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Myth of reincarnation: a challenge for mental health profession
  1. A A Muhammad Gadit
  1. Dr A A Muhammad Gadit, Discipline of Psychiatry, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 300-Prince Philip Drive, St John’s, NL A1B 3V6, Canada; amin.muhammad{at}


Mental health practitioners often come across a number of challenges in their clinical practice. One such challenge that posed a management dilemma presented with the history of reincarnation. This subject has been discussed in non-scientific literature at length but there is an absolute paucity in scientific literature. This paper describes a case where a boy presented with memories of previous life that started haunting him and caused significant anxiety. The subject of reincarnation needs extensive research in order to understand and manage the resultant clinical challenges.

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Mental health covers a wide variety of issues and challenges, across many disciplines. The myth or theory of reincarnation or re-birth has been discussed mainly in non-scientific literature and it is generally rare for a mental health professional to come across this issue as a diagnostic as well as therapeutic challenge. There is a general disbelief about re-incarnation among Muslims. The following description is about a young Muslim boy.

Recently, a case was presented in the psychiatric out-patient clinic with the following description: “A young boy aged 12, visited India recently along with his parents on vacation. While visiting a city, he expressed his familiarity with it and claimed that he had spent a number of years in this city. The parents were taken aback as this was his first visit to this part of the world. The boy, went on by narrating events about his past life, he identified a house where he claimed to have lived in and described the entire inner structure of the house. The local residents confirmed the existence of such a family about 30 years ago. Since this visit, [the boy] has been disturbed emotionally, he has recurrent dreams about his supposed previous life, cannot identify himself with his parents and is preoccupied with thoughts of a previous life”.

The issue of reincarnation deals with a doctrine or mystical belief that some essential part of a living being survives death to be reborn in a new body, according to this belief a new personality is developed during each life in the physical world, but some part of the being remains constantly present throughout these successive lives as well.1 According to the Hindu religion, “karma” means sum of one’s actions, and the force determines one’s next reincarnation. Thus, the cycle of death and rebirth is governed by karma. According to this belief, once all worldly desires are vanished, the person will not be reborn anymore or in other words, salvation has been achieved. Buddhism does not advocate this view by stating that a person is not reborn but it is the existence of personality or rebirth of character, there is also a belief that it is very rare to be reborn as human. Many Jews do not believe in reincarnation in the present era, though some Christians reject the reincarnation theory yet many churches leave this matter open to individual interpretation due to few biblical references. Islam strongly rejects the concept of reincarnation despite the belief by some Sufi groups about existence of this idea. Few scientists have worked on this issue and brought forward a number of explanations, such as matching of memories because of a violent or untimely death, selective thinking and false memories secondary to own belief system, implantation of memories through cells of degeneration of buried dead bodies affecting pregnant women passing through grave yards who may inhale dust carrying such cells. These may also be certain types of memory errors, according to a new study. Of course, more research is needed in order to understand this phenomenon. However, this particular case posed a real challenge. His history and examination of mental state did not lead to any diagnostic category. The only finding was that of anxiety related to his supposed “previous life memory”. A multidisciplinary team approach was applied and a religious person (an Imam) was invited for his input and possible help if deemed necessary. It is important to mention that all ethical principles were followed. The religious man was somewhat helpful with this case; a little help was available through prescribing an anxiolytic for a defined short-term duration. The major help came through psychotherapeutic input. The child was helped through client-centred approach and play therapy. The client’s fears and confusion were explored. An insightful approach was adopted by reassuring him that there was no doubt about the truth in his history, it was emphasised that many phenomena are unexplained and so one must simply accept things as they are, encouragement for finding the meaning of this experience in a therapeutic milieu was promoted and it was assured that “maybe everyone has past lives—the only difference is that you can remember yours”.

Though the client has come to terms with his dilemma, the past life memories still haunt him. Spiritual input may of significant help in some cases like this and it is worthwhile availing such services in the management of cases, which is in-line with the added spiritual model in defining mental health in totality.


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  • Competing interests: None.

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