Working with voices, visions and continuing presence

Around 60% of bereaved people experience the continued presence of a deceased loved one (Castelnovo et al., 2015; Rees, 1971). This may be through hearing the voice of the deceased, seeing them, smelling them, feeling their touch or a strong sense that the person is otherwise still around.

These phenomena have come under a variety of descriptions - from “Hallucinations” and “illusions” to “awareness” and “continuing bonds” – some invoking a medical framework of understanding, others suggesting spiritual connections, others still foregrounding relational realities. Acknowledging that every term evokes a landscape of associated concepts and relevancies, we use the terms “sense of presence” and “experiences of continued presence” in our own research to align with the phenomenal and pragmatic qualities of the experience.

The experiences by their very nature reside at the intersection of mind, self and society. Social stigma and alienation often come along with them. So what do people tell us about their experiences? What kinds of consequences are they having? Are they healing or destructive? Are they spiritual? Are they relational? What can experiences of voices, visions and other senses of presence in grief tell us about hearing voices under other circumstances, such as in psychiatric patients? These are all questions our research aims to investigate.

Researchers at CREST are international leaders on the phenomenal, pragmatic and contextual studies of experiences of presence in grief. They also work to understand more about voices and visions in other situations too.

If you are interested in this work, including collaborations, please contact us:

Key publications:

  • Hayes, J. & Steffen, E. (2017). Working with welcome and unwelcome presence. In D. Klass & E. Steffen (Eds), Continuing Bonds. Palgrave
  • Hayes, J & Leudar, I. (2016). Experiences of presence: On the practical consequences of hallucinations in bereavement. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, research and practice, 89 (2), p.194-210
  • Previous Masters project: Ryan, H. J. (2016). Hearing voices in Young People. (J. Hayes supervisor). Unpublished thesis for Hannah’s Masters in Developmental Psychology and Clinical Practice, Anna Freud Centre/UCL. Hannah interviewed young people about their experiences of voice hearing.
  •  Steffen, E. & Coyle, A. (2017). ‘I thought they should know … that daddy is not completely gone’: A case study of sense-of-presence experiences in bereavement and family meaning-making. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 74, 363-385.
  • Steffen, E., & Coyle, A. (2011). Sense of presence experiences and meaning-making in bereavement: A qualitative analysis. Death Studies35, 579-609.
  • Steffen, E., & Coyle, A. (2010). Can ‘sense of presence’ experiences in bereavement be conceptualised as spiritual phenomena? Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 13, 273-291.
  • Steffen, E., & Coyle, A. (2012). ‘Sense of presence’ experiences in bereavement and their relationship to mental health: A critical examination of a continuing controversy. In C. Murray (Ed.), Mental Health and Anomalous Experience (pp. 33-56). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers 


  • Hayes, J. Experiences of presence in grief. World Association for the Person-Centred and Experiential Psychotherapies Conference, New York (July 2016)
  • Hayes, J. Hearing voices in bereavement. Presentation given to the first international congress of hearing voices, Maastricht (Sept, 2009)
  • Steffen, E., & Cooper, C. (2017). Sense of presence and other ‘anomalous’ post-death experiences and their positive impact on the bereaved. A paper presented at the 11th triannual International Conference for Grief and Beravement (ICGB11), Lisbon, 12-15 July. (conference paper)

BBC Radio 4 'Short Cuts' - Never Let Me Go

A 28 minute story section, with a commentary on loss by Dr Jacqueline Hayes.

Series 15 Episode 1 of 8

Love lost and found, a lingering goodbye and the after image of a loved one - Josie Long presents stories of holding on.

From the echoes of a partner that linger after their death to an extraordinary tale of love regained after fifty years apart.

Her Name Was Jean
Featuring Dennis Vinar, Karen Lehmann Vinar and Jean Voxland
Produced by Andrea Rangecroft

The Awkward Goodbye
Produced by Duncan Cowles

After Image

Featuring Dr Jacqueline Hayes
Produced by Edward Lawrenson

Current research projects:

  1. Humanistic therapy for unwelcome presence in grief. Pablo Sabucedo (PhD student), Jacqueline Hayes (supervisor), Chris Evans (supervisor), Anastasios Gaitanidis (supervisor). – a project testing and refining person-centred and experiential methods of helping bereaved person’s with unwanted presence. (Sept 2017-)
       - Would you like to participate in research? find out more here.
  2. A survey of presence in grief. Jacqueline Hayes, Chris Evans, Paul Dickerson & Zoe Shaughnessy. A survey of the bereaved population. (Sept 2017-)
  3. Experiences of presence: a film project. In collaboration with award-winning filmmaker Ed Lawrenson. (July 2017-)
  4. A qualitative meta-synthesis of sense of presence experiences in bereavement. Dr Edith Steffen, in collaboration with Prof Adrian Coyle, Kingston University, UK.

Future research projects:

  1. Relational meaning of hearing voices