3. Shadows of the Mind

I have received thousands of calls and letters from people who have memories of unusual experiences that have been greatly disturbing to them. They have searched for years in vain to discover the origin of these memories.


They think that I might be able to help them. Of course, a person's experiencing unusual events does not necessarily mean he or she is an abductee. I have designed a screening process to eliminate those people who are not serious about their quest (they might merely be on a lark), those who are not emotionally prepared to look into their experiences, and those who have not had, in my estimation, experiences suggesting that they are abductees.

First, I purposely put them through a series of tasks. I require them to fill out a questionnaire about the experiences that propelled them to come forward, and about others that they might not have realized could be part of the abduction phenomenon (for example, "Have you ever seen a ghost?"). I ask them to send the completed questionnaire to me and then to call back. I analyze the questionnaire and decide if their experiences are significant enough to warrant further investigation with hypnosis.


When I talk with them again, I try to persuade them not to look into what could be a Pandora's Box. I give them a strong and frank warning about the dangers of going forward with hypnosis and uncovering an abduction event: They might become depressed, they might have sleep disturbances, they might feel emotionally isolated, and so forth. In effect, they could easily be trading one set of problems for another. I urge them to talk over their decision with their loved ones and call me back later. I then send them a pamphlet that reiterates my warnings so that they can make as informed a decision as possible.

About 30 percent of the people who contact me decide not to undergo hypnosis at this point. This is the right decision for them no matter what their reasons. If they do decide to go forward with the process, I give them another verbal warning about the potential dangers and, if they are still willing, we make an appointment for a session.


By the time they arrive for their first hypnosis regression, I have typically already spent several hours talking to them, and they , are aware of the problems that might result from their regressions. They are also aware that what they remember, if anything, may not necessarily be accurate or even true.

When they finally arrive at my home, we climb the stairs to my third-floor office and talk for an hour or two before we begin hypnosis. We agree about which event in their lives we want to investigate during this session. It might be, for example, a period of missing time, or an incident in which they awoke and found little men standing around their bed. They then lie down on my day-couch and close their eyes, and I begin a simple relaxation induction that allows them to concentrate and focus. At their first session, they are often puzzled because they are not in some "dreamland" or because they feel quite normal. They find that they can argue with me, get up and go to the bathroom, and be completely in control.

I never know what is going to come out of a hypnosis session. If the subject recalls an abduction event—and there are "false alarms," when it seems that an abduction might have taken place but it did not—I begin a series of cautious questions, usually in a conversational style, that organically spring from what they are saying.


Some abductees recount their experiences with detachment, as though they were looking back at the past from a present-day standpoint, others relive their memories as if they were the age at which the event took place. Some are calm about what is happening to them, others are so frightened it becomes difficult for them to continue, although I gently help them through the experience.


Some remember the events haltingly, as the memories come in spurts and starts. Others have trouble describing their experiences because the memories rush back in a flood. Nearly all abductees recall their experiences with a combination of astonishment, surprise, and familiarity. When they are finished, they remember what happened to them, and we talk about their account for an hour or so. When the abductee leaves my office about five hours have passed.1

Even with all my warnings and the preliminary discussions before the first session, about 25 percent stop at this point—usually they are too frightened to go on. For those who continue with me, I conduct as many hypnosis sessions with them as I can. They desperately want to understand what has happened to them and how it has influenced their lives. I have conducted as many as thirty-three sessions with one individual, although the average for all the 110 abductees with whom I have worked is six. I usually do not go over the same event twice.

My style of questioning is not interrogatory. I engage in a give-and-take with the abductee after I am sure that they cannot and will not be led, even inadvertently. I force them to think carefully about the events. I try to give them perspective and the ability to analyze as they remember. Above all, I try to "normalize" them so they can extricate themselves from the unconscious emotional grip the phenomenon often has had them in throughout their lives. I try to give them the strength to untangle themselves from the abductions' psychological effects so that they can get on with their lives without having to constantly think about their situation. I like to get them to the point where they no longer feel the necessity to seek out a hypnotist to understand what has been happening to them.

Hypnosis is easy.


As long as a person wants to be hypnotized, anybody can do it. Asking the right questions in the right way, at the right time, and interpreting the answers is where the trouble comes in. The correct dynamic between hypnotist and abductee depends on the amount of knowledge the hypnotist has acquired about the abduction phenomenon, the experience he or she has with hypnosis, and the preconceptions the hypnotist brings to the session. In addition, the hypnotist must help the abductee cope with the sometimes traumatic memories by intervening therapeutically during the session to provide context and reassurance.


Thus, a competent hypnotist/researcher must have a professional knowledge of hypnosis, a thorough knowledge of the abduction phenomenon, a familiarity with confabulation and false memories, and skill in therapy. Unfortunately, there are few individuals with those qualifications.

All competent researchers quickly learn that memory is unreliable. It is not unusual for a person to remember details of a "normal" traumatic event inaccurately.


Researchers have shown that they can make people remember something that never happened. A casual, but calculated, discussion of an event with a person can instill "memories" in him that have no basis in reality. Through the passage of time, memory also degrades, events blend into one another, and fantasy intrudes upon reality.

I was extremely fortunate to have encountered unreliable memory the very first time I conducted a hypnotic regression session.


Melissa Bucknell, a twenty-seven-year-old real estate management employee, and I agreed before the session to investigate an incident that had occurred when she was six years old. She began by describing playing in a field with a friend of hers. She bent over to look at a butterfly, froze in that position, and then found herself being lifted into a hovering UFO. Strange-looking beings removed her clothes and placed her on a table. They conducted a physical examination and, to her embarrassment, did a gynecological procedure as well.

After the examination, a more human-looking alien, whom she called Sanda, led her into a hallway where she met a small alien. Melissa was required to touch the small alien's head and immediately felt love, warmth, and affection emanating from him. Sanda then took her into another room in which a council of several aliens sat around a table. The aliens discussed how bright, strong, and good Melissa was and said she would have the same traits as an adult. After that she was led down a hallway, her clothes were put back on, and she was taken to the field where she had been before.

