Accounting for the Unaccountable

Making Sense of Extra-Ordinary Experiences in Hospitals


  • Chris Swift Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Stephen Sayers Leeds Metropolitan University



Chaplaincy, extra-ordinary experience, narrative, nursing, spirituality


Chaplains are familiar with patient narratives which recount “extra-ordinary” experiences. These may include a vision or awareness of a deceased person. It may take other forms of description which do not fit into day-to-day discourse. There is also a significant multi-faith and multi-cultural diversity to the nature and expression of such events. This paper outlines a narrative structure which could be used authentically by health care staff to enable and value the patient’s experience of extra-ordinary episodes. This is seen as a significant way to support a patient’s dignity and enable them to integrate experiences in an effective way.

Author Biographies

Chris Swift, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Chris Swift is Head of Chaplaincy Services at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust; Visiting Lecturer at Leeds Becket University and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Leeds.

Stephen Sayers, Leeds Metropolitan University

Stephen Sayers is Former Associate Dean, Faculty of Arts & Society, Leeds Metropolitan University and Reader in Social Psychology.


Barrett, W. (1926) Death-Bed Visions: The Psychical Experiences of the Dying. London: Methuen.

Bennett, G. (1999) Alas, Poor Ghost! Logan, UT: Utah University Press.

Chapple, A., et al. (2011) “The Role of Spirituality and Religion for Those Bereaved Due to a Traumatic Death”. Mortality 16(1): 1–19.

Curtis, L. (2012) Deathbed Visions: Social Workers’ Experiences, Perspectives, Therapeutic Responses, and Direction for Practice. Social Work Master’s Clinical Research Papers. Paper 22.

Fenwick, P., and E. Fenwick (2013) The Art of Dying. London: Bloomsbury.

Gurney, E., F. W. H. Myers and F. Podmore (1886) Phantasms of the Living. Vols. 1 & 2. London: Trubner.

MacIntyre, A. (1971) Against the Self-Images of the Age. London: Duckworth.

McCrae, N., and S. Elliott (2013) “Spiritual Experiences in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy: a Literature Review”. British Journal of Neuroscience Nursing 8(6): 346–51.

Mweri, J. G. (2010) “Interpretation: Signs and Meaning, Diversity in Language Use, Equivalences and Cultural Untranslatability”. Journal of Language, Technology and Entrepreneurship in Africa 2(1): 21–35.

Notworthy-Keane, E. (2009) Amazing Encounters: Direct Communication from the Afterlife. Kew East, Australia: David Lovell.

Ossis, K., and E. Haraldsson (1977) At the Hour of Death. New York: Avon Books.

Swift, C. (2014) Hospital Chaplaincy in the Twenty-first Century: The Crisis of Spiritual Care on the NHS. 2nd Ed. Farnham: Ashgate.

Tyrrell, G. N. M. (1953) Apparitions. London: Gerald Duckworth.

Willin, M. (2011) “Music and Death: An Exploration of the Place Music Has At The Time Of Human Death, With Special Emphasis On The Near-Death Experience”. Paranormal Review 58 (April): 3–9.

Whorf, B. L. (1956) Language, Thought, and Reality. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.




How to Cite

Swift, C., & Sayers, S. (2014). Accounting for the Unaccountable: Making Sense of Extra-Ordinary Experiences in Hospitals. Health and Social Care Chaplaincy, 2(1), 99–107.

Most read articles by the same author(s)

1 2 > >>