doorway enter the light
Alan Sanderson is a psychiatrist specializing in hypnotherapy, who has become an advocate of spirit release therapy - a technique by which a hypnotherapist communicates directly with spirit entities purportedly harassing a patient. One of his cases, dating from 1995, involves a patient he calls Clara. He has written about it at some length in an article called "Clara - Spirit Releasement Therapy in a Case Featuring Depression and Panic" (European Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, April 4, 1998). He also alludes to the case in a more recent article, "Spirit Release in Clinical Psychiatry - What Can We Learn?" (2014) Here I want to present an abridged version of the case, relying primarily on the first, more detailed article. (All quotations are taken from the 1998 paper.)

What intrigues me the most about those case are its obvious parallels to numerous case histories recounted in Carl Wickland's 1924 book Thirty Years Among the Dead. (Clicking this link automatically downloads a PDF to your downloads folder. The book can also be purchased at Amazon.) Wickland used a medium (his wife) to contact the spirits, while Sanderson uses hypnosis. But the resulting dialogues are strikingly similar.

Sanderson notes that "possession" cases, as studied by himself and other researchers, can involve a wide variety of conditions, including phobias, addictions, and depression. "The great majority of these cases lack a subjective sense of possession. While the patient may have the feeling of spirit proximity, for instance that a deceased relative has been close by, the identification of a spirit presence usually comes as a surprise." In other words, we're not talking about dramatic, obvious "demonic" behavior or manifestations a la The Exorcist. (I'm not sure I would use the term "possession" for these cases; "obsession" or "harassment" seem like better words.)

Comment: The idea that spirits can 'possess' humans - and that these possessions can be responsible for a variety of behaviors and mental illnesses - has been a widespread folk belief. But the belief in scientific materialism has all but wiped it out from common medical theory and practice. But this is irrational. Even if one does not believe in the existence of such 'spirits', it's rational to act as if they do exist - if doing so has some practical value. For whatever reason, such phenomena present as - and are experienced as - independent beings. If they are in fact or not, that's just the reality we have to deal with it. And it's probably healthier to deal with it than to just pretend it doesn't happen.

He finds Clara's case to be of particular interest "because the patient's complaints of depression, anxiety, headache and panic are common symptoms and the picture in no way resembled that of the popular concept of possession." He tells us that Clara had no longterm history of mental problems or psychiatric treatment, was raised in a stable family, and reported a normal childhood. By the time she came to him, however, she was seriously depressed, drank and smoked heavily, and had gained more than twenty pounds in a few months.

She describes herself in comments she contributed to the paper:
For as long as I can remember I had suffered with a profound lack of confidence. In situations of confrontation, pressure or stress I never felt in control of my thoughts or decisions. I experienced quite severe mood swings that I could not explain. Since adulthood, I have had problems in maintaining relationships, particularly with men, often experiencing feelings of consuming love for them one day and extreme loathing the next.

Following the failure of my second marriage, in my mid-twenties, I was left with two young children to bring up. There was no sense of purpose to my life and I felt a frightening lack of control. I entered another relationship, but this began to deteriorate soon after the birth of my third child, when I was thirty. I felt I had hardly enter any energy for a person of my age. I experienced frequent pains in my head, feelings of extreme fear, and these, alongside my low self-esteem, made me begin to feel that I would probably be better off dead. My relationship ended and I sunk into total despair. I started saying things to the children and my family that I never would normally have even thought of. I could not predict my moods at all and often felt that somebody else had taken control of me. I was totally in fear of myself. During an outing with my parents I became terribly anxious, the pains in my head were intolerable and I collapsed and was admitted to hospital.
Sanderson helped control her anxiety by teaching her self-hypnosis. In a self-hypnosis session at home, "she had attempted to return to the pre-natal period [and] had become aware of a scene involving two young women, dressed in the fashion of one hundred and fifty years ago, in a street market." Intrigued, Sanderson explored this apparent memory in their next session, on June 5, 1995. His technique was to hypnotize his subject and then directly address the subconscious mind. This session and a subsequent session on June 12 were audiotaped and transcribed.

