Abstract—In this article, Kamla Nannan Panday-Jhingoeri and Hans TenDam describe the potential detriments of solely utilising traditional psychiatric approaches to resolve spiritual problems; particularly psychological, physical and psychosocial issues pertaining to individuals embedded within societies who adopt and embrace cultural beliefs of a transpersonal nature. Through descriptive analysis and the sharing of theory and case studies the authors explain and evidence the benefits of transpersonal therapeutic approaches and techniques to assist patients with presenting clinical problems of a spiritual nature; including but not limited to the influences of spirits, ancestors and curses. The authors conclude that combining transpersonal regression therapy with regular psychiatry, and allowing patients to uniquely attend to their particular problems from within their own cultural backgrounds and experiences, evidences positive treatment results.
Psychiatry considers mental disorders as brain dysfunctions, influenced by physical, psychological and social conditions (5th ed; DSM-5, American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Whatever the merits of that model, many people have a very different view. They may be shaped by their culture and believe in spirits, in demons, in ancestors, in rituals, in all kinds of magic.
When such popular beliefs pervade, patients may not visit a medical doctor, or talk about these experiences with a doctor. They may visit spiritual and alternative healers on the side – and not tell their physician about it. When those alternative healers prescribe their kind of medicine, the effects may interfere with the medical treatment, or have their own side-effects.
The present writers, schooled in transpersonal therapy, take those clients and their cultural beliefs seriously. They find that it is possible to solve the most peculiar problems effectively in a rational and professional way. There is no need to engage in singular practices or rituals, to pray, to sacrifice, to consult oracles, read palms, conjure up spirits, etc. Or to use drugs. Merely by listening and talking, guiding patients into and through their own thoughts, feelings and impressions, it is possible to counsel and to heal them.
By taking their sometimes outlandish thoughts, feelings and experiences seriously, without straying from common sense and a professional attitude, often, the results of this approach are nothing short of remarkable. This will be illustrated with a number of diverse cases. Then, what seem to be the critical success factors associated with a transpersonal psychotherapeutic approach to this kind of work, will be discussed.
This article builds on Kamla Nannan Panday’s doctoral thesis in psychiatry, in 2019 in Suriname (Nannan Panday-Jhingoeri, 2019).
Supernatural Folk Beliefs and Regular Psychiatry
Health professionals must go beyond the medical perspective to the personal experience of illness that is culturally determined (Tobert, 2016). The ancestors of most Surinamese were indigenous or came from Africa and Asia. Those from the Caribbean, and the countries of origin of immigrants, believe that spells, ghosts and demons can cause mental health problems, and that such problems may additionally be the result of the displeasure of ancestors or demons.
Patients rarely mention such supernatural explanations for their illnesses to the doctor. If they suspect such things, they seek help from a traditional healer before or at the same time as consulting a doctor – without telling the doctor. This may have a variety of consequences in terms of the medical treatment. For example, when the traditional healer tells the patient to stop taking medicines, or the herbs of the traditional healer interfere with the medication causing side effects.
Traditional spiritual treatments accept supernatural explanations for illnesses (Okwu, 1979). Such transpersonal approaches include acceptance of a wide range of beliefs and spiritual experiences including belief in a soul, extrasensory experiences (ESP), near-death experiences (NDE’s), communication with the dead, clairvoyance, and past lives. Fiona Bowie, a Social anthropologist at Oxford University who specialises in the anthropology of religion, makes note of the need to embrace and “Make room for PSI” (Bowie, 2019). Allowing the space for, and beliefs in, such parapsychological abilities, experiences and phenomenon, contributes significantly towards making chronic, seemingly untreatable psychiatric illnesses treatable. However, the average psychiatrist is not familiar with trance and possession, nor the fact that one may evidence possession states without a change of consciousness: stereotyped movements, takeover of identity, and amnesia.
With transpersonal regression therapy, a psychiatrist can also treat such conditions. The doctor’s acceptance of the patient’s supernatural explanations helps in the treatment of the mental illness. The therapist gains new perspectives and searches for solutions together with the patient. The patient feels heard and understood and no longer undergoes treatment passively, but takes an active part in his recovery process. To find out the explanatory models of a patient, a doctor only needs to address around five to eight questions about the cause, the effect and the seriousness of the disease.
The sociocultural background of modern, professional care providers is rather homogeneous, and yet the backgrounds of patients are very diverse. The doctor may sometimes have trouble following the story of the disease because the patient uses cultural terms or idioms. Western trained care providers who focus exclusively on the psychological components risk misdiagnosis in their non-Western clients. When people believe that their problems are caused by the displeasure of ancestors or by demons, they are influenced by that belief (James et al, 2014). Social and spiritual aspects are mainly mentioned in the treatment of cancer patients, the terminally ill, the dying and addicts. Examples of classical treatments include massage, relaxation, meditation, praying, liturgy and reading sacred texts (Swain, 2014).
