A Look At Casework
Ghost hunting in general is a popular pastime today. Where once no one dared discussing ghosts, searching for them is becoming quite an industry. With all of the new technology today, it is becoming a scientific industry as well. Gauss meters, non-contact thermometers, digital recorders, night vision equipment… the list goes on. Common amongst the jargon today are phrases such as electromagnetic fields, psychic recordings, and recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis, just to name a few. TV shows about haunted locations are as popular as ever. More than a few interesting cases have made it to “Unsolved Mysteries.” Websites have sprung up all over the place and there are books galore.
This is all a good thing. “Ghosting,” as many call it, is both fun and relatively harmless. However, there is another side to “ghosting” and it is a side that most ghost hunters don’t see. That is the area of casework. Just what do I mean by casework? Every so often, people will find themselves experiencing phenomena that can only be called paranormal. Sometimes what they are experiencing can be called frightening, sometimes horrific. In many instances, especially the frightening and horrific ones, they call in “experts” for help in solving what they consider to be a serious problem. Those “experts” are caseworkers and I happen to be one.
Before we go any further, let me explain why I put the word expert in quotes. To begin with, as far as I am concerned, there are no experts in this field. Despite all of the wonderful technology of today, we still know very little about the spirit world. We do indeed have a good bit of knowledge but there is always an issue of credibility to be dealt with. It is reasonable to assume that we do have a tremendous amount of knowledge but the problem arises in knowing how much is to be believed. Unfortunately, there have been so many frauds in this field and so many exaggerations and outright lies that we cannot be sure just how much we really do know. On top of that, even though I have spent virtually all of my life studying the subject, both in terms of learning and doing a considerable amount of fieldwork, there is still so much that I cannot explain.
Another problem we face today is that there are so many people out there who claim to be experts but who, in reality, know very little. In this field, as in many others, a little bit of knowledge is indeed dangerous. Some of these people have awesome websites and in many cases, impressive resumes. You will often see an organization list the various radio and TV shows they have appeared on. That looks great but you have to put it in perspective. Before you accuse me of being envious, I will state that I have done TV and radio spots and for various reasons, I have turned down far more than I have chosen to do. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with doing those things; rather, what I am saying is that taken alone, this is not a good criterion to use when it comes to choosing someone when you need help. Having said that, let me explain why.
Without mentioning any names, there are two organizations that are fairly well known. I have seen each group on several TV shows and I have heard them on umpteen radio spots. Both organizations were founded by people who are considered to be experts. However, the first group lives by the philosophy that all hauntings involve ghosts; human spirits, in other words. The leaders of this organization are accepted as authorities in their field. Now, group two lives by the philosophy that all hauntings are the result of demons or inhuman spirits, if you will. The leaders of that organization are considered to be authorities in their field. Are you confused yet? These two groups, with polar opposites for belief systems, have appeared on many of the same TV or radio shows. Thus, both list them in their resumes, as well they should. However, if you were being plagued by supernatural elements, which would you turn to? Since they both speak in terms of absolutes, as in the word “all,” they cannot both be right. If both groups used the word “some” or “most,” it would be a different story. The belabored point here is that fancy websites and impressive resumes do not make the groups experts. It doesn’t necessarily make them credible. So, I guess what I am saying, in twenty thousand words or less, is be wary when someone, anyone, claims to be an expert. I have not found one yet, not even when I look in the mirror.
By now you are thinking that this is supposed to be an article about casework and I have just read a full page and a half and have not seen anything about working cases. So, without further ado, here we go. Case working can be any of the following:
In some cases, the above is true all on the same night. For that matter, they can all be true on the way to the location. (Especially if I am driving.) Let’s take a look at some of these things.
Before you make the decision to start working cases, there is something important to consider. There is a responsibility that comes with working a case, a responsibility that does not come with fun “ghosting.” For one, you have to be willing to stick with it. You cannot get bored and leave the people you are trying to help in the lurch just because nothing much happens when you are there. It can take a substantial time in many cases before you witness activity. Therefore, patience is essential. You also have to be willing to take a lot of phone calls at any hour of the day or night. Once you have started a case, the frightened victim will often call you whenever the activity is hot. It comes with the turf.
