THE POSSIBLE EFFECTS ON BEREAVEMENT OF
ASSISTED AFTER-DEATH COMMUNICATION
DURING READINGS WITH PSYCHIC MEDIUMS:
A CONTINUING BONDS PERSPECTIVE*
The Windbridge Institute for Applied Research
in Human Potential, Tucson, Arizona
Unresolved, complicated, prolonged, or traumatic grief can have detrimental
effects on mental and/or physical health. The effects of traditional grief
counseling, with its focus on the client’s acceptance of separation and inte-
gration of loss, are unclear. Within the model of continuing bonds, however,
grief resolution includes an ongoing relationship between the living and the
deceased. Spontaneous and induced experiences of after-death communi-
cation (ADC) have been shown to be beneficial in the resolution of grief by
demonstrating these continued bonds. Presently, many bereaved individuals
are experiencing assisted ADCs by receiving readings from psychic mediums
and though little is known about the effects of this selfprescribed treat-
ment option, anecdotal reports and exploratory data posit a positive out-
come. This article aims to inform those who work with the bereaved about
the relationships between grief, spontaneous, induced, and assisted ADC
experiences, and the continuing bonds paradigm. Suggestions for future
research are also included.
*This research was supported by members of the Windbridge Institute.
Ó2014, Baywood Publishing Co., Inc.
OMEGA, Vol. 70(2) 169-194, 2014-2015
Presently, many grieving individuals in the United States are choosing to
receive readings about their deceased loved ones from psychic mediums. As of
this writing (May 2, 2013), a Google search of the phrase “psychic medium
readings” garnered more than 1.6 million results. With the widespread use of
this self-prescribed “treatment,” it would be beneficial for healthcare providers,
counselors, caregivers, social workers, mental health professionals, chaplains,
grief workers, palliative and hospice care professionals, volunteers, and other
supportive individuals to be aware of the basics regarding the relationship between
mediumship readings and grief in order to best serve the bereaved population. This
is especially relevant within a “continuing bonds” perspective (discussed below).
Previous researchers have made similar suggestions regarding phenomena
analogous to receiving a reading about the deceased from a medium: spontaneous
experiences of communication with the deceased by the bereaved. For example,
Berger (1995) stated that, “The inability of survivors to turn to skeptical profes-
sional counselors to disclose their important experiences ...isinimical to their
well-being and, if the goal is to help them, inexcusable” (p. 4). Barbato, Blunden,
Reid, Irwin, and Rodriquez (1999) made this suggestion:
For palliative care workers who witness or are told of parapsychological
experiences, the most important step is to listen attentively and to validate the
experience as normal. This is both cathartic and therapeutic for the experient
and therefore aids the grieving or dying person’s journey. (p. 35)
In her discussion of these spontaneous experiences, Daggett (2005) indicated that:
Health care professionals have an important role in caring for the bereaved;
therefore, it is important for them to be aware of the phenomenon, its various
manifestations, and its effects on the survivors. In particular, it is key
that clinicians who employ a holistic approach to health and healing and
who recognize the link between mind, body, and spirit understand this
dimension of the bereavement experience to intervene effectively with the
bereaved. (p. 192)
Sormanti and August (1997) found that grieving parents experiencing spiritual
connections with their deceased children wanted healthcare professionals
to be open, respectful, and nonjudgmental of their bereavement experiences
and to allow and encourage them to talk openly about their experiences and
beliefs. Parents want staff to know that these connections do exist, are
reassuring to them, and help them in their grieving process. (p. 467)
These authors also noted that, “In the context of mental health work, the need
for carefully constructed definitions of spirituality not linked to any particular
psychological, religious, or cultural belief system is evident” (p. 461). Similarly,
Nowatzki and Grant Kalischuk (2009) noted that an understanding of post-
death encounters “could allow human services professionals to build a sup-
porting and understanding atmosphere for the bereaved . . . regardless of their own
170 / BEISCHEL, MOSHER AND BOCCUZZI
beliefs regarding the authenticity or source of the reported encounter” (p. 106).
Regarding spontaneous experiences with the deceased, Barbato et al. (1999)
noted that, “Even if we cannot understand the basis for these parapsychological
phenomena, the weight of evidence suggests we cannot continue to ignore
them” (p. 36).
Several authors have emphasized that the primary issue regarding the experi-
ences of the bereaved is not whether or not they reflect actual communication
with the deceased, but rather how the experience can be used to aid in coping
with the loss (e.g., Drewry, 2003; Klugman, 2006; LaGrand, 2005; Parker,
2005; Sanger, 2009). According to Dannenbaum and Kinnier (2009), even
“imaginal” communication with the deceased can produce therapeutically
beneficial effects including “feeling cared about and loved, experiencing
resolution of grief and relationship conflicts with the deceased, and experiencing
increased confidence in problem solving and decision making” (p. 109), though
the authors maintain that
. . . although the modifier imaginal is used, we are not insisting that such
conversations can only be imaginal. Some people do believe that com-
munication between the living and dead is a reality, and we do not have
evidence to the contrary. Out of respect to all clients, we would not attempt
to refute a client’s belief that the conversations might be real. (p. 111)
In their work, Nowatzki and Grant Kalischuk (2009) assume “that encounters
with the dead have been defined as real and important by those who experi-
enced them, are real in their consequences and, therefore, are a reality to be
studied” (p. 93).
We suggest that a similar unbiased awareness regarding assisted post-death
experiences gained during readings with psychic mediums—one based on
current research rather than historical stereotypes or popular culture depictions—
would be equally helpful in clinical settings. Through his study of British
Spiritualist church services and clinicians’ responses to the bereaved who attend
them, Walter (2008)
was told that only about one in fifteen clients had spoken about visiting
a medium, but these clients did so with great passion, and it was something
the counsellors were keen to discuss with me. The counsellors tended
to be person-centred, and described their clients’ stories about the dead
without pathologising them or interpreting them within a fixed framework.
Our intention is that the information contained herein provides a basis for
willing professionals from various backgrounds to begin to understand the
phenomenon of mediumship and its potentially therapeutic relationship to grief.
Suggestions for future research are also provided.
