In one study grieving parents ranked support groups and psychics as the most helpful in coping with their grief. Photo courtesy of Yeshi Kangrang.
An expert on grief says bereaved parents shouldn’t discount the benefits
One of the most difficult aspects of dealing with the death of a loved one is its finality. Surviving family members may have great difficulty accepting the fact that they will never speak with their loved one again.
Consequently, some bereaved individuals decide to contact a medium. Mediums claim that they can receive messages from deceased loved ones, and act as a channel between people who have died and loved ones who are still alive.
It’s easy to make fun of those who claim to talk to the dead and the people who call on them. Comedian John Oliver laid out plenty of reasons in his February 2019 segment on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
Mediums may appear to make wild — or slightly educated — guesses. In one case aired on NBC’s Today show a medium suggested that fishing was an important hobby for former NBC anchor Matt Lauer. Oliver later revealed that information was easy to find with a simple Google search looking for information about Lauer and his deceased father.
And they can be wrong — and hurtful. While in captivity, Amanda Berry, a teen who was kidnapped and helped captive for a decade, watched in horror as a psychic on The Montel Williams Show told her mother that she was dead. Williams later apologized, but Berry’s mother died believing her daughter was no longer living.
In this 20-minute segment, Oliver says mediums are simply “ventriloquizing the dead” and part of a “vast underworld of unscrupulous vultures.”
Camille Wortman, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Stony Brook University, agrees that the world of psychics and mediums is rife with con artists.
But in her decades-long work with grieving people, she sees another side to the story. A study, which backs up her own experience working with the bereaved, shows that mediums and psychics also can help grieving people — even more than therapists, grief counselors and clergy.
Wortman believes that destigmatizing the topic of visiting with mediums could help bereaved parents recognize that even just one or two sessions could play a big role in their healing.
Wortman considers herself a John Oliver fan. But, she said, “for the sake of entertainment, he put material out there that can be very damaging.”
‘I can’t wait to tell you. I went to a medium’
Wortman is a longtime expert on grief and bereavement with a special focus on how people react to the sudden and traumatic death of a loved one. Her interest in the grief process started, she said, at the age of four when her father died.
Bereavement expert Camille Wortman says her experience with parents left her very interested in grief and very driven to understand more.
“Nobody ever talked about it. Nobody dealt with it on an overt level,” she said. “It left me very interested and very driven to understand more.”
Much of Wortman’s work has been with bereaved parents. And, in her work, she began to notice that many of them visited with a medium. Wortman had no feelings or beliefs about mediums, but the parents talked of very positive outcomes.
Consider the case of Joan, a friend of Wortman’s. Joan’s college-aged son, David, was murdered on his way home from soccer practice. Wortman was there to help her during those early days, connecting her with a therapist. But the mother’s pain was still raw, even a couple of years later.
Wortman, however, noticed a big change one day during a phone call. “For the first time, Joan’s voice sounded different,” she said. “There was a little bit of an upnote to her voice. I wondered what was going on. She said, ‘Camille, I can’t wait to tell you. I went to a medium.’”
Joan told Wortman that during the session, the medium immediately said David wanted to see his wallet, which only Joan knew she’d been carrying in her purse since the day he died. Among other details, the medium also knew that David had a tattoo on his foot with two wings and that his favorite food was sauerkraut.
And, finally, as the session wrapped up, the medium told her David wanted to tell her one more thing: “‘Don’t worry. You’ll always be my number one girl.” It was something David would tell his mom before he’d go on a date.
“This encounter with the medium jump-started her healing, which was going nowhere,” Wortman said. “And she is gradually moving in a positive direction in terms of moving forward with her life. I’ve noticed that of many parents.”
Wortman said she’s heard many stories like Joan’s. “The one thing I am struck by is what a powerful effect it has and how immediate those effects are,” she said.
What the research says
Research backs up Wortman’s discussions with Joan and other grieving parents. A 2012 study, described in the book “Devastating Losses: How Parents Cope With the Death of a Child to Suicide or Drugs,” found that grieving parents ranked support groups and psychics as the most helpful in their grief, followed by grief counselors; psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists, and members of the clergy.
In the study, about 30 percent of parents visited with psychics during the first four years after their child died.
Another 2014 study also found that grieving people reported lower levels of grief after a reading when compared to a visit with a mental health professional.
Wortman surmises that a conversation with a medium can be helpful because it addresses an underlying worry for a grieving parent that a traditional therapist can’t address: Is their child really gone?
“It conveys that their child still exists in some form,” she said. “That’s terribly important. And it conveys that the child is OK. The child is not hurting, not calling out for them. This enables them to put more attention on other important aspects of their life, such as their marriage, their other children, and their job.”
If you’re considering consulting with a medium after the death of a child, Wortman has some tips.
If you know other bereaved parents who have had an experience with a medium, talk to them about it, she said. Learn about how a reading may have helped or hurt.
Don’t fall for a scam
Don’t fall for somebody who is out to simply get your money. “Give it full consideration, but be careful how you go about it,” she said.
Talk to your therapist about it
Some therapists are critical of mediums, but others see the benefits, Wortman said. “Certainly, we need a therapist who does not sit in judgment of mediums and who can have empathy for the reasons a person might go to a medium and can help the person understand the impact of it,” Wortman said.
“They can help you process it,” she said. “And that’s really terribly important.”