Later that evening, I listened to the audio tape that I had made of the session. To my horror, I discovered that Melissa had spoken too softly to be picked up by my tape recorder's condenser microphone. The tape had almost nothing on it. I continued to work with Melissa, and three months after our first session, I suggested that we revisit our initial abduction regression, explaining that I had had a problem with the tape recorder.

This time Melissa was less sure about what had happened. She described floating up into the UFO. She remembered the gynecological portion of her examination, which she once again was embarrassed to relate. She talked about how the beings lifted her up off the table, redressed her, and took her back to the field. But to my surprise, she did not relate the hallway encounter with the small gray alien, during which she was required to touch his head and feel his love. The meeting in which the aliens sat around a table and discussed her development was also absent from her new account.

I was perplexed. The first time Melissa had told me about the small alien with great conviction and emotion. Now when I asked her about the encounter, she was not sure that it had ever happened. I then questioned her about the council meeting with the aliens. Melissa thought for a second and said that perhaps this had happened to another abductee with whom she had been friends. She was pretty sure that it had not happened to her.

This experience taught me an invaluable lesson because I realized that, in all sincerity and honesty, abductees might sometimes remember things that were not true. I resolved to work out a strict methodology to ensure vigilance about false memories. As my research progressed and an abductee reported something I had never heard before, I would wait for confirmation by another abductee unaware of the testimony. I carefully questioned every inconsistency, gap, or logical leap. I worked for a complete chronology and tried to obtain a second-by-second recounting of each abduction event, with no skips, no gaps, and no omissions.

I never received, nor did I ever hear of, another report of an abductee who had been required to touch an alien's head and receive loving emotions. I have heard a few reports of aliens sitting behind a "desk" and talking to the abductee, but the circumstances were quite different from Melissa's account. Also, Melissa would never, in our more than thirty abduction sessions, recall a similar event. All this suggested that she might have unconsciously absorbed a memory fragment from her abductee friend and been confused about other details.

Melissa had done me a tremendous favor. She had taught me the dangers of hypnotically recalled testimony.


It was a lesson I was grateful to learn, and one that all abduction hypnotists and researchers have to learn.


Normal Event Memory

Normal memory is not well understood. Neurologists know that the human brain registers events and gives them a "priority" code. For example, remembering a crime you witnessed receives a higher priority than remembering who passed you on the street. The brain then organizes the material according to its sensory impact. It first places the visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile component parts in short-term memory and then, if these are important enough, it stores them in the myriad neurological sites that constitute long-term memory.

The brain has a retrieval system to recall memory in a variety of ways: by thinking about the event; by allowing another event to trigger recall; or by allowing a sight, sound, smell, or touch to facilitate recall. Memory may also reside in one's consciousness without a triggering mechanism, such as difficult — to — forget traumatic events.

Memory is not stored linearly. It is stored in a "relational" database, where various bits of memory are placed in various neurological "slots." The date and time of an event are stored in one slot, location in another, sounds associated with the event in another, color and smells in yet other slots, feelings in another, and so on. Each of these memory fragments can be forgotten. Each can decay and become distorted. Sometimes a person recalls a memory fragment that only makes sense if the person unconsciously creates a scenario, even if it is a fictional scenario, to incorporate it.2

Given the complexities of memory, it is to be expected that many critics of the abduction phenomenon argue that abductions are only tricks that the mind plays on people. They point to false memory syndrome, to screen memories, and to media "contamination" to explain abduction accounts. They also attack the use of hypnosis in recalling events on the grounds that it, too, can elicit false memories.


Are their objections valid?


False Memory Syndrome

Critics of the abduction phenomenon charge that abductees, often with the encouragement of researchers, unknowingly concoct abduction fantasies. That people can have false memories is beyond doubt. Given certain circumstances, they can, for example, invent complex accounts of sexual and physical abuse. The False Memory Syndrome Foundation in Philadelphia is filled with members who have been unfairly accused of sexual abuse.

False memories of abuse occur when people remember events, usually as children, that did not happen. Nevertheless, the details the victims relate can be extraordinary. They relive their experiences with the emotional impact of real events. Some remember Satanic cults that terrorized them and even killed babies in human sacrifice rituals. When the "victims" are confronted with facts (investigators have not found dead babies; no babies were reported missing at the time and place of the ritual abuse cases), they angrily provide explanations—such as that the mothers themselves were Satanists who gave up their babies for sacrificial purposes and did not report them missing.


People can convey false memories with such conviction and sincerity that they have fooled many investigators. Uncovering false memories of sexual abuse can also lead to major emotional upheavals in people's lives. Families are torn apart, siblings are estranged, lawsuits are instituted, innocent people are unjustly accused and even jailed.

Uncovering false memories is usually facilitated by a therapist who is convinced that a client has been sexually abused (or whatever abuse the false memory recounts), even though the client has no memory of it. Through insistent persuasion, the therapist inculcates the idea into his client that all his emotional problems stem from the repression of the memory of some earlier trauma.


The therapist might tell the client that if he thinks hard enough, he will remember the traumatic event. Healing can only begin, the therapist says, after the memories begin to flow. Not remembering the trauma means that the victim is in denial, and denial becomes further "proof" of the abuse. Caught in this loop, the victim of an earnest but misguided therapist finds it difficult to break out. Eventually, as in the widely publicized case of Paul Ingram and his daughters, the subject "remembers" the abuse.3

There are expert investigators of false memory syndrome, who have had extensive experience with allegations of sexual abuse and are able to detect false memories. However, they have begun to extend their expertise to areas in which, unfortunately, they are not expert. The abduction phenomenon has become an irresistible target.

