenon.
But another problem is related to the health and well-being of the abductees themselves. At least some abductees and contactees show signs or symptoms of psychological disorders. If these individuals are ‘counselling’ or ‘helping’ other abductees who are not ill, but are confused or are in some form of psychological distress, then are they helping or hindering the recovery of the new experiencers? In other words, when it comes to abductees, can the blind really lead the blind?
My concern is for those who identify themselves as "experiencers" and join such a support group. Without adequate clinical care, some may experience further harm instead of healing.









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