This article originally appeared on VICE France
Myriame Belmyr is a retired computer scientist who claims she was abducted by aliens in 1987. These days, she heads CERO-France, an organization that offers help to people who say they've experienced an extraterrestrial kidnapping—so-called "experiencers."
A few months ago, I spoke with Belmyr and a few others, who are convinced they have been abducted by aliens, and most seemed to still be traumatized by their memories. While it's easy to dismiss those incredible memories as a cry for attention or even psychotic episodes, there is research indicating that's not always the issue. Former psychiatrist and Harvard professor John Edward Mack studied close to 200 cases of people claiming to have been abducted. In an interview with French writer Stéphane Allix for the latter's book on extraterrestrial life, Mack explained that "when you hear someone with mental health issues recounting something that sounds like a psychotic episode, you get the sense that what they're saying never happened. [...] That's not at all the case here. [Experiencers] are of sound mind, they ask many questions, they doubt themselves. They describe a seemingly real, intense experience, a light, something happening to their bodies." Stéphane Allix went on to found INREES—an organization researching unusual human experiences like near-death experiences and alien abductions.
To see what's so real about alien abductions and how experiencers deal with them, I called Myriame Belmyr. "In 2008, decades after my experience, I spoke with Stepháne Allix about abductions. Through him, I got in touch with other experiencers. There wasn't an organization dedicated solely to helping people who'd been abducted at the time, so we founded CERO-France.
People who claim to have found themselves paralyzed, floating, and surrounded by little green men communicating via telepathy generally face a lot of skepticism in society. But Belmyr takes her role seriously. The organization has 50 members, who all claim to have been abducted. She talks to them and coaches them.
"I've met people in a very severe state of trauma," she tells me. "Some have sought help from their GPs and have been on the cusp of being admitted to psychiatric hospitals." The first thing Belmyr does when seeing a potential new member, is investigate their claims. "We conduct a very in-depth evaluation with every person who claims to have been abducted. With a team of psychologists and hypnotherapists we verify all the details that have made a person think they have been taken."
One member of that team is Nicolas Dumont. He's the vice-president of CERO-France and a clinical psychologist. "The first thing to do when someone new comes in, is to conduct an interview to find out whether they're describing an abduction or something else," he tells me over the phone. That "something else" could be many things. "They could have been manipulated or abused, they could have become obsessed with the idea of alien abduction through the media—or they could have undergone a failed hypnosis."
After having concluded that someone might actually have been abducted, Dumont tries to detect common traits usually found in experiencers. In the interviews I conducted for my previous article, all experiencers described a feeling of time having stopped and all noise and air disappearing. Other common traits exist, but Dumont prefers not to reveal those. He doesn't want to make it harder for himself to weed out the experiences he considers real from the ones he thinks are fantasy.
Dumont admits that certain cases divide the CERO community. "With one of our patients, I'm certain that he's a compulsive liar, while many of our other experts think he was really abducted." Sometimes, Dumont will use hypnotherapy on his patients to try to remember what happened exactly, but it's not a step he lightly takes, because "it's possible to create false memories that way."
Most scientists stay away from the subject of extraterrestrial life. "It's not a very popular belief that aliens exist," Belmyr says, "so people are unwilling to compromise their careers by looking into the possibility."
In 2003, the COMETA report was published in French popular magazine VSD. The report was a study into unidentified aerial phenomena, put together not by tin foil hat-wearing bloggers but by a group of researchers. Among those researchers were André Lebeau, former president of the French governmental space agency, and Gilles Pinon, a senior figure in the French navy, but the report was quickly mocked by the French press.
Some astrophysicists have spoken up about the subject, like the now-retired Jean-Pierre Petit, who believes that mankind could be helped greatly by being in touch with extraterrestrial life. His views, unsurprisingly, aren't well-received within his former community. More recently, the French governmental body GEIPAN was founded in order to study reports of unidentified aerial activity in France. I assume that's great news for Belmyr, yet when I ask her about it, she's skeptical, to say the least: "GEIPAN knows all about the abductions and are in regular contact with the aliens," she tells me. "It's obvious."
The experiencers community isn't helped much by the conventional scientific community, but it helps itself—with CERO-France and other organizations like it. When I ask Belmyr what the aliens' ultimate goal of all those visits to Earth is, she tells me that it's "definitely for genetic engineering. Both in my own case and in others, I'm sure [that was the point]". She thinks that the aliens that took her have much to learn from us. "There are similarities between us and them, but they have their own way of life. I remember they told me that they were particularly intrigued by our emotions and our art. They don't know about any of that."