The next thing is you have to be sure you can handle what may happen. Although rare, there are a fair number of horrendous cases out there. You could be faced with more than a few frightening incidents. You can never, never run out of someone’s house because you are frightened. If the victims see that the “experts” are afraid, what does that do to them? Don’t laugh here because I have seen this happen several times. In a number of cases I have worked, I was the second investigator (or group) called in and my primary job was to do damage control. Some “experts” had the families in question convinced that the devil himself was running amok in their house. This is inexcusable and unconscionable and it should not happen. Ever. If you cannot handle it or even if you are not sure, stay away from casework. The damage you can do is terrible.
I want to give you just one example out of many I have encountered first hand over the years. After arriving on a case and completing the interview with the family, two experts chose to sit in the basement, hoping to experience some of the reported phenomena. Fifteen minutes later, these two came running up the stairs and announced to the frightened family that the demon touched them and that they would not go back down there under any circumstances. How they determined they were dealing with a demon in fifteen minutes is a mystery to me since none of the reported phenomena offered any proof to substantiate that belief. To be honest, none of the reported phenomena offered any proof that there was a spirit of any kind in the house. What these two did was frighten an already frightened family needlessly. How were they supposed to wash their clothes if the experts declared the basement, where their washer and dryer were kept, to be infested by a demon? If the experts are too frightened to go down there, what does that do to them? Behavior like that hurts the family and destroys the reputation of serious ghost hunters and caseworkers. It should never happen and ghost hunters and caseworkers should never tolerate anyone who behaves in that manner. Having said that, let’s continue.
It is often said that working an investigation is 95% boredom and 5% terror. The numbers are off a little but the general idea is sound. In many of the cases you work, absolutely nothing happens. There may be an occasional and momentary anomaly on one meter or another but that is often it. This can go on night after night. It is something that all caseworkers have to deal with. Some deal with it better than others.
How An Investigation May Go
When you are first called into a case, you may have heard of some interesting phenomena. For example, during your interview with the people requesting your help, you may be told that they trouble seemed to have started up about six months prior to your involvement. They may tell you that they have seen doors open and close, maybe ten different times. On one particular night alone, you are told that it happened five times. They have heard footsteps on at least five occasions. In addition, they have heard loud knocks on the door at least five times. Of course, every time they ran to the door, no one was there. Plus, they have seen a shadowy figure several times. Now you have to admit that this sounds pretty impressive. If someone presented this information to me, I would certainly agree that it warrants an investigation. Truthfully, this is a lot more than most people report. However, think about it for a minute. They have mentioned incidents that total approximately 22. (We are not sure because they mentioned that they saw the shadowy figure “several” times.) Since several of these incidents took place on the same night, you are probably talking about ten to fifteen days where unusual activity took place. That is fifteen days out of one hundred and eighty two. What are the odds of anything happening on the night you are there? In actuality, you could camp out there a full week and not have anything odd take place.
Of course, you will occasionally come across a case where a lot of stuff is happening and you are lucky enough to witness some of it on the first night. It does happen; it has happened to me a few times. However, it is not the norm. This puts a little pressure on you. You might be dealing with a family that is really frightened. Consequently, you want to help them. The problem is how often do you go there? That is where the frustration comes in. You can sit there night after night and never observe anything at all. Since you have no reason to doubt what you have been told, you stick with it but it can become a problem. Working a case takes a lot of patience and dedication. It can sometimes cause havoc in your personal life, especially if you have a spouse or significant other who does not share your passion for investigating. (I am very lucky in that regard. My wife, while she does not share my passion for doing investigations, she is very supportive of me.) Still, you sometimes have to walk a very thin wire. Of course, if you have children, that wire gets thinner and thinner.
