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Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health (IGPP), Freiburg, Germany
Introduction: Human experiences that deviate from conventional convictions about reality are referred to as exceptional experiences (ExE). Since its foundation in 1950, the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health (IGPP) has offered counseling for people reporting ExE (Bauer et al., 2012).
Inspired by Metzinger’s theory of mental representations, a separate model of phenomenon basis classes (MPBC) was developed to classify ExE (Fach, 2011, 2014). The MPBC allows distinguishing ExE-patterns in terms of relations of self and world as sub-models of an overall phenomenal reality-model (Atmanspacher & Fach, 2019). The MPBC is ideologically neutral and open to different interpretations of the ontological status of phenomena. Statistical analyses of 2356 counseling cases show six ExE-patterns in the framework of the MPBC as typical counseling requests.
In the context of counseling ExE often indicate conflicts between human strivings for autonomy and bonding. Autonomy and bonding can be considered as basic human needs and, in systems theory, as fundamental complementary conditions of the existence of all biological systems. System theoretical considerations also support the thesis that autonomy and bonding are structural determinants of ExE (Fach, 2021). The six empirical ExE-patterns form two continua of internal and external phenomena: The internal continuum begins with phenomena in the self-model that are related as extrasensory perceptions to persons and events in the world-model and are thus a subtle form of bonding. In the stage of internal presence and influences bonding in the self-model increased and threatens personal autonomy. In the scenario of mediumship and automatisms internal bonding seems to displace the autonomy of the self-model into the world-model through psychophysical dissociation. The external continuum starts with a perception of meaningful coincidences in the world-model, which seem to be autonomous arranged and addressed to the self-model. In the stage of poltergeists and apparitions increased autonomy is overriding lawful bonding in the in the world-model. In case of nightmares and sleep paralysis the bonding between the self-model and the physical body (as part of the world-model) is severed by psychophysical dissociation.
Client types identified on the phenomenological basis of the six ExE-patterns by cluster analysis correspond to social bonding and partnership in significantly different ways. Biographical analyses consistently show links between ExE and negative or traumatic childhood bonding experiences. On the background of attachment theory empirical research describe different bonding styles of adults. Secure attachment in infants is reflected in a secure-autonomous bonding style. For people with an insecure-dismissing attachment representation partnership can offer factual support but no emotional security. Because too much closeness leads to negative feelings they emphasize self-responsibility and independence. In contrast people with an insecure-enmeshed bonding style yearn for closeness. However, a simultaneous lack of autonomy and trust leads to conflictual relationships in which they oscillate between positive and negative feelings and cling to their partner. Systematic relations between ExE-patterns and insecure bonding styles were identified. We found a relationship between dismissing bonding and the continuum of internal ExE and enmeshed bonding and the continuum of external ExE. The ExE-patterns with psychophysical dissociation phenomena at the end of both continua correspond most clearly with an insecure-disorganized bonding style.
The approach presented here belongs in the context of a still developing clinical parapsychology (Kramer et al., 2012) that cares for people with stressful ExE. If counseling helps clients to recognize and understand that recurrent and distressing ExE are rooted in their life history and bonding style, it can serve as a bridge and motivate them to engage in psychotherapy. Therapy here does not mean treating ExE as mental disorders or as problems per se. With the system-theoretical paradigm of autonomy and bonding as complementary structural determinants that constitute human life as basic needs and function as organizing principles of mental representation, we gain a new understanding of ExE. Exceptional phenomena can be understood as mental representations of self-organized processes that, at the level of organismic and psychophysical wholeness, respond to and strive to balance a pronounced mismatch of autonomy and bonding in the psychosocial sphere of the individual. Therefore, people who report persistently distressing ExE need to be supported to adequately perceive, meet, and protect their basic needs (Belz & Fach, 2015). In particular, positive relatedness experiences in counseling and therapy can promote the integration and balance of autonomy and bonding in clients’ daily lives, which should reduce their disposition to stressful ExE in the long term.
Atmanspacher, H., & Fach, W. (2019). Exceptional experiences of stable and unstable mental states, understood from a dual-aspect point of view. Philosophies, 4(1), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies4010007
Bauer, E., Belz, M., Fach, W., Fangmeier, R., Schupp-Ihle, C., & Wiedemer, A. (2012). Counseling at the IGPP – An overview. In W. H. Kramer, E. Bauer, & G. H. Hövelmann (Eds.), Perspectives of clinical parapsychology (pp. 149–167). Bunnik: Stichting Het Johan Borgman Fonds.
Belz, M., & Fach, W. (2012). Theoretical reflections on counseling and therapy for individuals reporting ExE. In W. H. Kramer, E. Bauer, & G. H. Hövelmann (Eds.), Perspectives of clinical parapsychology (pp. 168–189). Bunnik: Stichting Het Johan Borgman Fonds.
Belz, M., & Fach, W. (2015). Exceptional experiences (ExE) in clinical psychology. In E. Cardeña, J. Palmer, & D. Marcusson-Clavertz (Eds.), Parapsychology: A handbook for the 21st century (pp. 364–379). Jefferson: McFarland.
Fach, W. (2011). Phenomenological Aspects of Complementarity and Entanglement in Exceptional Human Experiences (ExE). Axiomathes, 21(2), 233–247. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10516-010-9143-7
Fach, W. (2014). Complementary aspects of mind-matter correlations in exceptional human experiences. In H. Atmanspacher & C. A. Fuchs (Eds.), The Pauli-Jung conjecture and its impact today (pp. 255–273). Exeter: Springer.
Fach, W. (2021). The spectrum of the exceptional. Conceptual approaches, empirical-phenomenological investigations, and plan-analytic case studies of mental representations in exceptional experiences (Ph.D. Thesis). University of Bern, Switzerland.
Fach, W., Atmanspacher, H., Landolt, K., Wyss, T. A., & Rössler, W. (2013). A comparative study of exceptional experiences of clients seeking advice and of subjects in an ordinary population. Frontiers in Psychology. (4), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00065
Kramer, W. H., Bauer, E., & Hövelmann, G. H. (Eds.) (2012). Perspectives of clinical parapsychology. Bunnik: Stichting Het Johan Borgman Fonds.
Wolfgang Fach is a licensed psychotherapist and counselor for people with exceptional experiences (ExE) at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health (IGPP) in Freiburg, Germany. His research interests include, in particular, the phenomenology of ExE, approaches to understanding psychophysical relationships, and the development of specific concepts and interventions in psychotherapy and counseling of people with ExE.