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Psychiatr Serv. 1998 Mar; 49(3): 360-5.

The clinical characteristics of possession disorder among 20 Chinese patients in the Hebei province of China.

Gaw AC, Ding Q, Levine RE, Gaw H.

Division of psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine, Massachusetts, USA.

OBJECTIVE: This paper describes the clinical characteristics of 20 hospitalized psychiatric patients in the Hebei province of China who believed they were possessed. METHODS: A structured interview focused on clinical characteristics associated with possession phenomena was developed and administered to 20 patients at eight hospitals in the province. All patients had been given the Chinese diagnosis of yi-ping (hysteria) by Chinese physicians before being recruited for the study. RESULTS: The subjects' mean age was 37 years. Most were women from rural areas with little education. Major events reported to precede possession included interpersonal conflicts, subjectively meaningful circumstances, illness, and death of an individual or dreaming of a deceased individual. Possessing agents were thought to be spirits of deceased individuals, deities, animals, and devils. Twenty percent of subjects reported multiple possessions. The initial experience of possession typically came on acutely and often became a chronic relapsing illness. Almost all subjects manifested the two symptoms of loss of control over their actions and acting differently. They frequently showed loss of awareness of surroundings, loss of personal identity, inability to distinguish reality from fantasy, change in tone of voice, and loss of perceived sensitivity to pain. CONCLUSIONS: Preliminary findings indicate that the disorder is a syndrome with distinct clinical characteristics that adheres most closely to the DSM-IV diagnosis of dissociative trance disorder under the category of dissociative disorder not otherwise specified.

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