Archive for December, 2012


The images for this post were taken at random from a Google search for ‘afterlife’ and ‘reincarnation’. They are revealing insofar as they represent visually our belief systems.

George Anderson has my respect and my admiration for the work that he does; he is probably the world’s greatest living medium. I read his book We Don’t Die and expected to feel tremendous excitement about the life of perfect peace that awaits me after death. No matter how inspirational and lovely his vision of the afterlife appears, I simply can’t believe everything is so perfect and luminous, not only because I have a different approach to survival of consciousness, but because the world he describes is foreign and frightening to a human who defines herself through struggle and spiritual engagement that is often painful.

I read constantly, every day, the research on and related to the survival topic. I believe this is necessary for a writer on this subject to be taken seriously. However, in the end, what I study must match my intuitive experience of life and consciousness for it to become incorporated into my understanding of how life works. I have rejected the theory that consciousness is a result of brain processes not only because no one has proven it to be true, but because it doesn’t match my experience of conscious awareness and memory.

I think that we need to return to our experiences as children to answer our questions, or we need to incorporate them into our overall life philosophy along with the research. When I return to my childhood understanding of life and death, I realize that as I child I understood intuitively the realities that I am now attempting to both remember and recreate. The glorious visions of the afterlife that many religions and some mediums promote as our final destination do not make sense with my childhood wisdom. The afterlife is not static, consistently positive and life-affirming, free of negativity or an eternal resting place for the weary soul. I doubt that it looks much different from the current reality you and I are living.


As a society (Western, in general), we do not take children seriously. With a few notable exceptions, such as Dr. Ian Stevenson’s work with children who remember past lives, we ignore what children say, remember, and how they experience death and rebirth. What I remember and what most children I know experience is nothing like Mr. Anderson’s trouble-free afterlife. In fact, although I don’t dispute that there could be a comforting zone between lives, much of what we experience before and after this life is fairly mundane and occasionally, terribly painful. If we truly listened to our children as they recount scenes from a life already lived, we would learn more about life than through the reading of countless books. To read and absorb information is one thing, but to watch reincarnation in action in your own child is an existential awakening like no other.


The following is a brief list of what children know that adults ignore, suppress or ridicule:

1: The living creature doesn’t die with the body.

When I was a child, I remember knowing that a dead body had no identity as the person or pet that I had loved. The first death that I recall was that of my rat, Sir Bell. Sir Bell died, as rats are wont to do, after a few months with us. I saw his body one morning, and I knew that Sir Bell had left. The stiff little carcass in the rat house was not my pet. Yes, I was sad, because I couldn’t hold, pet or play with him anymore, but not because Sir Bell had died in his body, but because my rat didn’t HAVE a body anymore. I knew the difference completely, at age four.

Even though my parents desperately attempted to keep me away from death (probably because I had had several brushes with death myself by age 5), I managed to glimpse it anyway. More recently, when we lost Kenny the Sphinx, I had a similar experience that reminded me of my long-ago lost pets. Kenny was the most adored feline on the planet, and when he succumbed to heart disease in July of 2010, I was terrified of seeing his body. I suppose that I had forgotten the earlier lessons of childhood; but when I did see what was left of him, it was immediately, instinctively apparent to me that Kenny was not in that cold cat body. He simply was NOT there; that didn’t mean that he wasn’t ANYWHERE, but that I was looking at lifeless flesh, not Kenny.  On many occasions, our other cats will play and chase Kenny around the house. Their behavior is clearly, for anyone who understands cat behavior—playful, and they are playing with Kenny where he used to hang out.

Can I prove that my two living cats are playing with the spirit of Kenny? Of course I can’t; but over two and a half years of watching this behavior, I am very comfortable affirming that Nod and Bingo are playing with the Kenny without the body.  Every time I saw the dead body of an animal as a child, I knew without anyone telling me that the spirit of that creature no longer resided in that flesh. I could not have explained where the spirit went, or even what a spirit was; but I knew that my pets were not alive only in my head or in my memories of them. My sadness and frustration was about not being able to find them, not about losing them forever. This was in contradiction to what my parents taught me about death. They maintained that we—everything that we are, including anything like a soul, in addition to our consciousness—dissolved into the earth recycled itself through another life cycle. My parents were not religious; there was no afterlife for them. They also did not expand their spirituality to include survival of a spirit.

