Why do people need an organization like ACISTE? Why should I support ACISTE or why should I get involved? What needs do experiencers have? What benefits can experiencers derive from ACISTE?
According to a 2004 survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, 35.7% of the adult US population has had at least one religious or spiritual experience “that changed their life.” The American Center for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences (ACISTE) works to research, educate and support people through those changes.
Near-death and spiritual transformation research has dealt mainly with the experience itself, its theoretical causes and the positive aftereffects. However, there is sufficient evidence demonstrating that these experiences can be catalysts for profound physical, emotional and spiritual challenges that can disrupt a person’s life for years thereafter.
Deep experiences can affect most, if not all, aspects of an experiencer’s life. Alienation, depression, and even suicide have been reported. Careers, religious beliefs, families and relationships are deeply affected. Divorce rates are higher. Positive changes such as finding love and purpose for life may come only after years of integrating the experience’s meaning and values.
Mainstream healthcare, academic or pastoral professionals have generally dismissed such experiences as dreams or considered them as hallucinations, despite research to the contrary. In so doing, they invalidate the profound impact the experience has on the experiencer along with the many needs, challenges, aftereffects and changes that follow. The consequences of such invalidation can be detrimental, leaving large numbers of experiencers to integrate their experiences in isolation.
Not all experiences are filled with love and light. Some can be extremely frightening or deeply disturbing. The needs of these experiencers are poorly understood. Research on the needs of experiencers from diverse cultural backgrounds is virtually non-existent. Preliminary studies of child experiencers indicate that the needs of some children present additional concerns regarding development and socialization. Behavioral symptoms may present as ADHD or other mental health issues. Families, teachers and caregivers may not recognize the source of those concerns, leading to inaccurate assessments of the needs of the child experiencer or potentially harmful interventions.
As has been done with other significant life-cycle or life-altering experiences, more research is needed on the needs and interventions for experiencers as well as on the greater social impact, lifegenic value and health consequences of spiritually transformative experiences.
Through effective education and support, experiencers can more easily adjust to the changes, face the challenges and improve their well-being as they integrate this profound experience into their lives.