ASSISTED ADC AND BEREAVEMENT / 171
GRIEF AND TREATMENT OPTIONS
Grief is a ubiquitous and natural experience among people of every culture as
well as throughout the animal kingdom (reviewed in Worden, 1991, pp. 8-9). In
humans, grief can manifest through feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety,
loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, yearning, numbness, and even
emancipation and relief and these feelings are often accompanied by specific
physical sensations, behaviors, and cognitions (Hensley, 2006; Worden, 1991).
However, grief “often surfaces as the underlying cause of various physical and
mental aberrations” (Worden, 1991, p. 1). Indeed, a number of studies have
demonstrated increased morbidity and mortality as a result of grief (e.g., Schaefer,
Quesenberry, & Wi, 1995; Shahar, Schultz, Shahar, & Wing, 2001; Stroebe,
Schut, & Stroebe, 2007).
Although most people have the natural ability to heal from grief—that is, to
integrate their experiences of loss and bereavement (e.g., Jordan & Neimeyer,
2003)—on their own or by seeking solace with family members, community
members, and/or spiritual leaders/clergy, unresolved and nonintegrated
bereavement can lead to chronic depression in approximately 10-15% of
individuals (Hensley, 2006). In addition, if individuals do not find relief, they may
develop a clinically significant syndrome known as complicated grief, traumatic
grief, or prolonged grief disorder which differs from major depressive disorder
and involves a heightened risk of distress and dysfunction (Prigerson, Horowitz,
Jacobs, Parkes, Aslan, Goodkin, et al., 2009).
A discrepancy exists, however, between the potentially serious risks of
complicated grief and the presence of effective treatments that may be offered to
the grieving. Despite its widespread acceptance and use, the effectiveness of
traditional grief counseling interventions is suspect (e.g., Breen & O’Connor,
2007; Currier, Neimeyer, & Berman, 2008; Jordan & Neimeyer, 2003; Larson &
Hoyt, 2007; Neimeyer, 2000; Schut, Stroebe, van den Bout, & Terheggen, 2001).
Outcome studies have yielded mixed results regarding the effectiveness of grief
therapy ranging from positive, neutral, and negative outcomes to the therapeutic
process and have been hampered by numerous methodological issues including
lack of control groups and improper participant assignment procedures (reviewed
in Schut et al., 2001).
Larson and Hoyt (2007) pointed to the popular yet pessimistic consensus
within the grief and bereavement literature that grief counseling was at best
ineffective while at worst harmful to clients seeking help. Similarly, in a recent
meta-analysis of the literature regarding psychotherapeutic interventions for
the bereaved, Currier, Neimeyer, and Berman (2008) reviewed “a total of 61
outcome studies reported in 64 papers, which included 48 published peer-
reviewed articles and 16 unpublished dissertations” (p. 650). Their findings
revealed a “discouraging picture for bereavement interventions” (p. 656) which
172 / BEISCHEL, MOSHER AND BOCCUZZI
they found added “little to no benefit beyond the participants’ existing resources
and the passage of time” (p. 657).
The “general lack of understanding of grief in the service professions, which
is at least partly explained by the discord between grief researchers and service
providers” (Breen & O’Connor, 2007, p. 204) as well as the paradox between the
commonly used definitions of grief and currently used interventions have also
recently been called into question (e.g., Breen & O’Connor, 2007). For example,
models of grief counseling have stemmed from traditional psychotherapeutic
approaches and tended to focus on pathological conditions of traumatic grief
(Wass, 2004). Furthermore, some theories of grief posit a linear, predictable
pattern of bereavement experiences that are not sensitive to individual, cultural,
or developmental differences. Finally, psychotherapeutic interventions for grief
are not as effective as traditional psychotherapy and clients do not experience
the reduction in subjective grief that grief counselors may anticipate (Currier
et al., 2008).
Additionally, pharmaceutical antidepressants are often ineffective for acute
grief responses due to the extended time it takes for them to reach full efficacy.
Besides the lack of strongly established findings regarding psychopharmacologic
treatments, it is ill-advised to provide potentially lethal quantities of medications
to those in the midst of a grief response (Worden, 1991). Taken as a whole, the
tools the mental health community has to offer the bereaved for recovery from
acute experiences of grief are limited.
ALTERNATIVE EXPERIENCES AND INTERVENTIONS
In contrast to psychotherapeutic and pharmaceutical therapies, non-traditional
interventions and experiences have been repeatedly demonstrated to positively
and dramatically impact grief in individuals after the death of a loved one.
These include both spontaneous and induced phenomena. Though these types of
after-death experiences have been described with words like “paranormal” and
“extraordinary” or even associated with delusion and psychopathology, the reality
is that spontaneous experiences of after-death communication are quite common.
Estimates reveal that nearly a third of American adults (Newport & Strausberg,
2001), approximately 70 million people (LaGrand, 2005), have had contact
with the deceased. People “from all walks of life have experienced the extra-
ordinary when mourning” (LaGrand, 2005, p. 6), and 35-97% of grieving indi-
viduals experience the deceased in some way after the death (Klugman, 2006).
Spontaneous experiences with the deceased are “universal in nature; that is,
they occur in all socioeconomic and religious groups, types of death, and at
various times after the death” (Houck, 2005, p. 124).
Dannenbaum and Kinnier (2009) have brought attention to the ubiquitous
nature of these experiences and beliefs:
ASSISTED ADC AND BEREAVEMENT / 173
From Hamlet to Star Wars, literature and the media are replete with repre-
sentations of communication between the living and the dead. Real-life
public displays include baseball players who point to the sky as they round
the bases, presumably celebrating their home run with a deceased parent,
and Oscar winners who tearfully thank a deceased grandparent from the
podium. (p. 101)
The terms used to identify spontaneous experiences of contact with the
deceased, used interchangeably here to reflect the referenced authors’ preferred
terms, include: after-death communications (ADCs); extraordinary experiences
(EEs); ideonecrophic experiences (IEs); post-death encounters (PDE); and post-
death contact (PDC). These experiences with the deceased “occur along a
continuum of intensity and emotional impact” (Drewry, 2003, p. 75) and are
“common, natural, non-pathological, mostly beneficial and comforting, helpful
in facilitating the grieving process, and sometimes extraordinarily spiritually
healing to a bereaved individual” (p. 75).