Sarucco (1999) describes the case of a Creole man, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and retardation, who was not motivated for any care or treatment and kept complaining of “a baby sitting on his shoulder.” Following his proposal, the psychiatrist had the patient perform rituals in the woods of the hospital, as would be performed in the interior of Surinam. After this, the client was willing to take his medication and improvement occurred.
Religion, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology
Religion includes beliefs in ghosts, angels or demons. The religious and the spiritual are often intertwined. But there can also be religion without spirituality and vice versa. Nowadays, spirituality is a term for all experiences that go beyond the ‘ordinary’ in the world. Even those persons who are not affiliated with any religion or who do not believe in a God can have such spiritual experiences (Koenig, 2009; Mohr, 2006). Lawler-Row & Elliott note that, “Spirituality refers to the most animating or vital issues of life, providing a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Spiritual experiences offer an awareness of inner peace, harmony, hopefulness, and compassion for others” (2009, p.44).
Religion and spirituality have both negative and positive effects on health. Religion can be a source of guilt, shame and fear and hinder personal growth through rigid ways of thinking. Indeed, fanatical beliefs can adversely affect physical and mental health, and those who include spirituality in everything can pay less attention to their physical health. Also, because of religion people may sometimes seek medical help too late. Religious and spiritual themes can manifest into psychopathology, including religious delusions and hallucinations, for example where the patient believes that God is speaking through them. Regular psychiatry does deal with the consequences, but rarely the causes (Koenig & Larson, 2001; Mohr, ibid).
Nearly 90% of the world’s population engage in religious and spiritual practices. Religiosity has been shown to improve coping with stress. It lessens depression, suicide, anxiety and substance abuse. Religious and spiritual activities can also improve healthy mental and social functioning (Koenig, ibid).
After counselling patients with post-traumatic disorders as a result of wars and genocide, Hasanović, Pajević & Sinanović (2017) concluded that severe traumas shake spiritual and religious beliefs. After a treatment protocol inspired by Islam, they assessed that religion and spirituality ultimately had a positive effect on serious war victims. They therefore advocate that care providers include religious and spiritual help in trauma processing. However, although spirituality appears to be associated with a better quality of life and psychosocial well-being, mainstream psychiatry tends to undervalue or misunderstand spiritual needs and many patients find that standard clinical settings ignore their spiritual needs.
Every year, 30 to 70% of the world’s population uses non-regular medicine (Hoenders, Appelo & Van den Brink, 2008). Treatments outside of conventional medicine fall under the terminology ‘Complementary and Alternative Medicine’ (CAM). Complementary treatments have an empirical basis, but are not yet integrated into regular treatments as it is believed that alternative cures have little or no scientific basis. The American Board of Integrative Medicine defines holistic medicine as:
The practice of medicine that reaffirms the importance of the relationship between the practitioner and the patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing (Academic Consortium for Integrative Mental Health, 2018).
In her psychiatric practice, Kamla Panday combines transpersonal regression therapy with regular psychiatry. If the usual treatment with the biopsychosocial model does not help, she suggests transpersonal regression therapy, provided the patient is not psychotic, retarded, or addicted to alcohol or drugs. Medication, usually antidepressants or anxiolytics, may be prescribed depending upon the severity of the symptoms. During the treatment, she evaluates together with the patient and their relatives whether to reduce or stop the dose.
American psychologist William James first used the word ‘transpersonal’ in psychology in 1905 in his study of religious phenomena. Transpersonal means: beyond the personal. Van der Maesen (2006) defines transpersonal as transcending the personality which is normally conceived with a mind and a body or with a mental, emotional and physical aspect. The transpersonal area includes (belief in) an immortal soul, extrasensory experiences, such as near-death experiences, communication with the deceased, clairvoyance, as well as experiences of so-called past lives.
Transpersonal psychology studies such unusual experiences because they have the potential for positive transformation. Rhea White introduced the concept of Exceptional Human Experience (EHE) in 1997 (Also see Braud, 2010; Palmer & Hastings, 2015) and distinguished the following:
- Experiences of mysticism and unification, peak experiences
- Parapsychological experiences: telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition of future events, psychokinesis, and out of body experiences
- Encounters with beings such as God, angels, mythical figures or an inner guide
- Death-related experiences: strange events at the death of someone, communication with the deceased, spontaneous memories of past lives
- Experiences that go beyond the normal, such as achievements that are not thought possible, spontaneous healings of incurable diseases
Cardeña, Lynn, & Krippner (2017) classify such experiences under the term Anomalous Experiences, which includes synaesthesia, lucid dreaming, hallucinations, and near-death experiences.
