AMERICAN CENTER FOR THE INTEGRATION OF SPIRITUALLY TRANSFORMATIVE EXPERIENCES

Introducing ACISTE’s Newsletter and Our Board of Directors

The birth of a newsletter provides a perfect opportunity to take our readers on a ride down memory lane, exploring how, why, and when ACISTE began. Over the next few issues, we will connect you with ACISTE’s past and also to ACISTE’s visions and future through the eyes of our board members.

Each member of the board was asked to provide their perspective and their reasoning for dedicating their time and talents to promoting and growing ACISTE. We hope that you as members of ACISTE will be inspired by what you read to participate in growing ACISTE along with us.

The current board members who dedicate their time, passion, and efforts into the operations and sustainability of ACISTE include: Yolaine Stout, Ryan Rominger, Suzanne Gordon, Marie Grace Brook, Gary Seeman, Elizabeth Sabet and Sandy Briggs. The founding members who served as pioneers in ACISTE’s conception were Linda Jacquin, Michael Krumper, Dennis Purcell, Melissa Wolf, and Beverly Broadsky. Rosie Kuhn recently served as a member of the Board and its president, helping ACISTE navigate its transition to broader community support.

Yolaine Stout was the first president of the ACISTE board of advisors, as well as our executive director. She was a primary moving force behind ACISTE’s inception, and continues as a board member, holding firm to our original vision: to bring assistance to people who need help with the integration of spiritually transformative experiences (STEs).

Under Yolaine’s leadership, the newly formed board of advisors decided that the primary focus needed to be on training mental health professionals. This offered a paradigm shift in how experiencers were served. ACISTE’s greatest commitment was for experiencers to have access to psychiatrists, psychologists and licensed therapists who were trained to see experiencers as human beings having a spiritual experience — not as people suffering from pathology.

Once certification and training for mental health clinicians was in place, ACISTE would create training and certification programs for spiritual guides, ministers, pastoral counselors, and others who focus their attention on the spiritual aspects of life. This past year, ACISTE added a Life and Spiritual Coach certification to round out the training program. Soon, you will see programs for training mentors and for peer support.

We are so grateful for Yolaine’s commitment, leadership and support. She continues to help ACISTE transition into being managed and supported by its growing community of participants, including board members, participants in the support directory, volunteers and general members.

Ryan Rominger, another long-time board member, has a Ph.D. in transpersonal psychology. He is also ACISTE’s director of research. Ryan’s commitment is to alleviate experiencers’ distress by integrating their STEs more fully into their lives. As a researcher, Ryan found alignment between ACISTE and his professional goals as an academic researcher and spiritual director. The mission statement of ACISTE was compelling enough that Ryan has dedicated his time and talents to: helping (a) expand awareness of religious and spiritual issues with regard to cultural competency, (b) train those in the helping profession to better help clients, and (c) create a list of individuals who are trained and certified to work with this special population. In addition, Ryan shared that, from the beginning, he found that he truly enjoyed this amazing community of experiencers far more than he ever anticipated.

Ryan has presented at all ACISTE conferences, sharing the results of research about the benefits of integrating STEs. With Dr. Jan Holden, he presented “STE Integration 101,” which will remain a cornerstone for future certification development.

A board member since 2011, Ryan helped write the policies and procedures for the spiritual guidance training. Presently he is the main instructor for certifying spiritual guidance counselors and conducts monthly peer-supervision meetings online. In addition, he works alongside Jan Holden, present editor of the International Journal of Near-Death Studies, to publish ACISTE annual conference proceedings. He is the person responsible for creating the audio CDs of the past conference presentations, which are now for sale at our website through the following link. Click here to visit the online store.

Suzanne Gordon, Ph.D., is another co-founder of ACISTE. Suzanne said that she was inspired to join this small group to create ACISTE, because: “Based on my dissertation research findings on near death experience (NDE) integration, I realized that the research model and agenda in near-death studies did not meet the standard for use in health education, death-and-dying, counseling research and clinical practice.” Suzanne was clear from the start that she was passionately dedicated to the vision of ACISTE. Currently, Suzanne supports ACISTE and the board through her role as secretary.

