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Mentoring the Near-Death Experience Survivor, by Carolyn M. Matthews

Publication Details: 
Cove House Publications. ISBN: 978 0988 026001
Publish date: 
November, 2012
In discussing the implications of Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) for our understanding of consciousness and life after death, it is easy, while focusing on them as data, to forget about the individuals who experience them.  Carolyn M. Matthews examined the NDE phenomenon, and more significantly, worked with survivors, while undertaking post-graduate work at Atlantic University, Virginia, USA, as a result of which she has developed a distance-learning course for those who have had an NDE.



Matthews begins by providing some figures which indicate that large numbers of people have had one; describing the features of an NDE; and sketching in the transpersonal characteristics, with survivors left more open to spiritual possibilities than before the event.  She observes that the transformational aspects, which incline survivors to be open and caring, can make them targets for exploitation, leading in turn to depression.  It can also be difficult for families to understand changes in personality, often causing friction and a rejection of the claimed event.  Even those most expected to be understanding – health care professionals – may pathologise the narrative.  Keeping silent, to avoid disbelief or the risk of a negative psychological assessment, can bring its own stresses.

The transcendental part can make “experiencers” reluctant to want to return to life, and disappointed to find themselves back among the living.  It can also leave them with a sense of a mission to fulfil (the reason for the return), but sometimes an inchoate sense of what that mission is, and a difficulty in incorporating this new perspective into their lives.  Failure at integration can lead to anxiety and a sense of purposelessness, and this creates social and personal difficulties.

In an effort to address these problems, the heart of the book is a course, a modified version of a successful pilot, which aims to provide validation of the NDE and enable experiencers to work out what this mission is and how to pursue it, with beneficial therapeutic consequences for the healing process and for their self-confidence.  It is suitable for use by healthcare and other support professionals who may not know how best to provide meaningful assistance at what is a difficult time for the individual, and gives guidance on running such a course.  The text of the revised version is available on a CD from the author.

The pilot was predicated on the assumption that, subconsciously, survivors know what their mission is, and this needs to be drawn out and made explicit, with an action plan for its implementation.  The basic structure was a life-coaching course, but tailored to the specific requirements of the group   It included self-expression, dream analysis and meditation.  Students kept a journal, did exercises, and were able to communicate with each other via a private website.  Attempting to verbalise a transcendental experience was frustrating for some, but the writing proved generally helpful in making sense of what had happened.

The assumption of the course is that these individuals had an experience that really took them to a different realm.  However, it does not seem to be essential that a person using the material in a support role believe that, because the crucial component is the verbalising and integration of a life plan by the person who had the experience.  There is a religious element to the presentation, but the content could be adapted if religious references were not felt to be appropriate.  Even counsellors with doubts about the reality of the NDE will find the materials useful in assisting those individuals who have, or believe they have, undergone such a profoundly life-altering event.