Sunday, February 27, 2011

Exorcisms as Psychotherapy?

A recent article in Psychology Today reports a widespread explosion of interest in exorcisms. In the U.S., there are over 500 publicly-known deliverance centers, while in Europe, hundreds of priests have sought training in exorcism because of the needs of their communities. If Hollywood is any reflection of cultural trends, people are interested in the supernatural. Just look at the popularity of movies like The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Amityville Horror.

Science provides no explanation for immaterial beings such as demons. Thus, demonic activity has traditionally been seen as outside the realm of psychotherapy. However, in his studies as a forensic psychologist, Dr. Stephen Diamond raises some startling questions:
• Are there vital existential or spiritual questions addressed by exorcism that psychotherapy detrimentally neglects?
• Should psychologists consider certain techniques employed by exorcists when treating angry, psychotic, or violent patients?
• What can we learn about psychotherapy from studying exorcism?

“Our recent overemphasis on cognition, behavior, genetics, neurology and biochemistry must be counterbalanced by the inclusion of the spiritual and depth psychological dimension of human existence.” Could Dr. Diamond be acknowledging the legitimacy of spiritual influences in therapy? It certainly appears so, opening the door for discussion with our non-Christian colleagues.

As future counselors, it is critical to wrestle through the implications and involvement of the supernatural world in our practice. Diamond’s assertions of the necessity to re-examine the spiritual issues of our clients deserve a welcome “amen” from Christian counselors, who view personhood as both material and immaterial.

But this “amen” must surely be followed by a “what now?” for if secular psychology is seeing the need for examination into clients’ spiritual realities, Christian counselors must certainly have a voice in the discussion. Our understanding of personhood allows us to readily acknowledge the spiritual and biological influences of our clients’ behavior. More than that, Scripture teaches that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, the power of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12)

The challenge, then, is dialoguing the truths of Ephesians 6:12 with our non-Christian colleagues in a professional context.

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