Every day, somewhere, a physician, psychiatrist, counselor, or other helping professional is presented with a case of near-death experience (Greyson, 1991).
A near-death experience (NDE) is defined as a “profound psychological event that occurs when a person is either close to death or faced with circumstances resulting in physical or emotional crisis” (Greyson, 1991, p.488).
Near-death experiences contain a pattern of perceptions, which form a complete, identifiable occurrence or experience (Greyson, 1991).
Traditionally, when such persons have been forthcoming about their experiences, they “have received reactions bordering on catastrophic from healthcare providers, family members, friends, and clergy” (Griffith, 2009, p. 36).
According to Eben Alexander, who wrote about his own brush with death in his book, Proof of Heaven published in 2012, members of the medical community are skeptical to say the least about NDEs.“Scientists have argued that they (NDEs) are impossible”, the well-educated neurosurgeon writes.
Alexander knew that near-death experiences seemed real to some of his patients, but he believed they were “simply fantasies produced by brains under extreme stress before he had a near-death experience” (2012, p. 34).
Additionally, Linda Griffith writes, “NDEs are reported to affect nearly one-third of individuals having a close brush with death; that is about five percent of the United States population” (2009, p. 39).
With these blaring numbers, caregivers need to acknowledge these events, whether real or imagined in order to address the needs of those they serve. Researchers agree that near-death experiences can radically change the attitudes, beliefs, and values of individuals who experience them.
Acknowledging these experiences offers to help professionals the chance to serve and satisfy the needs of certain patients and clients in a healing crisis. Though most near-death experiences bring about some spiritual awakening, there is much questioning about the reality of such an experience (Zaleski, 2012).
With many Christian theologians, the skepticism is extreme, and the stories of near-death experiences are largely ignored or repudiated. Some consider the whole thing a childish interest, a narcissistic pre-occupation that distracts people from the church’s mission in a hurting world (Galli, 2012).
Religious clergy and scholars are not the only ones preoccupied about the validity of near-death experiences and the attention given to the subject. Emotions tend to run high regarding subjects that touch on religious doctrine or established and widely accepted scientific truths.
Statement of the Problem
Often, individuals who experience NDEs are immediately faced with dismissal and disapproval when sharing their near-death experiences.
Particularly distressing to individuals who experience NDEs is the typical situation where friends, family, and those persons they have close, intimate relationships with treat them in this fashion.
As previously mentioned, Dr. Eben Alexander was once a skeptic about NDEs until he miraculously came out of a near-death coma in 2008.
He reports that he spent many years “not getting it”, and after the experience that changed his life perception, he was determined to help those who had a similar story to tell (Wilson, 2013).
Helping professionals still fail to consider the effect upon recovery of individuals who experience NDEs, and their resultant adjustment to a major shift in beliefs and values. Raymond A. Moody, a famous investigator of NDEs writes:
There is one common element in all near-death experiences: they transform the people who have them. In my twenty years of intense exposure to individuals who have experienced a near-death experience, I have yet to find one who hasn’t had a very deep and positive transformation as a result of his experience (1975, p. 38).
Rice speculates, “Frequently, the first person individuals who experience NDEs speak to after their experience is a nurse, physician, or Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)” (2007, p.7). How the people in these positions react to the shared experiences can have a positive influence on individuals who experience NDEs and their recovery as well.
Often, the cases of individuals who experience NDEs are given psychiatric attention due to an associated mental disorder. New and highly broadened beliefs may be difficult to discern from the “hyper-religiosity associated with mania”.
With the guidance and education of a highly trained and aware mental health worker, the patient can differentiate between a religious zeal and the strong feelings of elation stemming from a genuine transcendent experience.
Steven Rice, Master of Divinity spent many years as a clergy member who worked closely with seriously ill and dying patients. He claims to be a reformed person because of the stories he has listened to about the near-death experiences of many.
In a letter to the editor, in a professional journal, he expresses his thanks to readers for the support of his article, “Supporting a Patient After a Near-death Experience”. Also in the letter, Rice shares his desire to learn more about how the experience has made a person feel, and what the experience has done for the person.
Rice exclaims that terminally ill patients who have experienced NDE are eager to approach their “impending death or the afterlife, whether or not they consider themselves religious” (2007, p. 8).
Apparently, research has focused more on the reality of near-death experiences than it has focused on the after effects of NDEs, the relationships between the NDEs and the influence of attitudes, beliefs, and values of their helping professionals.
