Going In Circles

Sources often state that finding a good “circle” – or group of other developing mediums – is the best way to understand and improve your mediumistic abilities. Circles seem like an ideal solution – a seemingly supportive place to practice with like-minded peers without the fear of judgment. However, without a good teacher or experienced medium leading the circle, many of these peer-led practice circles can actually do more harm than good.

Recently, there has been a proliferation of these free practice circles – enabled by the rise in platforms like Zoom and the growth of social media groups for developing mediumship. I have attended many of these circles and even helped run a Facebook page for a time that was dedicated to encouraging them. However, I watched with growing concern as once-promising mediums seemed to plateau or burn out, pick up bad habits, or sometimes perpetuate dangerous misinformation to impressionable developing mediums. In fact, there are so many negatives and drawbacks that I observed – and experienced myself – that I now strongly advise against practice circles for most people.


The Clueless Leading the Helpless

If you don’t have a teacher guiding you in a circle, then there is nobody to turn to when something goes wrong. There is no good source to help you understand what is wrong with your mediumship or how to fix it. Seeking feedback or advice from inexperienced fellow students may result in the reinforcement of bad mechanics, ultimately leading to frustration or slowed development.

I have seen many mediums plateau or even backslide by attending practice circles – often repeatedly encountering the same problems over and over (and over… some even acknowledging they’ve had the same problems for years!). Everyone develops their mediumship ability at their own pace and should not be rushed or compared to others, but without an experienced medium to guide them, many mediums will struggle or fail over basic things that any good teacher can – and should – correct very quickly. But absent a good leader to help, developing mediums end up normalizing these problems with one another.

For example, I have attended many practice circles where mediums routinely and repeatedly failed to “land their links” (determine the recipient of the spirit communication) – thinking that is perfectly normal and acceptable part of their mediumship development to give evidence that nobody in the group understands! The idea proliferates that the medium is somehow picking up a “random” spirit that nobody in the circle can validate – even though that idea contradicts the concept of an intelligent spirit world and the very purpose of evidential mediumship. Without a recipient who can validate evidence in the moment, the circle is left to wonder why a random spirit would come in or whether the medium is connecting to the spirit world at all.

Of course, some mediums will make excuses for this to soothe their own ego – nobody can take this person or this piece of evidence but I know I have them here and I know I am “right”, etc. When the reality is most times the medium may be connected to a spirit communicator but they are simply failing to properly communicate the evidence. When evidence is delivered with editing, interpretation, judgment, or with the medium “filling in the gaps” with their own imagination, any spirit communicator will invariably be rendered unrecognizable to the circle. This does not mean the medium is connected to a “random” spirit that just wandered into the circle – barging past all the spirit friends connected to those in attendance! It means the medium needs a teacher to help them understand how to properly deliver evidence or get out of their head.

Even when mediums do land their link in a practice circle, it is often with a great deal of struggle. And even then, the focus is often solely on the validation of evidence, and the need for the medium to get feedback. Rarely, if ever, do mediums in practice circles actually make everyone feel the presence of Spirit! In fact, it is common to watch a medium give a list of evidence and then wait for it to be validated after-the-fact. Even when the evidence is validated, it is often like watching someone check items off a grocery list.

I have also seen countless other bad habits from developing mediums going unchallenged in these practice circles – thus reinforcing and normalizing them with other students. The list is endless: not checking all the evidence, ignoring “no’s”, delivering psychic information as mediumship, saying the spirit communicator has left or stopped communicating, giving up control of the link to the audience, ignoring time limits, showing disrespect to other mediums, etc. Most of these are very simple things that a good teacher or experienced medium could help correct very quickly to prevent problems with the individual or group development. Yet all are very commonly encountered and go unchallenged in practice circles.


Harmful Messages

Aside from reinforcing bad mediumship mechanics, I have witnessed and heard about real harm being done in these practice circles where there is not teacher or leader to correct misinformation or mitigate problems. I’ve seen mediums insist that the spirit of someone’s loved one had been unfaithful to his wife and frequented prostitutes, despite not a shred of validation of any the so-called “evidence” from the recipient. I have heard of a recipient who was utterly shocked to hear a fellow developing medium tell her that her husband had actually intentionally ended his own life – something she’d never even considered before the medium mentioned it!

Aside from harmful messages that are not evidential, it is also common to see developing mediums asserting their own beliefs as factual or coming directly from the spirit world and potentially greatly upsetting the recipient in the process. I’ve heard mediums implying a loved one was “stuck” between worlds. I watched a medium insist that a spirit was still “in a bad place” and was failing to learning lessons in the spirit world – resulting in the recipient wondering if their loved one was in “hell”! These are false and very harmful beliefs that underscore the need for a teacher or experienced medium to lead the circle to prevent or mitigate any damage an inexperienced medium may inflict.

Spirit vs. Ego

Have you ever been to a practice circle where people are almost completely tuned-out until it is their turn to read? Or watched mediums drop out like flies after their turn reading is done because they suddenly have to leave? Or tried to find your recipient only to realize half the mediums are ignoring you because their eyes are squeezed shut trying to make their own link? Or watched a poor medium criticize the good work of others? Or watched a medium insist they are right and “I just have to give what I get” even when the recipient firmly says “no” to most of their evidence? Or watched mediums fight over who a link is for? These are all examples of mediums who may need an ego-check. And I have seen every single one of these scenarios multiple times in peer-led practice circles.

The focus in peer-led practice circles is often skewed by ego in multiple ways. A big part of this is because a developing medium’s ego often desperately craves validation. But they may or may not get what they need from their peers in a circle. Fellow mediums may be accommodating or even coddling, or they may be cold or competitive and distant. Either way, a medium who comes to believe they are “good” or “bad” based on the feedback from fellow mediums in a circle is setting themselves up for failure and heartache. Their desire to be “right” and to put that judgment in the hands of other inexperienced mediums is a surefire way to be driven by ego. Their confidence will be as shaky as a leaf in the wind.