These spontaneous after-death phenomena include a wide variety of experi-
ences for the bereaved including: sensing the presence of the deceased; visual,
olfactory, tactile, and auditory (voices or sounds) phenomena; conversations;
powerful dreams; hearing meaningfully timed songs on the radio or music asso-
ciated with the deceased; messages from objects; lost-things-found; communi-
cation through electric devices (e.g., flickering lights); natural phenomena; sym-
bolic messages; synchronicities; and other unusual incidents or unexplainable
phenomena (e.g., Barbato et al., 1999; Conant, 1996; Daggett, 2005; Drewry,
2003; Haraldsson, 1988-89; Houck, 2005; Klugman, 2006; LaGrand, 2005;
Normand, Silverman, & Nickman, 1996; Nowatzki & Grant Kalischuk, 2009;
Sanger, 2009; Sormanti & August, 1997). These post-death communications and
experiences seem to be a natural part of the grieving process (e.g., Barbato et al.,
1999; Klugman, 2006; LaGrand, 2005).
Several researchers have specifically investigated the effects of these spon-
taneous experiences on the grieving processes of the bereaved (reviewed in
Krippner, 2006). In a phenomenological study of ADC experiences in the
bereaved, Drewry (2003) found that all 40 experiences she examined “resulted
in varying degrees of spontaneous healing or resolution of grief” with one
“complete release of grief” (p. 78). Similarly, Parker (2005) found that EEs fulfill
“specific grief, bereavement, and/or other needs for individuals such as con-
solation, comfort, reassurance, and encouragement” (p. 272) and “facilitate a
sense of psychological wellbeing” (p. 277). In a study of widows, Conant (1996)
found that the experients were “often left with emotional peace, a conviction
of ongoing spiritual life for the deceased and of resolution of [their] internal
conflict over the death” (p. 188). LaGrand (2005) noted that EEs “spawn personal
and/or spiritual growth, reduce existential fear, and generate new perspectives
and purpose in life through the questions they suggest and the obvious answers
provided” (p. 9). Sormanti and August (1997) examined the experiences of
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bereaved parents and found that “the parents who experienced continued con-
nection to their dead child derived psychological benefits from the connection”
(p. 468). In addition, Nowatzki and Grant Kalischuk (2009) found that, “Quali-
tative differences in the grieving process were evident in the participants’ accounts
of their post-death encounters, as they described grieving before and after their
experiences” (p. 101). They also noted that
When a loved one dies, grievers may experience feelings of hopelessness
and despair. However, post-death encounters suggest the existence of an
afterlife, and establish a bond with the deceased. [They] can have a posi-
tive and therapeutic effect on the griever, and can be an important part of
healing. (p. 103)
They also reported that “post-death contact appeared to lend meaning to the
participants’ losses, and a sense of connection to the deceased played a prominent
role in healing and personal growth” (p. 107).
Though there is “a paucity of literature that integrates research on EEs of the
bereaved with current grief models” (Parker, 2005, p. 260), the mainstream grief
therapy community has begun to acknowledge these sorts of experiences as
ordinary and seems accepting of their usefulness in the grieving process. For
example, Sanger (2009) found that 21 social workers interviewed believed
“there is nothing inherently abnormal or pathological about IEs” (p. 87) and had
several recommendations for those in clinical practice which included exploring
spiritual issues, being aware of psychic phenomena, and honoring the continued
connection to the deceased. In his discussion of normal grief reactions, J. William
Worden in his text Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the
Mental Health Practitioner (1991) lists both “sense of presence” and visual and
auditory “hallucinations” as normal cognitions in the grieving process (p. 26).
Referring to hallucinations, he states:
Although disconcerting to some, many others find these experiences helpful.
With all of the recent interest in mysticism and spirituality, it is interesting
to speculate on whether these are really hallucinations or possibly some
other kind of metaphysical phenomena. (p. 26)
However, it was later noted that “to describe these grief experiences as
‘hallucinations’ can limit and stigmatize what may prove to be a common
bereavement experience” (Sormanti & August, 1997, p. 461; similarly, Barbato
et al., 1999). Indeed, in a study of 10 widows who experienced feeling the
presence of their deceased husbands, Conant (1996) found that 9 reported no
feelings “of control over these events. The vividness of the experience amazed
them. The comparison to hallucinations was voiced spontaneously five times
and was always denied. These were not hallucinations” (p. 186) (the remaining
participant meditated to induce visits).
ASSISTED ADC AND BEREAVEMENT / 175
Unfortunately, not all clinicians are accepting of spontaneous experiences of
the deceased. In a study of the counseling experiences of bereaved people who
sense the presence of the deceased, Taylor (2005) found that 62% of participants
had “totally unsatisfactory” experiences (p. 60). They “all described feeling
unaccepted, abnormal, not understood, unable to connect to counselors, and that
they had received no empathy” (p. 60).
In general, post-death communications and experiences such as ADCs, EEs,
IEs, and PDCs maintain the bond and develop new, meaningful relationships
between the bereaved and the deceased (e.g., Klugman, 2006; Sanger, 2009;
Walliss, 2001). In addition to these spontaneous experiences, it appears that
induced after-death experiences also positively affect the resolution of grief.
Through the use of eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
techniques in his clinical practice of treating patients with post-traumatic stress
disorder, Allan L. Botkin (2000) observed that patients were reporting spon-
taneous ADCs during the EMDR sessions and discovered that a particular
sequence of psychotherapeutic events could be used to induce the experience
in any patient. In the initial 83 patients for whom Botkin attempted the ADC
induction, 81 (98%) achieved an ADC, which he defined as “any perceived
sensory contact with the deceased” (p. 198), and of that subset, 96% reported
“full resolution of grief following the ADC” (p. 198). Botkin also discovered,
in the hundreds of cases he has observed, that “the difference in subjects’ prior
beliefs systems is of little consequence” (p. 199).
The second well-documented method for the induction of after-death experi-
ences involves a mirror gazing procedure developed by Raymond Moody
(1992) which he called a Psychomanteum. Participation in the Psychomanteum
process involves spending time in a “dimly lit room in which a sitter gazes with
open eyes into a mirror, with the intention of contacting a deceased individual”
(Hastings, Ferguson, Hutton, Goldman, Braud, Greene, et al., 2002, p. 212) and
has been studied for over a decade at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology
(ITP; now Sofia University) in Palo Alto, California. A study from ITP from
2002 studied the phenomena, experiences, and effects on bereavement of 27
Psychomanteum participants. The participants reported a variety of experiences
including physical sensations, external phenomena in the room, imagery that
appeared in the mirror, sense of presence, communications and dialogue, and
auditory, visual, and olfactory phenomena (Hastings et al., 2002). It was dis-
covered that people reporting contact as part of their experience showed sig-
nificant self-reported changes in needing to improve the relationship and needing
to communicate as well as in the feelings of grief and loss. Even those participants
who did not experience contact reported significant improvements in feelings
of grief and sadness and the need to communicate (Hastings et al., 2002).
