Roehampton Psychologist’s research shows experiencing the presence of the deceased is a shared phenomenon

  • Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Dr Jacqueline Hayes, Lecturer in Counselling Psychology at the University of Roehampton’s research project revealed new insights into understanding people’s experiences of seeing and hearing the voices of their deceased relatives during bereavement.

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In a three year qualitative research project supervised by Emeritus Professor Ivan Leudar, at the University of Manchester, Dr Hayes conducted in-depth interviews with people across the UK who had lost their spouses, parents, children, siblings and friends. She analysed the stories of her interviewees and found that what happens in these experiences are completely dependent on the context of the relationship with the deceased.

This phenomenon called ‘Experienced Continued Presence’ can occur to a person many years after the death of their loved one and it has been found to take many different forms. Dr Hayes’s research revealed that people experience visions, voices, and tactile sensations such as taste and smell. They even sense the presence of the deceased person being in the room which is not necessarily triggered by any of the five senses.

Dr Hayes said “Each person’s experiences are individual to them, but the common thread is that they have continued some aspect of the relationship with the deceased. These experiences can be hostile and painful or in other examples, people have experienced their loved one apologise to them for something that had happened which can be healing and transformative.”

Her research also included some recommendations for therapists to help people during bereavement. She advises that therapists find out the whole story of the person’s experiences and the relationship to the deceased because the consequences are unique and personal, and can change over time. She also has provided some ways of working with the people who have hostile relationships with the deceased to work through the undermining presence in their lives.

Read a summary of the journal article here.

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