Yesterday, I posted a Monday Night Debate Question on my Theresa's Haunted History Facebook page.
"When investigating a location, especially a private residence, do you feel that it is more beneficial or more harmful to have the clients be on-site during the investigation? Do you ever let the clients participate in the investigation process? How do you handle it?"
Please note that these are just my own thoughts, and don't necessarily reflect the views of all members of HPIR or other paranormal investigators and/or teams. Also keep in mind that each and every investigation is different. Each one has a different set of variables, a different set of challenges, and a different client with different needs. Each investigation needs to be custom-tailored to produce the best outcome possible for all involved. With that...here's how I'd answer my OWN question!
So, as stated above, no two investigations are ever the same. What might work well in one case, might not work in another. But, it is my personal opinion that while doing a residential or business location, its always a good idea to have at least one client present during the investigation for liability reasons. Having someone on site helps guard against potential claims of theft and/or vandalism. Plus, most people just aren't comfortable with letting a group of strangers into their property un-chaperoned for any length of time.
In situations such as this, we usually provide a 'safe zone' for the client---a place where they can wait in privacy and comfort and where we won't be actively investigating. Another great place for this person is at our base of operations. During an investigation, we always have at least one person at base, monitoring the cameras, keeping time, and generally managing the investigation operations. The client can sit with our investigator, watch what is going on without getting in the way, and ask plenty of questions about the investigation process. Sometimes, we have a more curious client who wishes to actively investigate along with us. Generally, this is not a problem, and often, can be a really good thing.
For starters, I think it really empowers a person to be able to actively take part in the investigation process and attempted communication. We can tell them about what we do and what conclusions WE have, but if they are involved in the process hands-on, they're much more likely to have a deeper understanding of what's going on. It also makes a much greater impact for the client to address their concerns personally to the suspected entity, and tell them personally that certain behaviors need to stop. It is THEIR property; they need to take charge. As an added bonus, I think we as investigators can sometimes get better results when the client is involved---if there is an intelligent haunt at play, they are more likely to interact with a person they feel comfortable with than with a bunch of strangers barging in.
Again, in most cases, having the client and a few extra people is usually no big deal. However, there are times when the client tends to treat the investigation less as a scientific quest for answers and more like a party. We've had several investigations where the client has literally invited dozens of friends, family, neighbors, etc. to observe (or participate in) the investigation. This is NOT an ideal situation in any case. A large number of people will cause audio and video contamination and simply be in the way. We have since made it standard practice to let the clients know that only essential persons should be present during the investigation.
Now, there are circumstances where it might be practical or even ideal for the client to NOT be on site during the investigation. In these cases, it is important that the client be met with at the site before the investigation. All necessary paperwork needs to be signed, and a walk-through conducted with the client. If the client then chooses to leave the property for the duration of the investigation, the investigators need to double-check that they have a reliable phone number where the client can be reached if an issue arises. Upon returning, another walk-through needs to be completed with the client to ensure that everything is in place and secure.
This set-up happens a lot at locations that are more openly accessible to the public, where security isn't necessarily as big an issue. However, there are times when it may be necessary for a client to leave the premises during a residential or small-business investigation. We've had a few cases where pre-investigation interviews seem to suggest that one person in particular is the focal point, or even catalyst, for the alleged paranormal activity. If that situation arises, it is ideal to observe the location while that person is on-site, and then compare results when that person leaves the property.
One last consideration---I personally recommend that very young children be removed from the investigation site if feasible. If they are witness to the paranormal activity, its fine to interview them (in the presence of and with permission from a guardian) beforehand, but if they are too young, they might not really understand the investigation process and become frightened by it. But, that's up to the personal discretion of the investigation team and the client. Again, I cannot stress enough that no two investigations are the same and the ideal situation will vary greatly from case to case. Just remember to stay flexible, think on your feet, and employ a little common sense---those things will help you make each investigation, no matter what challenges arise, a valuable learning experience.