As a whole, participants also reported significant alterations in unresolved
feelings, missing the person, and feelings of grief, loss, sadness, guilt, and fear
(Hastings et al., 2002).
176 / BEISCHEL, MOSHER AND BOCCUZZI
This extensive body of research demonstrating the positive effects of spon-
taneous and induced ADCs on the bereaved implies a potential for similar effects
after assisted ADCs during readings with psychic mediums.
Amedium is an individual who regularly experiences communication with
the deceased. Conversely, a psychic regularly experiences information about
or from living people, distant locations or events, and/or times in the past (that
they did not originally experience) or in the future. (However, one or several
mediumistic or psychic experiences do not a medium or a psychic make; the
definition requires the “regularly.”) It is often stated that all mediums are
psychics but not all psychics are mediums.
Mental mediumship (also called “clairvoyant” mediumship) “occurs in a con-
scious and focused waking state” (Buhrman, 1997, p. 13) and reflects the type
of reading that will be encountered most often by contemporary clinicians and
other professionals interacting with the bereaved. In mental mediumship, “the
medium acts as an active intermediary between the living and the deceased by
gathering super-sensory information from the spirit, translating and selecting
from this and then presenting their interpretation” (Walliss, 2001, p. 132). In
contrast, trance mediumship involves amnesia on the part of the medium and
occurs in a “sleep-like state” (Sher, 1981, p. 108) in which
the medium is passive and is possessed by the particular spirit for whom
(s)he becomes an “instrument.” In this condition, the spirit manifests through
the medium who adopts, for example, the mannerisms, posture and in some
instances the voice and/or facial characteristics of the deceased. (Walliss,
2001, p. 132)
Finally, physical mediumship can include phenomena such as independent
voices, the levitation or movement of objects, and raps on walls or tables
The process during which a mental or clairvoyant medium experiences and
conveys information from a deceased person is called a reading. During research,
the living people requesting the communication are called sitters and the deceased
communicators are called discarnates. The sitter’s experience of hearing from
deceased loved ones during a mediumship reading is an assisted ADC.
Although mediumship has been examined scientifically by such great minds as
William James and Oliver Lodge since the 1880s (reviewed in Blum, 2006),
the current body of research involving mediumship (reviewed in Rock, 2014)
includes studies of the accuracy of mediums’ statements under controlled
conditions (e.g., Beischel, Biuso, Boccuzzi, & Rock, 2011; Beischel & Schwartz,
ASSISTED ADC AND BEREAVEMENT / 177
2007; Kelly & Arcangel, 2011; Roy & Robertson, 2004) as well as examinations
of their psychology (e.g., Roxburgh & Roe, 2011), physiology (e.g., Beischel,
2013a, Chapter 5), phenomenology (e.g., Beischel & Rock, 2009), and neuro-
biology (e.g., Hageman, Peres, Moreira-Almeida, Caixeta, Wichramasekera, &
Krippner, 2010). This research has demonstrated that certain mediums are able
to report accurate and specific information about the deceased using research
protocols that eliminate fraud, cold reading, and similar “sensory” explanations
for the source of their information (e.g., Beischel, 2007). Though experiences of
non-sensory communication may be a symptom in a variety of ailments, research
has indicated that at least some of the individuals who experience regular com-
munication with the deceased are not suffering from delusions or other psy-
chological issues (reviewed in Beischel, 2014).
The mediums who participate in research at the Windbridge Institute have
been screened, tested, and trained to serve specifically in research studies and
as part of the research team. Though these Windbridge Certified Research
Medium (WCRMs) are unique in this respect and we can only report on our
experiences with them, the WCRMs are potentially representative of the larger
population of secular American mediums in their histories, practices, experi-
ences, and beliefs. Because fraud has been prevalent throughout the practice of
mediumship in Western cultures, we will focus here on modern mediums’ ethics
and reading styles.
Upon certification, each WCRM agrees to standards of conduct that were
assembled with feedback from mediums and based on the code of ethics in use by
many modern mediums. These standards include: being drug- and violence-free,
consuming minimal to no alcohol at least 12 hours prior to a research reading,
demonstrating confidentiality of readings, and not performing readings outside
of those specifically requested (i.e., not offering unsolicited readings).
Most WCRMs report that during the non-research readings from their own
practices, they prefer receiving as little information as possible from sitters.
(During research, WCRMs receive no access to or information about sitters prior
to readings and no feedback from any sensory source during readings.) Because
the mediumship process appears to be more of a “rightbrained” or intuitive
task, outside information including all visual, verbal, and other data from the
sitter can engage deductive reasoning or the “left brain” to make assessments
and judgments; this can disrupt the mediumship process. This is why some
mediums prefer phone readings and why some mediums close their eyes during
178 / BEISCHEL, MOSHER AND BOCCUZZI
Mediums have very little control over who communicates and what infor-
mation is conveyed during readings; their experience is that the right discarnates
find them and not vice versa. Sitters should be aware of this in order to create
accurate expectations prior to readings. Previous quantitative research has
shown that mediums’ volitional control, self-awareness, and memory are all
significantly lower during a reading compared to a control condition (Rock &
Beischel, 2008). Similarly, in an examination of British Spiritualist church
services in which Walter’s (2008) aim was “simply to describe what visiting
a medium means to mourners” (p. 47), he reports, “Though mediums emphasise
that they cannot call up a particular spirit to order, they say that a receptive
medium may well be contacted by the relevant spirit” (p. 48).
In our experience, there are three types of information that are reported most
often during mediumship readings and our research reflects these topics by
specifically requesting this information from mediums during research readings.