What I knew was intrinsic to me, learned through experiences I could not consciously recall.

afterlife 1

2: You don’t have to stay with your body all of the time. You can leave and come back.

As I have written about before on soulbank, I left my body during surgery when I was five years old. I was up near the ceiling and saw, quite contrary to my wishes, that I had a mask over my face. Before this surgery, a nurse asked if I wanted the needle or the mask to put me to sleep. I had been adamant that I wanted no mask over my face. She had agreed. The nurse had lied to me. I don’t remember anger over this, but I was planning on bringing this up later. I experienced no internal contradiction over the fact that I was two places at once. I knew that the little girl on the table was me, but the ‘real’ me was up near the ceiling; of that there was no doubt. To this day, the strongest lesson from that experience was the fact that my identity and consciousness were in no way connected to that body on the table.  I was not afraid of that fact, nor anxious in any way about the fate of the girl below. I was safe up on the ceiling and very calm.

Later, I did bring up the mask issue to my doctor, to the nurses, to anyone who would listen. Beyond a few strange looks, they never addressed my concerns. In fact, everything I said to anyone regarding that incident was written off as a hallucination. After that incident, I would occasionally glimpse people and images that others couldn’t see, as if I had been granted temporary access to another world. Every single time I attempted to explain who I was seeing, I was told that I had an overly active imagination, that I was prone to fantasy, or that I was getting sick. Sometimes, the adults would accuse me of manipulating reality for my own entertainment, or as an aggressive game that no one else could play. I learned to shut up whenever I saw, felt, heard or experienced anything out of the ordinary. What a sad lesson.


3: Most adults and most of your peers will think you’re crazy or odd if you say anything about perceiving animals or people who supposedly aren’t there.

The adjective that everyone used to describe me—both family members and friends—was “weird”. That epithet clung to me like a dark cloud. I could never shake the accusations that I “made stuff up,” “lived in a fantasy world,” “created reality,” or “had a vivid imagination.” Every single time I attempted to communicate how I saw the world, I was shot down. If I felt that a passed relative or friend had communicated with me, I was told that I was engaging in wish fulfillment. Unless you have lived through this yourself, you can’t know how painful it is to see the world differently and be told that you are stupid, crazy or deluded.

Much of what was leveled at me was based in fear and ignorance. My memories of a past life were so vivid that much of my behavior as a young child was driven by them. To this day, I have phobias and behaviors that are traceable to a past life. At this point, I don’t care if I can “prove” that to anyone; it’s simply a part of my reality that I have to accept, just as I have to accept my experiences as a child, a teen and an adult as part of who I am. There is no difference. I certainly didn’t choose to be involved in drugs and prostitution as an ideal past incarnation, but we don’t always get to choose, or maybe we never do; in any case, I remember—I will always remember—the shame and sadness of that life, a life that I have spent 47 years attempting to reconcile with my current life. Anyone who tells me that past lives don’t exist has not spent her entire life attempting to overcome the last one. I don’t care what the scientists say, or the academics, or the average Joe: my evidence for reincarnation is, quite simply, who I am.


4: Children come into the world with baggage.

Genetics and heredity do not explain what most parents experience with their children: they come into the world with complex emotions, inexplicable behaviors, preferences, personalities and desires that often confound and confuse their bewildered parents. Almost every parent would say that their child was unique in ways that were not explicable by random combinations of genes. No one has been able to prove that what makes us who we are in terms of personality, memories, identity, sense of self, values, beliefs, attitudes or ideas can be reduced to genetic codes. Where is the code for an intense fear of substance abuse in a four year old?

When I first looked into my nephew’s eyes, I saw a world weariness and a sadness that was centuries old. This was not the infant as blank slate, which was in fact what I was expecting before I looked into his eyes. What I saw, what my sister saw, was a soul that had already lived many times before, and was back for another round. We used to joke that he cried so intensely and with such emotional pain because he couldn’t believe he was a baby again, that he was ‘back’ again. It really isn’t a joke; not to those of us who still remember the long-ago struggles of our lives. It’s easy to laugh, but what is more heart-wrenching than seeing your baby and your toddler struggle with traumas that you had no hand in creating and can’t fix?