Before you decide to conduct an investigation, you have to know what the people want as the outcome. Obviously, if it is a frightening situation, they victims will want the haunting to stop. If that is the case, the question you have to answer is whether you think you can stop it. If what you are hearing is horrific, you may be looking at a serious case and you have to be sure that you can handle it and that you can solve the problem. You also have to realize that there are serious risks involved with horrific cases. If you do not know what you are doing, you can make a bad situation worse. Although your intentions may have been the best, misjudging a case can have devastating effects on the people you are trying to help. It can also have a devastating effect on you. Doing investigations for fun is one thing; it is essentially harmless. However, getting involved where there is a spirit that has shown itself to be mean and possibly evil is another. It is a totally different animal and one that can bite you if you are not careful.
There are those cases where the goal is not necessarily to get rid of the spirit. Many times, the people involved just want to make sure that the spirit does not want to harm them. Once you show that the spirit simply wants to be there and poses no threat to anyone, many people are content to let it stay there. That type of case is easy and can be a lot of fun. The trick is to be able to tell whether the spirit has bad intentions or not. You have to be careful here because you do not want to misjudge the situation. Often a spirit’s activities are frightening but that is not the intention of the spirit. It is not necessarily trying to frighten anyone; it may just be a case where the victims are easily frightened because they have no idea that the spirit is harmless. Let’s face it, if you have never had a paranormal experience in your life and you buy a house and all kind of weird things start taking place, you may be frightened out of your wits. However, once you learn that spirits are common and that the spirit in question has no desire to harm anyone, what seemed so frightening in the beginning may seem safe and even amusing after a while.
In that type of case, you do not want to run around trying to cast out the spirit. For one, if it means no harm, you are not going to “cast” it out anyway. You may be able to convince it to leave on its own but you cannot force it out. In trying to do so, all you accomplish is frightening the family. They see you trying to cast out this spirit, which serves to convince them that you think it is evil. Why else would you try to cast it out? Now they will view everything else that happens in a negative light and that can have serious negative effects on them. In effect, you are coloring their perception. On top of that, what your doing is not going to work anyway. So you now have a situation where some people moved into a house where a harmless spirit chose to reside. They were frightened by that spirit and called you in to help and by your actions, you have them convinced that they have an evil entity roaming around. In actuality, they have what they always had, a spirit that simply wants to stay where it may have been the happiest in life.
The resulting harm is simply a result of misreading the situation. However, that harm can be great. The people may end up losing their money, not to mention screwing up their credit because they believe there is something terrible in their house. The fear and anxiety is very real and that will have a debilitating effect on the mental and physical health of the victims. The saddest part is that it is all unnecessary. If the situation had been analyzed properly, you might have realized that the spirit meant no harm. Very often, spirits will stop doing whatever is frightening simply by being asked to stop. You might not believe this but many people don’t mind sharing their home with a ghost as long as they know they are safe. Some people even name their ghost. So this is something you have to consider when you take on a case. What is the goal? What should be the goal? Lastly, what can you do about it?
The Investigation Itself
Keeping amused and awake can be a challenge on a case when nothing is happening. You don’t want to sleep if you can avoid it because it is quite possible that some activity may take place. If it does, you would hate to miss it. However, it does happen. Of course, our technology helps us out here. I use motion detectors during investigations just in case something is moving around. Even if you are starting to doze off, any movement will set of the motion detector and you will get jarred from you nap in a hurry. It may also wake the dead. Of course, you should make every effort to stay awake but at some point, sitting quietly in the dark may catch up to you and the old eyelids start to get heavy. I personally get up and walk around every so often.
Of course, what do you do when something does happen? First and foremost, document it. Take pictures or get the audio recorder running. What you do with that evidence all depends on what the goal is. Always bear in mind that how something is perceived is very important. The moving of furniture has no meaning until you color it. If you think you have a friendly spirit living in the house, you might view the moving chair with amusement. However, if you do not know better, you may be frightened half to death when the chairs moves six inches away from the table. All evidence must be viewed objectively. As a caseworker, you have to be the one who puts it in perspective for the victims.