For example, psychologist and hypnosis specialist Michael Yapko writes, in Suggestions of Abuse, that the abduction phenomenon is simply a matter of "the phenomenon of human suggestibility," which causes him "irritation and disbelief."4


Psychologist and memory expert Elizabeth Loftus, in her book The Myth of Repressed Memory, treats abductions as a form of irrationality engaged in by otherwise "sane and intelligent" people.5


She cites psychologist Michael Nash's assertions that he "successfully treated" a man who claimed that he had a sperm sample taken from him during an abduction. Using hypnosis and other therapeutic techniques, Nash calmed the man and helped him return to his normal routine, but, Nash laments, "He walked out of my office as utterly convinced that he had been abducted as when he had walked in." Loftus agrees with Nash that the power of this man's false memories enabled him to continue to believe his ridiculous story.6

Loftus and Nash, along with other critics, are incorrect. Neither they nor any other critics have ever presented evidence that abduction accounts are the products of false memory syndrome (or, for that matter, of any causative factor other than what the abductees have experienced). The reason they have not presented this evidence is that they do not understand the abduction phenomenon. If they did, they would realize that abduction accounts differ from false memory syndrome in five significant areas.

In contrast to victims of false memory syndrome, abductees do not recount only childhood experiences. They do, of course, recall abduction events during childhood, because the abduction phenomenon begins in childhood, but they also recall abduction events as adults. In fact, many abduction accounts, unlike false memory accounts, are of very recent events. Of the last 450 abductions that I have investigated, nearly 30 percent happened within the previous thirty days and over 50 percent had occurred within the past year. I have also investigated abduction events that were reported to me only a few hours, or even a few minutes, after they took place.7

In 1991, for example, Jason Howard, a schoolteacher, was on his way to my house for an abductee support group meeting. He put on his shoes, which he keeps by the front door. It is the last thing he always does before he leaves his house. Suddenly it was four hours later and Jason was on his bed in his bedroom upstairs. He called me immediately, explaining that he vaguely remembered putting on his shoes and then lying on the couch. When I conducted a hypnotic session on this event, Jason remembered putting on one shoe and then feeling an irresistible urge to lie on the couch.


He recalled that small beings appeared in his living room and floated him directly up through the ceiling into a waiting UFO. A series of procedures followed, including sperm sampling and mental envisioning sequences.


The aliens returned him to his house, but instead of putting him on the couch, where he was at the beginning of the abduction, they put him on his bed in his upstairs bedroom. When he came to consciousness, he realized that something had happened, and he called me. The immediate reporting of this event does not fit the description of false memory syndrome.

In contrast to victims of false memory syndrome, abductees have indirect corroboration of events. For example, I was on the phone with Kay Summers, whose abduction experiences began while we were talking. She described a roaring noise sometimes associated with the beginning of an abduction, and I could hear this noise over the phone. Hypnosis later revealed that soon after she hung up the phone, she was abducted. False memories do not take shape
simultaneously with the occurrence of actual events during which a researcher is an indirect corroborator.

In contrast to victims of false memory syndrome, abductees often remember events without the aid of a therapist. They can remember events that happened to them at .specific times in their lives. They have always known that the event happened, and they do not need a therapist to reinforce their memories.

In contrast to victims of false memory syndrome, abductees are physically missing during the event. The abductee is not where he is supposed to be; people who search for him cannot find him. The abductee is usually aware that there is a gap of two or three hours that neither he nor anyone else can account for.


Such physical corroboration does not exist in false memory.

In contrast to victims of false memory syndrome, abductees can provide independent confirmation of the abduction. Approximately 20 percent of abductions include two or more people who see each other during the abduction event. They sometimes independently report this to the investigator.

In addition, it is important to note that unlike victims of false memory syndrome, abductees do not usually experience disintegration of their personal lives after they become aware of their situation. In fact, in many ways the opposite takes place. When abductees undergo competent hypnosis and understand the nature of their memories, they often begin to take intellectual and emotional control over these memories.


They feel more confident as they realize that their supposedly inappropriate thoughts and fears over the years (for example, fear of going into the bedroom at night, thoughts about lying on a table in a strange room surrounded by creatures, being unduly frightened of physicians) were appropriate reactions to a powerful, but unknown, stimulus. By remembering the events, abductees seize control of the fears that have plagued them for years and get their lives back in order, even though they know that the abduction phenomenon will not cease.


Knowledge of the abduction phenomenon helps them to lead more "integrated" lives, rather than having the powerfully disintegrating effects so common with victims of false memory syndrome.


Screen Memories of Sexual Abuse

Before false memory syndrome came to prominence, therapists assumed that abduction accounts were due to repressed memories of sexual abuse in childhood. They postulated that because the abuse was so traumatic, the victim unconsciously transposed the abuse into an abduction account. To cope with the terror, the person lived with the more "acceptable" trauma of being kidnapped by aliens.

There is no evidence for this explanation. There are no instances on record of an abduction account being a "screen memory" of sexual abuse. In fact, the opposite is true. There is a great deal of evidence that people "remember" being sexually abused when in reality they were victimized by the abduction phenomenon.

Jack Thernstrom remembers walking with his sister in a wooded area behind their house when he was twelve. On the walk Jack met a man wearing "dark glasses" who sexually abused him. He was unclear about the details, but he remembered having his clothes taken off and his genitals exposed. He was unclear about what happened to his sister, but he thought that perhaps she had run away. He never told anybody about the event, and he lived for the next eighteen years with the traumatic memory that he had been subjected to sexual abuse by a stranger.


When Jack recounted the episode during hypnotic regression, the man with dark glasses turned out to be an alien, and the incident was a routine abduction event in which Jack underwent a physical examination. He had not been sexually abused. Jack had formed a "memory" of bits and pieces of the event so that, horrible as it might have been, an account of sexual abuse made sense to him.8

In another case, "Julie" recalled an event that occurred when she was ten years old. She was at home in the basement bar with her father and three neighbors. She remembered her father holding her hands above her head while the neighbors sexually assaulted her. In hypnotic regression the woman revealed that this had been an abduction event, which began when she was in the basement bar with her father and his friends. The father and two of the neighbors were placed in an immobile and semiconscious state ("switched off") during the event.


The aliens took her and one neighbor, Mr. Sylvester, out of the basement and into a UFO. During the abduction event, she was made to visualize scenes of sexual contact between a man and a woman (she thought that perhaps the man was Mr. Sylvester). When the episode was over, the aliens returned her and the neighbor to the bar. She had not been sexually violated on that occasion. Mr. Sylvester, whom she despised for years after, turned out to be as much a victim as she was.9

Obviously, not all sexual abuse cases are abduction events. An abductee remembered that she had been sexually assaulted when she was thirteen. She did not remember how she got downstairs into her teenage assailant's basement bedroom, and she was confused about other details. Suspecting that this could be a screen memory for an abduction, we reviewed it under hypnosis. She remembered the boy, how she got downstairs, what happened in the basement, and what happened afterward. She had no memories of seeing aliens, being transported out of the house, or being on board a UFO.


