IF IN DOUBT, CAST IT OUT?
The Evolution of a Belief System Regarding Possession & Exorcism
Ralph B. Allison, M.D.
The Journal of Psychology and Christianity
Abstract: The question of whether or not spirit possession exists, along with exorcism as its
treatment, is explored. The evolution of a psychiatrist's belief system that initially rejected such
concepts is followed over a 20-year period. He performed his first exorcism on a patient who
appeared to have Multiple Personality Disorder. Subsequent patients manifested "lost souls," "evil
demons" made by "emotional imagination," and Internalized Imaginary Companions. Exorcism
seemed to be effective in ridding some of these patients with such products of emotional
Whether or not "spirit possession" exists is still being debated in the American scientific
community. One example is in the deliberation of that group of anthropologists concerned with
consciousness and worldwide healing practices, including shamanism. "[Michael] Harner's paper
'Shamanism, Science and Spirits' emphasized the fact that the existence of spirits was not
disproven and, thus, according to Popper's definition of science it should not be ignored by
science, otherwise scientists would be basing their dismissal of spirits on 'faith.' He spoke in a
very logical fashion, about the positive conclusions regarding spirits, which he came to through
his long term research and participation in comparative experiential shamanism."(Hriskos, 1999)
In a 1974 paper titled "Possession and Exorcism: Fact or Fantasy?" which I presented to a
meeting of the Northern California Psychiatric Society (NCPS), I could only cite four articles in
the English language psychiatric literature on the subject. Three dealt with citizens of foreign
countries, Egypt (Nelson, 1971), Celon (Obeysekere, 1970), and New Guinea (Salisbury, 1968).
All authors viewed the phenomena as a culturally acceptable way to resolve severe psychological
conflicts within the person's belief system. The one article about Americans (Ludwig, 1965) dealt
with five Spanish-Americans and one Caucasian. The Caucasian was a 37-year-old college
educated female with a Protestant upbringing. She had no cultural basis for her belief that she was
possessed by a fat, naked, male demon who tempted her to become a prostitute and engage in
The most complete compendium of stories of possession was by Oesterreich (1966), first
published in 1921. This German professor of philosophy concluded with a statement that, in his
opinion, the basis for all these cases of possession by demons from outside lay in the minds of the
Any belief system which posits the possibility that spiritual entities can inhabit the body of
a living individual must provide a remedy. In medicine, this is equivalent to learning how to
extract foreign objects which have entered the physical bodies of our traumatized patients.
Accurate diagnosis of where the projectile is located is followed by a carefully calculated surgical
extraction designed to not harm the normal tissues of the patient.
In the case of "spirit possession," such surgery is called "exorcism." Since the "foreign
object" is of a nonphysical nature, it must be removed by nonphysical forces. Therefore, the
therapist, who is physical in nature, must call upon helpful, positively oriented nonphysical entities
("helper spirits") to remove the "harmful spirit." This is usually done with words and behavior
which symbolize the desired spiritual result.
The Evolution of a Belief System
Before being trained as a medical doctor at the very scientific UCLA School of Medicine
and as a psychiatrist at Stanford Medical Center, I was raised as the son of a Presbyterian
clergyman, who was also the son of a Presbyterian pastor. After both my father and mother
graduated from the San Anselmo Theological Seminary in Marin County, California, they went as
missionaries to the Philippines. I was their second child, born in Quezon City near Manila in 1931.
After we returned to the United States in 1935, my father pastored in several small towns in
California, where I had to sit and listen to his sermons every single Sunday morning.
My father worked on his sermon all week long, as preaching on Sunday was the high point
of his week. He was an intellectual type of preacher, giving lessons for living based on Biblical
stories. He never tried to indoctrinate anyone, including me, with any particular theology. Never
once do I remember him preaching or talking about possession by spirits or exorcism. When, as
an adult, I first shared with him my experiences on this subject, his answer was, "In the straight
line churches, if we have given serious thought, we have said, 'This may be all right for the
emotionally unstable, but as for us, . . . Well, I don't know.'"
