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When mental illness is really demonic possession, according to a psychiatrist

The following two paragraphs are excerpted from what’s basically your everyday, run-of-the-mill article about the reality of demonic possession as distinct from mental illness. Written by a board-certified psychiatrist and professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College. For The Washington Post.

Move along. Nothing to see here.

For the past two-and-a-half decades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness – which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work. It’s an unlikely role for an academic physician, but I don’t see these two aspects of my career in conflict. The same habits that shape what I do as a professor and psychiatrist — open-mindedness, respect for evidence and compassion for suffering people — led me to aid in the work of discerning attacks by what I believe are evil spirits and, just as critically, differentiating these extremely rare events from medical conditions.

Is it possible to be a sophisticated psychiatrist and believe that evil spirits are, however seldom, assailing humans? Most of my scientific colleagues and friends say no, because of their frequent contact with patients who are deluded about demons, their general skepticism of the supernatural, and their commitment to employ only standard, peer-reviewed treatments that do not potentially mislead (a definite risk) or harm vulnerable patients. But careful observation of the evidence presented to me in my career has led me to believe that certain extremely uncommon cases can be explained no other way.

FULL TEXT: As a psychiatrist, I diagnose mental illness. Also, I help spot demonic possession.

(For more on the relationship — and distinction — between possession and mental illness, check your local library or any online bookseller for my Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics: The Paranormal from Alchemy to Zombies, which contains separate entries on possession and exorcism. Also see relevant entries in editor Joe Laycock’s excellent Spirit Possession around the World: Possession, Communion, and Demon Expulsion across Cultures.)


The reality of paranormal trauma and the negative bias of mental health care

Here’s Alexander De Foe, a Ph.D. candidate in Psychological Studies at Monash University, writing for Australia’s respected online news site The Conversation and asserting the importance of non-judgmental psychological help for people who have suffered from traumatic paranormal experiences:

The therapy room should be a place where clients feel safe and comfortable talking about anything. But some people are reluctant to discuss their paranormal experiences for fear of judgement, ridicule, or that they will be incorrectly diagnosed with a mental disorder. Many practitioners challenge the validity of their client’s [sic] claims rather than focusing on the emotional significance particular experiences might bear. Part of the issue may be therapists’ rigid perspectives on paranormal phenomena — they tend to err on the side of diagnosis rather than hearing clients out and exploring a client’s inner world.

It is the role of the therapist to encourage their clients to talk about their experiences, rather than jumping to a diagnosis or criticism about the validity of their claims. In many cases, their paranormal accounts relate to spiritual, rather than pathological, experiences and exploring the symbolic nature of the accounts may be more beneficial than focusing on a diagnosis.

. . . There is good reason to be sceptical of claims about the paranormal. After all, rates of fraud are quite high, with proclaimed psychic tarot card readers and mediums profiting from unsuspecting clients. Organisations such as the Australian Skeptics have attempted to counter such fraud by offering A$100,000 to anyone who can demonstrate psychic ability under controlled conditions. Yet, our mainstream scientific understanding of human consciousness is by no means complete. There is still much argument among researchers about what constitutes “normal” and “abnormal” or “altered” states of consciousness.

. . . Regardless of the opinions one has about the potential existence of a paranormal reality, it is important to understand the subjective significance of altered states of consciousness.

More: “Hauntings, ESP and Mystical Visions: Counselling after Paranormal Experiences