She had been sexually assaulted and not abducted.


Media Contamination

Star Trek has, in essence, become part of American consciousness. Millions of people have seen these fictional accounts of humans and aliens, just as many people have seen reports of abductions on television or have read books about them. Society has been so imbued with stories about alien abductions that it is difficult for most people to escape them. A "pure" abduction account is increasingly difficult to obtain.

The problem of media influence on UFO and abduction reports has long plagued UFO researchers. Over the years, investigators have learned to judge each UFO sighting on its own merits, and they have developed a methodology to "separate the signal from the noise." The credibility of the witness, the quality of the information, and the corroborating accounts of other witnesses have all become criteria in evaluating the validity of the report. Researchers now apply this process to abduction reports.

Does media contamination present a significant problem for abduction research? No.


Although it does occur from time to time, in fact, most abductees are extremely sensitive to the dangers of cultural influences. When they examine their memories with me, they are acutely conscious of the possibility that they might have "picked up" an incident and incorporated it into their own account. In the first few sessions of hypnosis, self-censorship is so heavy that it becomes a problem. People do not want to say things that make them seem crazy, and they do not want to parrot something back to the researcher that they picked up in society. They will tell me during hypnosis when they think they might have mixed in something from the culture. They are so worried about this contamination that very often I have to tell them to verbalize their memories and not censor themselves.

When abductees tell me what they remember, their accounts usually have a richness of detail that could not have come from media contamination. The mass media disseminate very little solid information about abductions. That abductees remember and describe specific aspects of procedures—details that scores of abductees have described but that have never been published—is extraordinary and strongly militates against cultural influences.

A good example of the lack of media contamination is Whitley Strieber's highly controversial book Communion, published in 1987. It was on The New York Times best-seller list for thirty-two weeks and in the number-one position for almost five months.


Strieber recounts details of his experiences that do not match what most abductees say. He tells about being transported to a dirty anteroom where he sat on a bench amid the clutter. This highly evocative passage in his book was both dramatic and frightening. If media contamination were a problem, I would expect some abductees with whom I have worked and who have read Communion to describe a similar situation. That has not occurred.


Not one of them has ever said that he sat in a room that was dirty or littered with clothes. Similarly, Strieber's movie, Communion, watched by millions of people, had a scene of dancing, fat, blue aliens. Neither I nor my colleagues have ever had a similar report. Despite the apparent paucity of any evidence of media contamination, all researchers must nevertheless be vigilant about it.


We may not recognize contamination if the person incorporates it smoothly into his account and it becomes part of his "memories."


Consciously Recalled Events

If abduction accounts are not part of an overall syndrome of subtle and insidious influences on the person's brain, the critics of the phenomenon say that abductees should be able to consciously remember their experiences and to provide investigators with accurate information. In fact, abductees do consciously remember abductions— sometimes fragments, sometimes long sequences, and on some occasions even entire events. Often these accounts are accurate and detailed and closely match those recovered under hypnosis.


However, just as often the consciously recalled memories are grossly inaccurate, with distorted details of actual events and "concrete" memories of events that did not take place. Consciously recalled memories can be an amalgam of fragments of an abduction re-created into a logical sequence that does not reflect reality.

An excellent example is the case of Marian Maguire, a woman in her sixties with two grown daughters, who woke up one morning in 1992 and consciously recalled an instance in which she was with her daughter during an abduction years before. She remembered holding hands with her daughter and, along with other people, being "plugged into" a special apparatus on a wall. This is all she consciously recalled, but she was certain that this event happened exactly as she remembered.

I had not heard about abductees being plugged into a wall before. A few weeks later Marian and I explored this event with hypnosis. During the hypnotic regression, Marian found it difficult to remember walking up to the wall, being plugged into it, and becoming unplugged. The more I probed, the less sure she became about what had happened. She realized that the wall contained small black squares. And as she looked at them, I asked her to tell me what she saw beneath them. I expected her to say the wall or the floor. Instead, she said, "Funny hands."


The hands were attached to wrists, the wrists to arms, and so on. She then realized that she was staring into an alien's black eyes. She had not been plugged into a wall. She was standing in a room with her daughters and a being came up to her and stared into her eyes. Over time, the black eyes in her mind had transmuted into an "encasing" on a "wall," and her inability to avoid them transformed into being "attached" to them. During hypnosis, the encasing transmuted to "squares." Although there was a real basis for Marian's memory, the details that she consciously recalled had not happened.

Another example is that of Janet Morgan, a single mother with two children, who consciously remembered a bizarre abduction experience. As she was lying on a table, she saw small beings struggling to bring a live alligator into the room. They put the animal on the floor next to her table, turned the reptile on its back, and then took a knife and slit its underside from top to bottom.


The unfortunate alligator groaned and looked at Janet in shock. This traumatic memory threw her into a deep and long-lasting depression. At first she did not want to recall the event hypnotically because she was afraid it would bring back details that would deepen her depression. After being continually despondent over this incident for almost a year, Janet bravely decided to confront the memory and try to gain emotional control over it.

In hypnosis, Janet's memory turned out to be part of a complex abduction event in which aliens performed many different procedures upon her. They conducted an examination, took an egg from her, forced her to immerse herself in a pool of liquid, and conducted a Mindscan that elicited profound fear. Then Janet found herself alone in a room, lying on a table, filled with fear and trepidation.