During the 17 years before I left home for college, I heard my father preach "The Word of
God," most every Sunday morning. I was sure what he preached from the pulpit was straight from
God, because that was the way it worked in churches. But I also lived with him at home all week
long. I was aware he was a flawed human being who tried his best to cope with complex social
situations but often in imperfect ways. I also knew his office well, so I knew the books he read
from which he prepared his sermons. Never did I see supernatural agents come to tell him what
God wanted him to preach next Sunday.
While in medical school, I boarded in the home of a woman, who was a convert to
Christian Science. During our late night discussions, she tried to convince me that we each had a
soul which would continue to exist after death. I well remember my response. "The only thing that
will exist after we die will be the memory our friends had of us." That was my belief system at the
time, a product of my scientific education. I had no room in my belief system for spirits of any
The Development of a Psychiatrist-Exorcist
In 1972, while in private practice in Santa Cruz, California, my belief system was shattered
when I was exposed to my first patient with Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). She was the
subject of my first paper (Allison, 1974) and chapter two of my book (Allison, 1999). She was the
first patient to show me her Inner Self Helper (ISH), a dissociated part of her mind who knew
God and all about the patient and her problems.
Soon after that, another lady showed what appeared to be a hostile alter-personality, so
now I thought I had two patients with MPD in my practice, an unheard of coincidence at the time.
Other than seeing the movie, "The Three Faces of Eve," I had had no training or experience in
treatment of dissociated patients. But I had learned to use hypnosis at Stanford, so I was
comfortable working with patients in trance.
This second patient, called Carrie in chapter three of my book, was in and out of our
psychiatric ward because her angry "alter-personality," Wanda, cut up her arms every time she
was rejected by a boyfriend. Over time, she demonstrated 11 other psychic entities, and I was
getting nowhere in therapy. By Christmas of 1972, I had become desperate and was looking for
any way to stop her from making more personalities and creating more self destructive crises.
A local specialist in internal medicine, Francis Jacks, M.D., then put me in touch with
Robert Leichtman, M.D. Dr. Leichtman had practiced internal medicine in Ohio, then became a
Unitarian minister. He was now in California teaching "mind dynamics" courses. As described in
my book, Dr. Leichtman wrote me that he believed Carrie to be possessed by Bonny, the spirit of
a deceased drug addict from New York.
My initial reaction was one of shock and disbelief. But, as I thought about my
predicament, I had to give the idea of possession as a cause of some of her problems serious
consideration. I had nothing more to offer from my psychiatric arsenal. What harm could an
exorcism do to the lady? As far as I was concerned, it only meant saying some religious words to
her and seeing what happened.
Being of a scientific bent and knowing how suggestible she was, especially under
hypnosis, I chose to approach the situation as a research project. I decided to do the exorcism
"blind," meaning the subject would not know what I planned to do. I swore Dr. Jacks to secrecy.
We told nothing of this idea to Carrie or the nursing staff. Dr. Jacks and I arranged to meet with
Carrie in her hospital room privately, where I would do an exorcism while he witnessed and tape
Carrie had been baptized in a Lutheran church, but she was not a church goer. I knew no
clergyman in Santa Cruz who might be willing to perform an exorcism. Bringing in an outsider
would have contaminated my experiment by allowing another uncontrolled variable. How could I
bring in a clergyman without tipping my hand as to what I thought was wrong with her?
Being licensed by the State of California to practice medicine and surgery, I had the legal
power of life and death over my patients. I did not think I needed more credentials to say a few
harmless religious words over one of my suffering patients. I was aware that I had not been
ordained by any church, but I had known my preacher-father for decades, and most of his closest
friends were clergymen. I couldn't see how a ceremony called ordination could improve my
talents, in the sight of God, more than had graduation from medical school and passing the state
licensing examination. I knew from my genealogist-mother that I had descended from a long line
of clergymen. Maybe that heritage would count for something.
The ceremony was to be held in a Catholic hospital run by Dominican nuns. Since my
future professional reputation could be at stake, I dared not tell any outsiders my plans. If nothing
bad happened, I could write an innocuous, vague note in the patient's chart. I had no idea what I
would do if something startling and beneficial happened. Frankly, I didn't expect that result. But,
for my patient's benefit, I had to try.