The first type of information reported by mediums is that identifying of the
discarnate. This can include descriptions of the person when s/he was living
such as his/her physical appearance (e.g., hair and eye color, height, build, unique
scars or birthmarks, and typical clothing preferences), personality characteristics,
other deceased people or animals with him/her, and favorite activities, foods,
events, places, etc. The purpose of this information seems to be for identifica-
tion of the discarnate so the sitter feels confident that the information is coming
from his/her loved one.
The second type is information about events in the sitter’s life that have
occurred since the death. A medium may convey statements such as “She saw
the photo album you put together,” “He likes the color you painted the kitchen,”
or “He walked you down the aisle.” The purpose of this information seems to
be providing evidence for the sitters that the discarnates continue to observe
and participate in their lives.
The third type of information is messages specifically for the sitters. LaGrand
(2005) found that spontaneous ADCs may give advice, be inspirational or sup-
portive, or let the bereaved know the deceased are still involved in their lives.
The information reported in mediumship readings appears to be similar. This
can include simple messages like “I love you” to messages seemingly intended
to alleviate guilt or sorrow such as “There was nothing you could have done to
prevent my death” or “I didn’t feel any pain.” Messages can also offer advice
(e.g., “It’s time to sell your house”), reprimand (e.g., “Why hasn’t my head-
stone been installed yet?”), or encourage (e.g., “It’s time to start dating again”).
Walliss (2001) describes similar messages provided by mediums during group
readings in British Spiritualist churches:
ASSISTED ADC AND BEREAVEMENT / 179
part of the message could be the spirit telling the congregation member
that they’re “OK” and that they’re settling into their new existence. Linked
to this, (s)he may also want to let them know that, for example, their death
was peaceful, that they were aware of their love and help towards the end
of life (this is often the case with those who were not lucid towards the end)
or that any ailments that they suffered from in life are now absent. In
addition, (s)he may also speak of family and friends who had “passed
over” beforehand with whom they have met up again. Indeed, it is often the
case that mediums can relay a set of messages to an individual from a
number of spirits, a phenomenon that may be likened to, for example,
the image of relatives passing around the telephone receiver on a special
occasion. . . . The other dominant theme in the messages may be expressed
as “I’m still here for (or with) you and. . . .” In other words, the spirit will
affirm their continued interest in, and relationship with, the living and seek
to assist in a number of ways. (p. 134)
Walter (2008) also reports comparable messages conveyed during his own
observations of British Spiritualist services:
In contemporary spiritualism in England, the messages are remarkably
similar. The vast majority say: “S/he’s okay. Don’t shed any tears. You
can get on with life without worrying about him/her. S/he’s with you,
watching you. And s/he sends you love.” The message is that the dead are
watching us, or are for a generation or so, and they want us to move on.
The sitter need not feel guilty that she has taken a new husband; the
deceased knows, and approves. The deceased do not want to be disturbed
by our tears. (p. 48)
Walter (2008) goes on to observe,
Whether or not they resonate with current bereavement theories and thera-
peutic practices, the messages that mediums impart do resonate with a
popular culture that celebrates love, especially parental love, as eternal,
yet expects mourners to get on with their lives. (p. 50)
Sitters can choose to heed or ignore advice or direction from discarnates just
as they would comments from any well-meaning loved one. (The dead are still
just people.) One medium Walliss (2001) interviewed noted, “They can’t tell
you what to do because that’s your choice, that’s your free-will” (p. 136). Walliss
described the relationship between the living and the dead as “in many ways
a continuation of the lived one, with the deceased offering support and advice
which the living can then either act on or not” (p. 142).
The collection of information reported during mediumship readings assists
sitters in recognizing that their relationships with their discarnates still exist
and assures them that their bonds continue.
180 / BEISCHEL, MOSHER AND BOCCUZZI
A major paradigmatic shift occurred within bereavement theory, research,
and practice over the past several decades. Previously, an emphasis was placed
on severing the bonds with the deceased and the view was held that continued
attachments to the deceased were unhealthy and pathological (e.g., Bowlby,
1969-1980; Jackson, 1957; reviewed in Silverman & Klass, 1996). By the
1980s, it was becoming clear that this model “was developed in the face of data
that suggested its inadequacy” and “based on inadequate assumptions about
the nature of self” as well as “in inappropriate social scientific methodology
used to study bereavement” (Silverman & Klass, 1996, p. 22). The pathologies
defined by this “old model of grief were not based on research or clinical
experience, but were based on the cultural values from which that model of
grief emerged” (Silverman & Nickman, 1996, p. 353).
The model that replaced it was one of continuing bonds (reviewed in Klass,
Silverman, & Nickman, 1996) in which “the resolution of grief involves a con-
tinuing bond that the survivor maintains with the deceased” and in which “the
bereaved remain involved and connected to the deceased” (Silverman & Klass,
1996, pp. 3, 16, respectively). This model may include experiences in which
contact with the deceased occurs (e.g., Field, Gao, & Paderna, 2005; Klugman,
2006; Sanger, 2009; Walliss, 2001).
Field, Gao, and Paderna (2005) found that continuing bonds with the deceased
may “represent a transition from a corporeal attachment to a spiritual attachment.
Whereas earlier on after the death there is a keen sense of the deceased as missing,
later on the deceased has been recovered as a spiritual being” (p. 295). Silverman
and Klass (1996) note that,
While the intensity of the relationship with the deceased may diminish with
time, the relationship does not disappear. We are not talking about living
in the past, but rather recognizing how bonds formed in the past can inform
our present and our future. (p. 17)
They suggest “a process of adaptation and change in the postdeath relationship
and the construction and reconstruction of new connections” (p. 18) as well as
encouraging attempts to locate modern “rituals that facilitate continuing bonds
with the dead” (p. 20). Silverman and Nickman (1996) point out that when new
models of grief arise, “our culture develops new rituals of helping to match
the new model” (p. 354) and name several “mutual-help and self-help organi-
have formed in part because their members’ experience was not legitimized
in the larger society. As part of their shared resolutions, they have developed
the folk psychology and “folk remedy” to match their lived experiences.