The aliens entered from a doorway on Janet's left, pulling the heavy alligator with them, which they placed on the floor next to Janet's table. Staring at it, she began to realize that the animal did not actually look like an alligator; she did not see an alligator's head or legs. In fact, it was a man in a green sleeping bag. When the aliens unzipped the sleeping bag from top to bottom, the man looked up at Janet and groaned. There had been no alligator. The aliens had not slit its belly.10

Some of the most common consciously recalled memories are of the first or last few seconds of an abduction when the person is still in a normal environment. Abductees often remember waking up and seeing figures standing by their beds. But instead of remembering aliens, they recall deceased relatives and friends or religious figures. For example, Lily Martinson, a real estate agent, recalled the following incident when she was vacationing with her mother in the Virgin Islands in 1987. Asleep in the hotel room, she woke up to see her deceased brother standing at the foot of her bed; she clearly remembered what he looked like and found this memory comforting and reassuring.


When we examined this memory under hypnosis, however, Lily's description of her brother was of a person without clothes, small, thin, no hair, and large eyes. It was not her brother. Although she was disappointed that she had not seen her brother, she was satisfied that she now knew the truth.11

Indeed, the aliens have created, perhaps unwittingly, a unique obstacle to learning the truth about abduction events. It is the problem of "instilled memories"—images aliens purposely place in the abductee's mind.


During visualization procedures, the aliens might show an abductee a multitude of images: atomic explosions, meteorites striking Earth, the world cracking in half, environmental degradation, ecological disaster, dead people bathed in blood strewn about the landscape, and survivors begging the abductee for help. Or the aliens might show abductees images of Jesus, Mary, or other religious figures. These images have the effect of being so vivid that abductees think the events "really happened" or they "really saw" the religious figure. This can be a problem, especially when the investigator is not familiar with visualization procedures and fails to identify instilled memories.


Thus, Betty Andreasson in Ray Fowler's pioneering book, The Andreasson Affair, relates a situation in which she "saw" a phoenix-like bird rising from the ashes. It was "real" to her and she reported it as an actual occurrence.12


I have had people remember figures that looked like Abraham Lincoln wearing a stovepipe hat, men wearing fedoras, angels, devils, and so forth.


Memories Recalled During Hypnosis

The reliability of memory recalled during hypnosis rests not with the subject but with the hypnotist. Improperly used, hypnosis can lead to confusion, confabulation, channeling, and false memories. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of improper use of hypnosis in abduction research.


And when abduction events are recovered by a researcher who has little experience or training in proper hypnotic techniques, both the subject and the hypnotist can easily be led to believe that things that did not occur during the abduction actually happened.13


Leading the Witness

Skeptics of the abduction phenomenon often accuse researchers who use hypnosis of "leading" people into believing that they have been abducted. Critics say that cultural or psychological factors impel the person to seek out a hypnotist who has an emotional or intellectual stake in that person's actually being an abductee. The subject comes to the hypnotist and a dynamic is set up to talk about abductions. And through subtle cues and direct questioning, the hypnotist pressures the subject into "remembering" an entirely invented abduction account.

"Leading" is a serious problem in abduction research, but not in the way critics contend. When inexperienced or naive hypnotists listen to an abductee's story, they often do not recognize dissociative fantasies, confabulation and false memories, or alien-instilled memories.14


The result is that the subject leads the naive hypnotist into believing an abduction scenario that did not, in fact, occur.

This type of reverse leading is best exemplified by a hypothetical situation. Suppose an abductee comes to me to talk about his alleged abduction experiences, and under hypnosis he tells me that while on board a UFO, he sat on the floor with the aliens and played a board game that was almost exactly like Monopoly, but the street names were really strange. If I then ask him about the street names, I am in danger of reverse leading. In my more than eleven years of investigating abductions, I have never heard of anyone playing board games and I must be sure that the event happened as described before I delve into it.

Because I know that people will sometimes confabulate, especially in the first few hypnotic sessions, I would immediately suspect in this case that confabulation was at work—although I must always remember that it is possible that the aliens did play Monopoly with the abductee. I would probe further to determine whether this event happened. I would look for contradictions or inconsistencies by going over the incident from different temporal perspectives, asking questions that move the abductee forward in time and then back again.


I would ask the abductee to describe the sequence of events on a second-by-second basis, searching for slight disjunctures in the account. I would ask whether the aliens were standing or sitting, precisely where they were looking, and exactly what they were looking at. In other words, I would search for the alien visualization procedures that might have instilled this image in the abductee's mind, making him think he had played this game when he had not.


If the abductee were inconsistent in his answers, I would regard the incident with skepticism. If he held to his story, at the very least, I would put it in the "pending" file, waiting for another abductee to confirm the same experience independently.

In contrast to the methodology I have just outlined, the naive hypnotist, unaware that he is being led, listens to the Monopoly story and asks, "What were some of the street names?" This question subtly conveys acceptance by the hypnotist, which serves to reinforce the confabulated material as "real" for the abductee. Adding such validation impels the abductee to further confabulation. An unconscious and mild form of dissociation takes place, and the abductee begins to "remember" more events that he is just imagining.


(This mental state is akin to "channeling," whereby a person in a self-altered state of consciousness believes that he is receiving communication from an unseen spirit or entity who answers questions or imparts wisdom.)


The abductee has unconsciously led the hypnotist and the hypnotist has reciprocated by unwittingly validating the abductee.


The two join in mutual confirmation, manufacturing an account that might have a grain of truth but is more fantasy than not.


Mutual Confirmational Fantasies

Doing abduction research is exceptionally difficult—not only because of the nature of the material and how it is recovered, but because the rewards for this work are usually nonexistent. Instead, ridicule and scorn supply the main "honors." I believe that anyone who puts his or her reputation on the line and ventures into this treacherous area deserves the plaudits of all who value the search for the truth. In spite of this, even the most prominent researchers sometimes fall into investigatory traps such as mutual confirmational fantasies.

John Mack, professor of psychiatry at Harvard University and an abduction researcher, provides a good example of mutual confirmational fantasies. A nationally known social critic and Pulitzer Prize winner, Mack became fascinated with the abduction phenomenon in 1990 when he attended a lecture by Budd Hopkins. Mack quickly recognized that the abduction phenomenon was not mentally generated and therefore had an external reality. He bravely undertook a full-scale examination of the phenomenon, to the detriment of his career at Harvard and to the scorn of his colleagues.

In Mack's 1994 book, Abduction, he relates a hypnosis session he conducted with "Catherine," in which aliens allegedly showed her images on a screen of a deer, moss, deserts, and other "nature things." Then she saw Egyptian tomb paintings and felt certain that she was watching herself in a former life.

