Is There a Therapeutic Benefit to After-Death Communication?

6 min read

Dealing with the loss of a loved one can be one of the most challenging experiences we go through as humans. This can be particularly true if our loved one died unexpectedly, violently, or was young.

One of the primary struggles going forward after such a loss is making meaning out of the death. In addition to understanding the events leading to the death, the survivors must make sense of their relationship with the deceased and what the loss means for their lives moving forward.

Historically, the predominant approach to grief counseling involved “breaking bonds” with the deceased and letting go of the past in an attempt to “move on” with your life. Ongoing connections to the deceased, such as holding on to their items, thinking about them frequently, and visiting their grave, were often classified as “unresolved” or complicated grief. These perspectives seem to have originated with Freud, who indicated that the primary goal of grieving was to cut bonds so that new attachments could form.

It turns out that “breaking bonds” may contradict the natural grieving process and neglect the continuing need for meaningful connections to the deceased. Older studies found that between 44 and 50 percent of the bereaved spontaneously experienced some form of contact with the deceased (see Rees, 1971; Kalish & Reynolds, 1973). And more recent examinations suggest that these numbers may even be an underestimate of these experiences (e.g., Keen, Murray, & Payne, 2013; Steffen & Coyle, 2010).

The most common form of contact includes dreams, sounds, feeling the presence of the deceased, and having conversations with the deceased (Klugman, 2006). Further, these experiences appear to be consistent across genders, ages, ethnicities, education levels, incomes, and religious or non-religious affiliations (Streit-Horn, 2011). This all suggests that some form of after-death communication could be a relatively normal aspect of the grief process (see Beischel, 2019).

Source: Jeff Tarrant

Source: Jeff Tarrant

A more modern approach to grief therapy supports this natural process and is referred to as “continuing bonds“ (Klass, 1996). From this perspective, grief is viewed as an ongoing process that does not end. It assumes that it is normal to stay connected and may help reduce the distress associated with grief. Some therapists support this continued bond through a variety of techniques to facilitate after-death communication (ADC).

Of particular interest for this article is a technique referred to as the psychomanteum. This is a sensory deprivation technique created by philosopher and psychiatrist Raymond Moody (1994) to update ancient approaches such as mirror gazing and scrying.

The psychomanteum is a small, enclosed room covered entirely in black. Inside the black box is a comfortable black chair and black footrest. Across from the chair at the top of the wall is a mirror positioned at an angle that prevents the person in the chair from seeing themselves. There is one source of light in the room, similar to a nightlight.

The procedure involves having the bereaved person spend some time talking about their loved one in detail and then entering the psychomanteum with a clear mind and the intention to contact the deceased individual. Once in the room, they simply relax, stare at the mirror, and wait to see what happens during the next 45 minutes.

Over the years, research on this technique has demonstrated that between 48 and 63 percent of people entering the psychomanteum report some level of communication with a deceased loved one or other anomalous experiences, including visual hallucinations, a feeling of a “presence,” out-of-body experiences, sounds, voices, smells, and time distortion (Hastings, et al., 2002; 2012; Moody, 1992; Moody & Perry, 1993). Importantly, the majority of psychomanteum participants also report significant reductions in feelings of bereavement.

For example, in a small study of 27 participants, those who reported ADCs during a psychomanteum experience showed significant improvements in grief and loss. Interestingly, even those who did not report a specific ADC experience also reported significant improvements (Hastings et al., 2002). In a follow-up study with 100 participants, researchers found significant reductions in sadness, grief, longing, incomplete communication, regret, and remorse, as well as increases in feelings of appreciation, gratitude, love, and forgiveness (Hastings, 2012). Again, it did not seem to matter whether the participants reported experiencing an ADC or not during the psychomanteum experience.

In an attempt to further this field, a researcher named Marilyn Schlitz has created a virtual reality psychomanteum-type experience, designed per Schlitz to induce a trance-like state as well as mimic the reflective surface aspects common to traditional psychomanteum experiences. The participant hears guided instructions, encouraging and suggesting the likelihood that they will encounter “invisible others.” After the guided audio, participants are invited to remain in the space for approximately 18 minutes, verbalizing anything they see, hear, feel, or any information they receive during the session.

Photo 40876128 | Creek Sunset © Welcomia |

Sunset image similar to the beginning of the VR Psychomanteum experience

Photo 40876128 | Creek Sunset © Welcomia |

I joined Dr. Schlitz’s last research project with the VR psychomanteum and was surprised by its impact and effectiveness on participants. Of the eleven participants tested at the NeuroMeditation Institute, where I work, 100 percent of them reported significant anomalous experiences, many of which included very specific ADCs with an identified loved one. Many of the participants cried during the experience and reported “feeling better” afterward.

At the time of this writing, the full dataset of 92 participants is still being analyzed but looks to me to be promising. Early results from the completed study suggest that a physical psychomanteum and VR psychomanteum have similar impacts which may be mediated by the degree to which participants can fully engage (become absorbed) in the experience. This information may help identify which clients are good candidates for this approach as well as directions for future research. If future research with the VR psychomanteum could consistently demonstrate the utility of this intervention, it may offer a much more accessible approach to this work.

In short, research with both the physical and VR psychomanteum appears to show promise as an effective tool for grief therapists. While we may never be able to prove that ADCs are “real,” that may not be necessary or important. It is clear that the subjective experiences of after-death communication can result in a strong emotional impact, potentially reducing emotional distress and grief. Future research into these and similar approaches may be best served by focusing on the characteristics most conducive to positive ADC experiences, assisting clinicians and researchers in identifying what type of intervention is right for each client (Beischel, 2019).

Portions of this article were modified from Becoming Psychic: Lessons from the Minds of Mediums, Healers, and Psychics.

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