Qi-gong Psychosis

Qi-gong Psychosis has been described in recent years as a new culture-bound syndrome in China. I have been able to find little information on it, although it is listed in the DSM-IV and the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders. Much of the following information on qi-gong comes from a colloquium presented to the UCSD Department of Anthropology by Nancy Chen, Ph.D..

Tàijíquán, 太极拳; also Wade-Giles: Tai chi ch'üan), often called simply "tai chi" in English, is both a martial art and an exercise regimen. Tai chi as been enthusiastically embraced by the government of the People's Republic of China in recent years, and has found a welcome reception abroad in the United States and Europe. Qi-gong (气功) is a newer phenomenon which draws on this older tradition. Its pracitioners claim to project their qi into the bodies of participants at qi-gong meetings, and to enhance the vital force of participants by so doing. The reactions of participants resembles the raptures of glossolalia seen at charismatic Christian events; they often writhe and move in time with the qi-gong leader.

Many participants report benefit from these practices; some appear to achieve relief from longstanding physical or psychiatric ailments. Some, however, may develop a syndrome known as qi-gong psychotic reaction, described by DSM-IV as "an acute, time-limited episode characterized by dissociative, paranoid, or other psychotic or non-psychotic symptoms", and that "especially vulnerable are individuals who become overly involved" in qi-gong.

I was able to find one case report of qi-gong reactive psychosis. Lim & Lin (1996:369ff) describe a 57-year-old Chinese-American man who presented with a three-week history of auditory and visual hallucinations. The patient had begun qi-gong practices as therapy for chronic problems with kidney stones. After several days of intensive qi-gong, he began hearing voices telling him how to practice qi-gong, and to believe that he had contacted beings from another dimension. He sought help from the qi-gong masters, but to no avail. His wife brought him to see a psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with schizophreniform disorder and treated him with anti-psychotic medications.

Additional information on Qi-gong Psychosis has not been readily available. The majority of information on qi-gong itself is to be found in journals of acupuncture and homeopathic medicine. The single case report I could find is:

Lim, Russell F., and Lin Keh-Ming. (1996) “Cultural formulation of psychiatric diagnosis: Case No. 03: Psychosis following qi-gong in a Chinese immigrant.” Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry 20:369-378.

Similar phenomena have been reported occasionally among practictioners of South Asian meditation techniques, including kundalini yoga.

This site was created on 21 Sep 1996. All original textual and photographic material on these pages is copyrighted 1996-2012 by Timothy M. Hall unless otherwise noted.