Then they showed her a picture of tomb paintings with paint flaking off.

"But then it switched to me painting it."

But in that incarnation she was a man and as she watched this scene [she said],

"This makes sense to me ... this is not a trick. This is useful information. This is not them, pulling a bunch of shit like everything else."

Catherine now felt that her insistence upon a more reciprocal exchange of information had been affirmed.

I then asked Catherine to tell me more about this image of herself as a painter in the tomb of an Egyptian pyramid. In response to my question she provided a great deal of information ... about the man and his methods and his environment. What was striking was the fact that... she was not having a fantasy about the painter.


Instead, she was [him] and could,

"see things from totally his point of view instead of from one watching it."15

Catherine went on to "remember" many details of Egyptian painting and life.


And, later in the session, she told Mack that an alien had asked her if she understood the meaning of the Egyptian scene. She then realized that,

'"everything's connected,' canyons, deserts, and forests. 'One cannot exist without the other and they were showing me in a former life to show that I was connected with that, and I was connected to all these other things.'"

Catherine also appreciated that she was connected to the aliens. Resisting them only meant that she was struggling against herself, and therefore there was no reason to fight.

Mack not only accepts the validity of this "dialogue" but embraces Catherine's interpretations of it as well. Rather than treating the entire episode with extreme caution and skepticism, he does not question her acceptance of a previous life, her sense of connectedness, her sense that a previous request for reciprocal information was answered affirmatively, and her decision not to resist.

Catherine also told Mack that,

"they were trying to get me over fear, and that's why they were trying to scare me so badly, because I would eventually get sick of it and get over it and go on to more important things."

Once again Mack accepts the conversation at face value and asks her "to explain further how scaring her so badly would get her beyond fear." This is a question that calls for information that is not within the scope of her testimony. Catherine duly told Mack details of how this worked.16

Catherine's narrative contained a past life, "dialogue," alien attempts to help the abductee, an environmental message, and personal growth. For the skilled abduction hypnotist, every aspect of this narrative should be suspect. Catherine could have easily slipped into a dissociative state in which she regarded internal fantasies as external events happening to her.

If the Egyptian past life imagery happened at all, it might have taken place during an imaging sequence and that automatically means that an instilled mental procedure was in process. Sometimes abductees combine imaging procedures, dreams, and fantasies for memories of external reality. Their interpretation of these "memories" is often more dependent upon their personal belief system than on the actual occurrences. Unless properly versed in the problems that these mental procedures can create, the hypnotist can easily fall into the trap of accepting fantasies and confused thinking as reality. Mack displays no skepticism about this story. He admires her "straightforward articulation" of the narrative.

There are other abduction hypnotists who, like John Mack, fall prey to methodological errors.


As part of a series of thirteen hypnotic regressions with abductees, clinical psychologist Edith Fiore presents a lengthy transcript of an extraterrestrial event in her 1989 book, Encounters. Fiore believes that the act of relating the information—real or imaginary—has therapeutic value, and she is therefore more interested in what the abductees think has happened to them than in what actually occurred.

She describes the hypnotic regression of Dan, who "remembered" being a member of an alien military attack force and destroying enemies on other planets, visiting the planets "Deneb" and "Markel," having drinks with the captain, and other details of a remarkably Earthlike daily life. One day Dan found himself standing in the Cascade Mountains gazing at the trees.


It was peaceful and beautiful. It seems that he had taken over the body of a small human child.

Dr. Fiore: And where's your ship?

Dan: I'm a little kid, no ship, no responsibility. Just a nice summer day. Nothing to do. AH day to do it. Just exploring.

Dr. Fiore: Now we see you as this little child. I'm going to ask you to make the connection of how you became this child.

Dan: Two different people. The child has all the memories. It's like retirement. You get a chance to do nothing if you live longer. Be at a nice pretty place. Dr. Fiore: How did you get to be this child, [sic] ... Dan: I joined him on that road. Replaced, really.

Dr. Fiore: Now let's go back to when you joined him, and let's Me how you got to be on that road.

Dan: Drunk. Horribly, horribly drunk. Good party. Next morning ... tour the bridge. Say goodbyes.

Dr. Fiore: Then what happens?

Dan: Just me today. One at a time. Pick your planet. Pick an easy one.

Everybody's laughing.

Dr. Fiore: You say you were drunk?

Dan: The night before, terrible hangover.

Dr. Fiore: Where did you get drunk, [sic]

Dan: On the ship, officer's mess.... Confusion, drinking.

Dr. Fiore: What kind of ship is this?

Dan: Class M. Large. Battlecruiser; fourteen drop ships; 3500 people. Armed to the teeth.17

This questioning validated what the subject was saying and subtly acted to confirm its authenticity. Fiore says later that Dan's recollection gave him an "improvement in his self-confidence and a wonderful inner peace of mind." And she believes that each of the experiences her subjects remembered "actually happened very much as they were remembered."18


Clearly, this scenario in no way fits the abduction scenario as we know it, although there are a few similarities (adult hybrids sometimes wear quasimilitary uniforms).


Rather than focusing on one incident and gathering data carefully and critically, Fiore skips to nine different "encounters" in her first hypnotic regression with Dan—which, in the hands of an inexperienced abduction hypnotist, can lead to a confused and superficial accounting. Furthermore, Dan knows the answer to virtually every factual question that Fiore asks about life on board the military vessel.


This omniscient factual assurance is usually a strong indicator of confabulation.

Dr. Fiore: Is there any homosexuality?

Dan: Some.

Dr. Fiore: And how is that seen?

Dan: Tolerated. Not favorably, but tolerated.

Dr. Fiore: Is there any problem with contraception?

Dan: No.

Dr. Fiore: Why is that?

Dan: Medicines, injections.

Dr. Fiore: How often is it given?

Dan: Every tour.19

The chances that this is dissociative fantasy are extremely high.


In 1989 when Dr. Fiore investigated the case, she might have been better served by instituting a criteria of belief in which she accepted only material that was confirmed by others unaware of previous testimony. But Fiore and Mack were trained as therapists and not as investigators. Their approach to abduction accounts is very different from that of researchers who are more empirically oriented.