Transpersonal regression therapy works not only with processing trauma from the current life, but also with transpersonal and supernatural events such as reincarnation, communication with the deceased, the influences of deceased ancestors, and possession. Patients also described encounters with helping beings such as angels, guides and manifestations of God. We can accept such statements without believing in them ourselves.
Authors such as Slevin (2011) and Knight (1998) report positive results in embedding reincarnation into therapy. The research by Van der Maesen (2006) found improvement through treatments that incorporate past lives. 38% of clients reported, after an average of twenty weeks post the end of their treatment, that their complaints had completely disappeared. In 56% the complaints are reduced, 6% benefited little or none from treatment, 74% were very satisfied and 20% quite satisfied with the treatment. The quality of the therapy and the treatment provided by the therapist were rated on a scale as 8.7 and 8.6, respectively.
Dissociation and Healing
Psychiatry sees dissociation, the dissociative trance and the possession trance as disorders because they occur outside the will of the person and do not fit within the culture. However, trance is an everyday phenomenon with concentrated attention. Whilst with regular psychodynamic treatments it can take months to years for essential memories from early childhood to surface, in working with altered states of consciousness, these memories surface almost immediately (Grof & Bennett, 1992).
In trauma, we can fully or partially dissociate. In complete dissociation, we escape a shocking situation by imagining that we are somewhere else, and because of this only part of us experiences the event and we therefore become amnesic in relation to the traumatic experience. With partial dissociation we look at what is happening from a distance. The emotions and physical sensations occurring during the event are dissociated, but the auditory and visual perceptions are often preserved. Afterwards there is only amnesia for the traumatic feelings and sensations (Van der Hart, Boon, & Op den Velde, 1995).
Dissociative experiences range from everyday experiences of concentration to more intense and longer-lasting forms of dissociation such as depersonalization and derealization. The more severe dissociative disorders include dissociative identity disorder, dissociative amnesia, dissociative fugue, and depersonalization disorder.
In dissociative amnesia, people are unable to remember important things, especially traumatic or stressful events. In the dissociative fugue, there is confusion about one’s own identity because one cannot remember personal information. In episodes of depersonalization we feel alienated from the environment and disconnected from our own body. Such episodes can also occur in depression and anxiety disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2013; Cardeña, Lynn, & Krippner, 2017).
Seeking Help In The Non-Medical Sector
In Latin America and Africa, people who have episodes of spontaneous involuntary trance often join churches that teach them to cope with these experiences. They can learn to channel spirits. That’s called adorcism: learning to accommodate spirits. People who are trained as traditional healers also experience trance states during their training (De Jong, 2012; Delmonte et al, 2015).
In the Winti religion in Surinam, trance is part of healing. Through music, song and dance people get into a trance and can be taken over by the deceased or by nature spirits. Hinduism, Buddhism, and the animist religions of sub-Saharan Africa honour ancestors with sacrifices and rituals. Winti in Suriname also has ancestor worship. Ancestors may punish if their offspring do not perform rites for them or if the social cohesion within the progeny is disturbed.
For Hindus, not properly performing the rituals at death and discontinuing sacrifices for the spirits who serve the ancestors can also have negative consequences whereby third parties may pronounce curses on the ancestors or their offspring. Also conscious or unintentional acts of the ancestors can become a family curse (Binderhagel, 2014; De Klerk, 1951; Govindama, 2006; Wooding, 2013).
Worldwide, many sick people first seek help from traditional healers before going to the doctor. They do not expect conventional treatments to solve the problems they attribute to supernatural causes. In the United States for example, 68% of children with chronic conditions had also seen a complementary or alternative healer. One third of adults are treated with some form of complementary and alternative medicine. However, more than 60% of outpatient psychiatric patients withhold the information that they are making use of complementary or alternative medicines from the doctor (Hoenders et al, 2008). Statistics also indicate that in China and India, 80% of patients with health problems visit a complementary or alternative healer before or after consulting a doctor.
Also, in South India, more than 50% of psychiatric patients would seek religious help before going to a doctor.
In a few cases, traditional healers refer the sick to medical doctors or hospitals. In Africa around half of the epilepsy patients first go to a traditional healer or faith healer. In Sri Lanka, ritual healing is widespread. Although almost 80% of patients who consult a psychiatrist simultaneously seek help from a ritual healer, psychiatrists do not know this (Padmavati, Thara, & Corin, 2005; Reis, 1996; Thirtalli et al, 2016).
Why do people with mental problems turn to traditional and complementary/ alternative medicine? Because of accessibility, lower costs, stigma, alternative explanations for the disease, to avoid the side effects of medication, dissatisfaction with the medical treatment, and the distance between patient and practitioner (Thirtalli et al, ibid).
