By Tim Stevens
Another very common question from the day I guest lectured was how psychology treated so-called “super powered” individuals when psychology was in its infancy and those with powers were very rare. At the time, I was unable to answer the question. However, in my research, I have come across a set of recently unearthed letters written by an early adapter of psychology. Although they are not dated, they appear to be from the late 1800’s, specifically between 1870 and 1895. This is made clear by references to certain historical events as well as the psychology used, including structuralism and functionalism with only passing references to Freud’s work. The particular notes I have included here concern a former Confederate soldier named John Carter who describes what then must have seemed a rather wild tale but we now have evidence to suggest did occur. The writer is reaching out to colleagues in the Northeast for consultation on the case. Please feel free to share these with your students.
The man is tall and broad and carried himself with considerable confidence. He arrived at our hospital with his clothes in disrepair but seeming to be otherwise healthy and stable. He calls himself John Carter and produced records that appear to verify these claims. Additionally, his description of his initial disappearance, running from Indian aggression, matches the claims of what others reported to sheriffs and newspapers in the area.
However, the man’s honesty, or, in my opinion, sanity, is quickly called into question the more he relates his life to us. Given what Carter’s age should be, this individual appears far too young. The idea that he left his body for years accounting for this is preposterous in ways too numerous to count. Nonetheless, he insists upon its truthfulness. He maintains he traveled to the planet Mars, though he insists on referring to it as “Barsoom” as “the native people do.” Were he not rich or a hero of the South—no matter what you might think up there, the War is still very much a scar in the minds of my colleagues here—I do not believe he would be privileged to be visiting my office weekly. He is no different than the man they placed in the hospital last week who laid claim he was our first President, George Washington, and deserves no more attention.
However, my colleagues insist this Carter receive the best of care and it has driven me to the edge of my wit. I have no idea how to help a man who insists he is someone he cannot be, has gone places he cannot have, and fought beings no one has ever seen for the love of a princess. He sees himself as a sort of messiah for the native people of Mars, someone who has died and been reborn. He does say this all with sincerity, it is true, but sincerity alone does not guarantee reality. I understand our “George Washington” was the quite the powerful speaker as well and he remains on the ward for the safety of the community and himself. I cannot do better than to recommend the same for John Carter unless you can offer me guidance. Neither Wundt’s nor James’ works offer aid and my colleagues and I are in agreement that the Austrian is damaging our calling in the name of titillating himself and his European readers.
Please respond post-haste as I cannot foresee working with this man a second more without a change in tactics.
If you think this is something that your students would be interested in more of, please let me know and I’ll send you the rest of the portions that concern John Carter. Additionally, Doctors Roger Langridge and Filipe Andrade have recently begun to publish a series of articles about Carter based on his description of what happened on Mars. You can find the latest, JOHN CARTER OF MARS: A PRINCESS OF MARS #3, in stores November 16 and would be a nice supplement to these materials.
Psy D. Candidate Tim Stevens is a Practicum Trainee at a community mental health center and a Dialectical Behavior Therapy Consultant.