Qualitative thematic analysis of the phenomenology of near-death experiences

Authors: Helena Cassol; Benoıt Petre; Sophie Degrange; Charlotte Martial; Vanessa Charland-Verville; Francois Lallier; Isabelle Bragard; Michèle Guillaume; Steven Laureys. —

Near-death experiences (NDEs) refer to profound psychological events that can have an important impact on the experiencers’ (NDErs) lives. Previous studies have shown that NDEs memories are phenomenologically rich. In the present study, we therefore aimed to extract the common themes (referred to as “features” in the NDE literature) reported by NDErs by analyzing all the concepts stored in the narratives of their experiences. A qualitative thematic analysis has been carried out on 34 cardiac arrest survivors’ NDE narratives. Our results shed the light on the structure of the narratives by identifying 10 “time-bounded” themes which refer to isolated events encountered during the NDE and 1 “transversal” theme which characterizes the whole narrative and generally appears as a retrospective comment of self-reflection on the experience. The division of narratives into themes provides us with detailed information about the vocabulary used by NDErs to describe their experience. This established thematic method enables a rigorous description of the phenomenon, ensuring the inclusion of all self-reported manifestations of themes in narratives.

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