Sanderson inquired, "Subconscious mind, is there anybody with Clara who is not actually part of her?" Clara indicated that there were two such entities. One was a 31-year-old woman named Henrietta who died of a fever while attended by her sister Matilda. Sanderson then addressed Henrietta directly.
Therapist: Henrietta, just go on now to the time when you lose your body. Tell me what your perception is.

Patient: Slipping.

Therapist: Yes. As you leave your body what are you aware of?

Patient: The sky. The light.

Therapist: Is this the sunlight?

Patient: A bright light, a white light....

Therapist: Are you aware of your body? Are you aware of the body you have left behind you?

Patient: Yes, I can see that. I can see that.

Therapist: Yes. Can you see Matilda there too?

Patient: Yes, I see her. And my bed.

Therapist: Yes. All right. Are you aware of how you are? Are you dressed?

Patient: Yes, I'm dressed - and I'm well.

Therapist: All right, Henrietta, just go on now and tell me what happens.

Patient: I come into a sitting place, and I sit down. I feel happy. I can't see anyone.

Therapist: Yes. Could you describe the sitting place, Henrietta?

Patient: Like a bench.

Therapist: Aha! And how about the surroundings, are there any surroundings?

Patient: Just a bench ... and just a very clear white light. [I] just sit there waiting with my basket.
She sat, evidently, for some indeterminate span of time. No one came for her, and at some point she found herself back on earth, in a garden, where she saw an unfamiliar four-year-old girl. This was Clara.
Therapist: So what is it about Clara, Henrietta, which causes you to feel you need to join her?

Patient: She's just playing and happy, laughing. I don't want to be on my own.

Therapist: So is it just that this is a little girl who is happy and laughing? Is there no particular affinity between you and her?

Patient: I don't think so.

Therapist: All right. And does little Clara have any particular weakness that allows you to enter her?

Patient: Well, she feels very lonely.

Therapist: Feeling lonely, is she?

Patient: Yes.

Therapist: So you are entering her now. Is there anyone else with Clara, when you enter her?

Patient: Oh, yes. Gladys, yes. She's there.

Therapist: Gladys? Ah, you mean there's someone else in the garden with her?

Patient: No, no, there is someone inside her.

Therapist: There's someone inside her. I see. Is it Gladys? Is Gladys the other person who's with her now?

Patient: Yes.

Therapist: I see. Yeah. Do you and Gladys communicate?

Patient: Oh, yes.
A little more dialogue with Henrietta established that Henrietta didn't stay with Clara all the time, but sometimes returned to her bench to sit by herself. After this, Sanderson asked her to step back and let Gladys come forward for an interview.
Therapist: How old was Clara when you joined her?

Patient: When she was born.

Therapist: I see. At the moment of birth or before?

Patient: No, when she was born - at the moment of birth.

Therapist: At the moment of birth. I see. What was it that attracted you to her then?

Patient: She needed me to help her.

Therapist: Ah. Why did you feel that Clara needed you particularly? Most newborn babies manage on their own.

Patient: No, she needed some help. She was very angry.

Therapist: Ah. Did you understand that, why she...?

Patient. Oh, yes, yes.

Therapist: What made you feel that she...? Did you understand why she should have been angry?

Patient: Yes, yes. I know her parents.

Therapist: Oh, I see. You mean she was angry because there had been difficulties with her parents and she hadn't ... been exactly welcomed initially, had she, initially? ... Gladys, when you say you knew her parents, you sound almost like a family friend.

Patient: Oh no, no! I'm her great aunt.
Gladys joined with Clara in order to guide her through life. Sanderson asked her to reexperience her own death, an idea she resisted in this session. She died, she said, in 1947. She exhibited a sharp distrust of men and disapproved of the men in Clara's life, whom she called "brutes."
Therapist: I think this is something I shall want to discuss with Clara, because I am sure she has been quite unaware of your presence with her. Now that she is aware of it, it really should be she who decides, wouldn't you agree, whether you stay with her or not? After all, she hasn't invited you in, has she?

