• dissociative trance disorder;
  • psychosocial stressor;
  • spirit possession;
  • trances.

Objective:  To study the psychosocial stressors that precipitate dissociative trance disorder (DTD) and to identify predictors of DTD.

Method:  We conducted semistructured interviews in which detailed information was obtained for 58 cases diagnosed with DTD at a psychiatric hospital in Singapore. A comparison group of 58 patients who received treatment at the same hospital for major depression (MD) were also interviewed, using the same instrument.

Results:  While 100% of the DTD group described at least one psychosocial stressor, only 80% of the MD group did so. Common stressors for the DTD group include problems with military life (38%), conflicts over religious and cultural issues (38%), and domestic disharmony and marital woes (24%). Conflicts over religious and cultural issues seemed to be important in the precipitation of DTD but not in the precipitation of MD (p < 0.001). Logistic regression reveals that the following are positive predictors for DTD: conflicts over religious and cultural issues; prior exposure to trance states; and being a spiritual healer or his/her assistant.

Conclusions:  An understanding of the precipitating psychosocial stressors that overwhelmed the patient's coping abilities would have implications for treatment and enable the clinician to devise strategies for intervention and prevention.