by Karen Frazier
Host, Paranormal Underground Radio
Recently, I allowed a paranormal group to come in and investigate my home. I didn’t do it because I needed an investigation. I did it because some of my friends had joined a newly formed team, and they were looking to practice their craft before taking it out to the “real world.”
The investigation, albeit very short, seemed to go relatively well. Unfortunately, my husband, Techie McScienceGeek, has an oft repeated truism: “No good deed goes unpunished.”
And so it goes.
It started out innocuously enough. I live in a small town with few secrets. One day I was in a local restaurant with my family when the waiter started telling me that a big, important ghost hunting group from out of town had been in town investigating a private home on the hill. They’d been in the restaurant talking loudly about me and my home, it’s location, and the owner. They’d also told the waiter what they were doing, gave a general location, and then said, “We can’t tell you anymore.” He didn’t need to know anymore. They’d already revealed plenty. If that waiter happened to gossip about it with the very homeowner, chances are he’d told others who had come into the restaurant as well. To say nothing of the patrons that were likely there that night.
It’s a small town. They’d told enough, when really they shouldn’t have been in public discussing it at all. Confidentiality is important in investigations unless your client signs a release, and even then it’s just good practice to keep as much information to yourself as possible.
I tell you this not to excoriate the paranormal group that investigated my home. I tell you this because, if you are part of a paranormal team, you need to be very client-centered in your approach. All of your clients are in very different places about how they feel regarding the activity in their homes. Many are embarrassed or frightened, and many more do not want it getting out that they have paranormal activity. If your team presents itself as a group that values professionalism, then it is of the utmost importance you display a high level of it. Talking loudly about a case in a small town restaurant probably isn’t a very good idea, nor is sharing information with the waiter or others about the case.
Unless you have specific permission from the homeowner, play your cards close to the vest. Discuss private matters in private venues. If you go into a restaurant and people can’t help but notice your matching ghost team shirts, you are not required to tell them what you are doing. Simply tell them you’re passing through or just having a team meeting. It may be a white lie, but protecting your clients’ confidentiality should be your number one priority.
Next issue: the team never got back to me. I never heard a thing about what they had found (or not found as the case may be) in my home. When I contacted the team’s leader with this little bit of feedback, I was told it was because of members who had left the team. In other words, he blamed my friends who had left the team. I was given excuses and zero answers. I told the team leader to forget about giving me evidence after several weeks of receiving no communication.
Paranormal teams: get back to your clients. Please. Many are not seasoned paranormal investigators. Many are frightened, anxious, curious, and experiencing a whole host of other emotions. This is, after all, their life. It is your hobby – but it is their life. And they want to know what the heck is going on in their home. If you do not communicate with clients and get back to them in a timely manner, they are left anxiously waiting, wondering, and continuing to deal with whatever it is that is in their home.
I get it. Paranormal investigation is your hobby and it takes quite a bit of time to review evidence. That’s just fine. Set your expectations with the homeowners before you leave. If it will take you eight weeks to review the evidence, then say so. If you’re done sooner, great! If not, the homeowner has a realistic expectation about when he or she can expect to start to get answers. In the meantime, keep the lines of communication open. Check in with your clients, even during the eight weeks you are taking to review their evidence. Behave professionally. Put yourself in your client’s shoes and proceed accordingly.
Which brings me to the next problem. I was with some people yesterday and one of them said to me, “You are aware that there are photos of your house all over Team XYZ’s website, right?”
I wasn’t, nor would I ever suspect there was a reason those photos should appear on the website. My home is privately owned property. I did not give verbal, written, or other permission to use any information, photographs, evidence, audio, likenesses, or anything else pertaining to my case. I certainly did not say they could do so publicly.
Many museums do not allow people to take photographs of their exhibits because those photographs wind up on the Internet, which gives thieves a handy inventory list for when they break in. While I am certainly not saying my home is a museum, we do have valuables in our home. Most people do – computers, television, jewelry, electronics. When you post pictures of their home all over the Internet, you are creating a handy shopping list for those individuals that make their living in a less than honest fashion. If you do post photos or other evidence, it’s important you have signed waivers from the home or business owner saying it is okay. And even then, your best bet is to only post photos that may contain a bit of evidence – not just post random photos taking in full light conditions to show that you actually investigated the place.
Finally, I have one other issue. It came back to me that the leader of this group for whom I did a favor was talking smack about me behind my back. Apparently, he stated to people he wanted to investigate my home because I had “contacts,” and that he wanted to be able to use those contacts to further his ambitions. In other words, he pretty much wanted to use my home and use me. When I didn’t come forth with those contacts, it appears he turned to trashing me instead – at least to a few people I know. Now I get this is second-hand information. The group leader has never been anything but polite and fairly friendly to me. But it raises a good point. Once you’ve left a home, keep your mouth shut. If you form an opinion about the homeowner, discuss it constructively in the context of your group, but don’t go out into the general public and share information that just may get back to the homeowner. It sort of takes the shine off, if you know what I mean.
We work in a field that really struggles for any level of legitimacy. Therefore, our behavior and ethics need to be exemplary if we’d ever like to be thought of as anything other than a fringe group of hobbyists. How teams behave in public, on investigations, and with regards to clients affects public perception of the paranormal community. If we’re going out there displaying questionable behavior, then we will continue to have to struggle against the belief that we’re all a bunch of whackados.
If I had been a typical client instead of someone connected to the paranormal, what impression would I have come away with from the investigation of my home? How would I have viewed the paranormal field as a whole by my interactions with this team?