So: when mediums write about the afterlife as glorious and trouble free, or when religion paints Heaven as a place of eternal repose and joy, forgive me for remaining skeptical. My experience tells me that life is one, giant recycle bin where consciousness expresses itself over and over again in different bodies. It’s common and constant. We think it’s such a big deal to be born or to die, but consciousness neither comes into being nor goes out; it simply changes venue.

This is neither comforting nor upsetting to me. It just is. Even though I welcome struggle and transcendence, I certainly do not welcome the ugly realities of inhabiting a body that is riddled with disease or addictions. I don’t look forward to a life whose pains and pleasures I cannot predict or even understand right now. Maybe there is a ‘life between lives’ that is pure bliss, but I don’t remember experiencing it. Eastern religions teach that eventually, the cycle of birth and death is overcome and Nirvana awaits; for me, that is wishful thinking. There are infinite lives, in infinite time periods, in infinite circumstances, that one can move through. There is no ‘before’ or ‘after’ when you are discussing consciousness and identity, so ‘coming from’ Heaven or ‘returning to’ Heaven is a meaningless concept.

Listen to your children when they tell you stories of who they were ‘before’. Attentive parents understand the difference between children’s creative fantasy play and real memories. They are essentially different modes of expression. If you are struggling with this as a parent, please go here: http://www.childpastlives.org/

If you are struggling with this issue as an adult, well, that’s the point. It’s all part of your journey.



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grendls Cam picture

Photo by Grendl (flickr.com/photos/grendl)

NOTE: I teach Spanish at a California college. What you are about to read is true, but does not apply to one and only one individual. I include this post here at soulbank.org because the topic includes by its very nature questions pertaining to the human spirit.

Nearly every semester there is someone: usually between 18 and 22 years old, male, and dressed in baggy sweatshirts with hoods that hide their face from me.  He will sit in the back of the class, as far away from me and everyone else as possible. Typically, he sits in the row nearest the door. He doesn’t ever—or very rarely–volunteer to answer a question or participate in the general conversation. He is angry and sullen, withdrawn and isolated by choice. Sometimes I can rouse him to utter a few words in Spanish with gentle prompting; sometimes not.

This last semester, a student in one of my classes added a few twists to the stereotype. He refused to work in groups at all; I would ask, but he would pin me with a cold, direct stare and smile with only half his mouth. He never said ‘no,’ but he didn’t need to. All I had to do was look at him and feel his hatred and condescension in order to comprehend the danger of pushing him to do anything.  The one time he agreed to ‘work with others’ was during a game of Spanish Scrabble. It quickly became apparent that the three women on his team were very, very unhappy. At first, they attempted to protest his questionable maneuvers. Soon he became vocal and ugly in his quest to rack up points. I knew something potentially explosive was building in him, but I didn’t know what to do. I tried to ignore the situation for as long as possible, wandering to the other tables to help students who needed it. Everyone, however, was aware that Student X was becoming progressively louder and more out of control. At one point, I looked over to their table and my students caught my glance. I will never forget the look on their faces. They were scared.

Sometimes, I can communicate something important to my students without uttering a word. In this case, the message I sent was non-verbal but clear: don’t do anything to upset him. Let him win. They, however, had already figured that out. They hadn’t said a word in some time. Student X continued to slam his tiles on the board, insulting and belittling them, caught up in a grandiose, narcissistic high. He hated his teammates, the other students and most especially, me. We were all beneath him. We didn’t deserve to win; we didn’t even deserve to play. The ladies grimly allowed the game to wind itself down and class ended. They ran out.

I had considered calling the Sheriff, but I decided that was risky. If this student had seen me calling someone on my phone, it might have set him off. My instinct also told me not to leave my classroom. I stayed at my post. I also understood that I had no concrete accusation against this student besides ill behavior and threatening body language. Later in the semester, the number of incidents climbed, and I started to let class out early and feel nauseous on the days I taught that class. I did my best to keep the other students in the dark about the looming threat skulking around the corners of that room, and for the most part, I was successful. One day during break, however, Student X changed the game.

