Patient-Centered Care: Treating the Out-of-Body Experiencer
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Out-of-Body experiences (OBEs) are life-altering experiences, on spiritual, psychophysical, and social-emotional levels. Terms such as “impactful,” “significant,” or “otherworldly” are woefully inadequate to describe such phenomena. Indeed, experiencers consistently report extreme difficulty in relating such otherworldly experiences in limiting, human vocabulary.
The impact of OBEs transform experiencers, permanently altering their personal values, beliefs, conscious awareness, and initiates a larger perspective, spiritual awakening, and a greater understanding of both humanity and the universe itself.
Integration of this ultimately positive transformation may be a difficult, gradual process, lasting years, if not for the duration of one’s lifetime.
The American Center for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences (ACISTE https://aciste.org/) describes the integration process as: “To re-enter one’s body or reality after this experience, with a new view of self and life’s purpose, much time is needed to process the experience and all of its implications … Henceforth, experiencers may struggle to integrate or bring into balance the two differing subjective experiences of reality—a physical and non-physical realm, this life and the afterlife, an earthly reality and a spiritual reality.”
The transformative effects of OBEs are generally reported as positive; however, assimilation and adjustment are quite different than near-death experiences (NDEs).
First, OBEs do not involve a life and death situation, which is a profound component of NDEs. Some may have spontaneous OBEs throughout their lives, so these incidents are not as dramatic. Those who practice controlled OBEs are often on a type of spiritual journey within themselves (lasting years or even decades).
The biggest difficulty is awakening to the aspect of how their inner world is at times very different than the physical world. Some who experience or practice OBEs do not fit society's norms and report feeling alienated from peers and family.
Although numerous out-of-body experiencers seek counseling, traditional psychotherapy is not an effective treatment modality. Psychologists and psychiatrists tend to diagnose experiencers as pathological or abnormal.
Research indicates that transpersonal therapy (a holistic therapy focusing on the social-emotional, creative, intellectual needs of a patient, with an emphasis on spiritual health) facilitates healing and integration. Unlike conventional therapy, a transpersonal counselor is trained to respond to spiritual crises with open-mindedness.
Experimental psychologist Alexander De Foe demonstrates an effective method which may prompt a reluctant experiencer to open up by asking:
Therapist: I would like to ask you a question that may seem a little strange at first, but I think your response may be relevant to what we have been discussing about your dream experiences. I wonder, in the past, have you ever experienced yourself separate from your physical body, as though for a moment your sense of consciousness departed from your body and traveled somewhere else? If yes, what was that experience like for you?"
Psychiatrist Stuart Twemlow emphasizes the significance of a therapeutic model which views OBEs as non-pathological and spiritually transformative experiences. As he explains:
“The therapist should take on the role of a teacher, encouraging clients to learn more about the nature of OBEs and come to a greater understanding of what their OBE might mean in the grand scheme of their life. It is vital for counselors to consider how OBEs impact a client’s relationships, perception about life and death (from an existential therapy framework, for instance), or how the experience affected the client’s connection with the spiritual dimension of life. Talk therapy is highly successful when combined with meditation, biofeedback, self-suggestion relaxation techniques, and/or dream work.” *
It is imperative that although psychologists/psychiatrists may not believe in the validity of OBEs, they are VERY REAL to the patient. Consequently, compassionate, open-minded, validating, and non-judgmental listening is imperative to patient healing and successful experience integration.
*Stuart Twemlow, “Clinical Approaches to the Out-of-Body Experience,” Journal of Near-Death Studies 8 no.1 (2012): 75-82.
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