Letters, November 2015

…other letters from our November issue.

Academic resilience through togetherness

Students often feel alone and isolated joining a new sixth form, which negatively impacts on their academic achievement and their self-concept. In response to your published article on academic buoyancy (‘From adversity to buoyancy’, September 2015), I wondered if we should consider the significant lessons from Vygotsky. His concept of the ZPD (zone of proximal development) explained how students reached deeper and more advanced levels of learning when they talked, communicated and shared ideas within their small friendship groups. He further proposed the role of the MKO (more knowledgeable other) to access this zone of higher learning.

As a teacher and doctoral candidate, my investigations have found students’ buoyancy and resilience to be strengthened by collaboration (in dyads and in groups with an MKO). New students in a transitional term (first 12 weeks of A-level study) were encouraged to engage with others in their ‘free periods’ on a regular basis. They reported an increased sense of belonging and wellbeing and lowered anxiety resulting in an improved academic attainment and academic self-concept. Recognising the importance of not feeling alone in a transitional time and encouraging academic study groups was the making of some of my students – so much so that it encouraged them to remain in college, persisting and staying afloat in their academic studies despite it being ‘hard’ – they knew they could rely on each other for support.

Having videoed many student learning sessions it was satisfying to see older students socratically leading study groups, using a sense of humour and banter, forging friendships and horizontal identities to increase their academic self-concept.

Using an MKO or study-buddies is not a new idea, but perhaps could rise to the surface again to increase academic buoyancy and self-concept… the only problem is getting them to do it – getting a small group of teenagers to meet regularly is rather like herding cats! – worth a try though.

Celia Bone
Full-time teacher, Chartered Psychologist
and doctoral candidate at Northumbria University


Alien abduction as trauma substitution

Firstly, I must say how refreshing it was to read the ‘Out of this world’ feature in the October edition. I found the article titled ‘Close encounters of the psychological kind’ especially interesting.

As an undergraduate, author and psychological therapist, specialising in stress management therapy, I have a keen interest in the causes of PTSD and how trauma causes individuals to behave.

Some time ago I saw a documentary about alien abduction. Unlike most subjective accounts of the phenomenon, the individuals who took part in the programme sought theoretical explanations for their experiences. One such individual underwent voluntary hypnotherapy, where he was told that his subjective experience of the abduction was very real to him. Something the therapist was unable to do was to explain why this was so. Afterwards he visited a clinical psychologist for assessment, who was able to confirm that he had no diagnosable mental health disorder, which would ordinarily be used to explain such symptoms as auditory or visual hallucinations. At the time, I was training in hypnotherapy and considered a possible theory for his experience and those of the other individuals who appeared on the programme.

As with this particular man, a couple (man and wife) also claimed to have been abducted. Their experience was quite different. The woman believed herself to have been impregnated by the alien, suffering a miscarriage sometime later. Whilst no physical evidence of an alien abduction was found, her husband was able to confirm that they’d had DNA testing done, and the DNA of the fetus did not match his.

The couple’s story was similar to many others that I have since researched out of interest. Most accounts involve either an alien impregnating a woman or aliens leaving one partner incapable of moving whilst taking the other individual away somewhere, bringing them back. Most individuals have been left with visible marks on their skin afterwards, which they’ve been unable to explain due to memory loss.

Without wishing to sound as though I have approached this view with anything other than caution and vigorous explanatory research, I would like to offer readers my theory, which as you may have guessed is linked to both trauma and PTSD. Could some abductees be filling in gaps of memory loss with their own interpretations of what may have happened? We are all capable of creating our own memories. Or could some abductees be substituting alien abduction for some other trauma? Perhaps there could be further research into the possibility that violent assault or rape could be willingly interpreted by survivors as alien abduction in order to survive and deal with their ordeal.

I am currently writing on the topic and welcome any interested persons to get in touch: you can contact me on e-mail at [email protected]

Louise Mullins


Cold reading and therapy

I am writing because I feel there is an important ethical issue that I’ve tried to raise with other psychologists but have either been ignored or laughed at. However, I remain convinced that this is an important issue and would appreciate any comments.

Readers with an interest in magic will know of mentalism and most likely ‘cold reading’, which is ‘…a deceptive psychological strategy. Among other things, it can be used by someone who is not psychic to give what seems to be a very convincing psychic reading’ (Rowland, 2008, p.14). Basically, it is often possible by using these techniques to convince people that you know and understand them.

As far as I am aware, even the most jaded magicians have never suggested that all mediums or clairvoyants learn their ‘ability’ from a book – most using these skills have learnt them intuitively. However, Rowland talks of many techniques in the cold reader’s armoury that can be learnt as opposed to acquired intuitively. For example, he discusses what he calls the ‘Rainbow Ruse’ – crediting a client with a personality trait and its opposite: ‘You can be a very considerate person, very quick to provide for others, but there are times…when you recognise a selfish streak in yourself” (p.32). He goes on to discuss how these techniques can be applied to areas such as selling, romance and criminal interrogation. Overall, he argues that these approaches can be used to build good rapport and to ‘sound perceptive and well-informed’ (p.214). Rowland, on his website, claims that ‘Teachers and Therapists say that cold reading improves their ability to communicate with their students, clients and patients’.

I would suggest that cold reading has implications for anyone doing any form of therapy and raises a number of questions: First, is it possible or perhaps likely that psychologists considered to be ‘empathic’ are intuitively using such skills? Second, should psychologists generally be aware of these techniques? Third, if they are made aware of these techniques, should there be an attempt to understand if they have been intuitively using them? Fourth, should these skills be learnt and used in psychotherapeutic contexts if it is felt that they can be useful?

Now I am not suggesting that these techniques be learnt so as to manipulate people, but perhaps we should know about the techniques and if/when we are using such approaches. Psychologist – know thyself!

John Warren
Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire

Rowland, I. (2008). The full facts book of cold reading. London: Ian Rowland.

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