Traditional healers do refer to doctors, but the reverse is not the case. Medics in Suriname understand that patients seek help from traditional healers due to money, accessibility and the other factors cited above, but they are concerned that the advice of traditional healers may worsen the disease. This concern is not unfounded. Seeking help from traditional healers carries risks, such as toxic side effects of herbs, and negative interactions between drugs and herbs can poison the kidneys, liver, heart, skin or central nervous system (Ernst, 2003; Nudrat & Naira, 2016). Additionally, patients can also decompensate if the traditional healer attributes the disease to supernatural causes and forbids the patient to take drugs. Also, at times there are situations of patient abuse and the patients dare not report what happened because of fear and shame.
Religion and spirituality can negatively affect health if a patient seeks medical help too late under their influence. Also, religious and spiritual themes can manifest as symptoms of psychopathology. However, religion and spirituality can also contribute to mental health (Mohr, 2006).
Possession: Experienced Takeover by an Entity
The idea behind possession is that someone, usually a spiritual entity, takes over the identity of a person (the host). Traditional healers speak of gods, spirits, or other spiritual volitional entities. Psychiatrists explain this under the terminology of dissociation. However, until the eighteenth century, witchcraft and demonic possession were accepted explanations for psychopathology in the West (Szaz, 2010).
The belief that evil spirits can attack and invade people and thereby cause illness, especially mental illness, is widespread outside Europe and North America. But even in the United States people believe that people may become possessed by the devil (Thomason, 2008).
When possessed, people may speak gibberish or a foreign language, may be “Out of their senses”, become aggressive and often unmanageable. People generally first look for help within the religious and traditional circuit. Religious pastors and traditional healers are believed to be able to help a possessed person through exorcism or else adorcism (5th ed; DSM-5, American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
In the DSM-5 (ibid) possession is classified as dissociative identity disorder. There is a distinction between forms of possession that are in keeping with local customs and “wild” entity possession that makes it appear as if a “ghost”, a supernatural being or an outsider has taken control. Someone suddenly speaks or behaves differently. The behaviour seems involuntary, frightening and uncontrollable. When someone is completely taken over by an ancestor, spirit or other entity, this is accompanied by an altered state of consciousness. Amnesia and uncontrolled movements may be present and are often accompanied by mediumship, channelling and glossolalia (Bourguignon, 2004; Cardeña et al, 2009).
Risk factors for being taken over by an entity include dissociation, séances, coincidence, long-term physical illness, addictions, bodily injuries, and situations involving lowered consciousness such as anaesthesia (Van der Maesen & Bontenbal, 2002).
Symptoms of pathological possession include:
- Psychological complaints: confusion about one’s own personality and identity, hallucinations, chronic depression with suicidality, rapid mood swings, anxiety disorders and angry outbursts.
- Physical complaints: chronic fatigue, pseudo-epileptic seizures and unexplained somatic complaints.
- Changes in behaviour or preference and sudden increase in the use of alcohol or drugs.
Human possessors typically have a gender and a name, and they remain at the age of their death. Earthbound entities are often fixated on the physical and emotional traumas of their own life and death, and can transfer them to the host. An entity can transmit the physical symptoms of any disease it suffered while alive, as well as physical infirmities. The entity may also transfer onto the possessed host addictions to alcohol, drugs and food. Entities usually know they are in another’s body and when they attached (Baldwin, 2005). Non-human entities can be animals – usually snakes.
Shakuntala Modi (1997), an American psychiatrist, also describes demonic entities that attach themselves. In our experience, cases she describes as demonic, often turn out to be human entities that, for various reasons, did not find peace after death. They don’t have to be bad, just lost and frustrated earthbound souls trying to get attention. They have unfinished business or are lost. They not only cause suffering in the patient, but also suffer themselves. Through the patients they may communicate about their own lives, the traumas they have experienced, and the illnesses they have had.
Doing therapy with the entity through the patient alleviates the patient’s problem. The patient and entity undergo therapy simultaneously. When the entity lets go, the influences on the patient also disappear; often immediately.
Overview of Cases of Possession in the Thesis of Nannan Panday
In sixteen cases there was evidence of possession with little or no consciousness change. The entities showed themselves indirectly in psychosocial complaints or physical illnesses. They were neither expelled nor accommodated (exorcism or adorcism), but helped to a better condition, sometimes accompanied by a deceased relative or a luminous apparition.
The psychological problems these entities caused were:
- Periodic explosive disorder (2x)
- Panic disorder (2x)
- Compulsive disorder (2x)
- Depression with melancholic features
- Severe persistent depression
- Major depression with mood-congruent psychotic disorders
- Unspecified dissociative disorder
- Moderate depression
- Bipolar disorder
The somatic problems they caused were:
- Shoulder pain
- Lack of responsiveness to medication
- Concentration problems
- Involuntary movements with or without sounds
The social problems they caused were:
- Relationship problems and financial blockages
Carmen, a woman of mixed descent, has been under treatment for several months. She not only has psychological complaints but also suffers from unexplained body pains. Painkillers do not help. She thinks it’s a form of rheumatism.
