The Psychological Aspects of Channeling

By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr.John Weldon; ©2012
Many channelers claim their spirit guides are only a part of their subconscious minds, their intuition, or their “creative unconscious.”

The Psychological Aspects of Channeling

“Creative” Psychology

Many channelers claim their spirit guides are only a part of their subconscious minds, their intuition, or their “creative unconscious.” The spirits themselves may claim this.[1] Channelers may say this because they are uncomfortable with the idea that real spirits are actually possessing them. These channelers find it easier to believe that the spirits are merely part of the newfound powers of their own mind or of human genius.

Consider the following comments by one of the leading British mediums, Eileen Garrett: “A further word about the controls may here be in order. I long ago accepted them as working symbols of the subconscious…. For myself, I have never been able wholly to accept them as the spiritual dwellers on the threshold, which they seem to believe they are. I rather leaned away from accepting them as such, a fact which is known to them and troubles them not at all.”[2] The spirits are not at all concerned by Garrett’s classification of them as aspects of her own subconscious because it still permits them free rein.

Interestingly enough, modern parapsychology (the scientific study of the occult) has provided much support in the area of relabeling the activity of these spirits. People who would never permit themselves to be possessed by spirits might welcome the “scientific-sounding” idea that they are really only developing natural psychic abilities, or contacting the collective unconscious or their own “archetypes,” or the alleged “higher consciousness,” or the “divine mind.” Once the spirits’ activity is masked under the disguise of neutral mind powers, their activity becomes unrecognizable for what it really is: true spirit contact. What is frightening is that many people in the psychological and scientific community and in the psychic community are redefining something supernatural and demonic as something natural and human. Professor Jon Klimo’s text, Channeling: Investigations on Receiving Information from Paranormal Sources, illustrates this profusely.[3]

In his classic book The Screwtape Letters, Oxford scholar C. S. Lewis astutely portrays two devils talking to one another and planning their strategy for deceiving men:

Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course, this has not always been so. We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence, we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism, and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and skeptics. At least, not yet. I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalize and mythologize their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, a belief in us (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy. The “Life Force,” the worship of sex and some aspects of Psychoanalysis may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work—the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls “Forces” while denying the existence of “spirits”—then the end of the war will be in sight.[4]

Today, psychology is promoting the activity of spirits under a nonthreatening psychological language. For example, we now have past-life therapy, inner-counselor therapy, transpersonal psychology, transcultural psychiatry, metapsychiatry, and shamanistic counseling, all of which may verge on or involve spiritism.

Certain concepts in modern psychology, therefore, are becoming a tool for camouflaging the demonic and expanding its influence in society under another name. Proof of this is seen in that virtually every occult power or spirit manifestation has been “explained” psychologically or parapsychologically, or endorsed humanistically, as the “new powers of the mind.” And when psychology redefines these spirits as the hidden potential of the human mind, then one goal of therapy is to tap into these new powers.[5] This approach agrees with the stated purposes of many of the spirits themselves, who say their goal is to “empower” people to get in touch with their own “intuition,” “higher self,” “creative subpersonality,” or “divine potential,” so that in the future everyone will become a “channel” for something.[6] Desiring invisibility, the spirits want people to view their activity as nothing more than the normal workings of the human mind.

Multiple Personalities and Channeling

Although not all cases of multiple personality disorder (MPD) are spiritistic, some clearly are. This illustrates yet another ruse whereby spirits can operate invisibly under the guise of a neutral concept in order to secure their goals.

This area can be quite difficult to sort out. For example, on a recent news magazine television program they interviewed a woman with over 50 multiples. It clearly seemed like a genuine case of MPD. But even where spiritism is not a probable cause, it seems that at least one of the personalities often acts like an evil spirit or a demon. In this case, one of the personalities mutilated the woman’s body, carving out of the flesh on her arm the words “you must die” and carving an upside-down cross on her forehead. This could simply have been a form of pathological self-mutilation, but we are suspicious when one of the personalities seems to act like a demon, e.g., employing self-mutilation and satanic elements like upside-down crosses. Even if all the other multiples are in fact reflections of a legitimate psychodynamic, how do we know an evil spirit hasn’t joined in to mask its own activity?

