Veteran psychiatrist is on a mission to destigmatize paranormal experiences
One thing you should probably know right off the top: this isn't the kind of conversation you hear every day on CBC Radio.
Dr. Manuel Matas is a clinical psychiatrist with some 40 years of experience in the field of mental health — and a lifetime of experience with the paranormal. It began many years ago, when he was a young psychiatry resident at McGill University.
"I was in my apartment in Montreal. And one night, I somehow left my body and found myself floating on the ceiling, looking down at my body in bed," Dr. Matas told Tapestry host Mary Hynes, adding that, at the time, he wouldn't have thought any such thing was remotely possible. "And in fact, if someone had told me that story, I probably wouldn't have believed it."
He believes it now — in part, because it wasn't a one-off event.
As Dr. Matas notes in his book, The Borders of Normal: A Clinical Psychiatrist De-Stigmatizes Paranormal Phenomena, you might be able to write off one or two strange events that can't be explained by logic or reason, but when they start to pile up, you begin to pay attention.
Soon, he was meeting other people who said they'd had similar encounters with the — choose your own word here; Matas uses them all — strange, weird, unusual, anomalous, spiritual, and/or mystical.
"And what I found out is that people who have these experiences don't want to talk about them," he explained, "because people are worried what other people think about them, or else they're worried that they're losing their minds or that there's something wrong with them."
As someone who has worked in teaching hospitals and served on the Board and the Scientific Council of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, Dr. Matas is in a good position to discern the difference between a mystical experience and a psychiatric episode.
And he wants you to know that if you've had a brush with the unexplained, there is nothing wrong with you.
As we live our lives, we often suspect there must be more to this life than meets the eye. We are not wrong.- Dr. Manuel Matas
"[I want to] help people overcome the stigma attached to paranormal phenomena and to tell people it's okay to have these experiences," he said.
"It doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. And lots of people have these experiences. In fact, the reason we think they're so rare is because people don't talk about them."
This reasoning has led the doctor to a new personal motto: "If you see something, say something."
Dr. Matas has encountered his fair share of skepticism within the medical profession. When he told a young physician about his book, and mentioned the subtitle —"A Clinical Psychiatrist De-Stigmatizes Paranormal Phenomena" — she was curious. "She said, 'Well, why would you want to de-stigmatize them?'" Dr. Matas recalled.
He suggests that even the most famous skeptic can have an experience that defies rational explanation; he points to Michael Shermer's piece in Scientific American about the unexplained occurrence that shook him to his core.
The veteran psychiatrist Matas believes there's a place for healthy skepticism. He encourages people to seek out a middle ground between gullibly believing in everything, and being so devoted to skeptical materialism that you reject anything with a whiff of the mystical.
From the out-of-body experience to sensing angels at his father's funeral, Dr. Matas says he's seen enough to make a believer out of him.
"I think there is another world, a world that we can't see, (and) that there is more to this life than meets the eye."
Produced by Mary Hynes, Arman Aghbali and Rosie Fernandez. Written by Mary Hynes.