I asked Carrie to come into her hospital room with me and Dr. Jacks for a therapy session
under hypnosis. She had shown me no entities or personalities who claimed to be invading evil
spirits. However, in her chart were some strange complaints I could not explain. While visiting
Disneyland at age 13, she was struck with a weird feeling after going to bed. Her face was down
on the pillow, and she had the feeling she was being choked to death. Since, earlier, she had
almost choked to death on a piece of hard candy, she panicked. She then had her first
After returning home to her sociopathic husband following a separation in 1968, she had a
marked increase in her feeling she was going to die on New Year's Eve of 1972. She had been in
the hospital that night, and nothing happened. But, it was because of that hospitalization that I
had asked Dr. Leichtman for his opinion, and Dr. Jacks and I met with her in January of 1973.
She also had a constant feeling of evil and doom around her, telling her to walk into the
waves. She found herself walking into the surf, fully clothes. Once, at home, she somersaulted
into the bathtub and landed with her head under water. She felt she was held there by a force
stronger than herself. She became terrified that she would choke to death on food or drink. While
in nursing school, she stopped eating and was hospitalized for intravenous feeding. She felt there
was a spirit or shadow always with her. Because of her certainty she would die young, she felt
compelled to crowd into life everything she could.
In her hospital room, I hypnotized her and asked her if a "Bonny" was present. She
repeatedly indicated "no" with finger signals. I then asked her to "go deeper than hypnosis." She
then indicated a Bonny was present, and she wanted to be rid of her. How I exorcized Bonny is
described in my book.
The actual exorcism ceremony took only two and some half minutes. It turned out to be
the most important two and some half minutes of my professional career, as doing so removed all
the protection of my "guild" and left me ostracized.
After the session, Carrie no longer had the feeling she was going to die soon. She no
longer had the feeling of the "spirit or vision, a shadow of something always with me." She now
had hope for the future. I was able to discharge her from the hospital a week later, and she lived
another five years, most of it without being in therapy.
In later discussions, we were able to place the origin of the feeling she was going to die at
the episode at Disneyland at age 13, with a magnification of the feeling when she returned to her
husband in 1968.
When a call for papers came for the NCPS meeting in Yosemite in April of 1974, I
decided to present this case and report on the successful exorcism I had done. I believed that one
duty of a professional is to share newly discovered knowledge with others in his professional
guild. It was considered unprofessional to hide new and beneficial discoveries from others, to
keep secret remedies to oneself. The right thing to do was to share knowledge I had with my
psychiatric brethren. That is what these meetings were meant to accomplish.
In the paper, I reported on three cases where I had done exorcisms. One was Carrie,
another was a young lady with MPD, and the third was a woman who saw the Devil around her
only after participation in an Assembly of God prayer session.
The presentation at Yosemite went uneventfully, and no one in the audience said anything
to me about my presentation. But back home, one of the psychiatrists told the hospital Director of
Medical Education about my talk. He asked me to repeat it at a hospital medical staff educational
meeting. I agreed.
Whereas most of those at Yosemite were strangers to me, those in the Santa Cruz meeting
were my personal friends, doctors with whom I worked every day. I had never told any of the
nuns at the hospital what I was doing. I was fully aware the Catholic church did not allow
exorcisms accept by specially designated priests after approval by a bishop. Obviously, I had
neither sought nor received such a sanction.
When I presented my paper to my peers, the first question was, "Do you believe any of
this really happened?"
My answer was, "When I am talking about it now to you, I am as ambivalent as I know all
of you are. But when I am with the patient doing it, I am 100% convinced its really happening."
To be successful, my belief system had to be the same as that of the patient -- spirit
possession existed and exorcism corrects the problem. But afterwards, when I looked back and
thought about what I had done, I didn't know what to believe.
At the time, I was Chief of Psychiatry at the hospital. After five years in that position,
another psychiatrist replaced me. I had welcomed him into the community and shared an office
with him, but he could not stand my patients with MPD. They came to detest him and he them.