They find comfort, acceptance, and legitimation of their feelings. (p. 354)
ASSISTED ADC AND BEREAVEMENT / 181
Perhaps readings from psychic mediums currently serve as one of these
“folk remedies.” The formation of Forever Family Foundation (FFF; a secular,
not-for-profit organization; www.foreverfamilyfoundation.org) in the early 2000s
developed from a need in individuals experiencing and finding value in spon-
taneous and assisted ADCs. FFF maintains a list of mediums online that they
or other organizations have tested for accuracy. The mission of FFF includes
establishing the existence of the continuity of the family, even though a
member has left the physical world and providing a forum where individuals
and families who have suffered the loss of a loved one can turn for support,
information, and hope through state-of-the-art information and services provided
by ongoing research into the survival of consciousness (Forever Family Foun-
dation, n.d.). The existence and growth of FFF demonstrates the expanding
interest in and adoption of assisted ADCs as a treatment for the bereaved.
THE INTERSECTION OF GRIEF, CONTINUING BONDS,
ASSISTED ADCs, AND CLINICAL PRACTICE
The effects of mediumship readings on bereavement are not clearly understood.
The relationship between bereavement and involvement in public Spiritualist
group mediumship demonstrations has been analyzed (Walliss, 2001) and
numerous anecdotal reports exist regarding the positive and profound effects
a reading with a psychic medium can have on the bereaved. For example, one
participant in our initial mediumship research reported, “After the devastating
loss of two sons, mediumship has proven to me that we survive the death of
our bodies, and has made my life not only bearable but worthwhile again.”
However, to date and to the best of our knowledge, no systematic, empirical
studies have been published investigating the effects of a personal reading from
modern-day, secular medium.
The profound effects a reading with a mental medium may have on the bereaved
warrants a serious look at this phenomenon, particularly within the continuing
bonds paradigm. A reading may be more accessible to individuals who may
experience fear associated with the idea of a personal after-death contact that
occurs unexpectedly (e.g., with spontaneous ADCs) or through induction (e.g.,
with the EMDR or Psychomanteum methods). The concept of the deceased being
once-removed from the individual and the medium serving as the go-between
for the deceased’s messages may be more palatable to some. In addition, it
has been demonstrated that both “extremely positive” and “extremely negative”
experiences during spontaneous ADCs are “related to poor adaptation and lack
of coping with bereavement”; both were associated with “high levels of anxiety
and lack of trust in future coping capacities” (Lindstrõm, 1995, p. 19). Thus,
a more controlled environment during which contact can be experienced may
have more positive effects on the bereaved.
182 / BEISCHEL, MOSHER AND BOCCUZZI
Alternatively, a reading may be preferred in cases in which an individual longs
for contact but has not experienced it. In his interviews with social workers,
Sanger (2009) found that this scenario occurred with “several clients” (p. 78).
For example, an individual hoping to experience an ADC to aid in their process
of healing from grief may seek out a medium. Walter (2008), in his discussion
of the motives of those wanting ADCs, found that
There may have been guilt. A middle aged woman had felt guilty about
her fraught relationship with her mother, which, after her mother’s death,
led to her contacting the spiritualists. She was comforted to be told by a
medium that her mother was all right. This one session was speedier than
the multiple visits a counsellor would probably have needed to deal with
her guilt. And it seems to have been more effective than praying to God for
forgiveness: God might forgive the daughter, but her mother’s soul might
continue to suffer the consequences of their poor pre-mortem relationship.
It was not her own guilt but her mother she was worried about. (p. 48)
Because mediums focus on the discarnate rather than the sitter (Walter,
may have something to offer mourners denied them by those bereavement
counsellors who focus on the client’s feelings. Mourners typically think
about the dead as much as about their own feelings, and it is this that
mediums recognise and cater for. (Walter, 2008, p. 50)
Additionally, a medium may also serve as a like-minded participant without
disparaging, disbelieving, or ridiculing the experiences or worldviews of the
bereaved—a risk that exists when speaking about or sharing ADC experiences
with others. Walter (2008) observed, “Consulting a medium certainly can
cause difficulties within families, but so can religious experience or zeal of any
kind (including zeal for counselling) when not shared by other family members”
Mediumship readings also involve potential disadvantages that should be
acknowledged. In situations which induce communication with the deceased
(including Botkin’s EMDR method and the use of a Psychomanteum), a trained
facilitator participates in the process or is actually present during the experience;
this is not necessarily the case for a mediumship reading. As stated above,
research has demonstrated that mediums’ experiences of communication may
include alterations in some aspects of their phenomenology including volitional
control, selfawareness, and memory (Rock & Beischel, 2008). Thus, mediums
may not be in a psychological position to facilitate the reading experience for
the bereaved sitter; their role, instead, is simply to convey what they experience
regarding the discarnate to the sitter. This issue, as well as Lindstrõm’s (1995)
finding described above that more extreme ADC experiences were related to
poor adaptation and coping (p. 19), suggest that follow-up visits with a qualified
facilitator may be necessary for some sitters.
ASSISTED ADC AND BEREAVEMENT / 183
In the pilot study described below, survey responses from a group of
mourners who received readings from mediums and a subset who also worked
with mental health professionals indicate a therapeutic effect worthy of further
In order to assess the potential therapeutic benefit of assisted ADCs in the
treatment of grief, data were collected via an anonymous, online survey to
investigate individuals’ recollections of their experiences of grief in relation
to receiving a mediumship reading. We also asked about the perceived effect
work with a mental health professional (MHP) had on the subset of participants
who had engaged in both. Overall, the data demonstrated the need for future
studies using randomization schemes, control groups, a standard grief instrument,
and appropriate statistical tests to analyze the therapeutic effects of a personal
mediumship reading from a credentialed, secular mental medium [i.e., a medium
whose abilities have been tested by an independent third party that does not
stand to gain (e.g., financially) from the certification; this includes organi-
zations like the Windbridge Institute (Beischel, 2007; www.windbridge.org/
mediums.htm) and Forever Family Foundation (www.foreverfamilyfoundation.
org/site/certified_mediums)]. The basic methods used and data collected in this
exploratory study are described in more detail below. Data are reported as
mean ± standard error of the mean.
An anonymous, online, automated survey (www.formsite.com) was used
to collect participant responses. No identifying information was requested and
standard participants’ disclosure information was provided. Each participant
provided information including his/her gender and age, the discarnate’s gender
and age at passing, and the approximate dates of the discarnate’s passing and the
reading with the medium.
Regarding their mediumship readings, participants were asked: “Please rate
the level of grief you felt BEFORE receiving a reading (or readings) from the
medium.” The possible Likert-type responses participants chose from were:
I felt no grief.
I felt some grief but a very low level of grief.
