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Magical Thinking

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Updated April 29, 2014

Definition:

Magical thinking is a clinical term used to describe a wide variety of nonscientific and sometimes irrational beliefs. These beliefs are generally centered on correlations between events.

For example, a belief in the power of spells or rituals could be considered magical thinking.

Magical thinking is sometimes symptomatic of a mental disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, schizotypal personality disorder and psychosis are just a few diagnoses that include magical thinking as a possible symptom.

It is important to note that magical thinking must be considered in context. For example, a belief in the paranormal could be seen as magical thinking. However, many religious and cultural traditions believe in the existence of spirits, demons and other entities. A person from such a background should not be diagnosed with magical thinking based solely on a belief in such entities.

Furthermore, it is important to distinguish between scientific hypothesis, which is normal, and abject belief in a situation, which may demonstrate magical thinking. Many people enjoy pondering improbable possibilities and situations. It is not magical thinking to put forth a theory, provided that the person expresses understanding that the theory is not necessarily “rational” by today’s scientific logic. Never forget that at various points in our history, “science” has told us that the Earth is flat, man cannot fly and people cannot govern themselves. Once considered radical and even magical thinking, these ideas now form some of the basic concepts for our world.

Examples:
When Jessica started talking about her best friend controlling her thoughts, the therapist believed that Jessica was experiencing magical thinking.
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