Characteristics of possession disorder


Main objective of this paper is to describe the clinical characteristicsof twenty hospitalized psychiatric patients in the Hebei province of China who believed they were possessed. The mean age of the participants was thirty-seven years and mostly women from rural background major events of possession reported were interpersonal conflict, illness, death of human. Possessing agent was thought to be soul of dead human or animal, deities and devil. Around 20percent showed multiple possessions. Almost all participants showed two symptoms acting differently and loss of control over their action. Findings indicate that thedisorder is a syndrome with distinct clinical characteristicsthat adheres most closely to the DSM-IV diagnosis of dissociativetrance disorder under the category of dissociative disorder.

Demon possessionis the act of one or moredemonsof entering a human or animal body, alive or dead, or an object, with the intention of using it for a purpose, normally evil, but also as a punishment. This term is more commonly applied to living persons. It is said that a demonic possession can be "cured" by anexorcism that enables the exorcist to expel thedemons from the possessed body or object. Demonic possession has different meanings in different cultures and it's accepted worldwide. Possession state is accepted as normal person affected have supernatural and healing powers. Possession state is considered abnormal when possessed person is very distressed and seek assistance from healers.

There are many other researchers conducted to see how often mental illness is confused with possession like Possession and jinn by Najat Khalifa,Tim Hardie; Possession states in Northern Sri Lanka by Daya Somasundaram,T Thivakaran,Dinesh Bhugra; The possessive states disorder: The diagnosis of demonic possession by T.CraigIsaacs.

According to Najat Khalifa and Tim Haride religion have lot of influence on health and disease. Islamic concept that entered western mythology is of jinn and genies. According to Islamic religion jinn are real creatures from other world and who are capable of harming human and one of that harm is possession. Some people claim that possession is a culture-bond syndrome but other argue that, although the manifestations may differ according to culture but the underlining theme is always same.

According to Daya Somasundaram,T Thivakaran,Dinesh Bhugra Possession states are even now commonly detected in the developing societies as culturally acceptable phenomena in normal human as well as in people with mental illness. 'Possession' is defined here as the experience of being taken over, controlled or occupied by another spirit or force.

Operational definitions of all the above researches are quiet similar all of them tell about demon possession as an alien entering in one's body and exercising control over it. All of them believe that every culture has their own way of dealing with it and it's accepted worldwide.

Theoretical base

Chandrashekerhas suggestedthat possession is best understood by reference to three theoretical frameworks. According todissociation theoryit is a hysterical state inwhich the Id wishes to overwhelm the Ego in a state of dissociation.Communicationtheoryholds that possession is exhibited by oppressed individualswho assume a sick role in an attempt to gain attention.Socio-culturaltheorymaintains that possession is a culturally sanctioned phenomenon to which people are exposed from an early age inthe expectation that they may experience it later. The mosttypical psychodynamic conflicts identified by Whitwell and Barkerin their study of 16 cases were those of adolescence. The patientswere often in close but confused relationships with their families,having difficulties asserting their independence and identityand experiencing sexual anxieties.

According to dissociation theory possession is a hysterical state and the present research also says that the characteristics of the possessed person are closely related to DSM-IV diagnosis of dissociativetrance disorder under the category of dissociative disorder. It uses the theory as whole that is it states possession as hysterical state (yi-ping)


This research was done to see the clinical characteristics of possessed people in china. Few other researches were done to see wheatear possession and mental illness are different or not. With the help of the characteristics of possessed people this research states that the characteristics of possession are closely related to diagnosis of dissociative disorder.


In this research subjects were drawn from both the outpatient and inpatient settingsof eight affiliated hospitals of China. Twenty consecutive patients with the complaintof possession wererecruited. Patients with diagnoses of organic brain disorder,psychosis, or schizophrenia were excluded. Research did by gives us a description on two case studies. Research by T.CraigIsaacs gives description of possession derived from a study of fourteen possessed individuals. Another research done by Daya Somasundaram,T Thivakaran,Dinesh Bhugran use a sample of sixty people. The sample size in this study was small and without any control group.

