The psychology of bewitchment (Part II): A psychoanalytic model for conceptualizing and working with bewitchment experiences

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Ivey, Gavin ORCID: 0000-0002-5537-3504 and Myers, Tertia (2008) The psychology of bewitchment (Part II): A psychoanalytic model for conceptualizing and working with bewitchment experiences. South African Journal of Psychology, 38 (1). pp. 75-94. ISSN 0081-2463


This article extends the phenomenological description of bewitchment experience outlined in Part I, arguing for a viable psychological explanation of what is claimed to be a supernatural phenomenon. Any adequate explanation must satisfactorily account for the four characteristic features of bewitchment experience; that is, a paranoid state of mind, the presence of a precipitating interpersonal context of hostility and envy, a dichotomous moral and religious belief structure, and the subjective experience of having one’s body infiltrated by poisonous substances or destructive alien entities. Beginning with Freud’s claim that all supernatural belief systems unconsciously express and simultaneously defend adherents against universal instinctual impulses and anxieties, Klein’s object relations psychoanalytic model is proposed as a useful interpretive framework to understand the four interrelated aspects of bewitchment. Bewitchment, it is argued, is a culturally sanctioned supernatural belief system used defensively by individuals to protect themselves against acknowledging and experiencing a range of painful and anxiety-provoking feelings, typically involving hostility, envy, and loss. Bewitchment arises when individuals split off and project problematic self aspects elicited by adverse or stressful experiences, locating these in hated or envied others, who are then believed to use witchcraft to magically attack and harm the victims. This theoretical model is supported and illustrated by means of a case study of the psychodynamic treatment of a ‘bewitched’ patient. This case is used to demonstrate some of the psychotherapeutic challenges of treating patients who attribute their psychological difficulties to magical influences.

Item type Article
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1701 Psychology
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Social Sciences and Psychology
Keywords ResPubID19129, bewitchment, Klein, object relations, possession, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy
Citations in Scopus 3 - View on Scopus
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