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The word ‘possession’ relates to change in behaviour and the sense of identity, attributed to supernatural forces. The ‘possessed’ often seek help from exorcists to take back control of their lives. Nevertheless, the reason for the irratic behavior can be a result of traumatic experience, including emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Thus, the question arises – do 'possessed' need spiritual or psychological help? Researchers from SWPS University will conduct psychological assessments of people who report being ‘possessed’, in order to compile a systematic descriptoin of the phenomena, the accompanying symptoms and  the strategies people use to regain a sense of control over their behavior.

 

RESEARCH PROJECT

Qualitative analysis of phenomena and symptoms associated with possession

 

 

Research UnitUNI SWPS english
Grant AmountPLN 382 620
Funding SourceNCN logo poziom en2

Duration of Research Project: January 2018 – January 2021

The word ‘possession’ relates to change in behavior and the sense of identity, attributed to supernatural forces. The ‘possessed’ often seek help from exorcists to take back control of their lives. Nevertheless, the reason for the irratic behavior can be a result of traumatic experience, including emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Thus, the question arises – do 'possessed' need spiritual or psychological help? Researchers from SWPS University will conduct psychological assessments of people who report being ‘possessed’, in order to compile a systematic descriptoin of the phenomena, the accompanying symptoms and  the strategies people use to regain a sense of control over their behavior.

Project Outline

‘Possession’ relates to change in behavior and a sense of identity, attributed to supernatural forces. The ‘possessed’ often seek help from priests, hoping that exorcisms will help them restore a sense of control over their body, speech or mind. There are Christian communities in Poland, where individual and group exorcisms are held regularly. Studies show that people with ‘possession’ have often experienced traumatic events in life, including emotional, physical or sexual abuse, but they rarely link these events with possession. Unfortunately, focusing on possession and exorcisms can delay treatment, divert attention from problems in the family, and also have potentially re-traumatising effect, in the case of people with trauma history. Although ‘possession’ has been the focus of interest for many anthropologists, not many psychological studies have been carried out on the subject, even though the symptoms relating to possession are described in psychiatric manuals. So far, comprehensive clinical examination methods have never been applied to 'possessoin' cases in order to understand the dynamics of the symptoms or for diagnostic purposes.

The main objective of this project is to analyse and produce a systematic description of the phenomena and of the symptoms accompanying possession. Additionally, researchers will compare different clinical presentations of possession against diagnostic criteria of various disorders, analyse alterations in consciousness and behavior in terms of memory, sense of control, the accompanying affects and other clinically significant symptoms. They will also explore how people make meaning of their experiences and how they seek help.

This project will contribute to the development of knowledge about the phenomena and the symptoms accompanying sudden changes in behavior or identity, attributed in some religious groups to the influence of supernatural forces. We shall explore personal experiences of people exhibiting symptoms of 'possession' and the coping strategies they use to regain a sense of control over their behavior. Implications from this study will help to identify and systematize symptoms of clinical significance.

dr Igor Pietkiewicz, Principal Investigator

Research Methods

Researchers will recruit study particpants from among members of Christian groups, who report being possessed and who seek help through exorcisms. The 'possessed' will participate in in-depth interviews related to changes in their behavior and identity. Additionally, they will take part in diagnostic interviews and mental state assessments, performed by a psychiatrist. Transcripts of the in-depth interviews will be subject to interpretative phenomenological analysis. This popular qualitative methodology is used in psychology to study how individuals experience and interpret phenomena under investigation. Clinical presentations will be analysed separately for differential diagnosis and to describe symptoms in reference to the theory of structural dissociation of personality. The project team will include psychologists, psychotherapists and a psychiatrist who are experienced in research and clinical work.

Application of Results

The project will contribute to the development of knowledge about the phenomenon and the symptoms accompanying ‘possession’. It will allow to understand how the symptoms are experienced and interpreted and what coping strategies the affected people use to regain a sense of control over their behavior. Additoinally, the study will help to identify and systematize the symptoms of clinical significance.

The project will also increase knowledge on how culture affects the expression of symptoms, which will further contribute to clinical psychology, psychology of religion, and medical anthropology.

 

Researchers

258 igor pietkiewicz 1

 

Igor Pietkiewicz,  Ph.D.

Principal Investigator
Psychologist and psychotherapist. Head of Research Centre for Trauma and Dissociation.
bio »

258 radoslaw tomalski

 

Radosław Tomalski,  Ph.D., MD

psychiatrist, psychotherapist and supervisor of the Polish Psychiatric Association

258 anna jedrusik

 

Anna Jędrusik,  M.A.

research assistant
sociologist, certified business trainer, coach, research assistant

 

 

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