Immediately after sitting down, Carmen begins to writhe like a snake and make hissing noises, sticking her tongue out all the time. Exploring this, an entity appeared, which was a female snake. She makes her presence known with the body pains. The snake is angry and says through the patient, “I am the curse, the kunu in your father’s family.” To gain wealth, a male ancestor of Carmen’s father captured a big female snake after killing the snake’s partner. Carmen expresses the information she receives:
My father’s native family took her out of the forest after killing her husband and children. She had to bring money. When they no longer needed her, they killed her too. She’s angry, she’s tearing people apart. They were Indians from very long ago.
Carmen then sees an ancestor emerge “From a very, very long time ago.” His name is Hoto. He wants to ask for forgiveness from the snake. Hoto kneels down, folds his hands and says:
Santa Masra, I am very sorry and realize how my greed has brought much suffering, not only to my own family, but also to others. I ask forgiveness from you, Santa Masra, and all those who have been troubled by my actions. O serpent, I also beg your pardon that I killed you out of greed.
The serpent tells Carmen how to lift that curse: “You do have the divine power to make that happen. I’ve taken revenge for fourteen generations and now it’s time to stop”. In the Winti religion it is believed that a curse, called kunu or mekunu, cannot be broken until someone is strong enough to do so. Carmen must ask forgiveness on behalf of her father’s family that killed the snakes. Then the curse on the family will be lifted. Carmen follows these instructions. After this session, the body aches subside over a period of weeks.
Case 2: Poor Performance of Mourning Rituals and Neglect of Sacrifices
Harry is a 43-year-old Hindustani man who has problems with his work as a teacher at a secondary school and also in his relationship due to heavy drinking. He is Hindu by birth, but because of the problems in his life he has joined a Christian sect. At the first consultation, before I can ask a question, he starts talking in tongues. He laughs scornfully and says in a deep voice in Sranantongo (the lingua franca of Suriname): “No one will take me away from here. Neither do you. ha-ha. They tried in so many places, but no one is going to be able to me take away!” Afterwards, Harry looks around in amazement. He doesn’t remember what happened a few minutes ago.
He was treated for his alcoholism by a colleague and sought help in the alternative sector. In his church they ‘chased Satan away’. As he tells this, he begins to speak in Hindi with a different intonation: “They thought I was gone. When they chased me away, I went outside and waited for him at the door. As soon as he came out, I popped back in”. Harry has no memory of this episode either. Then Harry starts to snore.
His grandmother manifests herself, very angry with the family. She was a woman of the highest caste who had to make a sacrifice in India to have children. She and her husband had to sprinkle a rooster’s blood on the floor along with alcohol. Her husband died suddenly and she became a widow. She fled to Suriname more than a century ago and started a relationship on the ship with her gardener, a man of the lowest Hindu caste who had left with the same boat. Together they had four sons. Despite the difference in caste between her and her partner, she was treated with respect by the pandits in Suriname. She kept her promise made in India and offered the blood of a rooster and alcohol every year. When she felt her end approaching, she asked her sons if any of them wanted to continue this ritual. All her sons refused. Two of them had converted to another sect of Hinduism, to escape the obligation to make such sacrifices.
After her death, the pandits refused to perform the funeral services according to her caste. They felt that she did not deserve this, because she had degraded herself by entering a relationship with someone of the lowest caste. Harry’s grandmother was not at peace with this refusal, she felt that the pandits had not done the rituals as befitted her caste and neither did her sons.
Now the entity to whom she has sacrificed manifests itself. This one wants to take revenge. After all, the entity is no longer served with the ritual of blood sacrifice and alcohol. The entity says it creates the family problems as the mourning rituals of this woman were not performed properly. One son of the Brahmin woman has died after being given the wrong blood during a blood transfusion. Another son has been bitten by a snake; his lower leg had to be amputated. The grandchildren have become addicted to alcohol.
There is tremendous anger, both in the grandmother and in the entity. They both threaten me: “We’re going to slap you!” Without responding to these threats, I quietly continue to negotiate for a solution, but they reject every proposal. Then I feel that I must ask how they want to express their anger to the progeny of the Brahmin woman. Harry makes rubbing motions over his buttocks with his hand and says he wants to smear poop on the faces of the four sons who refused to make the sacrifices. He then makes lubrication movements in the air and heaves a deep sigh, like a balloon deflating. He explains that both the grandmother and the entity have now expressed their displeasure and do not wish to stay any longer. They want to continue their journey.
Harry is fine for a while, but after his wife leaves him, he returns to drinking.