Also of concern is the fact that multiple personalities usually emerge from altered states of consciousness, especially hypnosis, Associate professor of psychology Elizabeth L. Hillstrom, specializing in physiological psychology at Wheaton College, comments: “In most cases, however, new ‘personalities’ apparently do not manifest themselves in normal consciousness unless they have first made an appearance in the hypnotic state, while the therapist is actively searching for them. This, along with the fact that people with multiple personality disorder are often deeply hypnotizable and suggestible, raises the disturbing possibility that therapists are unwittingly creating many of these personalities with their own suggestions.”[7]

Other psychological and parapsychological researchers have made similar notations. And, as we will discuss in a moment, they also note that a clearer connection to spiritism is beginning to emerge even in the minds of some secular researchers.

Consider the following comments by transpersonal psychologist Alberto Villoldo and distinguished parapsychological researcher Stanley Krippner in their Healing States: A Journey into the World of Spiritual Healing and Shamanism:

Many psychotherapists have observed the emergence of “subpersonalities” in their work with clients during hypnosis, guided imagery, or emotional catharsis…. In cases of multi-personality, subpersonalities assume identities of their own and will often engage in outrageous experiences of which the person has no knowledge…. Subpersonalities often emerge in hypnosis. In one study, 78 students were hypnotized, after it had been determined that they could enter altered states of consciousness quite easily and go into deep hypnotic states. They were requested to go back to an age preceding their births and be somebody else. This was an easy task for 32 of the students…. [So what really happened here?] Did the hypnotized students manifest subpersonalities? Past lives? Spirit entities? Any or all of these possibilities might be valid and further investigations are needed to produce more data.[8]

In the meantime, some psychotherapists who deal with cases of multipersonality have taken interest in spiritism. Ralph Allison, an American psychiatrist who has worked with many clients demonstrating this problem, has described the “alter personality” as serving a definite and practical purpose. “Repeatedly,” he observes, “I encountered aspects of entities of the personality which were not true alter personalities…. I have come to believe in the possibility of spirit possession.” [Allison is the author of Minds in Many Pieces (New York: Rawson, Wade, 1980).] There is always a reason for an “alter personality,” usually due to abuse or trauma in childhood. Thus, according to Allison, “The discovery of an entity who doesn’t serve any recognizable purpose presents a diagnostic problem. Interestingly enough, such entities often refer to themselves as spirits. Over the years, I’ve encountered too many such cases to dismiss the possibility of spirit possession completely.”[9]

Thus, what is significant about MPD is that a number of psychological researchers and therapists who investigate this phenomenon are not always sure if they are dealing with actual spirits or internal alternative personalities. The implications of this are disturbing, to say the least.

The New Age text Higher Creativity argues that the phenomenon of multiple personalities may actually help promote the social and scientific acceptance of channeling:

Recent research on the phenomenon of so-called “multiple personalities” suggests that this term may prove to be an extremely useful metaphor that reduces the scientific aversion to the channeling phenomenon…. The alternate personality—or personalities, since there are often a number of these part-time residents—is typically very dissimilar in such characteristics as speech and thought patterns, mood and temperament, etc.; these differences may show up in physiological changes such as: voice, gender, brain wave patterns, chemical balance in body fluids, and so forth….

The establishment of the reality of alternate personalities may open the door to a scientific dialogue about channeling, a dialogue which has thus far been largely conspicuous by its absence…. [I]t is already the case in the literature on multiple personalities that some of these alternates have rather remarkable capabilities. Using the scientifically accepted metaphor of multiple personalities, it is possible to begin to explore the channeling phenomenon in a scientific way without getting hung-up on the usual metaphysical questions. The existence and apparent wisdom of the channeling source can be noted and explored while leaving open questions about the nature of that source as whether the alternate personality is “really” a person who once lived on the earth, or a being that exists in some trans-terrestrial space or dimensions or merely a psychological off-shoot of the channeler’s psyche. Such questions may never fall within the domain of science other than as alternate hypotheses, and yet the fruits of the channeling phenomenon can come to be appreciated and used to the benefit of humankind—leaving open the issue of the ultimate nature of the channeling source, as scientists in fact leave open the issue of the ultimate nature of consciousness and of “ordinary” human personality.[10]