Wherever patients with MPD are, controversy is sure to follow. They polarized the nurses
and doctors on the psychiatric ward into "skeptics" and "believers." Soon this new Chief's
schizophrenic inpatients were fighting with my patients with MPD. He then formed a committee
to find reasons to revoke my admitting privileges. A meeting of all psychiatrists and psychologists
on the hospital staff was called to consider their recommendation that my admitting privileges at
the hospital are revoked because I had admitted too many patients with MPD.
At the time, I had a number of flamboyant dissociated patients, the likes of which none of
us had ever seen before. They acted out outrageously, both in the hospital and in the community.
Some thought they were possessed, such as "Christina Peters," (Peters & Schwarz, 1978) who
wrote about the exorcism I did on her in her autobiography.
With success in doing exorcisms, as well as various hypnotic techniques I devised working
with patients in a trance, I came to feel quite cocky about my healing talents. I developed a
reputation of being able to handle the most difficult patients in town. The other psychiatrists
steered these hard-to-handle patients to me, without my knowing it at the time. The bigger the
challenge, the better I liked it. Pretty soon I was "too big for my britches."
When the new departmental chairman called for a meeting regarding my privileges, I had
to take stock of my own attitude. I was attending a local Baptist church, but not for the religious
activities. Sitting in the balcony during the Sunday service, away from the pressures of my
professional and home life, gave me an hour a week to reflect on my situation.
During the service the Sunday before the disciplinary meeting, I was looking for answers
as to how to cope with this serious dilemma. While the pastor preached his sermon, in the air in
front of me, I could almost see the word "PRIDE" printed in bold letters. Then I knew my most
serious problem. I was so full of pride at all the great work I was doing, I had alienated even
those who were still my friends. I had to "come down off my high horse" and join the human race
The new chief had never told me he wanted me off the hospital staff because I was doing
exorcisms. Nobody felt free to criticize me for that. Undoubtedly the news had made the gossip
circuit in that small town. Only one doctor, a neurologist, took the appropriate step and
confronted me about my actions. He was concerned that I was only going to bring harm upon
myself by continuing in my present behavior.
At the departmental meeting, the hospital Medical Director attended to protect the
hospital's interest. No one had interviewed my patients or the nurses to find out if anyone had
complaints about my hospital practice. All they could complain about was that I must be doing
something wrong because I had admitted so many patients with diagnoses of MPD. Any other
complaints remained unexpressed and therefore unaddressed.
Finally, the Medical Director told them that curtailing my admitting privileges would open
the hospital up to a major law suit from me. I recognized their need for a graceful exit and offered
to admit patients with MPD only in case of emergencies. Since I had never admitted them except
in emergencies, I lost nothing, but they felt they gained some control over me.
That didn't stop the Chief of Psychiatry. Upon failing to convince my peers I was
unsuitable to continue practicing inpatient psychiatry, he persuaded the president of the NCPS to
start an investigation of me. A Jungian analyst in San Francisco was assigned to investigate his
complaints regarding my behavior.
By then I had started collaborating with Ted Schwarz to write my book, so I offered to
send the analyst each chapter as it was written. He agreed to that method of investigation, and I
never heard anything more from the NCPS.
According to patients of mine, this same Chief of Psychiatry told potential referral sources
that they should not send me new patients, because, "You know, Dr. Allison is psychotic."
I have no first-hand knowledge of why he thought that of me. Possibly my belief that spirit
possession was real and exorcism had benefit was enough evidence of mental illness for him. We
do have a common phrase, "Anyone who believes that must be crazy."
Even though it is a policy of the American Psychiatric Association that psychiatrists are
not to consider a patient's different belief system evidence of mental illness, it is easy enough for
humans to do. All of us psychiatrists had been trained when Sigmund Freud's views were
considered "scientific," a word which is the Seal of Approval even today. While critical books of
Freud's theories have since been published (Webster, 1996), in the view of many in my profession
at that time, Freud could do no wrong. I had rejected many of his views as incorrect dogma
unsupported by my own experience with Americans. But to go so far as to act as if the beliefs
held by unscientific, backward foreigners that spirit possession and exorcism were real was going
What I failed to realize has recently been stated by Martin (1998). "A scientific dissenter
should first realize that science is a system of power as well as knowledge, in which interest
groups play a key role and insiders have an extra advantage. Dissenters are likely to be ignored or
dismissed. If dissenters gain some recognition or outside support, they may be attacked. In the
face of such obstacles, several strategies are available, which include mimicking science, aiming at
lower status outlets, enlisting patrons, seeking a different audience, exposing suppression of
dissent, and building a social movement."