Marie Grace Brook, Ph.D.(c), LCSW, found ACISTE to be a perfect fit. “It was hand in glove to me.” She said, “at the first ACISTE Conference in San Mateo in 2012, I found a large community of experiencers who had chosen to go into helping professions as a way to help others through similar challenges. It was a way to give the kind of support we wished we had for ourselves.”

On the board of directors, Marie has worked to increase volunteer involvement. She is helping oversee the general ACISTE certification process and has facilitated the certification class for master’s level mental health professionals. Marie’s present interest is cross-cultural research of the integration of STEs. She created a nationwide survey for her doctoral dissertation, which she presented at the Dallas conference in 2014. This summer Marie will be co-presenting an introduction to ACISTE in conjunction with Ted Esser, who will be representing Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN) at the European Transpersonal Association conference in Italy, as well as in Brazil and Bali. She continues to work towards collaboration between ACISTE, SEN and other organizations.

Gary Seeman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and experiencer who joined ACISTE in 2012. At the San Mateo conference he attended certification training and became an ACISTE Mental Health Professional (ACMHP) in early 2013. In 2014 he was invited to join the board, where he has helped facilitate the certification process for doctoral level mental health professionals. He also hosts virtual peer-supervision trainings. With a prior career in business communications Gary contributes writing skills and has helped update the website along with Scott McCulloch, Ph.D., M.B.A., who volunteered to provide web support during the transition. Gary has also helped guide ACISTE’s administrative transition.

Elizabeth Sabet, PCC, ACSLC, recently joined the board. She works as a certified professional transformational/spiritual coach in private practice, is the founder and CEO of The Institute of Transformational and Transpersonal Coaching, and the co-founder and current executive director of HOPE. HOPE is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating community dialogue for STE experiencers and for anyone who is ready to explore life beyond the boundaries of their enculturated life experiences. Toward this end HOPE fosters the inclusion of holistic practices and principles, and provides community activities, support, and education. HOPE has trained over 140 mental health professionals on a local level in Lubbock, Texas. Elizabeth’s STEs began in childhood. Her background is in administrative law dispute resolution, training, and the management of early childhood programs. In her service to the board she has drawn on her network of friends and colleagues in the experiencer community to recruit and train volunteers to help with administrative duties, including facilitating our upcoming conference.

Sandy Briggs has been one of ACISTE’s mainstays since 2011, when she became the administrator of the ACISTE Experiencer Forum and NDE-Space. She also helps to run ACISTE’s conferences. As a board member and forum administrator she helps guide experiencers to needed levels of support. She is co-leader of the TRIAD IANDS (International Association for Near-Death Studies) Support Group of Winston-Salem and a member of IANDS, IANDS of Raleigh, and the Research Triangle IANDS Groups. She is also a member and volunteer on NHNE (NewHeavenNewEarth). Sandy is an author of two published books about her NDE and other STEs and continues to write. She has worked for the school system as a payroll clerk, SIMS manager and substitute teacher.

Sandra D. Farahani acts as the Treasurer for ACISTE. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern and a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor who works with trauma victims at a mental health hospital. In addition to her work with trauma survivors, Sandra is training her horses for equine therapy. Her goal is to eventually include her horses in therapy sessions that focus on spiritual/life transformations, especially with troubled youth.

These individuals of diverse interests and backgrounds make up our current board of directors. They are instrumental in carrying ACISTE into the expansive vision of our future.

ACISTE’s History and Future Vision

In this issue of the ACISTE newsletter, board members share some of their personal memories of its past and their vision of its potential future.

Ryan Rominger remembers a meeting of professionals many years ago that was sponsored by IANDS. They recognized a growing need for support of people who had had near death experiences and other STEs. This small but dedicated community of professionals founded ACISTE.

Ryan shares that: “ACISTE made a connection with Christina Grof at an event at Sofia University, in Palo Alto, CA. Christina expressed appreciation for the creation of an organization that was solely dedicated to the training and certification process for professionals who support STEs.”

Another proud moment for ACISTE occurred when notification was received that “Dr. Jan Holden’s audio from the conference had been selected by a national continuing education organization to be included in their training material.” These are small but important steps in the building of ACISTE and its mission.