Case 3: Cessation of Sacrifices by Ancestors
Rosy is a 44-year-old Hindustani woman who has been referred by a general practitioner because of an anxiety disorder. She is married and has three sons. Rosy keeps feeling she has to sacrifice something. This makes her anxious. She gets strange dreams about animal sacrifices. She once learned that her family used to sacrifice goats. Due to the recent death of three male relatives, she has become anxious; she wonders if her dreams are omens. Medication does not work and Rosy is increasingly afraid that something could happen to her sons. In the session a woman manifests herself, who tells that she is an ancestor from six generations ago. The woman says:
In my village in India there was a great drought and the crops withered. To save the village from destruction, I made an offering to the Goddess Kali. I slaughtered a goat and sacrificed its blood. This sacrifice was intended to be a one-off. My sons had to complete and end this ritual. I died after that, but I saw my daughter-in-law carry on anyway. She was greedy, wanted a lot of money and therefore sacrificed goats to Kali.
After a descendant of this woman emigrated to Suriname, the ritual was no longer performed.
In Suriname the sons of the immigrant died young, while the daughters remained alive. Rosy remembers her mother telling her about her own grandmother’s dreams, who was Rosy’s great-grandmother. She dreamed that her husband, Rosy’s great-grandfather, had to sacrifice a goat so that their future sons could live. After this man sacrificed a goat, he had two sons. When they started their own family, they refused to continue the ritual and their children didn’t like it either. Problems began again in the male line and several men became seriously ill or died. The cry for blood manifested itself in Rosy’s dreams; she herself is a female descendant of the woman in Suriname who dreamed about sacrificing a goat. Rosy says, “I am a female offspring. These sacrifices are to be made by the sons. Why are they bothering me? I’m already married and I now belong to someone else!” Rosy refuses to make the sacrifice, but at the same time fears the possible consequences of this refusal for her sons.
In the session I negotiate with the ancestor. Rosy refuses to communicate with the spirit. She is very angry with her and sees her as the source of her misery. The foremother doesn’t want to know anything more about the Goddess Kali, because “God must not demand blood sacrifices”. From my knowledge of Hinduism, I suggest to ask Goddess Lakshmi or Goddess Durga who are associated with prosperity and well-being for help. Rosy chooses Durga, who redeems both the ancestor and the entity who demanded the blood sacrifices in the name of the Goddess Kali.
Before we finish the session, Rosy frowns: “I see seven goats without heads and a basket with seven goats’ heads. They belong together. I have to make them whole again. For when they go to the house of God, they must be whole again”. I ask Rosy to put the goat’s heads back on their torsos. She does so, so that all seven goats are complete again. She asks Shiva, to whom she is devoted, to take these animals to his Light. At the next consultation, she reports that her fears and her dreams have stopped and that the obsession with sacrifice has disappeared.
A woman, over 50, can never be left alone at night. When the sky grows dark, she gets the uncontrollable urge to kill herself. Two times her husband had to leave, once because their daughter had an accident, another time when their son got in a street fight. When he came home, both times he found his wife crawling on the floor towards the kitchen to open the gas.
When she was 21 she had finished her studies at a music academy as a pianist. Before her graduation recital she got a panic attack. According to the psychiatric fashion of those days she got a ‘sleeping cure’: three weeks of induced unconsciousness. When she came out of it, she was crippled, she couldn’t walk anymore and spent the rest of her life bedridden.
Two strong men had to bring her into the therapy room. Focusing on the cause of her nightly suicide urges, she senses a pitch-black presence. Asking that presence why it is doing this to her, at first there is no answer. When asked if it hates people in general or women in particular, the answer is immediate and intense: “All people”. Her voice has become low, male, hoarse and raspy.
When it was suggested that there must be a reason for that hate, a story of terrible and life-destroying injustice and cruelty comes up. At the end the pitch-black figure becomes a nice and handsome young man, sobbing uncontrollably. He leaves, freed, and, more importantly, the suicidal urges the woman had to fight each evening leave too. These urges never came back.
Case 5: Obstetrician in Africa
A newly graduated Dutch medical doctor goes to work in Africa as obstetrician. After almost two years she returns to the Netherlands to finish her specialization. But she is so down and listless that she can’t bring herself to register.
The therapist asks her if she has experienced mothers or children dying on her watch. She has plenty. In the session she sees white and grey energies coming out of her belly, assuming the form of several stillborn children and – more intense and more draining – the presence of several mothers who looked at her intensely while dying or simply floated into her.
It takes some time to liberate herself from these souls and help them to find peace and calm and proper company.
When I ask her, “Why were you so accessible?” she suddenly feels a huge presence coming out of her belly: a big black mama, strong and powerful, excusing herself for creating the energetic opening that attracted all the others. The client doesn’t recognize her at all. When I make the statement, “You will now get an impression when and where you met her” she is immediately there. Before starting as an obstetrician she worked with an aid organization in the Sudan, during the civil war. Entering a village where there had just been fighting, they see corpses at the side of the road. One of them is this woman.