The 1980 publication of "Minds In Many Pieces," which Ted Schwarz and I wrote for the
general public instead of for "scientific" psychiatrists, moved this issue onto a larger stage. Now
my views were known outside of central California. An organization now called the International
Society for the Study of Dissociation (ISSD) was formed, and therapists interested in working
with patients with MPD now had a place to share notes. Most were like myself, working quietly
in small towns, thinking we were all alone with our exotic patients.
Some of those who became leaders in ISSD had been trained in Freudian psychoanalytic
institutes. They had to believe the Freudian way, or they would not graduate as certified analysts.
Some of them were not happy with my views on anything that had not been pronounced
"orthodox" by Freud, who had long since died. Spirit possession and exorcism were not approved
of in any of Freud's papers.
My role in the development of the "MPD Movement" is clearly laid out by Hacking
(1995). He graciously writes, "The last thing that an emergent science wants is intimations of
Madame Blavatsky, so Allison has been slightly marginalized." At the meetings, only a very few
of the leaders would even eat a meal with me, much less converse with me. My requests for
presenting workshops were ignored when the "scientific" leaders were in charge of the schedule. I
was allowed to present a series of papers, but they were always scheduled for small rooms where
the attendance was modest. In recognition of the sensitivities of the other therapists, I never
mentioned possession or exorcism in any of these papers or workshops. I talked about treatment
techniques which I had found useful, not mentioning that some of them had evolved from my
experiences doing exorcism.
I knew intuitively that any paper with my name on it would be rejected out of hand by the
Freudian trained editor of the society's journal. I finally tested my intuition by submitting a
traditionally written paper on a legal case, from my prison experience, and he rejected it as
"unscientific." I submitted it unchanged to the editor of a forensic psychiatry journal, where it was
published in the next edition. (Allison, 1996)
The final evidence of my status was apparent at a 1996 Budapest meeting on hypnosis. A
Freudian trained "expert" and I were on the same panel. He presented his paper, and then I gave
my talk. Possession and exorcism had no place in either paper. But, when I finished, he gave his
commentary, "Read Dr. Allison's early papers for his excellent description of the patients. But
when you read his theories, don't believe them!"
I believe that I committed the first sin, in the eyes of my "scientific" critics, by doing an
exorcism at all. I would have been a proper psychiatrist if I had done nothing, which would have
led to Carrie's suicide five years earlier than it actually happened.
My second sin was announcing it to the guild I belonged to. I didn't realize that I had
sinned in the first place, and now I told my peers about my actions and didn't even apologize.
My Reasons and Criteria for Doing Exorcisms
Why did I do exorcisms and what criteria did I use when I chose to do them?
The "why" is easy to answer. Sometimes one of these difficult patients whom no other
psychiatrist would treat presented me with an entity who was talking and acting extremely
dangerously, and who had no apparent psychological roots in the patient's mind. They might
promise to kill the patient's body by a specific time, or threatened and try to kill me.
Yes, I could call an ambulance and hospitalize them. But I would still have to deal with
them later. That would not solve the underlying problem. When pure rage and "evil intent" are
being manifested, there is no time for quiet contemplation of therapeutic options and an
intellectual analysis of motives. I had to do something, and, since I had broken the barrier by
doing my first exorcism and having a positive result, the procedure was in my mind as a viable
option, if all else failed.
My criteria evolved over time. Since I used hypnosis readily, I saw numerous patients who
manifested other entities only in trance. Each case had to be evaluated as to the most likely origin
of the entity talking to me. In several cases, the entity claimed to be the spirit of a relative who
had invaded the mind of my patient and was determined to do her harm. In such a case, exorcism
was simply the ordering of that "spirit" to go back to where it came from. This resulted in an
alleviation of the patient's symptoms, and we then went on with traditional therapy.