Ryan proposed that the direction for ACISTE include the continued expansion of a board of directors and volunteers who are dedicated and passionate about the work of ACISTE. From the beginning, Ryan’s emphasis has been on creating an organization that is financially independent and stable while it continues to dedicate itself to improving training and certification of helping professionals. ACISTE continues to look for ways to provide ongoing training, expand our online community and local communities of professionals and experiencers.

He explains, “there are two parts to helping communities. First, by helping an individual integrate her or his experience and embrace the learning and growth that comes from this integration process. That individual is then able to share new skills and a new orientation toward life with her or his community. Second, ACISTE helps the STE community by helping those individuals who feel marginalized, or who have experiences that their family, friends and community might find difficult to accept. Thus, by helping professionals help those individuals, we in turn help the community.”

Suzanne Gordon, another founding member, mentioned accomplishments of ACISTE that have thus far included three annual conferences and the presentations and workshops that comprised them. “The ACISTE certification process has produced a growing group of certificants in the fields of Mental Health, Spiritual Guidance and Life and Spiritual Coaching.” Suzanne reported. “The publications of our conference papers in special editions of the Journal of Near-Death Studies are part of ACISTE’s benchmark history.”

Suzanne shared that she would like to see the number of certificants continue to grow. She would like to see a journal published as well. She believes that “de-pathologizing the experiences of millions who have had NDEs and other STEs will allow these individuals to be heard and to have influence in a way that is not currently possible.” Suzanne adds, “I see their collective influence as potentially having enormous global health and wellness value.”

Board member Marie Grace Brook pointed out that the articles from the 2013 conference will be published in the International Journal of Near-Death-Studies, and more articles are “soon to be published after the 2014 conference in Dallas.” Marie sees the future of ACISTE concentrating on the “continued growth in training, certifications, and conferences, utilizing internet capabilities to broaden our reach, and connecting with other spiritual emergence networks around the world. We are creating personal group retreats for experiencers, a stronger volunteer network to carry the business of ACISTE, and hope to start a peer-reviewed journal for STE studies.”

As ACISTE moves into the future, Marie speculates that “if people who experience STEs can integrate them into their lives, it empowers them to help the whole society realize with clarity and focus of spiritual direction for our greater community. This is a gift and necessity of spiritual maturity and leadership that we need in the world.”

Gary Seeman, Ph.D., envisions the future of ACISTE “as more of a shared community enterprise.” He wants to promote “connecting with each other, worldwide, for understanding and support,” and says that central to this process is “offering referrals to clergy, clinicians, life coaches and peers” He is enthusiastic about the growing collaboration among communities of experiencers worldwide, people for whom the emerging spiritual paradigm is an everyday and objective reality.

Elizabeth Sabet envisions ACISTE being instrumental in encouraging and supporting further research in the lesser studied areas of STEs. “As our forum members demonstrate,” she says, “there are many more experiences than are usually documented in discussion of STEs. To facilitate cultural competency and appropriate treatment, Spiritual Emergence and Emergency must be included as a coursework requirement in all collegiate mental health education programs, nationwide.”

In her roles of forum administrator and board member, Sandy Briggs wants to provide others what ACISTE has given her. She says that “the ACISTE Experiencer Forum was a godsend to me because it provided a safe haven to openly and honestly share my STEs without getting verbally attacked. I know how important it is to have a safe community to share, where we can be free to speak candidly about our experiences without fear of rejection or invalidation. This is why I became involved with the vision of ACISTE, and I do everything I can to keep the forum safe for all of us.”

Sandra D. Farahani, LPC-Intern, LCDC, imagines the integrity of ACISTE’s vision carrying forward into its global collaboration with organizations and research-based projects that explore and validate STEs. She says that “being part of an organization that promotes worldwide communication for experiencers and researchers of STEs is exciting.” She sees ACISTE helping to normalize STE experiences worldwide, overcoming the tendency of many to turn away from them.

An integral part of ACISTE’s past and future consists of the people who contribute their time, vision, energy, and passion to ensure that ACISTE will continue to thrive. We invite you to join us in bringing about the fulfillment of our collective vision.

For more information on becoming a volunteer, please click here!

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