Where It Gets Maddening
I want to discuss the rare but occasional bad case that comes up. I am not talking about the demonic kind here, just the nasty, human kind. We will get to the demonic shortly. While there is not that much a human spirit can do to you physically, they can cause a ton of problems mentally. They can also do considerable damage to property and that exacts a heavy price on the victims. If you are new to casework, be careful here. As I said earlier, the last thing you can ever do is run out of someone’s house terrified. If at some point, you feel you are in over your head, there is nothing wrong with sitting the victims down and being honest about that. It is far better to say something like: “What is going on here is more serious than I first expected and I think we may need to look for someone who has more experience in these types of cases.” That is not a coward’s way out. It is simply being honest about the situation and the people you are trying to help will appreciate your honesty. Maybe the best thing you can do for them is to contact another organization yourself. That can be a good learning experience for you.
Working a nasty case can be annoying to maddening at times. I have worked cases where severe activity was reported but when I was there, nothing happened. At the end of the night, I would leave, promising to continue the investigation. Then a few days later, I would get a call and be told of all of the horrifying things that happened the day after I left. So, I go back in and again, nothing happens. This cycle can go on for a while and it gets maddening because you know that the spirit is playing hide and seek with you. What really gets to you is that the poor family is paying the price. It frustrates you like you can’t imagine. I have actually gone to people’s houses simply because I knew nothing would happen if I was there. It allowed them to get a good night’s sleep. In a haunting, that means a lot since sleep depravation is one of the major byproducts of a haunting.
Another pitfall is when nothing you try works. I have had cases where most of the activity would center around one particular room. I would set up equipment in that room and then camp out only to have activity take place in another part of the house. Believe me, nasty spirits like to play games with you. There are times when it drives you nuts. I have often tried things that had proven to be successful in the past only to see that strategy blow up in my face. For example, I might tell a person to talk to the spirit and ask it to leave them alone. That has worked on many a case. However, there are those times when nothing seems to work. I have had evil entities resist some tried and true prayers to the point where I want to scream. Eventually they work but it can take time.
Sometimes the people who called you in will drive you nuts, too. I worked a case where the person who called me in found something wrong with everyone I brought in. “I don’t like this person; I don’t like that person.” I had one woman insist that I bring a psychic into the case. I explained to her that psychics do not always solve a case and that they cannot all get a good read on a given house. After much pressing, I finally gave in. The psychic I brought in picked up on several things that proved to be correct and she made a number of suggestions. Of course, contrary Mary did not like her either, did not want to do any of the things that had been suggested and then wanted another psychic to come into the case. There is a good point to be made here. If I find myself working a case where the person who asked for help refuses to do anything I suggest, I take myself out of it. I will give it some time and I won’t back out the first time something I suggest is shot down but if the person continually refuses to take my advice, it reaches a point where I am forced to tell them that we are wasting each others time. Fortunately, there have not been too many of those but eventually you will come across one.
There is another category worth mentioning. In a good number of cases, there simply is no haunting taking place. Sometimes, people want to be haunted or they are so convinced that they are that they will not accept anything you say unless you agree with them. There are not always ghosts responsible for the things that take place, if anything really takes place at all. I have done a few cases where there turned out to be a very natural explanation for what was happening. In a lot of those cases, the people were relieved to discover that. In other cases, that has not been true. One woman insisted that I knew nothing about ghosts and hauntings because she was haunted and there was no doubt about it and that I must be an idiot to disagree with her. Okay, fine. I am an idiot but all you need to do is level your washing machine so that it does not shake the whole house every time it goes into the spin cycle and your figurines will stop jumping off the shelves where you keep them. However, despite people like that, you always have to look for the natural explanation before you go declaring a house haunted. Sometimes it is too easy to blame ghosts for everything. Of course, you have to be diplomatic when you come across the occasional case where there are no ghosts present but someone in the house thinks there are.