He caught up with me during break. He was both agitated and sluggish. “I want to ask you a question,” he declared, then waited a few seconds before continuing. “But you’ll probably lie to me.” I went into survival mode and behaved so naturally that no one looking at the scene would have ever guessed that I was about to pass out. “What have they told you about me?” He let the question hang. “Who?” I replied; “You know, the other teachers. What have they told you about me?” The sky was darkening, and I felt very, very alone. “Nothing. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Then, the first honest thing I was able to say to him: “You’re scaring me.” He smiled. “I hope you’re not lying to me.” He walked away, very slowly.

Somehow, I finished that class, but only because Student X had fallen asleep—again—in the back seat of the back row. I notified the Sheriff the next day that there was something very bad going on with a student in my class. I told a very nice cadet that I was afraid for myself and for my students. I informed him of the conversation during the break. However, my student had no previous complaints on record. He had done nothing overtly threatening; there was no assault, no battery, nothing they could act on. They took note of my reservations, and the case was closed.

After that, I was often too sick to finish class. On the days Student X didn’t show up, we put in our full 2.5 hours, plus. On the days he was there, glowering in the corner, my head would explode in pain and my stomach turned. When I arrived home, I would eat dinner and collapse on the sofa in a stupor. Finally, I made the last three weeks of class optional, hoping that he wouldn’t show up; the plan worked, mostly. When he did show up, he would leave at break. Gradually, the hold he had on me waned. On exams, he was mostly earning 90+; but for every question he missed, he confronted me with clenched fist. I explained the problem, and if he couldn’t find a way to argue with me or coerce me into changing my mind, he would walk away without further incident. This was the third time he had taken this class at my college. He could not take it again. He was not going to accept anything less than an ‘A’.

The classes he opted to miss took their toll, however. He slept through the final exam; the other students had learned to pretend not to notice. Everyone gradually finished, turned in their exam, wished me Happy Holidays, and filtered out of the classroom one by one, until Student X and I were alone. He woke up half an hour before the final was to end. I am obligated to give all students the full two hours to complete the final exam, and he hadn’t done anything that warranted action on my part. So, I sat there and graded papers, nervous, wondering if the Sheriff was on speed dial.

He was staring at the exam without seeing it. He hadn’t moved in a very long time. I asked if I could help him, or if he needed anything; as I said it, I knew I shouldn’t have. He didn’t respond. He was in a world of his own. I don’t know if he couldn’t hear me or was refusing to. I continued to grade papers. He stared blankly at his paper. Finally, when the two hours were up, he stood up and walked to the desk. He let the exam drop on the table with a gesture of contempt. He fixed me with that look of death, the hatred reserved for someone who has ruined your life. He walked out, very slowly. I wished him a good vacation. He slammed the door. I had survived 16 weeks with him and now he was, thank God, vanishing into the darkness.

His story isn’t over, however. There are many like him. The vast majority will never hurt anyone but themselves; but do we really know at what point people like Student X will decide to start planning their revenge on all of us who make them feel inferior, stupid, or worthless? My student couldn’t take any responsibility for his isolation, his anger, his resentment or his failures. All of us had conspired to victimize him; his deep and abiding rage was caused by us . . . by me and everyone like me. At some point, he might decide that we deserve to die. Every year, I wonder if I have someone in a class who has arrived at that turning point, who is at a stage in the planning process that will lead him to take action. Then the only questions are: how will he do it? When? Does he own a gun? Could he get one if he wanted to? Of course he could.

I am not politicizing this issue, nor have I taken any public positions on gun control. Almost as bad as Student X was Student Y, in an incident that had nothing to do with guns. One day in my office, I informed him that he was failing my class. His eyes were cold and empty. He wasn’t angry. It was something far worse. He picked up a hammer from my desk and caressed it in classic bad-guy style, like something he had seen in the movies. “You shouldn’t leave these lying around. Someone could pick it up and beat you to death with it.” I let that statement float in the air for awhile. “That sounds like a threat,” I said, calm. “Oh no,” he replied, smiling, “but you need to be very careful who you allow into your office.”

This is the same student who boasted of his ties to the Zetas, the worst drug cartel in Mexico. I followed the familiar protocol: visit the Sheriff, make a report, and find out yet again that they can’t do anything, because this kid committed no crime. In fact, he didn’t officially exist at my college. He was dropped from my class before it had started. He was not enrolled in any other course. I mentioned this to him before class one day, and then I never saw him again.

