Roxburgh, E. C. and Roe, C. A. (2011) The future of mediumship research: a multimethods approach. Parapsychological Association 54th Annual Convention, Curitiba, Brazil, 18-21 August 2011. Curitiba, Brazil: Parapsychological Association.
It is argued that there is a need for more systematic work that employs a mixed methods approach to combine qualitative and quantitative data in order to give a thorough account of the phenomenon of mediumistic communication. There has been a growing acceptance of the value of adopting a qualitative or mixed methods approach to address parapsychological issues, and some of this has focused on the question of mediumship. For example, recent doctoral research by the author(s) used an auto-ethnographic approach in an attempt to gain experiential understanding of the mediumship phenomenon, and as a precursor to designing more formal studies. This included a nationwide survey and a semi-structured interview study to investigate psychological and phenomenological inquiry components of Spiritualist mental mediumship in the UK. The psychological/quantitative component of the research explored whether the role of a medium is associated with psychological wellbeing or psychological distress. Findings from this work suggested that mediums present with better mental health than comparable others and that the process of redefining one’s identity and social support associated with the mediumship role may serve as a therapeutic function. The phenomenological/qualitative work found that spiritualist mediums placed particular emphasis on the normalisation and validation of initially distressing experiences (e.g. hearing spirits) by family, society and the spiritualist church network and the importance of constructing a personal experiential framework for making sense of experiences. These studies involved experienced mediums so it was not possible to explore the means by which inculcation in a spiritualist subculture might serve as a means of managing such stressors. Thus, in terms of future research, one proposal would be for a longitudinal study to follow people through mediumship training as they progress from neophyte to qualified practitioner. This could involve the administration of wellbeing measures at baseline (at the start of mediumship development) and then at various stages of mediumship development, which would be compared with an appropriately matched control group. An additional qualitative strand could interview mediums at various stages of their development so that insight might be gained into the process by which abilities (and subjective understandings) might evolve with increasing experience. A further ethnographic study involving participant observation of mediumship training courses could explore what practices are important, how one develops as a medium and what techniques are learnt to control mediumship. These combined studies would allow us to explore whether adoption of the mediumship role through mediumship training has an impact on mental health. While these ideas for future research focus on the perspectives of mediums, a further proposition would be to undertake more systematic research investigating the experiences of the client in the mediumistic reading dyad in order to generate an understanding of their expectations and perceptions of mental mediumship. Finally, it is acknowledged that parapsychologists should actively seek conventional explanations for ostensibly paranormal phenomena, such as mediumship, and this could lead to a consideration of cold reading