In a standard text, Channeling, Professor Jon Klimo gives examples of the similarities between MPD and channeling and the difficulty of separating them. But the differences must also be noted; for example, 75 percent of MPD patients apparently report personalities under the age of twelve, a rarity among channelers, and most multiples have several or many personalities, while most channelers have only one or two.[11] Still, there are remarkable parallels in the phenomenon itself, so much so that “a growing number of clinicians and researchers… are beginning to believe that at least some of the alter personalities are actually impinging from outside the multiple’s psyche, as in the case of unwanted possession.”[12]

When the phenomenon per se is indistinguishable from channeling, and while the personalities give similar or identical messages to those given by the spirits of channeling, one has to be suspicious.

Further illustration of the confusion can be seen in the fact that many times those who are mediums are possessed by spirits, such as Louis Gasparetto, are conceptualized as having multi-personality disorder. Consider the following discussion about Gasparetto: “Each subpersonality when dominant, determines that person’s attitudes, showing relatively distinct behavioral patterns. In some subpersonalities, amnesia exists for the thoughts and actions of the other subpersonalities. Some ‘alter personalities’ may try to sabotage, dominate, or destroy the ‘host personality’.”[13]

If researchers think that some of the personalities in MPD are actual spirits, while other researchers interpret actual spirit possession as MPD, it is easy to see the potential for confusion in sorting out what is actually occurring. Consider the following discussion of the famous trance medium Eileen Garrett, whose main spirit guide was “Uvani,” but who also channeled other spirits by the names of “Abduhl Latif,” “Tehotah,” and “Rama”:

Ira Progoff, a psychiatrist, extensively interviewed Garrett and each of her spirit guides. He observed that Tehotah and Rama emerge from a deeper level of consciousness than did the other two spirits, and that they resembled the “archetypes” or universal symbols written about by Carl Jung. Progoff felt that Garrett was a highly complex person who used her mediumship and spirits in an ingenious way to obtain personality integration.[14]

Garrett herself wavered between regarding her voices as her own subpersonalities and as guides from the spirit world. From a psychological point of view it makes little difference, because they serve the purpose of personality integration. Furthermore, they provided her with information with which she was unfamiliar in her ordinary state of consciousness—information found to be useful by her clients. Larry Peters and Douglass Price-Williams find the shaman’s “astro flight” and the medium’s “spirit incorporation or possession” to be highly psychotherapeutic.[15]

To the contrary, from a psychological point of view it makes all the difference in the world whether we were dealing with real spirits. If spirits serve the purpose of personality integration, or provide “useful information,” they are simply using these as a ruse to gain influence or control over a person. The basic problem with modern psychology is that it has no categories to deal effectively with spiritistic intrusion or imitation of MPD. Unfortunately, even those characteristics that distinguish MPD from spirit possession could be engineered on the part of the spirits. We are not saying this is the case; only that it cannot entirely be ruled out.


  1. Jon Klimo, Channeling: Investigations on Receiving Information from Paranormal Sources (Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1987), pp. 304-07.
  2. Eileen J. Garrett, Many Voices: The Autobiography of a Medium (NY: Dell, 1969), pp. 86-88.
  3. Klimo, Channeling, pp. 14, 20, 39, 131, 205-320.
  4. C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (NY: MacMillan, 1969), pp. 32-33.
  5. Klimo, Channeling, pp. 39, 131-32, 184, 237-53.
  6. Ibid., pp. 183-84.
  7. Elizabeth L. Hillstrom, Testing the Spirits (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), p. 67; cf., Knowing the Facts about Hypnosis and Hypnotic Regression eBook.
  8. Alberto Villoldo and Stanley Krippner, Healing States: A Journey Into the World of Spiritual Healing and Shamanism (NY: Fireside/Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1987), pp. 184-85.
  9. Ibid., pp. 20-21, emphasis added.
  10. Willis Harman, Howard Rheingold, Higher Creativity: Liberating the Unconscious for Breakthrough Insights (Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher, 1984), pp. 119-120.
  11. Klimo, Channeling, pp. 237-239.
  12. Ibid., p. 237.
  13. Villoldo and Krippner, Healing States, p. 38.
  14. Ibid., p. 184.
  15. Ibid., p. 197, emphasis added.

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