A psychiatric classification of possessions

The difference between a mental disorder and a possession is not always obvious, especially in cases, where medicine claims the right to spiritual matters. Every case takes intuition and a separation of a psychiatrist’s and an exorcist’s competence.

The specificity of classification of possessions

As can clearly be seen, the classification below, marked with code F44.3 excludes the interpretation of a possession as an enslavement of a person’s body by a demon. The phenomenon of possession is recognized as a state somewhere between a trance, epilepsy, a schizophrenic psychosis and a sensation of being overcome by a spirit, a demon or some force. However, it is only a question of the patient’s “sensation”, since a naturalist approach to illness excludes the existence of Satan and – in effect – the possibility of a demon’s influence on a human.

The classification completely ignores symptoms such as levitation, ability to speak unlearned foreign languages, strength disproportionate to body-build, aversion for blessed items (with an ability to recognize blessed objects from ones that have not been blessed), knowledge of hidden events and paranormal phenomena in the surroundings. On the other hand, it does not answer the question of what the reason of a possession, tormenting or obsession might be. Such a shallow recognition results in harm for the possessed, who undergo pharmacological therapy. It does harm to the psychiatrists themselves as well, who – when encountering cases of authentic possession – remain helpless and exposed to demonic aggression. An example of a mistaken diagnosis was Anneliese Michel, who underwent a troublesome therapy using antiepileptic medicine. It resulted in her death due to exhaustion.

The work of Simone Morabito

Simone Morabito, an Italian psychiatry professor nominated for the Nobel Prize, presents a different scientific approach to the phenomenon of possession. During his long experience in the medical field, professor Morabito met with cases of possession many times. The result of his research are books and numerous articles which might help doctors unfamiliar with the problem to react suitably. We strongly recommend his publications, as well as the book Exorcists and psychiatrists [Esorcisti e Psichiatri – not published in English] by father Gabriele Amorth, the exorcist of the Diocese of Rome.

Often the obsessed patients receive a psychologist’s certificate stating a lack of any dysfunctions, even though they themselves feel serious disorders. A visit to an exorcist priest with a request for recognition and advice is then recommended. Such a recognition might also prove very useful in uncertain cases, when there is no certainty whether the psychiatric disorders do not have a demonic basis. A certificate from a psychiatrist or a psychologist describing the disorders (or a lack of disorders) might help the exorcist in his own recognition.

A fragment of a discussion of diseases listed by the current ICD-10 disease classification (The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems – 10th Revision).

Trance and possession disorders

Disorders in which there is a temporary loss of the sense of personal identity and full awareness of the surroundings. Include here only trance states that are involuntary or unwanted, occurring outside religious or culturally accepted situations.

Excludes: states associated with:

  • acute and transient psychotic disorders ( F23.- )
  • organic personality disorder ( F07.0 )
  • postconcussional syndrome ( F07.2 )
  • psychoactive substance intoxication ( F10-F19 with common fourth character .0)
  • schizophrenia ( F20.- )
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