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John E. Mack – 2
but in those days there was a split with which I was confronted between what I knew of psychology, which was behavioristic, and medical psychology, which was clinical. Medical psychology was basically psychiatry, and there had been a strong influence of Freudian thought in the field that appealed to me, and seemed to make a lot of sense. At that time Depth Psychology was mainly studied in psychiatry, not psychology. That’s changed, but that’s the way it was when I went to medical school.
David: How were you first introduced to the abduction phenomena?
John: It began with UFO’s. I never had had a very great interest in UFO’s actually. I basically believed that there was nothing to the reports, and it wasn’t a consuming interest of mine.
I remember a conversation on the topic that I had with Carl Sagan and Lester Grinspoon, classmate and old friend of mine from medical school. The three of us were sitting around talking sometime in the late sixties, and Lester asked Carl about UFO’s, because that was Carl’s territory in those days. And Carl said, oh, we’ve really looked into that and studied it, and there’s nothing to it. I think that he was referring to the Condan report, which I later learned didn’t come to that conclusion at all. It just said there’s a certain percentage of cases that they can’t explain, and dismissed it. But in those days Carl seemed to be the authority on matters of extraterrestrial life, so I had just accepted his response.
You can imagine that I was somewhat surprised when some fifteen years or so later, I found that Carl was mistaken, and there was something to this. In fact, there was a lot to it. But I didn’t get back involved again until around 1989, when I was given a paper by writer Keith Thompson (who I later got to know quite well) on the UFO phenomenon. The paper was from a book edited by Stan Grof on spiritual emergencies, of which UFO encounters were considered to be one type. At the time I was learning the Grof Holotropic Breathwork method, and for some reason Stan thought I would find this chapter interesting. I did. I read it with great interest, and repeatedly asked myself, yeah, but is it real?
Still, I didn’t really pick up on this much until January of 1990, when I met Budd Hopkins. I was brought to see him by a psychologist colleague and friend from the Grof training, and was struck by what he had to tell me. It just didn’t add up. I couldn’t come up with any kind of explanation. As you probably know, psychiatrists are very good at finding psychological, psycho-social, or psycho-dynamic explanations for most human phenomena. But this just didn’t make any sense.
People from all over the United States (and now from all over the world) have reported with great concern for themselves, and with much self-questioning, the same basic story of being visited and taken by aliens. And many of the details are very similar, and they had not been in the media at this time. The people didn’t know each other, and they were shocked when they would hear that someone else had had the same kind of experience. I met some of these people very soon after that, and they seemed very sound of mind, very genuine and sincere to me.
David: How did you become involved in working with these people?
John: Budd asked me if I wanted to see some of these people, and I started to see them. First I saw people he knew in New York, but then soon after that I began to see them on my own in Cambridge and Boston. By and large they were mentally and emotionally solid people. I’ve had several of them tested psychologically, and I have reviewed the literature. There’s nothing in the psychological testing that I did, or in the literature, that suggests there’s any sort of pathology that could in any way begin to explain the experiences that these people were reporting.
From a strictly clinical standpoint, the phenomenon operates like these experiences really happened to these people– not like a psychosis, or a dream or fantasy, or some other kind of trauma. Each of those kinds of mental states has certain characteristics, which did not match up with this. This has been the basis for almost everything that I’ve done in this area. I mean, the only thing that causes people to report the same experience from all over, is that if what they’re reporting really occurred.
David: What are some of the most common characteristics that people have reported to you?
John: First of all, the person may be traumatized by what has happened, but is fundamentally of sound mind and not suffering from any tendency toward unusual make-believe, or any kind of delusion. They often report that they were in their car, at home, or out in a field when it happens, but it can happen almost anywhere. It’s