I’d like to summarize, offering my suggestions for team comportment. You may disagree. You may think my suggestions don’t go far enough. But somehow, somewhere, we need to have standards of behavior. I’d suggest you sit down for a team meeting and brainstorm what yours are. And then, adhere to them.
Karen’s Rules for Paranormal Teams
- Background check everyone that is on your team.
It may cost you a little money to do so, but having a criminal background check is a good way to screen applicants. It also gives clients a level of assurance.
- Manage client’s expectations from your first meeting. Expectations management is very important. Let your client know the scope of your investigation and the limitations of your evidence. Be honest about how long it will take, what it will entail, and how long it will be before you can get back to them. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. You can’t promise to find ghosts, and you can’t promise to get rid of them. Be realistic about what your team’s role is.
- Use informed consent. Create a document that becomes a “contract” between you and your client. In that document, include paragraphs outlining permission to investigate, areas in the home you can access and those that are off limits, permission to use or not use evidence and photographs publicly, who will be there, timeline for return of evidence, etc. What will you give the client? Will they receive an evidence DVD? Copies of photographs? A written report? This can be as detailed of a document as you like. In fact, the more detailed it is, the less chance you’ll have of developing a misunderstanding between you and your client.
- Perform an extensive interview. There’s a lot you need to know about a client, and my guess is there’s a lot they will want to know about you. You need to ask numerous questions – health issues, medications, mental health history, even if they watch paranormal television. In order to reassure the client, you may even want to have a signed confidentiality statement in which every member of your team signs a piece of paper saying all personal and private information gleaned on the investigation will remain confidential unless otherwise released by the client. Your team also needs to be willing to allow the client to extensively interview you. They are allowing you into their homes and lives, so be an open book and allow them to ask anything they need to know to feel more comfortable with your team.
- Keep religion and beliefs out of it. We live in a world of very diverse faith and practices. While you may believe in demons, others don’t. If your client’s issue centers on a religious belief (such as they believe they have demonic forces in their home), I strongly suggest you refer them to clergy of their faith rather than attempting to handle it yourself, “debunking” their beliefs, etc.
- Eliminate the word “debunk” from your vocabulary. It is a condescending word. Below I’ve listed the definition for the word “debunk.” Is this really what you intend? A better word might be “disprove” or “logically explain.”
- Expose the falseness or hollowness of (a myth, idea, or belief).
- Reduce the inflated reputation of (someone), esp. by ridicule: “comedy takes delight in debunking heroes.”
- Don’t reveal your psychics. If you have team psychics who go in and are reading the house, keep this private. You can let the homeowner know whether you do or don’t work with psychics, but don’t reveal who those people are. Instead, have your psychics write their impressions down as they go through the investigation. Information they receive can be revealed on a personal experience report as part of your client package after the investigation.
- Be extremely ethical with your evidence review. Reviewing evidence takes a great deal of personal integrity and self-awareness. Remember, any evidence you give a homeowner could totally change how they view their home. If you’re not sure whether an “EVP” is an actual voice or a member of your team whispering, don’t present it as evidence. If you had a personal experience with something that felt a little malevolent, describe that without interpretation rather than saying it’s a demon. If you capture a photo or video that may have any type of logical explanation, don’t present it as evidence.
- Protect confidentiality. It’s okay to say “We’re investigating a private home in Seattle.” It may, however, be too much information to indicate a neighborhood or share other identifying information.
- Keep your word. If you say it will take two weeks to show your clients evidence, get back to them in two weeks. You know how quickly your team can process evidence, so be honest about it. Decide as a team how long it will take to get back to a specific client, and then do it.
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep. For example, if you perform house cleansings, don’t guarantee it will rid the house of spirits, because frankly you don’t know if it will or not. Even if it’s worked the past 100 times you’ve done it, the 101st time might be the one that doesn’t work.
- Have integrity. This covers a lot. Be honest about what you do or don’t find. Don’t tell clients that your team is the be all and end all in paranormal investigation, so if you find nothing it means nothing is there. Don’t talk smack about your clients. Don’t go into investigations with a secondary motive (such as mining their contacts.) You are there to investigate your clients’ homes or businesses, and to report back to them with evidence. That is all.
- Leave the home location exactly as you found it. Hikers have a motto: pack it in, pack it out. Leave natural areas pristine. You can apply this philosophy, as well. Make sure you remove every piece of tape that was holding down a camera. If you washed your hands, make sure you haven’t splashed water all around the sink or left the towels hanging lopsided. If you ate a cookie, clean up your crumbs. Bring your own food, beverages, plates, utensils, etc. if you plan to eat on the investigation. Bring a garbage bag and take your garbage with you. The homeowner should not even know you’ve been there, so use a careful eye during cleanup and restore the home to its previous condition.
- Get back to your clients, even if you find nothing. Just because your team found nothing does not mean the clients’ experiences aren’t real. Be sensitive to their fears and concerns.
- Don’t post evidence publicly unless you have written permission. ‘Nuff said.
- Keep lines of communication open with clients and check back occasionally.
- If a client is wasting your time, it’s okay to disengage. Occasionally (or more often), you’ll run across the client that simply watches too much paranormal television. That doesn’t mean that their experiences aren’t real to them, it just means they may have rather vivid imaginations based on what they’ve seen on television. If your team has truly made an honest effort and the client keeps coming back, it’s okay to disengage. Tell them you’ve been in their home and investigated (usually more than once), and you are unable to confirm or negate their experiences so you’re closing your case file on them.
Do you have rules to add? How does your team ensure you operate ethically and professionally? Leave a comment below!