WCU professor emeritus studies impact of paranormal experiences on elderly

CULLOWHEE — William L. Chovan, Western Carolina University professor emeritus of psychology, has received a grant from the Southern Regional Education Board to continue his research into the impact of paranormal experience on the lives of the elderly.

In particular, Chovan’s research is examining the nature of emotional responses that occur during the bereavement period — “that extraordinary experience in which the elderly communicate’ with the deceased,” he said.

“During my work with the bereaved elderly, I became especially interested in those who recounted a very private experience, similar to a dream state, with their deceased loved ones,” Chovan said. “Virtually without fail, that experience turned out to be a positive experience for the elderly bereaved, and one that I considered a creative emotional response to grief or an early manifestation of the elderly’s struggle with loss, and perhaps to that extent, their initial attempts of coming to terms with grief.”

Chovan stresses that the purpose of his research “is not to validate this very private experience the elderly have had, but to discern its impact or the outcome of that experience on the recovery process.

“One should be mindful, as well, that this experience must not be mistaken as an abnormal reaction or abnormal behavior,” he said.

As part of his research, Chovan has traveled several times to The Archives of the History of American Psychology at the University of Akron in Ohio to examine the papers of Gardner Murphy, a leader in the field of parapsychology in this country. Murphy considered paranormal events worthy of investigation as a time when mainline psychologists shied away from such phenomena, Chovan said.

Chovan plans to infuse his research findings in a paper titled “In Quest of Hope: Observations from the Coping Responses of the Elderly and the Bereaved.” He will deliver that paper at the 22nd annual conference of the Association for Death Education and Counseling next April. Also, Chovan expects his findings will add depth in the “Death, Dying and Bereavement” and “Gerontology” courses he teaches at WCU, and especially in his work with Hospice patients.

Chovan is currently in his 13th year as a Hospice volunteer at Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva. Since 1986, he has provided direct service to Hospice patients and consultation in the training of bereavement facilitators, has worked as a counselor in the bereavement support group program, and has developed a curriculum for and description of the end result of the self-help group program.

A native of Massillon, Ohio, Chovan earned his doctoral degree from Case Western Reserve University. He began teaching at WCU in 1969. He retired from full-time teaching in 1997, but continues to teach part-time and put into practice Hospice principles.

Chovan and his wife, Martha J. Chovan, live in Cullowhee.