I felt a somewhat low, manageable level of grief.
I felt a somewhat high level of grief.
I felt a very high, almost unbearable level of grief.
184 / BEISCHEL, MOSHER AND BOCCUZZI
The participants were then asked to rate the level of grief they felt after the
reading (or readings) from the medium using the same response choices listed
above. For analysis, the responses regarding levels of grief were assigned
numerical values from zero to four, respectively.
Participants also responded to the following question: “Did you work
with a mental health professional (that is, a therapist, counselor, psychologist,
psychiatrist, social worker, etc.) during your grief? (This could include either
talking with your regular mental health professional about your grief or going
to see someone specifically about your grief.)” Those who answered “yes”
were redirected to questions about work with the MHP. Similar to the medium-
ship reading questions, these asked about the participants’ levels of grief before
and after the work with the MHP using the same scale. Participants were also
asked if they had ever talked to the MHP about their reading with a medium
and the MHP’s response.
Finally, participants were asked the following open-ended question: “Do you
have any other comments about your grief that you would like to share with
Recruitment of Participants
An e-mail briefly describing the purpose of the study (i.e., “collecting infor-
mation about the way people who have received a reading from a medium
cope with grief after the death of a loved one”) and including a link to the online
survey was sent to WCRMs and mediums certified by the Forever Family Foun-
dation. The mediums were asked to forward a message requesting participation
to their e-mail lists, include the request in an upcoming newsletter, etc. The
instructions to the mediums also included the following:
Please do NOT hand-pick the people that you invite to fill out the grief
survey. We want a true representative sample of the population, so we
don’t want to exclude people who had a bad experience with their reading
just as we don’t want to exclude people who had a good or healing experience.
We want an accurate representation of all of the different fractions of people.
A total of 83 participants completed the survey in full. Over 90% of the
participants were female and their mean age was 52 ± 1.5 years (range: 30 to
The participants were also asked about the discarnates they were grieving.
The discarnates were 65% male and their mean age at passing was 56 ± 3.2 years
(range: 17 weeks to 99 years). The mean time between the discarnate’s death
and the participant receiving a mediumship reading was 36 ± 8.6 months (range:
2 days to 34 years). A subset (35%, n= 29) of participants also worked with a
MHP as part of their approach to dealing with their grief.
ASSISTED ADC AND BEREAVEMENT / 185
Recollected Changes in Levels of Grief
Because of the methodological limitations of the survey data collected
(described below), it was not appropriate to analyze the survey responses using
statistical tests, but the trends are described and graphically represented here
in order to demonstrate the general reported changes.
Using the scale of 0 = “I felt no grief” to 4 = “I felt a very high, almost
unbearable level of grief,” participants reported a mean level of grief of
3.13 ± 0.10 before a reading and 1.96 ± 0.11 after a reading (n= 83, D= 1.17;
see Figure 1). This finding is congruent with previous research into the effects of
ADCs on grief considering, as discussed above, that the messages received
during assisted ADCs during mediumship readings are similar to those received
during spontaneous ADCs.
The mean reported level of grief before work with a MHP was 3.69 ± 0.10
and 2.93 ± 0.15 after the work (n= 29, D= 0.76). In response to the question
about informing the MHP about the reading, 17 of the 29 participants (59%) told
their MHP about their reading. This fraction may be lower than the portion of
186 / BEISCHEL, MOSHER AND BOCCUZZI
Figure 1. Participants’ retrospectively reported levels of grief
(mean ± SEM) before and after a mediumship reading
(Reading, n= 83) and work with a mental health professional
(MHP, n= 29). (See text for full rating definitions.)
individuals who talk about spontaneous ADCs with their MHPs. For example,
Sanger (2009) noted that 17 of the 19 (89%) social workers he interviewed
“reported clients who brought IEs into the client/social worker relationship”
(p. 76). In 58% of the subset of participants in our study who told their MHP
about their reading (n= 11), the MHP used the information the participant
received during the reading to steer the progress of the work. The following items
about the MHP’s response to hearing about the reading were chosen by one
participant (5%) each:
The MHP ignored the mediumship reading as important in your work.
The MHP suggested that you do NOT receive further mediumship readings.
The MHP suggested that you receive further mediumship readings.
None of the participants chose the following response: The MHP had suggestions
on how to best choose a medium.
Representative Participant Comments
Perhaps most indicative of the potential therapeutic benefit of assisted ADCs in
the treatment of grief were the participants’ responses to the final open-ended
survey question: “Do you have any other comments about your grief that you
would like to share with the investigators?”
The following representative comments were provided regarding the short-
and long-term effects of a mediumship reading on the experience of grief:
After the reading I felt tremendously upbeat. This euphoria lasted the whole
day. It was very amazing.
Before my reading with [the medium], I still had a low level of grief . . . that
I accepted as the loss that will always be there. After the reading, I felt
as though that “weight” was lifted and I had a different definition of my
relationship with my mom that was more special than I could ever expect.
When I am approached by my loved one that has passed, I am much more
accepting of her presence and look forward to the joy instead of the pain. . . .
I wish I had had the reading 16 years ago!
[The medium] and her gift of mediumship has had a profound effect on
my life and my grieving process. ...Ithashelped me in a way I never would
It is very healing for me to use mediums for help in this process.
I believe going to a good medium is an untapped resource for faster grief
[The medium] helped me manage the grief that has been with me for more
than 20 years.
ASSISTED ADC AND BEREAVEMENT / 187
I feel a reading with a medium is an excellent tool for helping to decrease
grief....Iwould recommend it to anyone that is considering it.
I don’t know what I would have done without [the medium].
In addition, several participants spontaneously provided negative feedback
regarding their experiences with a MHP:
For me, the various grief support groups were not the answer.
I only went to a grief counselor for four sessions. I did not continue because I
didn’t feel that she was helping me either way.
When my first MHP negated the reading I had with a medium, I switched
to someone who understood and supported “my new reality” and therefore
received much more constructive help with my grief.
We feel the last comment above is very important in demonstrating the poten-
tial of clients to seek out and employ counselors accepting of and knowledgeable
regarding mediumship readings and supports the need for new training modalities
for counselors (described below).
Several participants also specifically commented on the importance of the
combination of the two interventions—mediumship readings and work with a
MHP—on their recovery:
I believe the combination of assistance from a MHP and a medium to be
of significant value in processing grief and corroborating one’s belief in
life on the “other side.”