It is important to understand that in spite of their methodological problems, Mack and Fiore, like other hypnotists, uncover much of the standard physical and reproductive procedures that make up the core of the abduction experience.


However, because of their training, they are not particularly interested in what has happened to the abductee. For Mack, as for many other therapists, investigation into the actual circumstances of a client's experiences is not a primary concern. Finding out exactly what happened to the abductee is less important than what the client thinks has happened to him—the account's accuracy or truthfulness is of little concern.


As Mack said,

"The question of whether hypnosis (or any other non-ordinary modality that can help us access realities outside of or beyond the physical world) discloses accurately what literally or factually 'happened' may be inappropriate.


A more useful question would be whether the investigative method can yield information that is consistent among experiencers, carries emotional conviction, and appears to enlarge our knowledge of phenomena that are significant for the lives of the experiencers and the larger culture". 20

Thus, when Mack conducts hypnosis, he first explains to his clients that he is,

"more interested in their integration of their recalled experiences as we go along than in 'getting the story.' The story . .. will take care of itself in due time."21

The truth or falsity of a person's experiences—the chronology, the procedural logic, and the accurate perceptions of the events—play a secondary role in Mack's methodology. But he states that his,

"criterion for including or crediting an observation by an abductee is simply whether what has been reported was felt to be real by the experiencer and was communicated sincerely and authentically to me."22

Facts have a limited role to play in Mack's confrontation with an abduction event.

Fiore has a similar agenda. She states,

"Because my main concern is to help people, it is not important to me if the patients/subjects report correctly the color of the aliens' skin, for example. What is important is that the negative effects of encounters be released through regressions."23

Mack's and Fiore's dedication to helping abductees is unquestionably appropriate. They deserve praise for their selfless dedication to helping people come to terms with the abduction phenomenon. Therapy should be the first priority for all researchers. But their (and other hypnotists') reluctance to separate fact from fantasy leads to a naive acceptance of accounts that should be treated suspiciously. This shapes their research techniques and leads to validational questioning and mutual confirmational fantasies.

This mutual fantasy—a subtle form of leading—is a far more significant problem for abduction research than just asking leading questions. For example, psychologist Michael Yapko polled a group of therapists to learn how they think memory works. He found that a large number of clinicians are unaware of the problems of memory and believe that hypnosis always reveals the truth.24


Many researchers have succumbed to the mutual fantasy trap by taking at face value virtually everything an abductee says. Researchers who have New Age agendas perpetuate the problem by uncritically accepting a wide range of "paranormal" accounts.


Past lives, future lives, astral travel, spirit appearances, religious visitations—all assume legitimacy even before the believing hypnotist begins abduction research. When the abductee relates stories with false memories, the believing hypnotist is unable to recognize them and is therefore more than willing to take them seriously.

It is easy for inexperienced and naive hypnotists to "believe" because the majority do not have a fact-based knowledge of the abduction phenomenon. Some hypnotists even pride themselves on their lack of knowledge about abductions. They argue that their ignorance gives them a "clean slate" so that their questioning is not encumbered by what they "bring to the table." However, what they bring is their inability to separate fact from fiction.


By uncritically accepting (and not challenging), by naively assuming that what is sincerely told is correct, and by defending this as "reality," inexperienced and naive researchers muddy the waters for competent investigators, allow people to think that events have happened to them that have not, and add to the incredulity of the general public.


Abduction Confabulation

Abduction confabulation is a frequent problem, especially in the first few hypnotic sessions. The initial hypnotic session is always the most difficult because it can be very frightening.


Many people erroneously think they will blurt out intimate details of their personal lives, or be at the mercy of the "evil" hypnotist. Once the first few sessions are completed, however, the abductee feels more comfortable with the hypnotist and with hypnosis. As a result, his memories become easier to collect and more accurate as well.

Confabulation typically occurs in three characteristic areas.

  1. Physical Appearance of the Aliens

    The most prevalent area of distortion is the description of the physical appearance of the aliens. Many abductees at first maintain that they can see every part of the aliens' bodies except their faces. Some abductees think that the aliens are purposely distorting or limiting the field of view to help prevent the shock of seeing their faces.


    The evidence does not support this. Because the abduction phenomenon begins in infancy, most abductees have seen the faces of the aliens many times. Once an abductee becomes accustomed to remembering events and less frightened about what he encounters, he usually sees the aliens' faces clearly.

    Also, at first abductees tend to describe the aliens as much taller than they are, not realizing that they are gazing up at the aliens because they are lying on a table. They also describe the aliens as being different colors and having different features. In fact, the majority of aliens are small, gray, and almost featureless except for their large eyes. During competent hypnotic investigation, the abductees recognize their mistakes and correct themselves without the hypnotist's aid or prompting.


  2. Conversation

    Another prevalent area of confabulation is alien dialogue. Although alien conversation has given us our most important insights into the abduction phenomenon's methods and goals, researchers must be extremely cautious.

    Abductees report that all communication with the aliens is telepathic, as is communication among the aliens. When asked what "telepathic" means, the abductees usually say they receive an impression that they automatically translate into words. We know that an abductee can receive an impression from his own thoughts, translate it into his words, and think that the words are coming from aliens. Naive researchers often accept alien dialogue at face value, not realizing that all or portions of it could be generated from the abductee's mind.


    Abductees sometimes slip into a "channeling" mode—in which the abductee "hears" messages from his own mind and thinks they are coming from outside sources— and the researcher fails to catch it. Some researchers have based much of their knowledge on suspect dialogue. Only experienced researchers can separate characteristic alien conversational patterns from confabulated dialogue.


  3. Alien Intentions

    The third area of confabulation is interpreting alien intentions and goals. For example, when asked about the purpose of a specific mechanical device during an abduction, most abductees answer "I don't know." Some, however, supply an answer because it seems reasonable: "This machine takes pictures of my muscles, sort of like an X-ray machine."


    Unless the investigator firmly and reliably establishes that the aliens told this to the abductee—and that the abductee did not invent the dialogue—the correct assumption is that the abductee does not know what the machine is for and is simply filling in.