Thorough research between the relationship of individuals who experience NEDs and their helping professionals (as relates to adjusting to life after a NDE) is an area worthy of study.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of the study is to explore the impact and role of the acceptance of NDEs among those in the helping professions concerning the quality of the care they provide to those seeking their care.
What impact do the attitudes, beliefs, and values of helping professionals about near-death experiences make in the care they provide for individuals who have experienced NDEs?
Significance of the Study
Despite many research attempts conducted concerning NDEs and their beliefs and values, minimal study has been directed concerning the beliefs and values towards NDEs in non-NDE populations.
“There appears to be a correlation between knowledge of NDEs and attitudes toward them. People with a great knowledge of NDEs, tend to have positive attitude towards individuals suffering from NDEs” (Ketzneberger&Keim, 2001, p. 227).
Individuals who have experienced NEDs may face unique issues, which need to be addressed.
With the incidence of NDEs increasing from the early 1970’s due to advancements in modern medicine, healthcare and mental health providers need to factor in the reality of the occurrence of NDEs in their education and training (Wilson, 2013).
The importance of the study is to show effects of mis-diagnosis, and or discounted problematic issues of NDEs by those in the helping professionals in relation to the significance of validating their experiences, and being well prepared for treatment on behalf of those seeking recovery or help after a near-death experience.
This literature review will explore attitudes, values, and beliefs and how they affect the quality of services that caregivers offer to patients suffering from near-death experiences. The review will use behavioral theory as the theoretical framework.
Behavioral theory will be used as the theoretical lens for this study. Behavioral theory states “cultural and sub-cultural conditioning moulds and shapes behavior and subsequently the personality” (Sikazwe, 2009, p. 2).
Using the behavioral theory, the literature review will analyze the beliefs, attitudes, and values of therapists and relate them to how they conduct themselves when dealing with NDErs.
Duffy and Olson (2007) give a clear and accurate meaning to the importance of understanding a patient after a traumatic NDE. They state that health care professionals should know how to respond when a patient reluctantly begins to speak of the experience.
It is crucial for a therapeutic environment of trust to be established so the patient can express the meaning of the experience. Being nonjudgmental and employing active listening are crucial aspects of helping a patient after a near-death experience (Duffy &Olson, 2007).
Sadly, NDEs are frequently mis-diagnosed or ignored, and individuals who encounter NDEs are left to sort their experiences out on their own, sometimes with little or no support from friends, family, or spouses.
Often associated with NDEs are issues such as marital conflicts, identity crises in areas of work, religion, depression, family difficulties, and adjustment disorders (Moody, 1975). For an example, it is estimated that over half of marriages where one partner has experienced an NDE ends in divorce (Christian, 2005).
Attitudes, beliefs, and values of helping professionals about near-death experiences significantly affect the quality of the services they extend to individuals who have experienced NDEs. At times, the professionals impose their interpretations of beliefs about the experience on the patient.
Rather than relying on the understanding and account of the individuals who experience NDEs, the professionals act out of their judgments or preconceptions. Griffith (2009) suggests that caregivers, at times, fail to acknowledge the NDE as a tremendously important tool for transformation.
They overlook the insightful possibility of experience to initiate both positive and negative transformations in beliefs, personality, and physiological functions. Most of the times helping professionals have prejudices against NDE individuals.
This leads to the caregivers labeling both the NDE and the patient with a medical verdict based on their understanding. This, in return, leads to the professionals alienating those who have experienced NDE instead of helping them.
Ketzneberger and Keim maintain, “When an individual who experiences NDEs meets diagnostic criteria for treatable condition, the patient, and the caregiver need to know that the diagnosis is autonomous of and unassociated to the NDE itself” (2001, p. 229).
Normally, caregivers are unable to establish a therapeutic relationship with individuals who experience NDEs due to dishonesty. They disrespectfully express their reservations to the experience discounting the individual’s attitude.
They, at times, go to the extent of revealing the contents or existence of the near-death experience without the individual’s consent (Ketzneberger&Keim, 2001). This discourages the near-death experience individual from sharing their emotions with the caregivers, therefore, affecting their recovery process.
Deep emotions characterize the near-death experiences. Therefore, individuals who have experienced them normally have strong feelings that they need to vent, share, or explore.
