My Patients Believe… What?

If there’s one thing that people identify with the Middle East, it’s conflict. A long history of wars and territorial disputes identify the war-torn countries. In each instance of war, persons and families flee to the relative safety of other nations. These refugees often carry little with them but their traditions, religions, and their cultural paradigms. Sadly, these are often foreign to the Western world they enter. The trauma they experienced in their native countries and the stress of relocation makes them vulnerable to many psychological disorders.

Diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders for these refugee communities has proved different than diagnosis and treatment for members of a Western community due to the disparate cultural paradigms. Some Muslim patients, for instance, are less likely to report certain symptoms due to the belief that the symptoms are caused by outside forces. Mood disorders, PTSD, anxiety disorders, and even schizophrenia have been attributed to the jinn.

What are the jinn? The Western world’s exposure to the jinn is a heavy translation from stories like Aladdin, where you see a man made of blue smoke who grants wishes to whomever rubs the lamp that contains him. This cultural concept of a genie would not help medical professionals understand how their patients understand their situation. The jinn of the Muslim faith are fire spirits that can either be good or bad. At their worst, the jinn attack and even possess humans.

The tendency to attribute psychological symptoms to jinn attacks or possession leads some patients to dismiss medical intervention, opting for more spiritual cures. Others exhibit a increased depression, fear, and suffering due to the belief that their symptoms were caused by living beings.

So how do doctors encourage patients to report their symptoms and later, improve their compliance with medical treatments? The first step is to understand the patient’s religious and cultural paradigms and traditions. Understanding is the only way that patients will receive and/or accept the help they need. Each of these patients has experienced significant conflict in their lives, so treatments that conflict with their beliefs should be avoided as much as possible.


Khalifa, Najat. Hardie, Tim. “Possession and Jinn.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (2005) 98(8): 351-353. 10.1258/jrsm.98.8.351

Lim, Anastasia. Hoek, Hans W. Ghane, Samrad. Deen, Mathijs. Blom, Jan Dirk. “The Attribution of Mental Health Problems to Jinn: An Explorative Study in a Transcultural Psychiatric Outpatient Clinic.” Front Psychiatry (2018) 9: 89. 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00089

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