There are many young men like this at my college. They usually fade away after a few weeks of total isolation and non participation in my classes. I never know what ultimately happens to them; they simply disappear. I have no grand statement on the kind of person who kills others, and I doubt that any of my students will ever arrive at that point. However, in many ways they fit the profile of the mass shooter. I realize that no one can predict who will and who will not decide to wreak havoc on the lives of others. I stop far short of accusing anyone in any of my classes of planning a terrible crime.

What I will say, however, is the following: there are some supremely lonely, angry young men that wander into our classes and spend their time drawing violent cartoons while everyone else is talking, working, learning. There are some people who behave as if there were a slowly ticking bomb in their brains, and I don’t know what to do for them. They spend hours playing Black Ops, and they don’t live in the world with the rest of us. They carry huge burdens of hatred, shame and pain, and I can’t help. All I can do is notify the police and the college authorities that someone is walking around with dead eyes and a vendetta against all those who have what they think they deserve.

Should I start handing out ‘As’ to these sad and sinister characters? Should I pretend that they are succeeding when they are not? Should I allow them to skip as many classes as they want with no penalty, simply because I’m scared to oppose them? Is this the point we have now arrived, as educators? I don’t want to end up beaten to death with my own hammer, or forced to cower in my classroom as Student X clings to a semi-automatic weapon, searching for victims, seeking to exact revenge. Can anyone reassure me that that is not going to happen?

No. Another semester starts on February 4th, and I don’t feel safe. As long as I’m a teacher, a professor, I suppose I never will.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

Associate Professor of Spanish

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This morning, with great excitement, I decided to visit the web page for the University of Edinburgh’s Koestler Parapsychology Unit. Anyone with a tremendous passion for the study of parapsychology, the ‘paranormal’ or the study of consciousness has heard of this research unit, and many of us have entertained the idea of earning our degree in this field. Many of the presidents of the Society for Psychical Research have some association with the Psychology program at Edinburgh. I have always searched for a university-affiliated program that would provide me with the academic credentials to be taken seriously as an investigator and researcher of the paranormal. However, there is no formal degree offered in something called “parapsychology” or the “paranormal”, only traditional psychology degrees with various emphases or concentrations in psi research. There are centers, units or divisions such as The Division of Personality Studies at the University of Virginia or the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Virginia, but these programs are all part of a larger, academic discipline.

So what’s the problem? Without a thoroughly interdisciplinary program in the field of psi research, you end up with the particular biases and assumptions of the ‘parent’ field, such as psychology. A degree in psychology is unlikely to prepare you to study consciousness as separate from brain functions, for example. An academic degree prepares represents, almost by definition, a thorough training in materialism and skepticism. The use of language for the Koestler Parapsychology Unit is particularly fascinating to me; there is such a disdain and fear of affirming the independent existence of psi phenomena that you have to read between the lines to find anything that might allow for a non-material interpretation of human experience. There are an abundance of disclaimers, subordinate clauses, circumlocutions and careful phrasings. There is even a reference to studies that require researchers to follow naive and credulous ghost hunters in the vaults of Edinburgh, purporting to show how easily they are fooled into believing a site is haunted based upon magnetic fields and the size and illumination of the vaults.

The operating trope is division. The very name of the University of Virginia’s program exemplifies this: the DIVISION of Personality Studies. Indeed, as researchers, we are divided. A great many so-called ‘ghost hunters’ have taken it upon themselves to conduct what they consider research, in the absence of programs that would train them to do this across disciplines. These investigators are a diverse group, but they tend to cut across class lines and represent all levels of education. Paranormal investigations are open to everyone; therefore, the entire field is democratic by nature. This is threatening to those who run programs in parapsychology, since the public at large is inclined to consider seriously the evidence presented on television shows, radio programs, blog and social media sites that these ‘non-experts’ have promoted. The attitude in academia towards anyone interested in psi or consciousness studies remains poor and overly critical. In fact, my academic reputation has taken a hit due to my interests in this area.

I certainly agree that there are ‘investigators’ who know little or nothing about the scientific method and are creating their own version of data gathering and data analysis. Most are not trained in any particular methodology for gathering and interpreting information that could point to paranormal effects. However, regardless of the fact that most investigators do not have degrees in pertinent areas for the study of psi phenomena, it seems irresponsible to ignore their findings and study them as subjects in experiments designed to prove their lack of competence for serious research. Once again, academia has found a way to maintain its exclusive, class-based entitlement to the truth and ‘ways of knowing’.