Each patient with MPD, by my definition, (Allison, 1998) had a dissociated Inner Self
Helper (ISH) who knew who was what inside the mind of the patient. Various entities might
come out and operate the body during a session. If one was particularly nasty, but not of a
protective nature, the ISH would tell me that it was "pure anger." That would be my clue that it
was not an alter-personality which eventually was to become part of the entire personality.
Something that was "pure anger" could and should be removed from the patient, just as pus is
removed by a surgeon operating on a patient with an abscess. The ISH expected me to perform an
exorcism. If I were to misunderstand its intentions, the ISH would come out and stop me before I
had harmed the patient. Both the ISH and I knew that no alter-personality could be exorcized, no
matter how nasty it might be. Eventually it had to be integrated with the rest of the personalities.
Subsequent Teaching Cases: Elise
A lady with MPD called Elise in my book (Allison, 1999) was my most flamboyant patient
in Santa Cruz. She repeatedly manifested both alter-personalities and various "spirits" while under
my care. She was highly psychic and Grade V hypnotizable, as well as a professional artist with
great creative imagination. These are the patients who present the greatest diagnostic puzzles.
One evening Elise had been gone from her apartment for several hours. She had called her
landlady from the Santa Cruz harbor, several miles from her home. She had no idea how or why
she was at the harbor among the fishing boats. The landlady was going to fetch Elise and asked
me to meet them when they returned home. I agreed and drove to their apartment house.
On arrival, I met with Elise, who had no memory of walking several miles to the harbor. I
hypnotized her to find out why she had taken this long walk. Her body was then taken over by the
"spirit" of a woman who told me she had been looking for her husband and son at the harbor. She
said her husband had left her and taken their son with him to the harbor at Myrtle Beach, South
Carolina, on the Atlantic coast. She had gone searching for them at the harbor, and, when she
could not find them, she drowned herself in the Atlantic Ocean. This had happened several years
She was still looking for her son and had borrowed Elise's body to continue the search. I
told her she had chosen the wrong coastline, so her use of my patient's body was clearly pointless
and inappropriate. She reminded me of the stories told by Dr. Wickland (1924), whose wife was a
medium with many similar experiences. I decided to use his method of persuading "lost souls" to
go "home" where they belonged.
I advised the "lost spirit" to accept the fact that she was dead and should no longer be
among the living. I had her look to her left and right, suggesting that she would see darkness to
one side and light to the other side. I then suggested that her relatives were waiting for her "in the
light" and that she should go there permanently. She finally agreed and departed "for the light."
When she was gone, Elise was back to "normal," just a lady with MPD.
Elise presented me with a number of similar experiences, all of which ended in similar
successful conclusions. We both shared the same belief system that these invading spirits existed
and could move from body to body. They had their reasons, which they often explained to me.
We also knew they were only temporary residents in her, as I knew how to persuade them to
move on, sometimes with a great dramatic scene.
Marie in Yolo County
Upon leaving Santa Cruz for Yolo County, California, in 1978, I soon was treating my
next "teaching case" with MPD, a lady named Marie. She had dissociated at age six months, when
her mother tried to kill her in her crib. After three years of therapy with me, she integrated all her
alter-personalities into her Original Personality, which had returned to control of her body near
the end of therapy, 30 years after abdicating control of it. After last living in human society as a
six-month-old infant, she now had returned to operate a 30-year-old body. As her therapist, I was
the only adult human she trusted. She expected me to teach her how to operate as a social being
in the Sacramento area.
Due to factors unrelated to her, I decided to quit my job at the clinic where I was treating
her and move to San Luis Obispo County. When I told Marie of my decision, she panicked. She
didn't know how she would survive without my guidance.
In her dissociated state before treatment, she had been a devoted and involved member of
a Southern Baptist Church. She had even been engaged to the assistant minister for a time. She
believed everything the pastor preached from the pulpit, including his belief that demons and
devils abound in the world and are responsible for most of the world's ills.
Her body was taken over by a series of "evil demons" during our therapy sessions. They
said they were agents of Satan and Beelzebub, who had ordered them to kill me. They attacked
me physically and clearly wanted to end my life.
