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.
(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.)
Have you or anybody you care about ever suffered from depression? How about bipolar disorder? Autism? Schizophrenia? Attention-deficit disorder? Obviously, given the prevalence of these mental and neurological illnesses, the answer is almost certainly affirmative.
Or then again, maybe not. Here’s the dirty little trick that’s been pulled on all of us: each of those illnesses is a wholesale semantic/cultural invention, concocted out of thin air, that deserves to be put in scare quotes. And this, of course, imparts a whole new tone to them. Think about it: there’s an entirely different feeling when you say somebody suffers from “depression” or “ADD.” For full effect, imagine translating the scare quotes into the now-trendy “air quotes.” In fact, why not try it out. Say the words out loud and make the quotation marks with your fingers: “depression,” “autism,” “bipolar disorder,” “attention-deficit disorder,” “schizophrenia.” Feel the irony now coating these familiar psychiatric terms. Note how they no longer seem so familiar and meaningful, how they no longer seem to signify something literally real.
If you’ve successfully achieved this disorienting act of linguistic dislocation and decontextualizing, then you’ve begun to deprogram yourself and wake up from the spell of cultural hypnosis that’s been cast on us all by the American Psychiatric Association and Big Pharma. And that’s not just me talking; it’s actual members of the APA, including, most significantly, the lead editor of the DSM-IV, the fourth edition of the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (see the linked and excerpted articles below).