Patient: No, but she needs me.

Therapist: Shall I discuss it with Clara? Do you think ...

Patient: She doesn't listen.

Therapist: Can you help her to understand the picture, in the marketplace, of the two young women?

Patient: Oh, yes.

Therapist: Do clarify that for us, please.

Patient: It's this girl, she comes in sometimes.

Therapist: Henrietta?

Patient: Yes, she's there sometimes. She comes and she goes, she comes and she goes. She is very sweet.

Therapist: But there's another figure, in the marketplace with her.

Patient: Yes, that's her sister. She doesn't come.
This was the end of the hypnosis in the June 5 session. After Clara was brought out of trance, Sanderson asked her to make inquiries about her family tree.

Clara offers her own impressions of this first session:
We made contact with one of the young women in the market and as she spoke I was aware that it was through my voice but I felt a total bystander - as if I was watching a stage play.... I felt little emotion up to [the point when Gladys came forward] other than total fascination. However, as soon as Gladys started to speak I immediately felt tense and intimidated. As Gladys continued to speak it transpired that she was one of my great aunts who had died long before my birth. She struck me as being a very forceful character and she did make me feel like a frightened little child as she spoke of having looked after me since I was born....

I did not use self-hypnosis between my [June 5 and June 12] sessions with the doctor but I had a good week and felt much more in control of my life. During the week I had learned that Aunt Gladys was indeed a relation who had had a difficult and sad life and had died in her mid-fifties after her marriage to a brutal husband.
In the second session, on June 12, Sanderson got Gladys to talk about her anger at her husband Michael and her grief over her son Roy's death at age twenty-eight. He then took her through an exercise in which she relived her moment of passing while this time choosing to leave her anger and grief behind.
Therapist: And now, the anger about Michael, who was impossible, who battered you, and cheated you, and gave you such a difficult time that you didn't at all deserve.... And Gladys, you lived you have lived through all that, and now allow yourself to let go of it, you don't need it. You don't need the anger, you don't need the memories of those bad times. Are you ready to let go of that anger, Gladys?

Patient: Yes.

Therapist: Good. Leave that in the body which you are about to leave behind. Now think back to the time with Roy. Think how proud you were as a young mother when he was born. That was a wonderful time - so proud of yourself. At last a boy, and he grew up so beautifully, and you were so proud of him right to his childhood. And then as a young man? Was he very good-looking?

Patient: Um. (full of emotion) Oh yes, he was wonderful.

Therapist: And then, the accident and that made you so sad. That's what really broke you, wasn't it? It made you so unhappy.

Patient: (sobbing)

Therapist: But, Gladys, do you know something, when you decide to leave Clara, and go into the Light, you can be with Roy again, and meet him again. Did you realize that?... And now just have the experience of gently rising up out of your body, leaving behind the anger at your early death, leaving behind the anger with Michael, leaving behind the anger at the loss of Roy. Just rise up out of your body now. How does it feel to be released from it?

Patient: Yes, wonderful....

Therapist: And Gladys, now you are here with Clara and you have done a great job, looking after Clara, helping her as she grew up, to be more practical and down to earth.... And you have helped her not to be taken in sometimes, you have made her realize, sometimes, before she made a mistake, and sometimes afterward. But you have always done her best for her.

Patient: Well, I thought so.

Therapist: Yes, surely you have. And surely Clara feels gratitude to you for all those very good intentions.

Patient: No, she doesn't....

Therapist: So now, when you are ready, all you need to do, Gladys, is just to look around and you see Roy. Just look around and see.

Patient: Oh, yes. (excitedly)....