I had spent the previous three years helping her angry but protective alter-personalities
give up their anger at her abusive parents. But these entities were not like them. All the alter-
personalities had integrated to make the present Marie. These evil demons were clearly not
Being threatened with imminent bodily destruction, I decided to exorcize them as soon as
I could. They all cowed in fear when I spoke the words "Jesus Christ." I said a simple exorcism
speech and ordered them to leave my patient's body. They disappeared, Marie calmed down, and
I left for San Luis Obispo on schedule.
Thirteen years later, after retirement, Marie agreed to write her story with me. By then she
had married and divorced her second husband, had gotten off Social Security Disability, and was
fully employed in a State office in Sacramento.
She explained to me that, when I had told her I was leaving town, she had panicked since
she believed that she could not survive as a newly arrived person. She used what she called
"emotional imagination" to create the devils and demons which took over her body. She had
hoped that this display would entice me to stay in town and continue to treat her. At the time, she
was the amalgam of all her alter-personalities, one of whom believed the Baptist preacher's view
that demons are responsible for most of the world's miseries. She imagined into existence exactly
what he had described in his sermons.
Exorcisms in Prison
The exorcisms I did of Marie's "demons" in 1981 were the last ones I ever performed. I
came to San Luis Obispo to work as a staff psychiatrist at the California Men's Colony State
Prison (CMC). During my orientation to the functions of the Board of Prison Terms (parole
board), I sat in on the hearing of an elderly murderer. The Board members noted that he had no
behavior problems the past year, but that he had a long record of criminal misbehavior and was
also an epileptic and schizophrenic. They wondered why he had done so well this past year.
He explained, "Last year I was walking in front of the Protestant Chapel when I had a
seizure. The fellows pulled me inside and exorcized my demon of criminality, my demon of
epilepsy and my demon of schizophrenia. Since then I haven't had to take any medicine, and I
haven't gotten into any trouble."
I sat there amazed, wondering what kind of a prison I had come to work in. I also realized
that, with someone else doing the exorcisms locally, I never had to do them again. The current
inmate Protestant pastor was the Rev. Charles "Tex" Watson (Watson, 1978), the murderer of
actress Sharon Tate and the second in command of the Manson Family gang. Watson later told
me that he believed he was possessed by an evil demon when he knifed to death the pregnant Ms.
Fred, the Cabbie Killer
After my retirement from CMC, I was asked by a defense attorney in Fresno, California,
to evaluate "Fred," a 24-year-old black member of a local CRIPS gang. He had killed a cab driver
after he and his brother had robbed him. His brother had tried to dissuade Fred from shooting the
driver, but Fred shot him to death with several bullets, while his brother was getting money out of
an Autoteller machine with the driver's card. There was no logical reason for the killing.
A psychologist had diagnosed Fred as having MPD, and he was found incompetent to
stand trial. On arrival at Atascadero State Hospital (ASH), he was locked up for assaulting staff
members. They found him competent to stand trial and diagnosed him as malingering MPD. Back
in the Fresno County Jail, he kept assaulting correctional officers and was always in chains when
out of his cell.
During his preliminary hearing, his sister had testified that their divorced father had shot
their mother in front of all the children when Fred was seven years old. The mother was rendered
a paraplegic due to multiple gunshot wounds. After the shooting, Fred manifested two imaginary
companions operating his body. One was "Mr. Mann," who had to be perfect in every way. The
other was "Chuck," who was a bully.
She also testified that she, herself, had created an imaginary companion who was more
assertive than she was. She had this companion in her until she became pregnant. She also
testified that her sister also made several imaginary companions at the same time.
I interviewed the inmate in an office at the jail while he was wearing wrist and ankle
chains. He was hostile, yelling, and swearing, clearly acting as Chuck. When I quizzed him about
the duties of the officers of the court, he claimed ignorance. I calmly challenged his claims of
ignorance, since he had known such information when evaluated at ASH. He arose from his chair
and moved to choke me with his wrist chains. I immediately declared the interview over unless I
had a guard in the room to protect me.
