Chinese Medicine, Dissociation, Dissociative Disorders, Gu Syndrome, Possession, Trauma

Could dissociation be related to Gu syndrome?

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.pdf

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


About Tracy A. Andrews, MSOM, LAc

Tracy Andrews, MSOM, LAc is licensed by the Oregon Medical Board and certified as a Diplomate of Acupuncture by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She maintains her private practice in Portland, Oregon, working collaboratively with her patients to address their health and wellbeing through treatments tailored to each individual's unique needs. Additionally, Tracy sees patients at the Immune Enhancement Project, a nonprofit clinic providing complementary care to patients with chronic pain, cancer, and multiple sclerosis, and is a volunteer provider with the Returning Veterans Project. More information about her practice at tracyandrewsacupuncture.com.


One thought on “Could dissociation be related to Gu syndrome?

  1. I was diagnosed by several Dr’s with Lyme disease and Babesiosis and for the longest time I didn’t fully believe it. I still am unsure of what to think but I have taken that diagnosis into consideration very seriously and I’ve been treating it as such. I suffered a very traumatic upbringing and a severe disconnection from my parents during what was a crucial bonding time in my human development. I am 43 presently and I know this through years of hard work toward some sort of recovery. The ideas above resonate with me. Anyone I’ve met with Lyme or Gu Syndrome has one thing in common. A traumatic childhood history. It has become one of the questions I ask anyone who I have the conversation with regarding this infection. Possession has always sounded like a demonic invasion and this is what Lyme feel like to me in many ways. I’ve often lost the idea of myself, and my desire to live and move. My emotions are unruly and volatile and I usually have no idea what is up for me, because there is no reason other than the infection is messing with my hormones and everything else. I have come to believe my family is infected with the exception of my younger brother. Certainly my Father has been infected and exhibits a very similar set of symptoms. I may have been infected many years ago, even as a child, but I’ll never know for certain. In the past two and a half years I have seen what this disease can do to a person physically, mentally, and spiritually, and it has taken a serious toll on me. My family thinks I’m mad and what was damaged to begin with has only gotten more of a rift due to this illness. My immune system has survived with this for so long it was amazing to get any moment of relief to reveal how much better I actually could feel. After 9 Months of antibiotics the infection returned. ANyway the idea of Gu Syndrome is very real to me and what I suspect is that many people carry this around and it remains hidden from them, like I did. The parasites are very sneaky and they seem to impact my thinking. I craves certain foods veraciously and sugar is almost an uncontrollable addiction at times. It seems difficult now to imagine recovery from this disease but I still fight. What a person like me needs is a recovery program with emotional, spiritual support as well as dietary and physical health training. I live alone in isolation (another symptom of Lyme for many), and I have become unemployed due to this disease. I was a laborer previously, a housepainter. I still work if I can move, which is becoming harder as I get older. Being unemployed has kept me depressed, immobile, eating poorly, and not being able to maintain the costly treatments that this disease requires. So Yes I see Dissociative disorders as very much related to Gu Syndrome and Trauma from one’s childhood takes the ground out from under them and so my experience is that that person or organism is entirely weakened in many ways for the long term. Once one is older it becomes more difficult to move through and beyond the Strategies and habits of survival mechanisms needed to make it in the world. If then hit with Lyme or Gu then the weaker foundation is just like an invitation. One’s chi- or life force is confused and not flowing strongly in a balanced way as a result of trauma, and this makes a person into prey for these invasions to happen much easier. Well I hope this was helpful. I thank you for your post and I hope you carry on researching this. Best of luck to you.

    Posted by Rowan St John | 16 March 2013, 2:44 pm

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