A good teacher will prevent all these things from happening or use them as teaching examples. A good leader knows the entire circle gains when the focus is kept firmly on the presence of the spirit world, learning from the spirit world, and learning what to do and what not to do based on watching each other work.


Finding a Good Leader / Teacher

Not all circles are bad. If you can find a circle that is led by an educated and at least somewhat experienced medium, it can be helpful. But only if the focus is on development and learning, not just practicing and potentially reinforcing bad habits. That is why finding the right circle leader is also very important.

If you haven’t seen your teacher teach or your circle leader demonstrate their own mediumship, you are also vulnerable to being led astray. At best, I have often seen misinformation propagated by well-meaning but inexperienced circle leaders or members who lack the experience and development to answer questions or address concerns properly. At worst, I have seen circle members spread dangerous misinformation or give damaging readings to others due to their own ignorance or fear.

When it comes to leading a circle, education and experience counts. There are credentials from the Spiritualist groups that can count for something, or affiliations with institutions like the Arthur Findlay College in the England. Those alone will not guarantee someone is a good medium or a good teacher, but it at least usually implies at least some base level of knowledge. If they offer teaching materials (or a blog or Youtube channel), does it all make sense to you and inspire you?

Above all, if you are going to a circle you should find one where you have the chance to see the mediumship of the person running it. Are they able to consistently and quickly land their links? Or do they let links go or struggle to place them? Do they make everyone feel the presence of the spirit world? Or do they make you question it? Are they able to watch your work and give you constructive, positive criticism that helps and inspires you? Or do they watch you flounder and leave you confused? Do they handle problems that arise in the circle? Or do they let them run rampant?


Full Circle

A good development circle can be good for your mediumship, but generally only if there is a good leader or teacher who is there to guide it. Yes, it takes work, effort, and commitment (sometimes including financial) to find a good circle. But I believe we owe it to the spirit world – and to ourselves – to do that and not to just settle for free, peer-led “practice circle” for the sake of ease or convenience. The cost if we don’t – harmful messages, bad mechanics, shattered confidence, burnout, frustration, stagnation, clashes of ego, and the propagation of poor mediumship – is far too high.


Monika · October 21, 2020 at 7:40 am

Great article Tim. Everything you mention is true.

    Tim Thomas · October 21, 2020 at 7:56 am

    Thanks, Monika.

Melanie · October 22, 2020 at 9:23 am

This is a piece, Tim. It really gets to the heart of the matter. I’ve taken a break from online circles because I felt that not only was it doing me more harm than good but it also shook my confidence unnecessarily. Peer led circles are kind of the wild, wild west of mediumship.

    Tim Thomas · October 22, 2020 at 12:40 pm

    Yes, the “wild, wild west of mediumship” is a great analogy. Don’t let it shake your confidence.

Julia · October 23, 2020 at 9:05 pm

Thoughtful article that is spot-on! I’ve been in a few of those “Wild West” circles, and some have shaken my confidence. Fortunately, I’ve found a few others with excellent teachers, and it does make a difference!

    Tim Thomas · October 27, 2020 at 8:58 am

    Thanks, Julia. I’m glad you found good teachers – makes a huge difference.

darlene · December 8, 2020 at 1:29 pm

Thank you, Tim, for this article. I read it, and it is so true for me. I feel…less than what I was since doing some of these circles. I have begun questioning so many things that I had trusted before. What are your thoughts on individual mentoring? Pros and cons.

    Tim Thomas · December 8, 2020 at 2:13 pm

    Darlene, I’m sorry the practice circles have become detrimental to your mediumship. That is all too common.

    Mentorship is a great way to develop, but the key is finding the right mentor. I would say it is always best to see your mentor in action first – to know they have the ability to do what they are trying to teach you. And then I think it is extremely important to find one that can give you some individual attention, note your progress (or lack), answer all your questions, and give you constructive criticism and feedback to help you improve. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some mediums advertise “mentorship” that lacks some or all of those key components.

    The only “con” I would say of a good mentorship is you have to be willing to take criticism and not take it personally, get offended, beat yourself up, etc. That doesn’t mean a teacher should berate you, but a mentorship shouldn’t be false praise, either. It should be a good mix of inspiring you and pushing you out of your comfort zone so you can grow.

    I offer classes and am very likely to mentor a small group of developing mediums in 2021. If you’re interested let me know. I can also recommend other teachers – including my mentor who is excellent.

      darlene · December 8, 2020 at 9:34 pm

      Tim, thanks for your response. Please let me know when you are offering the mentoring class. I hope to be able to be in the class!

Tammy · November 2, 2022 at 1:28 pm

I appreciate your article thanks Tim.

    Stephanie · November 3, 2022 at 1:54 pm

    Thank you Tim for these words! So true. I’ve been to many of the free peer led circles with people who’s ego is dominating everything. Terrible. I’ve come out of circles feeling lost, sad and confused. I thought it’s important for me to practice, take every chance I get but it has made my mediumship stagnate. I just started to realize this and leave those circles. And then I read this!! I can say yes to everything you mentioned here. I’ve experienced it all and it’s about time it is pinpointed. Thank you so much. I thought it’s only me feeling this way.

      Tim Thomas · November 3, 2022 at 6:02 pm

      It is frustrating but all too common I’m afraid. You are definitely not alone!

    Tim Thomas · November 3, 2022 at 6:01 pm

    Thanks, Tammy. It seems to have resonated with a lot of folks.

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