This week I stumbled upon a study on “possession disorder” conducted in 1982 and published in the journal Psychiatric Services in 1998. Twenty patients suffering from psychiatric symptoms and claiming to be possessed were assessed for the study. The study authors concluded that these patients’ conditions most closely resembled the diagnostic criteria for dissociative trance disorder, under the DSM category Dissociative Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (DDNOS).
Possession is an ancient belief of many cultures as well as a concept still utilized among some schools of Oriental medicine. As a medical concept it is largely unfamiliar to me, but it is clearly related to the spectrum of dissociation and dissociative disorders. Over the last several days I’ve been reading work by Lonny Jarrett on possession and revisiting writing by Heiner Fruehauf, PhD on Gu Syndrome for more insight on the connections between dissociation and possession.
Gu syndrome, according to Dr. Fruehauf, essentially means “possession syndrome.” The earliest known character for Gu is 3000 years old and Gu is the name of Hexagram 18 in the Yi Jing (also known as the I Ching – The Book of Changes). Dr. Fruehauf’s work on Gu at this point in time is focused largely on treating chronic inflammation due to parasitic infections such as Lyme disease. Symptoms of Gu syndrome are varied and include digestive, neuromuscular, mental, and constitutional aspects. They may be caused by a number of different Gu pathogens – according to the Beiji Qianjin Yaofang (Thousand Ducat Formulas), “some of them will cause bloody stools, while others initiate the desire to lay in a dark room; others may bring about bouts of irregular emotions, such as depression that alternates with periods of sudden happiness; others again cause the extremities to feel heavy and ache all over; and then there are myriads of other symptoms…” (qtd by Dr. Fruehauf in the article Treating Chronic Inflammatory Diseases).
As far as I understand, the most common etiology of dissociation is trauma, particularly childhood trauma. However, the commonalities between dissociation and Gu symptoms might encourage us to consider whether dissociative patients may also have a history that warrants investigating possible parasite infection. The other side of this question, however, is whether trauma is a possible etiology for Gu syndrome or if it might weaken the individual’s defenses against parasitic invasion. Can trauma be approached as a parasitic influence itself?
According to Dr. Fruehauf, the following characteristics are highlighted in traditional writing on Gu:
1. Gu pathogens are malicious and have life-threatening consequences.
2. Gu pathogens primarily enter the body through food.
3. Gu pathogens represent a type of toxin (gu du). This makes reference to their virulent epidemic quality, but also to the only recently corroborated fact that the metabolic byproducts of parasitic organisms have a toxic effect on the body.
4. Gu pathogens are most likely to thrive in already deficient organisms, and once established, further harm the body’s source qi.
5. Gu pathogens operate in the dark. It is often unclear when and how the pathogen was contracted, making an accurate diagnosis extremely difficult.
-“Treating Chronic Inflammatory Diseases with Chinese Herbs: An Interview with Heiner Freuhauf on the Practical Application of Gu Syndrome,” available at http://www.classicalchinesemedicine.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/fruehauf_guinterview.pdfReferences
Gaw, A.C., Ding, Q, Levine, R.E., Gaw, H. (1998). “The Clinical Characteristics of Possession Disorder Among 20 Chinese Patients in the Hebei Province of China.” Psychiatric Services 49, 360-365. Available at http://psychservices.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/49/3/360