The investigator must also be extremely careful with abductee accounts of what the aliens are doing. The aliens rarely describe the reasons for specific procedures, but some abductees routinely supply the reasons. Again, naive therapists and investigators tend to take these accounts at face value.

Some researchers reinvestigate the same material repeatedly in different hypnotic sessions, not realizing that if the account contains unrecognized confabulation and distortion, it can enter into normal memory as "fact." Repeated hypnosis on an event tends to confirm the "fact," and it often becomes impossible to tell what is real and what is not.


On the other hand, the more sessions on different events an abductee has with a competent investigator, the greater the likelihood that confabulation will be uncovered and the accurate account will be told.


Competent Hypnosis

An experienced and competent hypnotist tests the suggestibility of people who recall abduction accounts. By asking purposefully misleading questions, he can easily tell whether the subject can be led. For example, in the first hypnotic session, I often ask if a subject can see the "flat, broad" chins of the aliens. I ask if a subject can see the corners of the ceiling; I ask if the aliens are fat. The answer to these questions should be "no" according to all the evidence we have obtained.


If the answer is "yes," I allow for the suggestibility of the subject when I evaluate the truthfulness and accuracy of the account.

Researcher John Carpenter of Springfield, Missouri, has fashioned this line of questioning into something of a science. He has developed a list of misleading questions—some obvious and some subtle—that are calculated to place wrong images into abductees' minds. In the first hypnotic session, he poses these questions to the new subject, who almost never answers "yes"; most abductees refuse to be led and nearly always answer misleading questions negatively, directly contradicting or correcting the hypnotist.


The first abduction incident that received widespread publicity, the Barney and Betty Hill case, published in magazine and book form in 1966, is an excellent example of the lack of suggestibility among abductees. Using hypnosis, psychiatrist Benjamin Simon tried to trap the Hills in contradictions and to suggest to them that they had invented the account.

He could never get the two to agree with him.

Simon: Was that operating room in the hospital blue?

Barney: No, it was bright lights.

Simon: Did you feel that you were going to be operated on?

Barney: No.

Simon: Did you feel that you were being attacked in any way?

Barney: No.25

During another session Simon tried again to trip up Barney.

Simon: Just a minute. Didn't Betty tell this to you while you were asleep?

Barney: No. Betty never told me this....

Simon: Yes, but didn't she tell you that you were taken inside?

Barney: Yes, she did.

Simon: Then she told you everything that was seen inside and about being stopped by these men? Barney: No. She did not tell me about being stopped by the men. She did not have this in her dreams.26

At another point, Simon suggested to Barney that the incident could have been a hallucination. Barney disagreed. The accuracy of abduction accounts depends, to a large degree, upon the skill and competence of the hypnotist. Memory is fallible and there are many influences that prevent its precision. Hypnosis, properly conducted and cautiously used, can be a useful and accurate tool for uncovering abduction memories. Competent hypnosis can illuminate the origin of false memories and can untangle the web of confusing memories.


What emerges are accurate, consistent, richly detailed, corroborated accounts of abductions that unlock their secrets and add to our knowledge of them.


Are Abductions Believable?

With the problems of memory retrieval and memory interpretation, is it possible that the abduction phenomenon is a psychologically generated fantasy?


The answer is no, due, in part, to the fact that the evidence for the abduction phenomenon is not based solely on memory and hypnotic recounting. There is also physical evidence. When abducted, people are physically missing from their normal environments—police are called, people search for the abductees, parents are distraught.

An indirect example of being physically missing during an abduction occurred when abductee Janet Morgan's younger sister, Beth, came to baby-sit for her niece, six-year-old Kim, while Janet went out on a date. Both Janet, a single mother working as a legal secretary, and her daughter had had a lifetime of abduction experiences. Beth, who had also experienced suspicious, but uninvestigated events, had babysat for Kim before and was familiar with her routine.

This night Kim was sitting on the couch in the living room watching television, and Beth decided to take a bath, since the child was occupied. She ran the water, got into the tub with a novel, and began to read. A "mental haze" came over her and she sat in the tub with her eyes trained on the same page in the book for over an hour. Suddenly, she snapped out of it, jumped up, and thought, "Kim!" She threw on her clothes and raced downstairs to see if the little girl was all right.

Kim was not on the couch. Beth went into every room of the row house and called for her. She ran back into the living room, looked behind the couch and in the closet. Then she searched through the rooms a second time. Panicking, she ran outside and looked up and down the street, shouting for Kim. The next-door neighbor was outside and asked what the problem was. Beth told him that Kim was missing.


The neighbor ran into the house to search for himself and found Kim sleeping on the couch in plain view. Kim had been abducted, Beth had been "switched off," and when she came to consciousness a little too soon, Kim had not yet been returned from the event. Kim was physically gone from the house, and her absence was conspicuous.

Many abductions occur with more than one person, and as further proof, people who have never heard of the abduction phenomenon have been abducted.


A worried Allison Reed called to tell me that her panic-stricken children were remembering abduction events without knowing anything about the subject. She and her husband have a history of unusual personal experiences that suggest abduction activity. At the time of Allison's call in June 1993, her son, Brian, was seven years old and her daughter, Heather, was four.


Both had drawn pictures of aliens and described how they floated out of their rooms and through the window into a waiting UFO. The children reported details of incidents that are known only to veteran abduction researchers and that they could not have absorbed through the media.


For example, Heather told her mother about a conversation between herself and a female alien:

"She tried to make me think that she was my mommy, but I knew she was trying to trick me."

Heather said this to reassure her mother that she was on to their tricks and knew who her real mother was.

The fact that two people might be abducted together and can verify each other's presence during the abduction is additional proof of the phenomenon.


Janet Morgan and her older sister, Karen, have been abducted together many times along with other members of their families. Each can independently remember the abduction and can describe in detail what happened to the other without having spoken about the event.

In spite of all the difficulties in studying the abduction phenomenon, it is finally yielding its secrets. The procedures that the aliens employ are lending themselves to study and analysis.


And the reasons for the procedures are both bizarre and terrifying.


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