I am not going to teach you here how to deal with demonic spirits. If you suspect that there is a demonic spirit at work, defer to someone who works those cases. As a ghost hunter looking to get involved with casework, I cannot say this enough: Stay away from what appear to be demonic cases. If you enter one, you are in for a world of hurt. They are extremely difficult to work, they are dangerous to work and you will pay a price for your involvement and you will pay that price for a long time. I know because I have done it and I will continue to do it but it took me a lot of years before I was ready and even more importantly, able to do it. Believe me when I tell you that they will turn your life upside down and hurt you in ways you cannot imagine.
Don’t make the mistake that a lot of young ghost hunters make. They will listen to more experienced investigators and they will see a famous one or two on TV and they begin to get the impression that dealing with the demonic is easy. It isn’t. People exaggerate, especially when they are telling stories or giving lectures. They may trivialize a case that was really serious. They may make a case that was not too bad sound much worse because it made for a better story. Whichever way they do this, it gives people the wrong idea. There is nothing trivial about a demonic case.
Consider this: the Roman Catholic Church still does investigations into demonic activity although they try their best to keep it hush, hush. They would like you to believe that it does not happen but they cannot. It does happen. However, when they do come across what they suspect to be a demonic situation, they are very careful whom they choose to work it. They almost exclusively choose older priests or older lay investigators. They are very careful when it comes to the personality of the person they choose because there are legitimate dangers and immaturity can lead to disastrous consequences. I never understood why they wanted to use older men. I always thought that a younger person would be better because they are stronger and in better shape. It was only after working a couple of demonic cases that I understood why they are so vigilant in choosing men of “mature years.” The psychological trauma can be devastating and frankly, cockiness and immaturity is a sure road to disaster. I have worked with some good, young investigators. However, truthfully, there are precious few I would ever consider bringing into a demonic case. Although I have problems with many of the things the Catholic Church does, especially in the area of paranormal activity, I do agree with them when it comes to how they choose their investigators. Had I worked those demonic cases when I was younger, I can all but guarantee that I would not be doing this work now. Despite tons of knowledge, I was not ready for what was to come. I thank God for that.
You have to be careful with what you see on TV too. In many cases, the investigators do not get to present the whole case for the story. TV has its own time constraints and they find themselves trying to present a horrendous case in a short amount of time. When that happens, you miss out on a lot. There may be little time dedicated to the investigators who worked the case. Since they may only have a two-minute sound bite, they do not have the chance to discuss the seriousness of the case or the effects that working that case had on them. It does not make for good TV. The audience wants to be frightened; they want to hear the horrid details. They don’t want to hear about what happened to the investigator who worked the case. Seeing a smiling investigator answering simple questions about the case can mislead the viewer into thinking that maybe the case wasn’t so bad. After all, the investigator looked fine on TV. Yes he did but what you are not hearing is the toll that case took on him.
Why Do It Then?
Okay, I have bad-mouthed casework enough. Why do it if it is so terrible? Well, because in truth, it is not terrible at all. Casework can be very rewarding. There is nothing like seeing someone who was terrified, reach a point where they feel comfortable. It is great to watch their defenses and their confidence grow. It is great to watch them grow. To help give someone back their life is a wonderful feeling and one that stays with you for a long time, even though it is they who do most of the work. It can give you quite a high when things work out well.
I personally love doing casework although there have been a few times where I have wondered whether it was time to maybe stick to research. However, after a short time to recuperate, the drive and desire always comes back. Difficult cases do not come around all that often. Most cases are fun to work, even some of the bad ones. I have made some good friends through casework, friends that I treasure to this day, long after their case ended. For everything bad about the field, there are two good things. Maybe some day I will decide to hang it up. At this point in my life, I cannot imagine that day but I have known many investigators who shared my passion for the field and gradually, they reached the point where it became too much for them. I can only hope that does not happen to me. We all have things we feel we are good at and I believe that casework is one of mine. One of the precious few things I am good at, I should add. Still, you never know, I guess. All told, I love casework and plan to keep doing it for a long time.
© 2003 T. Cooney