Spiritualism is the belief that it is possible to communicate with the death through trance mediums. While there are historical antecedents, modern spiritualism began in 1848 in New York state, when the young Fox sisters claimed the power to produce raps from the spirit world.
Spiritualism promised communication with the dead, and for the bereaved this was often an irresistible hope. Fraudulent mediums were happy to provide solace, for a price. Exposures of fraud, probably contributed to the decline of spiritualism, but even today there are believers.
Sunday’s Washington Post brought the sad news of a revival of the discredited technique called facilitated communication. Facilitated communication is supposed to allow people with severe autism and other developmental disabilities to communicate. It is easy to see why parents would want to believe that their non-verbal children could actually communicate, but our evidence shows that that facilitated communication does not work and that the messages are actually authored by the facilitators via the ideomotor effect.
Here is the American Psychological Association’s statement on facilitated communication.
And here is the powerful Frontline documentary on the subject.