Over recent years there has been an increased focus on Spiritualism from the scientific and academic community. One area of interest that has emerged is that of the experience of mediumistic communication. It has been recognised that mediums, particularly those who have been trained, have control over the processes that enable their perceptions of the spirit communicators. This has raised the idea that there may be important discoveries to be made in this area that can be applied to the support of people who hear voices associated with mental health issues rather than spirit communication. SNU Today (our members' publication) readers may recall an article from Doctor Peter Mosely of Durham University in which he described their research project called “Hearing the Voice.” Through conducting an fMRI scan of mediums and non-mediums undertaking real and simulated communication processes, they hoped to find vital signposts to new understanding. The scans produced real-time moving images of the brain to reveal what was happening. This research is ongoing, and it is exciting to think that the Spiritualist community is able to offer this support to the researchers. Not only could our experiences provide a road map to greater understanding of mental health, but could also provide wider validation of our practices and provide a greater insight into the mechanisms that enable the interaction between spirit and biology.

One of the latest research programmes is taking place at the renowned Yale University in the United States. It is called the COPE Project (Control/Influence Over Perceptual Experiences), and is being spear-headed by project directors Al Powers M.D Ph.D, and Brittany Quagan M.S. LPC. Dr Al is a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who is interested in the cutting-edge of neuroscience that can help people having distressing experiences. Brittany is also medium, and her journey into mediumship passed through some of these distressing experiences. It was an encounter in the work place that changed all this. She says, “I was approached by a woman on my team who pulled me to the side and told me that what I was experiencing was not something that needed to be diagnosed or ‘fixed’ by medication(s) or the system. She was spiritual and self-identified as a psychic/medium: someone who could hear, sense, and see things that most others around us cannot. She invited me to explore the world of spirituality, energy, and healing in a holistic/natural way – all rooted in compassion and understanding the self. That woman changed my life.” Brittany is now working alongside Al in the project, and is its lab manager. The whole project is a collaborative one, and has emerged from what is called the SPIRIT Alliance. The project’s directors explain in more detail, “Behind the COPE Project is a team of individuals from all different communities; neuroscientists, therapists, mental health professionals, mental health advocates, individuals with lived experiences, and individuals who view their experiences as spiritually oriented. Our group is called the SPIRIT Alliance (SPIRIT meaning the multitude of characteristics that make up an individual).”

[Brittany & Al of The COPE Project]

Being an academic research programme, the COPE Project has some specific goals.  These are to learn from those who have perceptual experiences that others might not be experiencing (for example, hearing voices without a person speaking); understanding how individuals gain control and influence over their experiences with hearing voices, having visions/visual experiences, and feeling things without an external stimuli and their lives in general; learning from participants’ experiences to help create novel interventions for those who need them. The scope of the project isn’t seeking to confirm or refute any spiritual experiences. This is a balanced approach which should be reassuring to those who are cautious about this kind of academic research.

The Spiritualists’ National Union is a partner in this project, and following discussions with the team at Yale University, we have been supporting them by promoting the project. Minister David Bruton is also a member of their advisory committee. Those who follow our social media channels will have seen our appeals for members of our community to take part in the research programme. The project is utilising the internet to reach a far wider audience than might be possible when using a geographical base. This means that wherever you are in the world, participation is made possible by an internet connection. Consenting participants are invited to undertake a series of interactive modules which may take between three and four hours to complete. These involve some visual on-screen game-style experiments, and auditory experiments using a pair of headphones. There are also a series of questions to provide a context for each participant. These look at distressing life experiences and trauma. For many, these will be outside their experience, but it’s worth remembering that some participants’ experiences won’t be of spirit origin, and it is in the comparison between the two that could be a productive area of discovery. The experiments do require a degree of dedication to complete, but participants are encouraged to take a break when needed; the online modules can be resumed and completed over a number of weeks. Participants are thanked for their time with a voucher-based payment.

[Webinar: The COPE Project's Brittany & Al in conversation]

Explaining more about her work in the project, Brittany says, “I work alongside Al as co-director of the SPIRIT Alliance, a consortium of psychic/mediums, spiritual communities, therapists, neuroscientists, and people with mental illness to work as a team to understand these perceptual experiences and to create better, more person-centred treatments through the COPE Project. We believe that the standard process of care for those with lived experience with voices, visions, and feelings can be changed. But we need your help to examine and demonstrate just how effective our processes are and how they work. It’s not just about the perceptual experiences we have and where they come from (Spirit or elsewhere), but the adaptive techniques we use to work with that energy.”

Brittany says of the COPE Project, “We need your help. We understand that there is a huge stigma around the world of psychiatry, that people who have experiences such as ours have been labelled. We have consistently had to fight the notion that we are actually severely mentally ill because our experiences are atypical. But we are not here to do that to you. We are not here to label you. We are not here to diagnose you. We are not here to medicate you – nor is this study looking to do anything with medication. We are not here to disprove Spirit, nor to prove Spirit exists. We are here to learn about the healing process, the steps we take to hone our skills and accomplish what we want to in life. I strongly feel that, in working together, we can truly make the change that is needed in the world of mental health and help so many along the way.”

If you are interested in responding to Brittany and Al’s appeal for participants in this research, then visit the project’s website: www.spirit.research.yale.edu Here you will find detailed explanations of what to expect, a video of Al and Brittany talking about the project, and a link to sign up for the research. There are also links to existing scientific papers related to this research for those who are interested in this field.