I can’t begin to express how helpful my readings have been in my healing
journey. I know that I personally needed to go through counseling as well.
However, the level of healing was accelerated by getting readings.
The medium reached my heart, the social worker my mind.
Finally, participants also commented on the relief they felt knowing that this
topic was being researched and validated. For example:
I get great comfort from visiting afterlife websites and knowing that people
who are much more intelligent than me actually believe in an afterlife.
I have tried so hard to let friends understand how helpful the medium was to
me but they think I am wrong, that I shouldn’t see a medium.
. . . consciousness research is important for me in using mediumship readings
as a tool in grief recovery.
The idea of data from parapsychological research serving as a tool that may
be used to validate the experiences of the bereaved and “help [them] live after the
death of a loved one and restructure their lives” is one that has been previously
asserted (Berger, 1995, p. 1).
188 / BEISCHEL, MOSHER AND BOCCUZZI
It is important to keep in mind that these data were collected for the purpose
of determining if this line of inquiry warrants further study and they should
not be viewed as demonstrative of an effect. The participants were self-selected
to include individuals who already held a belief that a mediumship reading
could be helpful and were, therefore, predisposed to finding the experience
beneficial. The participants’ reports of their experiences of grief were retro-
spective. This methodology cannot control for inaccurate and/or incomplete
self-reports due to false memory impressions and memory loss. Additionally,
the number of participants who received a mediumship reading and the subset
who also worked with a MHP were relatively small (n= 83 and n= 29, respec-
tively). Finally, a general questionnaire was used rather than a standard, estab-
lished measure of grief. However, it seems probable that these positive findings,
even considering these limitations and the exploratory nature of the study, could
be extrapolated to at least a portion of the population actively receiving medium-
ship readings as a “folk remedy” for their grief; this warrants further study.
Although grief is experienced across cultures and is ubiquitous to the human
experience, unresolved, complicated, prolonged, or traumatic grief can have detri-
mental effects on mental and/or physical health and wellness. Traditional grief
counseling approaches, with a focus on the client’s acceptance of separation and
integration of loss, may be ineffective. Conversely, therapeutic approaches that
incorporate a continuing bonds perspective exhibit positive results for the bereaved.
Methods of healing from grief outside of a therapeutic scenario include ADCs,
whereby the bereaved experience communication with the deceased. Both spon-
taneous and induced ADCs have been repeatedly demonstrated to diminish or
even entirely alleviate grief. Other bereaved individuals seek out assisted ADCs
through readings with psychic mediums, and anecdotal reports posit the positive
effects of this practice.
No systematic studies have been published investigating the effects of a
personal mediumship reading from a credentialed, secular medium on grief.
The pilot study described here demonstrated recollections of noteworthy relief
from grief after mediumship readings. The trends from these exploratory data
warrant further study into the benefits of assisted ADCs within the field of
With objective research on this topic, investigators and counselors may be
able—at the very least—to offer suggestions to the large population of individuals
ASSISTED ADC AND BEREAVEMENT / 189
choosing to receive mediumship readings and—ideally—to become part of the
decision-making process and follow-up. We suggest a scenario in which cre-
dentialed mediums work together with licensed MHPs in addressing the acute
grief experiences of the bereaved who may benefit from readings. This cross-
collaboration will require research assessing who may benefit most from
mediumship readings—and for whom it might be detrimental—regarding factors
including, for example, gender and age of the sitter, gender and age of the
discarnate, time since the death, type of death, psychological and personality
characteristics of the sitter, level of adaptation to bereavement, etc. In his field-
work with British Spiritualist services, Walliss (2001) found that
it is not so much bereavement per se but rather specific forms of bereave-
ment that may lead to individuals consulting mediums for evidence of
survival or in order to say goodbye. Typically this was the case where
the deceased was young and/or where the death was sudden or tragic, for
example through an accident, murder or suicide. (p. 141)
As a first step in discerning who might and might not benefit from readings,
we have designed a randomized clinical trial [called the Bereavement And
Mediumship (or BAM) Study] utilizing a standard randomization scheme, waiting
list control group, group assignment method, quantitative grief instrument, and
statistical analysis to examine the impact of a reading on the sitter’s recovery
from grief over the loss of a loved one (Windbridge Institute, 2013). Only with
controlled research such as the BAM Study can the grief community effec-
tively determine if receiving mediumship readings is helpful, harmful, or neither
for different fractions of the bereaved.
With the results from this, similar, and subsequent research, an effective
collaboration can develop between clinicians and mediums that will best serve
the bereaved population. The role of the mediums will be to assist sitters who
may benefit in beginning work with MHPs. Likewise, the role of the MHP will
be to suggest readings to select individuals and to assist them in integrating
the information provided by mediums into their lives. Though many individual
MHPs may be including mediumship readings in the suggestions they offer to
their clients (as we have heard anecdotally), an organized dialogue and list of
agreed-upon standard practices is only in its infancy (see, for example, the work
of the American Center for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experi-
ences, ACISTE, www.aciste.org). Furthermore, this collaboration should include
an open dialogue between researchers and those directly interacting with the
bereaved: the MHPs and mediums. The experiences of those groups regarding
the effects of readings on the bereaved are invaluable.
This collaboration between MHPs and mediums will require training for both
halves. The training of MHPs may include information about the basics of
mediumship processes, including the topics of ethics and reading styles dis-
cussed above as well as general error rates and where to find reputable, certified, or
190 / BEISCHEL, MOSHER AND BOCCUZZI
credentialed mediums and how to best prepare for a reading (e.g., Beischel,
2013b). Mediums should be provided with information gained from research
regarding which sitters may require further work with a MHP after a reading. In
addition, a list of licensed MHPs trained regarding mediumship processes should
be distributed to credentialed mediums for the purpose of sharing with their
clients. This is particularly important considering that a large portion of mediums
provide phone readings to sitters who may be in other states or countries which
may make establishing local relationships with MHPs somewhat ineffective.
We believe this scenario is a necessary and practical solution to the increasing
use of mediumship readings by the general public and the limited demonstrable
efficacy of traditional grief therapy. We are currently working on bringing it
to fruition through controlled research and training material development.
The authors wish to acknowledge Angelina Loetschert for the term “assisted
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