While the concept of life review make sense intuitively, it has not be subjected to critical examination. Certainly, there is much to support the concept of the life review in the form of case studies, anecdotal data, fiction, and autobiographies. However, this is not how psychology traditionally evaluates a theory.
Very few empirically based studies have been conducted examining the life review. This may, in part, be due to the fact that much of the life review process is proposed to occur outside of consciousness or awareness. As such, it will be time consuming and cumbersome to study. It may also not be amenable to traditional research strategies thus necessitating the use of alternative methodologies.
By far the greatest amount of research and study has been in the area of reminiscence therapy. Most research in this area is supportive of the position that reminiscence can be a valuable therapeutic technique. However, as stated previously, most of the research in this area is either correlational or quasi-experimental and thus low in internal validity. The clinical efficacy of reminiscence needs to be evaluated using experimental intervention designs.
Therefore, the first conclusion to be reached in the review is that increased critical and experimental study needs to be done concerning the concept of the life review.
Four other conclusions can be drawn from this review. First, the concept of life review needs to be separated from the concept of reminiscence. This is important as Kaminsky (1978) has identified four functions of reminiscence only one of which is characterized by life review processes. If these distinctions are not clarified much research will be conducted using different forms of reminiscence and labeling it life review. As such, many contradictory research results are bound to occur. In addition, the life review may be manifested in other ways besides reminiscence ie. dreams.
Second, it is clear that the life review process can occur at all points across the life span. It occurs in response to the realization of death. However, as death is associated with old age, so is the life review.
Third, it is clear that the life review can have either a positive or a negative outcome. As a negative outcome can manifest itself as debilitating guilt, anxiety, or depression, treatment strategies need to be developed. Also, the role of environmental influences on life review outcomes need to be explored.
The last conclusion that this review supports is that a life review process can occur both intrapersonally and interpersonally. It is hypothesized that both can be of great value to the individual.
In summary, very little empirical evidence supports the concept of life review. However, it is too important of a concept to dismiss because of a current lack of evidence. Both traditional and nontraditional methodologies need to be employed to enhance our understanding of a life review.