Siswanto is well known as a psychology clinician as well as an academician of the Catholic University of Soegijapranata, Semarang, Indonesia. He has published three books about psychology, the most recent launched in 2015 entitled “Psikologi Kesehatan Mental: Awas Kesurupan” or “Mental Health of Psychology: Beware of the Possessed.” This book is popular among psychology faculty and students. The term “possessed” raises people’s curiosity and gets them to read the book.
For an Indonesian, when someone is possessed, people believe an outside spirit enters the human body and manifests itself as a different personality. Siswanto determined that “possession” is caused by a deep trauma from the past and surfaces through the human imagination.
Psychology does not recognize being possessed, but it does use the term transference, where a thought/feeling about people with whom one has had a relationship is projected on to someone else. There are several factors that could result in someone thinking they are possessed. It could be violence, disaster, war, or some other traumatic experience.
In Indonesia, the people trusted to deal with the possessed patient are mostly religious leaders with their prayers or the shaman through their rituals. Yet, Siswanto explained, the patient could be healed through psychological methods. He has conducted many seminars about this in some cities in Indonesia such as Aceh, Madura, and Makassar. He added that there is much research about possessed people, especially in Western countries, but the practice to heal the patient through psychology is rare. Siswanto is a pioneer in developing this practice in Indonesia. After many experiences in dealing with possessed patients, Siswanto decided to continue his research and to get a Ph.D. degree in Psychology at Gadjah Mada University, one of the best universities in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Inner peace starts with having peace with the past
Siswanto initially realized one could heal the possessed through psychological methods when he conducted several inner healing sessions at his church. People’s screaming, kicking, scratching, and crying were supposedly manifestations of those possessed. Siswanto developed methods to decrease these manifestations when they were not too strong. For those who had severe traumatic experiences, the strong physical manifestations could not be avoided.
In one case the parents of a high school student claimed their son was possessed because he would scream and kick and felt hot every evening at 6:00 PM. They assumed that a spirit had possessed him because his eyes turned black. A psychiatrist and pastor failed to help him.
The parents finally asked Siswanto to help. Siswanto trained the parents on how to calm down their son, particularly at 6:00 PM. In less than a week, the physical manifestations decreased. During the recovery, Siswanto asked him to explain his experience. The son shared that he had set up a date with a woman he found on Facebook. When they were on their first date, he discovered her pictures posted on Facebook were fake. He did not pursue the relationship, which then made her mad at him. The brother of the girl sent threatening text messages every evening at 6:00 PM. He kept this to himself and said nothing to his parents. The traumatic experience manifested itself in the physical ways described, including stress that caused his eyes’ blood vessels to burst, which is why his eyes turned dark. Eventually, he fully recovered.
Inner healing for peacebuilding
Siswanto received an invitation from the Center of Peace Studies connected to Duta Wacana Foundation, where he conducted a series of inner healing and peacebuilding sessions for children and youth in the conflict areas in Tobelo and Ternate on the eastern side of Indonesia. Siswanto previously learned the fundamentals of peacebuilding, mediation and negotiation in that institute. Tobelo and Ternate were terribly affected from the religious conflict between Muslim and Christian groups in 2002-2006. Tobelo was predominantly Christian, while Ternate was majority Muslim. The post-conflict situation was perilous. Military were everywhere, and they had set up many checkpoints. Mosques were damaged or destroyed in the predominantly Christian areas while churches were affected in the Muslim areas. Youth and children were traumatized by that conflict. The youth community hoped that their younger siblings would no longer have that trauma and be more tolerant of other faiths. The inner healing and peacebuilding sessions were held to help in this process.
In Tobelo, the sessions stressed inner healing because one family member in almost every family was a victim of the conflict. In Ternate, the focus was on inter-religious relationships. The session was designed to make the participants feel comfortable and included nonviolent games. There was a big gap and strong prejudices between Muslims and Christians during the first day. A few days later, the bonding between them had developed.
The most emotional session was that of storytelling. All of them had similar stories, especially about the violence experienced by their family members. One girl shared her painful story when she witnessed her Christian uncle beheaded by her Muslim neighbor. Outside the sessions, some still felt that trauma, such as when some of the girls were frightened when they saw a gardener shouldering an axe or when they saw a medical volunteer wearing a white robe. They remembered the war when many people brought axes as their weapons, and the Jihadist groups wore white cloth. They were relieved when they realized that those people were going back to their daily routine as a gardener and medical staff. On the last day, the participants cried and forgave each other. Even one of the most “fanatic” Muslim youth openly hugged his Christian friend.
Peace is universal and involves all aspects of human life. His capacity to use psychology to return inner peace in people’s lives encourages Siswanto to do more in society. His network has expanded across religions and ethnic groups in Indonesia. With the recommendation and support from LPLAG (Lembaga Perdamaian Lintas Agama dan Etnis – Institute of Peace Across Religions and Ethnicities) in Solo, Central Java, Siswanto was able to take three courses at MPI’s 2018 Annual Peacebuilding Training*. LPLAG’s work is to maintain and sustain peace across religious and ethnic groups in Indonesia. This goal is consistent with his call. Siswanto believes that he could be more actively involved in peacebuilding programs in LPLAG. He also believes he can contribute more to designing curricula for psychological peace in some universities in Indonesia.
For his psychological research about the possessed, he is looking for religious partners to integrate this issue with theology so it becomes more accepted by society. In April 2018, he conducted a workshop for representatives of Catholic priests from all provinces in Indonesia about the possessed from a psychological perspective. This work was to be continued in Ambon City, Eastern Indonesia in August 2018. His practice will help youth and even adults to have inner healing and enable them to maintain inner peace throughout their lives.
*Fundamentals of Peacebuilding (FPB), Be the Change: Designing Transformative Justpeace through the Power of Nonviolence (ANV); and Interreligious Peacebuilding: Approaches for Cooperation, Social Cohesion and Reconciliation (IRPB).