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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: When believing in the unproven and unseen goes too far

Rika Kayama

I often talk with my clinical psychotherapist friends about whether belief in something with no scientific basis can help people's state of mind. Of course, there are many things we still do not know about the human mind and life itself. But there are some people who claim that have "memories from past lives" or that they can "see the afterlife." There are apparently even counselors who urge their clients to try believing in these things.

I'm the type of person who does not believe in things without scientific evidence. At times, I have even blurted out something like, "Seriously? It's weird to talk about invisible worlds as part of counseling, you know." To which my friends have replied, "But it's true that it helps some people. And it hasn't yet been proven that there isn't some kind of existence before we were born."

University students nowadays are very keen on "power spots" -- particular places where one is supposed to gain some sort of spiritual power or good luck -- and they can often be heard saying things like, "Getting your photo taken in front of that big tree is supposed to make job hunting go smoothly." I don't go so far as to tell them to stop talking about things with no scientific backing, but I do get the urge to say, "You know, you can get over the job-hunting hurdle with your own abilities, even if you don't get your photo taken with the tree."

I don't dislike the "omamori" charms and "omikuji" fortune-telling papers sold at temples and shrines. I even ask the gods to help me get through big upcoming speeches, and somehow come to feel some peace of mind because of it. So there is some benefit to being a "believer."

On the other hand, there are a lot of "health goods" and "health food" businesses out there that target people who simply want to believe in the exorbitantly priced products' efficacy. There is nothing wrong with the positive, forward-looking feeling one can get by using one of these products. Problems arise, however, when customers entrust themselves entirely to a "healer" claiming that he or she has some special power. There are people who have forked over vast sums for these mysterious remedies or have even shortened their lives by not receiving proper medical treatment.

Though scientifically sound it is not, you can have a little fun telling yourself that wearing your "lucky color" will bring success in a job interview, or by believing in unseen worlds. These things can give you courage and energy. But red flags should be waving if you find your options being taken away with phrases like, "It's wrong to believe anything other than this," or, "There is no other way to help you but this," or if you are forced to pay some astronomical sum of money.

In short, it's best to moderate your beliefs in the scientifically unproven. It's all right to think, "It would be fun if this actually worked." But to cling to something as "the only right way" can be dangerous. That's ultimately the answer I give in my discussions with the clinical psychotherapists, who just smile wryly and needle me for being vague. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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