Therapist: And now, he is here to take you into the Light, to introduce you into the spirit world, where there is so much good to experience and to learn.
Clara's perspective:
During my next session, Gladys, after some persuasion, agreed to let us help her. She was encouraged back to the time of her death. I could see the scenes so well, just like watching a film rolling, able to observe everything but unable to control the images put out. However, the images did start to emotionally affect me and I experienced the sense of fear and anger that she was speaking about. As Gladys left her dead body I felt a peculiar floating sensation. She then said she could see her son Roy in a bright light and that she wanted to go with him. I saw her look so happy and I could feel her relief and excitement. As she passed, I too felt relief.
After this, Gladys was gone from the scene, and it was Henrietta's turn in the spotlight. One anomaly reported by Sanderson is that her sister's name "unaccountably changes" from Matilda to Miranda. This sort of inconsistency is common in many forms of after-death communication and, while it may be seized upon as evidence of subconscious confabulation, it may just as easily be seen as a minor glitch in memory or transmission.

In any event, Henrietta was easily persuaded to leave when her Uncle Bert showed up to collect her.

Speaking again to Clara's subconscious, Sanderson discovered two more spirit entities. This discovery prompted Clara to place her hand to her head as if in agitation.
Therapist: What is the work that needs to be done still?

Patient: We need to help Jack.

Therapist: We need to help Jack. Yes. Tell me about Jack.

Patient: He's with me. He's frightened.

Therapist: Who is Jack?

Patient: I don't know him.

Therapist: Was it Jack that seemed to give you that pain [in the head]?

Patient: Um.

Therapist: What was it you were feeling then?

Patient: Just pulling, pulling on me, like a sharp pain. He's so frightened. He's crying.

Therapist: Is Jack a child, is that the impression you have?

Patient: No, he's not a child, he's a young man.
Sanderson made contact with Jack and asked what he was frightened of. Jack replied that he was afraid there would be no one to meet him on the other side because he'd been a bad person, a petty criminal and drug addict who died at age seventeen in 1965.
Therapist: How was it that you came to join Clara? How old is she when you join her?

Patient: Four or five - a little girl.

Therapist: Is she? What is it that attracts you to Clara?

Patient: Well, I just felt lost... She's very sweet, happy. I want to be like that.

Therapist: Yes. As you go to her, so as you enter her, do you realize, is there anyone else with her?

Patient: Yes, Gladys.

Therapist: Yeah. What does she do? How did she feel when you come?

Patient: I just ... she's saying ... no, no!

Therapist: She tries to stop you?

Patient: Yes, she tries to say get out but I'm not going to.
Jack was prompted to describe his own death, which occurred when he stepped off the sidewalk and was hit by a car.
Patient: My head... Oooooh!

Therapist: All right, Jack, when I put my hand there, that [pain] goes away, and you feel good again. That's right, now that good feeling is coming into your head. So you are looking round, and you are feeling lost. Do you realize you have lost your body at this point?

Patient: Yes, I can see me there.
He remembered accompanying his body in an ambulance until it reached the hospital. Sanderson then directed him into the Light in the company of his mother.

Clara writes:
As we helped [Jack] to reexperience his death, I felt, in my head, the pains I had experienced before my admission to hospital, and these got more painful as he relived his own death as a result of a head injury. As soon as Jack left, the pains disappeared.
But there was still one more entity, Tony Gizzard, age forty-one. The least alert of the four, he sounded dazed and exhausted.
Therapist: How old was Clara when you joined her?

Patient: Twenty-three.

Therapist: I see. And, Tony, you realize of course that you lost your body?

Patient: I don't ... Yeah, yeah, er ... I'm not really sure.

Therapist: You're not sure.

Patient: No.

Therapist: Well, you know Clara's a woman, don't you?

Patient: Well, er ... I've been asleep.

Therapist: Oh! You've been asleep, have you? Well, that can happen, that people lose their bodies and they feel that they've been asleep for a long time. But, Tony, you're awake now, aren't you?

Patient: Yeah.

Therapist: And you see, what's happened is that you actually lost your body and you're a spirit now and you have joined another person, another living person with a body of her own.

Patient: Um.

