Shin-Byung Korean Women

Shin-byung is a cultural bound syndrome that affects Korean women.  The first stages include somatic complaints like dizziness or gastrointestinal problems.  This syndrome is when a spirit tries to enter the females body and take over it physically and mentally.  Those with the syndrome report having vivid dreams about spiritual entities telling them to let these spirits into their bodies.  Once this starts to happen they usually consult a shaman or psychiatrist or physician for help.  It is said that there are three stages to shin-byung.  First of which is the prodromal phase, where the victim experiences the somatic symptoms and some anxiety.  The second phase is the trance phase.  This is when the victim reports having dreams of being beckoned to let spiritual beings into her body.  The last phase is possession.  The victim can show signs of double or even multiple personalities from the possession of one or more spiritual beings.  The second and third phase can range from taking a few weeks to decades to complete.  Once the possession is complete the women is considered a shaman herself now due to the possession.  This is in most cases welcomed because a shaman is a well respected member of the community and is a step up in the social ladder for women.

On the cultural level, these women go to shamans and other healers to see how this can be remedied, depending on the culture.  Where as inAmericathese people would be considered mentally unstable and put together in a special institution.  On the individual level these women have a choice to have a shaman try and convince the spirit to not control the host they have chosen, or let the process take place and assume the role of a shaman themselves.  If they do reject the spirit it is believed that they will live a life of torment from the spirit because it was not allowed to take possession of its intended host.

In western culture there have been similarities seen between Shin-byung and multiple personality disorder.  There is still some debate as to whether the condition is considered a mental illness or not.  As for a treatment, there is no known treatment other than having a shaman try and convince the spirit to leave the intended host alone and find another.

One thought on “Shin-Byung Korean Women

  1. The illness shin-byung should be regarded as culture-bound syndrome because it is an illness that is explicitly recognized by the Korean culture with symptoms that are culturally defined. The name is based on the cultural understanding of spirit possession so this illness contains shared characteristics found among other illnesses classified as culturally bound. The advantage of this classification is the ability to study it further in a controlled setting. By having this illness bound, a better understanding of how this illness affects Korean women can be examined as well as the treatment methods performed by the shamans. This could lead to the examination of this illness in relations to other cultures with illnesses that exemplify similar symptoms to find healthcare that provides healing within a cultural understanding. The disadvantage however is the lack of recognition it would receive as an actual illness. Making this illness culturally specific would cause doubt on its legitimacy as an actually illness in the eyes of Western medicine and mainstream illnesses. Therefore if Korean women of this cultural background were to experience this within the Western realm, their illness could be overlooked and dismissed as a psychosomatic episode.

    If the symptoms of this illness are examined closely there are many similarities within other cultures that believe in spiritual healings and possessions. The Hmong shamans for example understand the importance of the protection of the spirit and deal with spirit possessions as well when working collaboratively with Western medicine on Hmong patients. American culture also has its own form of symptoms from this disease that has been categorized as mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and multiple personality disorders. These individuals suffer from some of the same symptoms so if Western medicine studied how Korean shamans deal with this illness maybe an alternative can be made to treat these mentally ill patients in a manner other than institutionalization and permanent medication.

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