They pass the bodies and enter very cautiously. The soldiers who just took over the village are willing to let the convoy pass – when they’ll receive some of the goods for themselves. While they haggle about the numbers, the leader of the insurgents is eyeing this blond young European girl with fascination. At that moment the big black mama enters the young woman to thwart the leering captain. She hates him and his men who killed her and the other women. “He will not enter! He will not get this girl!” She came in with full force, more by instinct than by consideration. And she couldn’t get out anymore. At the end of the session she can go to her relatives, after being properly thanked. The obstetrician finished her practice years in the Netherlands.
Case 6: The Suicidal Girl
There was a Belgian expat family, living in Nigeria. The mother, worried sick about her 17-year-old daughter, mails me. A few months back, the daughter asked her mother if she could see a psychologist. After three sessions the psychologist suggested to the daughter that she brings her mother next time. The mother is told that her daughter is hearing voices all the time that tell her that she is worthless, that her life is a joke, and that there is no place for her in the world. The mother is shattered. The psychologist tells her there is nothing he can do and recommends a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist, like most psychiatrists, prescribes medicines. They don’t help at all.
In a growing panic she mails a few close friends to see if they can recommend anybody. They refer her to me. She asks if they can visit me during the summer holidays when they are back in Belgium. A week later she mails again: her daughter is afraid that she will not survive another week. They take the first available plane to Zaventem and visit me a few days later.
Usually, I want to see adolescents without their parents present, but when they enter, I sense that the presence of the mother is supporting, not hindering.
T: I assume that when she feels bad, she withdraws to her room? (She nods.)
T: Where do you sit then?
C: In my bed.
T: Assume the exact position on this couch like on your own bed. (This is a well-known regression technique, though I use it rarely. She crouches, putting her arms around her knees and withdrawing her head almost between her legs. She sits there like a wounded bird. Her mother gets tears in her eyes.)
T: Feel as bad as you ever have felt lately. Don’t worry, the worse you feel now, the better it is. Okay? Now feel and see that you step outside your crouching body on the bed, take a few steps into your room, look back at where you have been sitting. What or who do you see sitting on your bed? (She gasps for breath. She sees a skinny, neglected, black boy, sitting with his head between his legs, exactly like she had been sitting before. Her position on my couch relaxes. She is stupefied.)
T: Ask him what he is doing here with you. (No reaction. I suggest to her that she gets him to talk.)
T: Doesn’t he hear you?
C: I am not sure. He can’t talk or won’t talk or both.
T: Go towards him and look at the back of his head, in the neck. What do you see there? (This is the most common location for obsessive presences. She shirks back. She sees a huge grey worm, stretching from his neck all the way down to his buttocks.)
T: Does that worm hinder his speaking? (She nods.)
T: You now get an impression of the natural habitat of this worm. (No impression comes. That means this worm is not a nature being, but rather a thought form.)
T: How could we dispose of this worm? Burying? Drowning? Burning?
C: Burning! (The right answer.)
T: Now just imagine that night falls in your room till everything is dark. When you can see that, say yes.
T: Now you will see a silvery white light shining from your fingertips. If you can see that, say yes.
C: Yes. (Her voice is now calmer, deeper, concentrated.)
T: Where is the light strongest, from your left hand or your right hand?
C: From my right hand.
I then guide her to make the shine into one flame coming from all of her fingers together. Then the flames become a light beam, and then the beam becomes thinner and more intense and changes into a laser beam. The shine from her left-hand flows back around her hand and becomes a silvery white glove, impenetrable. This is a standard operating procedure I developed gradually over the years.
I have her go to the boy and cut the worm from his back with her laser, take it in her left hand with the glove and burn it somewhere outside in a large campfire under a starry sky. It sizzles and a grey smoke rises. When it is all gone, she sighs contentedly.
She goes back to the boy. He still can’t speak. Now she sees to her amazement that he has a deep cut from his neck to his tail bone where the worm had sat before. I tell her that cuts don’t grow on trees. They are made. By someone.
T:. Could he have done it himself?
C: No way!
T: So someone else did this to him. You will now see the situation where someone is doing this to him.
She sees the boy half lying on his belly, while a black man in a large white dress is cutting him open. Clearly a local witch doctor. Apparently this boy was an African street urchin, picked up with the promise of some food, drink and shelter, drugged and sacrificed to syphon off his life energy. I have come across similar procedures before. In another African country, but also in Latin America and rural India.
I let her approach him from behind and guide her through the steps to neutralize the procedure – and neutralize the witch doctor. Gentleman-like, but thorough.
