Havelock Ellis's Involvement in Psychical Research

Research output: Contribution to ConferenceAbstract


Few people today are familiar with the name Havelock Ellis, and yet over a hundred years ago were his name to be uttered in public it was well-known in a mixed light. He was considered by many people a bad influence on society by writing so openly and often on the psychology of sexual behaviour, and became arguably the most prolific writer within psychology on the nature of sex and sexuality. He was a qualified medical doctor through St’Thomas Hospital Medical Scholl – now part of King’s College London – and held a small practice at his home in Brixton where his patients would write to him or visit regarding a number of sexual problems for which they required therapy or to understanding more about themselves from the leading expert.

Ellis’ most noted works are his six volumes on Studies in the Psychology of Sex (published between 1897 to 1928), in which a variety of topics regarding sexual behaviour were discussed. Included within these infamous volumes was a devoted section to “The Psychic State in Pregnancy”, found within volume five. The majority of Ellis’ books concerned sex, but he also produced various other titles, including an interesting examination of dreams in 1911 entitled The World of Dreams. Within this, Ellis also demonstrates openness to psychical phenomena through the discussion of dreams involving interaction with the dead. This particular aspect of dreams was something that Carl Jung had also given attention to, regarding some instances of dreaming of the dead as genuine interaction with the surviving personalities of deceased friends and loved ones. While Sigmund Freud remained hesitant in involving himself in psychical research, against the keenness of Jung, he nevertheless still dabbled with such ideas and published on aspects of extrasensory perception in relation to psychoanalysis. Ellis shared many letters with Freud, and during the time of Ellis, Jung, and Freud, psychical research was of wide popular interest. Despite professional discouragement from engaging in psychical research, it is no surprise that all of these figures at some point wrote on the topic. It is clear to see in the writings of Ellis that he never appeared to speak of psychical phenomena as anything particularly unnatural. His writings suggest that in our day to day lives psychical phenomena is played out all around us, and yet we are rarely conscious of that fact. Clearly, social stigmas regarding professional status and psychical research did not deter Ellis from freely expressing his thoughts on the anomalous side of human behaviour. His reputation – particularly within the public domain – was already viewed by many as founded on perverted thoughts and writings – rather than original psychological theories on human behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2015
Event39th SPR International Annual Conference and 58th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association - University of Greenwich, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 16 Jul 201919 Jul 2019


Conference39th SPR International Annual Conference and 58th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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