Therapist: So you've joined Clara, who is a woman, and you're in a woman's body now. Tony, what year is it for you?

Patient: 1982.

Therapist: 1982, is it? Well, you may be surprised to hear that it is now 1995.

Patient: Oh!
Sanderson regressed Tony to the time period a few minutes before his death so that he could reexperience his passing without distress. He was lodging in a bedsit in London, lying drunk on the floor. And then he just went to sleep, or so it seemed.
Therapist: Oh, you go to sleep, do you? All right. Well, it seems to me that what seems to you like sleep may be you losing your body, your body actually dying. It can happen, you know.

Patient: Um.

Therapist: So just be aware of what happens. And perhaps you are aware of coming out of that body?

Patient: Oh, yeah!

Therapist: You are coming out of it now, are you?

Patient: Oh, yeah. I'm getting up now and going down ...

Therapist: What's happened to your body?

Patient: Oh, I can see ... I've left it there! I can see now.

Therapist: Ah! And it's a bit confusing, isn't it?

Patient: Yeah, 'cos I'm meant to be in the 100 Club - I'm going there.
Tony recounted his visit to this club, where he sat at the bar but inexplicably did not receive a drink or chat with anyone. He tried talking to a girl but she didn't respond, just as if he wasn't there.
Therapist: You mean she ignores you?

Patient: Yeah, I get really cross ... Silly cow. (under his breath)

Therapist: What do you call her?

Patient: Silly cow.

Therapist: All right. Go on now, what do you do next?

Patient: Oh, God, I'm in her.... Hm. Ha. (rather embarrassed, amused)

Therapist: You're in her, are you?

Patient: Yeah, that's where I am.

Therapist: This is the girl who wouldn't speak to you?

Patient: Yeah.

Therapist: This is Clara?

Patient: Yeah.

Therapist: I see, yeah. So that's a surprise. You didn't mean to join her?

Patient: No. Oh ...

Therapist: So, that explains a lot to you, doesn't it, Tony? You joined her by mistake. You didn't realize you had lost your body!

Patient: Oh no, that's right.

Therapist: Well, Tony these things can happen, and here you are, and you've been with Clara ever since then.

Patient: Oh.

Therapist: Have you been aware of Clara's life and what she's been doing?

Patient: No, I've been asleep most of the time.
This was the last dialogue that proved necessary. Tony was urged into the Light, and Clara was taken out of the trance.

Clara remembers:
Tony was the last person to come forward. He was obviously totally confused with the whole circumstances. He had died in an alcoholic stupor, and I did wonder about my own excesses with alcohol, which had started at exactly the age that Tony said he joined me. I was brought back to full awareness and felt very light-headed, drained and quite low in spirit.

Over the next few weeks I noticed many changes in myself. I instantly had so much energy and now have an average 25 per cent less sleep than before my treatment although I am twice as active during the day. I started to feel more and more relaxed about everything in my life as the feeling that someone was looking over my shoulder ready to criticize me at every turn had disappeared.... In the fifteen months since the end of my treatment I no longer have any pains in my head or feel the urge to drink excessive amounts of alcohol. I have lost 15 kg [33 pounds] excess weight, without dieting, and am down to five cigarettes a day. My moods are much more reliable and I am nothing like so sensitive to people's remarks as I used to be.
She added that she still used self-hypnosis to help herself relax, but she had not experienced any more unexpected images like the Victorian women in the marketplace.

In his discussion of the case, Sanderson notes that as of 1998 he had treated more than 100 patients using the spirit release technique. Sometimes the effects were "strikingly beneficial," as in Clara's case; at other times, the effects were "transitory or absent." He had not seen any negative effects. He observes that Clara's case could be interpreted as "the effect of hypnosis on an over-suggestible subject," though he clearly prefers to see it as "an indication of a spiritual reality, which demands exploration."

In his 2014 piece, which summarizes the Clara case, Sanderson adds that he last spoke to Clara in 2004 (nine years after the treatment), when she was still "happy and in excellent health."