In this study for the purpose of data collection an interview protocol for the study using questionssuggested by the literature on possession phenomena. The instrument was first developedin the English language, then translated into Mandarin (theChinese national language) and written in thepin-yin(Beijing)characters used in China. Research done by Najat Khalifa and Tim Haride uses case study method and same was use in research done by T.CraigIsaacs. Research done by Daya Somasundaram, T Thivakaran,Dinesh Bhugran uses a semi-structured questionnaires and clinical observations. In this research there was no standardized instrument and it (diagnosis) was based on Chinese diagnosticcriteria. The best method for this type of study can be case study method as it tells everything about the subject. Questioners cannot include each and every aspect.


The mean age of subjects is 37 years mostly married women of rural background with little or no education. 25 percent have religious affiliation an 75 percent have no religious affiliation. Chief complaints of subjects are highly imaginative and dramatic like seeing light circles and being attacked by claws. Some had somatic complains. The interview protocol asked patients for event or experience that they considered important like interpersonal conflict, death, dreaming about dead person, hearing about death of someone, etc. symptoms included emotional distress such as anxietyor somatic and anger symptoms such as insomnia or frequent headaches. Symptoms indicated by possessed participants include loss of control over one's actions; behave differently, problems distinguishing fantasy and reality, change in voice, etc. Some people believed that they were possessed by deities, some by devil some by dead spirits and some by animal spirits. Some believed that they were possessed by many creatures that is multiple possession. Participants were asked wheatear symptoms started suddenly or gradually over time 90 percent of them reported that it started with acute illness.

Yes, results can be accepted. Another study done by Najat Khalifa and Tim Haride tells use about a case where a women of 25 years from Iraq with no psychiatric history gradually withdrew from people, stopped taking to everyone and even stopped eating and drinking. She was diagnosed with severe depressive illness. She was given electro-convulsive therapy but no improvement. Her family believed that she was possessed by jinn but did not say to the doctors as they feared of being labeled as supersites and took her to local faith healer she was treated in traditional Islamic way after rew sessions she resumed eating and drinking. On recovery shehad no explanation for what had happened, though she rememberedthe sequence of events. She stated that she had been aware ofher surrounding, but had been unable to initiate anything. 5 years later she remainswell and without medication. This study indicates possession is true and symptom of possession.

But in the same study that is study done by Najat Khalifa and Tim Haride tell us about another case where a woman of 35 experienced episodes of high fever and confusionduring which her speech became incomprehensible. A local generalpractitioner diagnosed typhoid fever and prescribed antibiotics.The patient and her family, however, thought that she was possessedby jinn so she did not adhere to the treatment. She was takento a local faith healer, who reinforced their views and treated herin the traditional Islamic way. However, her condition deterioratedover the next few weeks and she started to have generalizedepileptic seizures. One of the authors (Najat Khalifa) was then asked tosee her. On admission to hospital she was found tohave cerebral malaria, for which she was treated successfully. Now this leads us to another end that is illness is misunderstood as possession.

Both of the cases a true both doctors and healers should have knowledge to distinguish between illness and possession so that they can offer better care.


This section mostly tell us about the results but here its telling about other researches more results section shows everything what should be there in discussion it's not stating about the characteristics of possessed people which is the main subject matter of study. But extraneous variables are taken care of in the study. This research states that if a general belief in possession is combinedwith a propensity to dissociate, the likelihood of developingany dissociative disorder attributed to possession is increased.Although the symptoms reported by these patients were largely dissociative,it cannot be assumed that all cases of possession would fit a diagnosisof dissociative trance disorder.


This research helps in exploring more about the symptoms of possession with its help we can distinguish between symptoms of possession and mental illness. This research could have been more interesting if they would have a control group of patients who are mentally ill and compare symptoms of both possession and illness. Another research done by Najat Khalifa and Tim Haride was also interesting as it tell us about two complete different and opposite cases.

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