Failure to respond to their feelings, descriptions, and interpretations hampers the ability to reveal hard-to-describe experiences. In addition, it intensifies the individual’s fear of being ridiculed or misunderstood (Duffy & Olson, 2007).
Insensitive behavior or comments ruin the resuscitation efforts of the NDE individuals (Wilson, 2013). Wilson says, “Patients who appear unconscious may be aware of their surroundings, and may later recall behavior that is callous or offensive” (2013, p. 2b).
At times, caregivers engage in insensitive behavior or say insensitive opinions during the resuscitation process. This leads to the individual’s struggle to resolve issues with startling memories in their future.
The prejudice that a majority of the caregivers have towards the individual makes it hard for them to maintain human contact with individuals recovering from NDE. Consequently, it is likely that they fail to help the patient regain bodily consciousness through physical and verbal orientation.
Duffy and Olson (2007) make recommendations on how the professionals can work on their attitudes, beliefs, and values, therefore, offering quality care to patients recovering from NDEs.
They suggest that every professional ought to establish a rapport with the victim and to create opportunities that can persuade the individual to share their experiences. The way the professionals communicate or conduct themselves when talking about the NDE experience shows their willingness to help the patient (Duffy & Olson, 2007).
Duffy and Olson (2007) even recommend the rotation of listeners in hospital units as a way to avoid burnout. At times, caregivers lack the patience to listen to the NDE individual. This leaves the patients with no option but to keep the experience to themselves, which affects their recuperation process.
Helping professionals need to distinguish between their expectations, and those of their patients to work effectively with individuals who have had the near-death experience (Griffith, 2009).
Caregivers need to have a clear understanding of the help that patients with a near-death experience require from them, and let the patients know about their expectations too. At times, caregivers fail to consider the individual’s level of functioning and personality before their near-death experience (Griffith, 2009).
Therefore, they end up not addressing the challenges that a near-death experience poses to the patient. In its place, therapists strive to address the existing aspects of patients’ mental health problems caused by other sources. Eventually, it boils down to conflicting goals or interests.
As therapists attempt to help the patient cope with psychological and behavioral challenges, they end up increasing the patient’s NDE-related distress. To address this challenge, caregivers need to address only the near-death-related challenges and refer all the other issues to a different therapist (Griffith, 2009).
Attitudes, beliefs, and values of helping professionals about near-death experiences significantly affect the quality of the services they extend to individuals who have experienced NDEs. In most cases, caring professionals use their interpretation of NDE to treat patients suffering from NDEs.
Besides, they at times make insensitive comments, which interrupt the patient’s capacity to resuscitate. The prejudice the caregivers have towards NDErs deters them from establishing personal contact with patients. To add to the existing literature, this study will conduct a research on patients recovering from NDEs.
The study will seek to understand how attitudes, values and beliefs of caregivers affect the quality of services given to individuals suffering from near-death experiences.
Alexander, E. (2012). Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into The Afterlife (Vol. 1). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Christian, S. (2005). Marital Satisfaction and Stability Following a Near-death Experience of One of the Marital Partners. Web.
Duffy, N. & Olson, M. (2007). Supporting a patient after a near-death experience. Nursing, 37(4), 46-48.
Galli, M. (2012). Incredible journeys. Christianity Today, 56(11), 24-30.
Greyson, B. (1991). Near-death experiences and systems theories: A biosociological approach to mystical states. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 12(4), 487-508.
Griffith, L. (2009). Near-death experiences and psychotherapy. Psychiatry MMC, 6(10), 35-42.
Ketzneberger, K. &Keim, G. (2001). The near-death experience: knowledge and attitudes of college students. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 19(4), 227-232.
Linzmeier, B. M. (n.d.). Attitudes toward near-death experiences. In Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF). Retrieved
Moody, R. (1975). Life After Life. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc.
Moore, R. (2013, January 20). Donate to the NDE medical training video. In International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS). Retrieved
Rice, S. (2007). Letters: insights on near-death memories. Nursing, 37(6), 8. What is a near-death experience? (2011, February 5). In International Association for Near-Death Studies. Web.
Sikazwe, H. (2009). Behavioral theories and the impact on human interactions: A compilation of articles, essays and discourses around the world. Web.
Wilson, C. (2013). Publishers in seventh heaven over near-death memoirs. United Methodist Reporter, 159(42), 2b.
Zaleski, C. (2013). Visions of heaven. Christian Century Journal, 130(1), 6.