The guard moved him to a bail bondsman's interview room, where I could interview him
by phone behind plexiglass. His attorney ordered him to behave himself and cooperate with me.
For the next 90 minutes, I had on the phone a calm, cooperative young man who went by
the name of Fred. From his records I had compiled a list of 19 names reported to be his "alter-
personalities," including Mr. Mann and Chuck. Fred told me that Chuck considered himself to be
white. He also told me that several of his "friends" were in the room with him in different
locations, talking to him, but none were particularly helpful. None took over his body during the
It seemed clear that he did not have MPD, but he had created a group of Internalized
Imaginary Companions (IIC), starting with the shooting incident when he was seven. Most likely,
he felt guilty at not being able to protect his mother from his father. He created, with "emotional
imagination," all the entities to manage his conflictual feelings and desires. Mr. Mann had to be
perfect to keep him alive in that family. Chuck was created by "identification with the aggressor,"
his father, and fueled with his anger at that man. Chuck was a carbon copy of his father. After the
shooting, his bitter mother often told him, "You're going to grow up just like your father." He
did. This mental mechanism is based on the idea, "If I am the aggressor, the aggressor can't kill
Chuck was as much an "evil demon" as any exorcist could ever imagine meeting. It hated
everyone, even those who might help Fred. Here was another "teaching case" in which a man
controlled by a "demonic spirit" moved it out of his body and placed it on the wall of his cell.
With one exception, (Bach, 1971) no one writing in the psychiatric literature has ever suggested
that a person could move their imaginary companion back and forth from inside to outside their
body. When I asked Marie about her ability to do just that, she told me that, since she made her
demons, she could place them anywhere she wanted to.
These teaching cases came to my attention over a span of more than 20 years. I did not
start with a personal belief system which included spirit possession. This was first introduced to
me by Dr. Leichtman, my first teacher in this field. He believed in the concept, as did Carrie, the
patient in question. Whatever the cause of her symptoms, they were relieved by my short
exorcism. To be therapeutic, I adopted their belief system while I was in that hospital room.
Elise, my next teaching case, was a demonstrator of multiple paranormal experiences for
me. She taught me what a psychic, superhypnotizable, creative human mind can do. She presented
me with several benign "lost spirits" who needed to find their way "home."
Marie introduced me to the process of "emotional imagination," which she used to create
her "evil demons." She acknowledges now that she was totally convinced of her pastor's view of
such demons as being ubiquitous and the cause of most of mankind's misfortunes.
Fred continued my education by showing me how he could move his demons from inside
his body to outside, on the command of his attorney. If he could do it, then so could anyone else
who used their emotional imagination to make an IIC, whether demonic or benign.
In the process of treating patients with both alter-personalities and IIC, I learned how to
do effective hypnotherapy for alter-personalities. I reserved exorcisms for the IIC. Just what
happens inside the mind during an exorcism is included in the unpublished story Marie and I wrote
about her life as a multiple.
The orthodox practitioners of psychotherapy have unfortunately repeatedly considered IIC
to be alter-personalities. They also consider exorcism inappropriate since it cannot remove alter-
personalities. That is true, as it can only remove IIC, some of which have been made by the
patient in the form of "evil demons."
In patients with MPD by my definition, the therapist must learn the difference between an
IIC made by emotional imagination and an alter-personality made by dissociation (Allison,
1998b). The best approach to each psychic entity can be made with guidance from the patient's
The following is the ISSD policy statement on treatment of patients with MPD, (Barach,
1997) under "The Patient's Spiritual and Philosophical Issues." "Although patients may
experience certain personalities as demons and as not-self, therapists should approach exorcism
rituals with extreme caution. Exorcism rituals have not been shown to be an effective treatment
for DID [Dissociative Identity Disorder, the official replacement for MPD], have not been shown
to be effective in 'removing' alternate personalities, and have been found to have deleterious
effects in two samples of DID patients that experienced exorcisms outside of psychotherapy.
Exorcism rituals may provide a way for some patients to rearrange images of their personality
systems in a cultural syntonic manner. Education and coordination between therapist and clergy
can be helpful in ensuring that patients' religious and spiritual needs are addressed." References
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