Hallucinations or Hearing Voices? Part 2.

Continuing on from the previous post, here is the 2nd instalment of the research project protocol to test the efficacy of SRT under clinical controlled conditions. Note: all bibliographic references are in the bibliography of the book.


Cases of spirit possession, harassment and obsession have been recorded in a wide variety of literature sources including The Holy Bible where accounts of Christ casting out demons are an essential component of Christian theology. From biblical times, right through to the emergence of the scientific enlightenment of the eighteenth century, religious exorcism was the accepted practice of dealing with sickness that was deemed to be caused by spirit obsession and possession (Ellenberger, 1970, 5). However, since Franz Mesmer challenged Father Johann Joseph Gassner’s expertise with prayer and exorcism in 1775 with his “scientific” theory of animal magnetism (Mesmer, 1766; Midelfort, 2005) healing the sick has been the virtual monopoly of medical science. Consequently, cases that were previously deemed to be of spirit origin have been treated as hysteria (Crabtree, 1993) dual consciousness (Prince, 1908) Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) (Crabtree, 1985) or more recently Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) (Dell and O’Neil, 2009) and Trance Possession Disorder (TPD) according to DSM V (Cardena et al., 2009). During the nineteenth century Pierre Janet encountered three cases reported as demonic possession and successfully treated them as “pseudo-possession” – that is cases of self-created (autogenic) demons. Janet’s case of Achille (Janet, 1894) provides a blueprint of how to deal with the self-created demon by the use of hypnosis.
On the treatment of multiple personality, James Hyslop (1919) professor of logic and ethics at Columbia University from 1889 to 1902, and editor of the American Journal of Psychical Research wrote:

The term obsession is employed by psychic researchers to denote the abnormal influence of spirits on the living…. The cures affected have required much time and patience, the use of psychotherapeutics of an unusual kind, and the employment of psychics to get into contact with the obsessing agents and thus to release the hold which such agents have, or to educate them to voluntary abandonment of their persecutions…. Every single case of dissociation and paranoia to which I have applied cross-reference has yielded to the method and proved the existence of foreign agencies complicated with the symptoms of mental or physical deterioration. It is high time to prosecute experiments on a large scale in a field that promises to have as much practical value as any application of the scalpel or the microscope (Wickland 1924:8-9).

The observation by Hyslop that “every single case of dissociation and paranoia … are complicated by the presence of foreign agencies” provides initial support for the hypothesis that dissociative disorders can be confused with spirit interference. Furthermore, Hyslop’s reference to “the use of psychotherapeutics of a very unusual kind, and the employment of psychics to get into contact with the possessing agents” is arguably the first mention of a treatment method in the English-speaking world that has subsequently become known as Spirit Release Therapy (SRT).
Moving further into the twentieth century, Carl Gustav Jung, founder of Depth Psychology, gives a personal account of releasing spirits from his own home in Seven Sermons to the Dead (Hoeller, 1982). Several psychiatrists have reported cases and published monographs on their experiences with patients suffering from what they attest as cases of spirit obsession, harassment, and possession (Wickland, 1924; Crabtree, 1985; Fiore, 1987; Naegeli-Osjord, 1988; Hickman, 1994; Baldwin, 1995) (to name a few).
In view of the increase in cases reported by these authors, and the methods used for treating them, it is important that such methods are subjected to scientific testing for validity and efficacy. Apart from the above referenced monographs, spirit possession, obsession (or attachment) have rarely been reported in the medical literature (Martinez-Taboas, 1999). One such study by Pfeifer (1999) reported that of a sample of 343 psychiatric outpatients, 56% of schizophrenics reported a high prevalence of beliefs that their condition was symptomatic of demonic influence. A further 29% of patients diagnosed with affective disorders, 48% of anxiety disorders, 37% of personality disorders and 23% of adjustment disorders held similar beliefs. The author concluded that beliefs in possession or demonic influence are not confined to delusional disorders and should not be qualified as mere delusion, but should be interpreted against the cultural and religious background which could be shaping causal modes of distress in individuals. This conclusion is sympathetic with the anthropological view that beliefs in spirit possession are socio-culturally specific (Lewis, 2003) which is the consensual view shared by mainstream psychiatrists (Littlewood, 2009).
According to the ICD-10, Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders: (World Health Organisation, 1992: F44.3) Trance and Possession Disorders (TPD) mean disorders in which there is a temporary loss of both the sense of personal identity and full awareness of the surroundings; in some instances the individual acts as if taken over by another personality, spirit, deity or “force”. Attention and awareness may be limited to or concentrated upon only one or two aspects of the immediate environment, and there is often a limited but repeated set of movements, postures, and utterances. According to ICD-10, only trance disorders that are involuntary or unwanted and that intrude into ordinary activities by occurring outside (or being a prolongation of) religious or other culturally accepted situations should be considered as pathological (ibid). In other words, if the possession trance causes no harm then it is not a sign of mental illness. On the contrary, it is acknowledged in many cultures throughout the world that the possession-trance of the shaman is an integral part of the traditional healing ritual, and that persons who are suffering from psychosis may approach the traditional healer for relief.

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