Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) have been reported by people who are verifiably near-death (e.g. after cardiac arrest) and people who perceive themselves to be near-death (e.g. during traumatic experiences) (Greyson, 2000). They have become a topic of increasing research interest over the last 35 years. The majority of this research has been nomothetic in nature. This approach has provided a wealth of data about how the average experient integrates their NDE, modifies their attitudes and values, and undergoes spiritual transformation and growth. However, it has been argued in psychology (e.g. De Waele, 1986; Flick, 2002) that the averaged data obtained from such studies relate only to the average person, if such a person exists. Also missing from this method is the power to specify any detail about the particular nuances of a person’s transformative processes. For example, when someone is said to have acquired a ‘greater interest in spiritual matters’ after an NDE, what exactly does that mean or entail for them?
Whilst quantitative research work has added substantially to our understanding of the NDE, there remains a need for a closer examination of the longitudinal after-effects experienced by people who have them, the nature of those after-effects, and the temporal, social and psychological factors that may impinge on the integration process, and in particular, the person’s sense of self or identity. The present research aimed to address these issues by taking a phenomenological, idiographic approach. To date there has been no in-depth examination of the lived experience of having an NDE and what meaning NDErs attribute to that experience.
In order to gain access and insight to the world of people who have had NDEs a qualitative methodology was adopted using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Sampling in IPA research is purposive; that is, it seeks the experiences and opinions of the most appropriate persons for the particular research issue being addressed. The intense analysis of individual accounts and the examination of shared meaning, along with any nuances in these meanings, are reflective of the idiographic characteristic of IPA which is generally characterized by small and homogeneous samples (Smith & Osborn, 2003). To meet these requirements, three women were recruited to take part in face-to-face, semi-structured interviews. The interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and subjected to IPA.
Three interconnected themes emerged when considering participants’ NDEs; 1) the NDE in a biographical context, 2) new understandings: the roots of development & growth, and 3) being and becoming: life after near-death.
The analysis showed that life for the experient post-NDE is socially, affectively and psychologically complex. Participant’s described a variety of attitudinal and behavioural changes since their NDE, as well as an array of barriers and facilitators to sharing the experience with others. The idiographic, phenomenological stance taken in this research was also instrumental in highlighting the subtle, yet powerful personal, social and spiritual mediating factors that influenced how the NDE was managed and integrated.
By examining the experience and meaning of the NDE, psychologists and health care professionals will be better equipped to understand their clients’ experiences and to help them with any potential personality transformations or psycho-spiritual crises that may arise after the event.
De Waele, J. P. (1986). Individual Psychology. In R. Harre & R. Lamb (Eds.), The Dictionary of Personality and Social Psychology. Oxford: Blackwell.
Flick, U. (2002). An Introduction to Qualitative Research (2nd ed.). London: Sage Publications Ltd.
Greyson, B. (2000). Near-Death Experiences. In E. Cardeña, S. J. Lynn & S. C. Krippner (Eds.), Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence (pp. 315-352): American Psychological Association.
Smith, J. A., & Osborn, M. (2003). Interpretative phenomenological analysis. In J. A. Smith (Ed.), Qualitative Psychology. A Practical Guide to Research Methods (pp. 51-80). London: Sage.
|Wilde, D., & Murray, C. (2008, August). Finding meaning in near-death experiences: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. Paper presented at the International Conference of the Society for Psychical Research, Winchester, UK. Abstract retrieved from http://www.spr.ac.uk/main/page/conference-abstracts-2008|