Now back to her room. Now the boy has his eyes open, but is still too reticent to talk. We let him leave together with a family member that “Knows the way”. An older nephew who died before. Again standard operating procedure.
T: Before he leaves with his nephew, he will give you back all the life energy he took from you these last months.
She sees – and feels – a light coming out of the boy, filling the whole room with a dazzling white light. I let her enjoy it and absorb it, till she is filled with it.
C: It is too much for me.
T: See and feel how it shines out of the pores of your skin, all over your body.
She is radiating on my couch. Her mother, watching, drinking this all in, is radiating too.
T: Before you come back to the here and now, you will now get an impression of where and when the soul of this poor boy attached itself to you.
She sees herself walking with two of her friends on the street, coming out of school. They are happy. And so he saw her and fell in love with her. She was everything he wasn’t and hadn’t. He just wanted to be with her forever.
Mother and daughter leave my room happy, but a bit dazed. Later the mother reported that her daughter had finished her exams and had entered university.
More than a year later we talked about the session and its aftermath. She told me that after the session they had had a coffee in a wayside restaurant. She asked her daughter if she could still hear the voices. No, they had been completely gone. And never returned.
I had utterly and completely forgotten about the voices. I had not addressed that in the session at all. The developing story went in another direction. I had not checked that at the end. Pretty stupid. But sometimes, the stupid may get lucky.
So what were these voices? They are pretty common with suicidal people. My explanation is that the attachment of this undead street urchin, opened her field to the back alleys of the post-mortem world. The moment the attachment was released, that door shut spontaneously. So, don’t start to find out how many voices, from whom, what they want, etcetera. Get the client out of the psychic slum first. If you can.
In the Netherlands, stories like this almost always involve the former Dutch colonies or experiences of expats in tropical countries. Outside Holland, I have come across these experiences in Brazil and most of all in India. In at least one third of the cases the origin of problems is found in curses on individuals and families. Since independence, many families got rich, creating envy among the wider family.
Other Cases in the Thesis of Nannan Panday and from Hans TenDam
Transpersonal and supernatural themes other than possession, include:
- Traumas at conception, vicissitudes in the womb, problems at birth
- Recurring dreams; unusual perceptions in clear consciousness without the presence of a mental disorder
- Memories of past lives as a human being, as an animal, as a primeval life as an energy sphere
- The influences of ancestors
- Communication with the deceased and contacts with helping beings
Several transpersonal and supernatural explanations were found for one psychiatric diagnosis. In two cases, in which the patients were diagnosed with bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder, explanations were also found in past lives, ancestral influences and possession. In these cases, one or more helping entities also manifested themselves, giving advice and making predictions that came true.
In nine cases, positive or negative influences of the ancestors played a role. These cases had the following DSM-5 diagnoses: major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, and unspecified alcohol-related disorder. The ancestors exerted a positive influence by advising the patients on how to deal with blockages in life. The negative influences were psychological and physical problems in the offspring. There were several reasons given for this: misuse of the souls of the deceased ancestors to harm one’s own family, cessation of rituals for the ancestors, curses pronounced on the ancestors by third parties or by the ancestors cursing their own progeny.
The strong and simple point of these examples is that they radically solve the problems of the client. Not all problems of all clients, but many problems of many clients.
Recommendations and Concluding Comments
The use of altered states of consciousness is one of the oldest healing techniques, but current psychotherapy works primarily with clear consciousness. Much of today’s disinterest in using altered states of consciousness may come from the assumption that consciousness plays a minor role in changing persistent behaviours (Kasprow & Scotton, 1999).
It does not matter whether past lives really exist or whether a person can really become ill through possession or through the influences of ancestors. If these assumptions are used therapeutically, they may lead quickly to considerable and lasting results. Blocked emotions can be released and alienated or lost aspects of the psyche can be restored and retrieved (Knight, 1998). The therapist should not try to figure out what is reality and what is fantasy in the patient’s story and experiences. In the interests of therapy, the therapist enters the patient’s symbolic world and then tries to create positive change with appropriate interventions, with respect for the patient’s culture (Witztum & Goodman, 1999).
The combination of transpersonal regression therapy with regular psychiatry shows a favourable treatment result. The patients can approach their psychological problems from their own cultural experience and the therapist includes these in the therapy. Where ordinary psychiatry is not, or insufficiently effective, the combination with alternative therapy led to improvement and even cure of psychological disorders.
To do that:
- Treat the non-physical experiences of clients as if they are real and stay professional
- Dialogue with apparent presences as if they are real and stay professional
- Negotiate with apparent presences as if they are real and stay professional
- Counsel, coach and do therapy with apparent presences as if they are real and stay professional
In our experience, the effectiveness and the efficiency of this approach are much better than with regular psychiatry and psychotherapy. And often more effective than traditional interventions.
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