If that previous statement sounds harsh, I make it from within the confines of an academic institution. I have spent my entire adult life in a university or college environment. It was, up until a few years ago, all I knew. I have my PhD from Yale University in the area of Spanish literature and language. I was required to learn Italian, French, Latin and Portuguese. I took several courses in linguistics and literary theory. I had to pass excruciating oral and written exams on Romance literature.  For years, I was surrounded by the best critics, authors and professors in the world, representing a variety of fields, programs and disciplines. Never once did anyone discuss the topic of consciousness, spirituality, psi research, survival of physical death or anything related to a non-material interpretation of ourselves and our world. Anyone who dared enter such fraught territory was a target for ridicule, criticism or pity. I suppose that the School of Theology was the only acceptable venue for such considerations, and even then, they maintained an historical approach to such questions rather than a considered exploration of real possibilities.

It was only in 2008 that I decided to expand my horizons and join a group of paranormal investigators, none of whom had advanced degrees. In the last four or five years, I have worked with a tremendously diverse group of people who—with only a few exceptions—are logical, practical, intelligent and principled regarding their collection and analysis of data. For that reason, it is painful to see that ‘ghost hunters’ have been lumped into one category along with gullible members of the general public who are looking primarily for entertainment. My experience with academia—particularly with the Ivy League colleges—has been one of division and separation. It is ‘us’ versus the general public. The public can be the subject of study and analysis, but they will never know how misguided and misinformed they truly are, since they won’t read the reports about them that appear in journals of anthropology, psychology and sociology.

I belong to both sides of this coin, and I do not see the necessary separation. Academics have much to learn from a democratic and diverse population that seeks no outside approval of their epistemology and instead relies on qualities that most of us share when discerning the value of data: logic, common sense, critical approaches to their results and interpretations and a willingness to include psychic impressions as part of the bigger picture (for the latter, some teams, not all). Independent investigators also could benefit from understanding the history of their quest, studying more effective procedures for data collection and analysis and staying current on the research available through the few units, divisions, centers and societies that collect, analyze and disseminate what is new in the field.

I have been the skeptical academic who laughs at New Age channelers, and I have also been the investigator who believes she captured a ghost on film only to discover it was the reflection of her own hand in a pane of glass. I understand the necessity of training and critical thinking, but I also know that the popular investigative groups have much to contribute to our understanding of life after death and psi effects without having to become a subject of inquiry and study themselves.

Much of the difficulty is concerns epistemology and authority. Institutions with money for grants and research often determine the course of inquiry. The determining factors regarding our authority to make claims in the area of the paranormal are those institutions that sanction what we know and are responsible for the dissemination of information. ‘Ghost hunters’ want to take back a sense of personal agency and control over the ‘big questions’ of existence; in that sense, we are all philosophers, scientists and theologians.

Some of the vitriol directed towards the home-grown investigator comes from the fact that she is operating beyond anyone’s or any organization’s control and supervision. We can lament the lack of standard practices or interpretations of data, but in the end, we stand to lose a valuable body of possible evidence for trans-personal consciousness if we ignore the catalogs of EVP, photos, videos and anomalous data collected from such apparently silly sources as the ‘Ghost Radar’ on the iPhone. Technology has progressed to a point where odd findings can show up in strange places.

The bigger issue is simply that there is nowhere for all this data to be housed, interpreted or analyzed. All of us have our web pages, blogs, social media sites and so forth with our collected “odd data,” but no one really knows what to do with it all; so, the flood of possibly paranormal phenomena overwhelms us all and ends up ignored, and simply more wasted audio clips in cyberspace.

I don’t propose a solution. I am deeply thankful that the trend appears to favor paranormal researchers in certain academic disciplines. My greatest hope is that we help bridge the gap between the academic researchers and the tireless, independent investigators working in all those dark corners of disturbed buildings. Perhaps there is a better, third option between the PhD with a lab and the intrepid ghost hunter with little idea what she is doing beyond what she sees on TV; just what that might look like is a conversation worth having.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD/PHW

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