Magical Thinking: The Illusion of Control?

magic wand on stage, advertisement conceptMagical thinking is defined as being “characterized by the belief that thinking or wishing something can cause it to occur.” Having worked in psychiatric facilities and counseling centers for the past three decades, this is a term that may be part of a diagnosis meant to label certain beliefs as pathological. It actually puts a smile on my face. Even as a therapist, I have witnessed times in which such mental constructs are of benefit.

Have you ever thought of a person and they contact you within short order?  How about singing a song and when you turn on the radio, it is the next one that plays?

Consider the rituals that sports figures and sometimes their zealous fans engage in such as wearing ‘lucky socks’ or eating the same meal before every game. They are likely to attribute wins to those behaviors and losses to bad luck. Some may refer to it as ‘the illusion of control,’ but if it does no harm to hold those thoughts, is there any good reason to dissuade someone from investing in them?

Futurist Arthur C. Clarke who wrote the classic 2001:  A Space Odyssey has stated, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” As a child of the 1960’s, I marvel at all of the inventions that were once in the realm of science fiction. We first have to see something in our imagination before it becomes tangible reality.

Beyond Logic

Over the years, I have accumulated stories that defy logic and speak to a realm we may not be able to comprehend with our normally attuned senses.

The anecdotes to follow relate to witnessing near calamities while on the road. Each time, an unseen force intervened to prevent them. Call it God, Spirit or angels, something was on duty at the time.

The first occurred around 6 a.m. on November 15, 1986. Along with my future husband Michael and few friends, I was heading to Washington, DC for the final day of The Great Peace March which had people trekking cross country from California to our nation’s capitol to speak out about the dangers of nuclear proliferation. I

had walked a portion of the journey from Philadelphia to Chester, Pennsylvania. While on Route 495 near Ft. Meade, Maryland, we saw a car, swerving in front of us. It moved across the lanes, missing the barrier and doing a 180 degree turn. The driver slumped over in her seat and the car eased its way to the side of the road. We pulled up behind her, as did a caravan from the military base.

It turns out that the woman was a reservist heading for duty. She was seven months pregnant and had fallen asleep at the wheel. I often wonder what happened to her and her child who would be the same age as my son now.

The next highway to heaven intervention took place sometime in the mid 2000’s. I had taken a job in 2001 as a social worker in an acute care psychiatric hospital. There, I served clients with sometimes severe and long term mental health challenges.

On one occasion, one of my co-workers asked me this question, “What if what we might consider psychosis was really a spiritual awakening?” This query was unusual from a nurse who sometimes looked at my beliefs as being too fringe-y and ‘woo woo’.

I responded that I believed it might be so. When I returned home, I saw an email from another graduate of The New Seminary. She was looking for an editor to work with her on her book on (wait for it), that very subject, since she herself had been in that unenviable position, after having what she thoughts of as a spontaneous kundalini awakening a spiritual emergence.

This was explained Spiritual Emergency: When Personal by Dr. Stanislav Grof, author of “Transformation Becomes a Crisis” as, “the normal life-enhancing aspect of human development which seeks meaning and connection beyond our personal identity. This leads to a greater capacity for wisdom, compassion and respect for all life as well as a deeper sense of personal security and inner peace.

This growth can be challenging, even tumultuous, at times turning into a crisis known as spiritual emergency.” Such crises can lead to what feels like deconstruction of all someone believed was so and even have them and their loved ones questioning their capacity to function.

Such was the case for this woman whose parents had her involuntarily committed to an inpatient psychiatric facility in New York. There, she received medication; which she eventually convinced her treating psychiatrist that she didn’t need and who discharged her when he reluctantly accepted that she was indeed having a spiritual experience and not a psychotic break.

We made arrangements for me travel to her vacation home in Long Island on July 4th weekend. While I was there, another out of the ordinary experience occurred. She and I went kayaking in the bay and being the Type A competitive person I was back then, I attempted to keep up with this 10 years or so younger triathlete who was accustomed to this sport.

Huffing and puffing, I did my best. She playfully admonished me that I didn’t need to do that and instead, should take a rest. As I slowed the one -woman boat and then eventually stopped completely, as if to play a cosmic joke, an unseen hand upended it and I found myself sputtering and splashing.

Magical Thinking: The Illusion of Control?

Edie Weinstein Moser, MSW, LSW

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a journalist and interviewer, licensed social worker, interfaith minister, radio host and best-selling author. A free-lance journalist, her writing has been printed in publications and on sites such as The Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, Beliefnet, Identity, Inner Child Magazine, New Visions, Holistic Living, Conversations, Bellesprit, The Whirling Blog, The Doylestown Intelligencer, The Philadelphia Inquirer, YogaLiving, Wisdom, Mystic Pop, In Your Prime, the “What The Bleep Do We Know?” website and The Bucks County Writer. She has been interviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fox 29 news, CBS 3 news, WWDB 96.5 and National Public Radio as well as numerous blog talk stations. Check out her website at:


APA Reference
Weinstein Moser, E. (2016). Magical Thinking: The Illusion of Control?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Jun 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 29 Jun 2016
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