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Demonic Possessions: A Sign of Schizophrenia?

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For centuries, demonic possession has occurred in several religious faiths.

New research studies have investigated modern demonic possession cases, childhood abuse, and magical thinking, which has resulted in satisfying results.

In religious beliefs, evil spirits, or a bad curse, are to blame for demonic possession, blocking out psychiatry and scientific explanations — thus bringing light to a psychological phenomenon called “magical thinking.”

Magical Thinking

In psychology, magical thinking is irrational beliefs considered to be the opposite of logical thinking. In cults, religion, superstitious and supernatural beliefs, magical thinking is used because neither the action or event can be justified by reason or observation.

For the general public, magical thinking is perceived as ‘odd’ or paranormal beliefs, but for psychotic patients, it’s a strong, fixated belief system that impulsively invades their daily lives, causes disconnection from reality and personality dysfunction.

Based on numerous studies, a hallmark trait for diagnosing a patient with schizotypal personality disorder — a disorder within the schizophrenia spectrum — is odd thinking and beliefs, or magical thinking.

Sometimes, in psychotic patients, magical thinking can be accompanied with paranoid or violent thought patterns. Patients suffering from magical thinking as a result of psychosis may also exhibit symptoms of depersonalization, derealization, and anxiety disorders.

Therefore, magical thinking has become a subject which continues to receive strong interest in researchers of psychiatry and neurology.

In 2012, researchers Ali A, Pereira Deuri S and Karim N, published a paper in the Malaysian Journal of Psychiatry about magical thinking in schizophrenic patients. In the study, data were collected from patients who were considered to be normal and those with schizophrenia.

The patients ranged from an age group anywhere between 18 to 50 of both genders. Additionally, patients from different religions and cultural backgrounds were also carefully chosen for the study. Among the many magical beliefs: “paranormal,” “black magic,” “new age,” “exorcism,” “psychic,” and “occult” made up the majority.

According to the study’s findings, those who had magical thinking beliefs, like paranormal or supernatural, were at high risk of developing psychosis.

Meanwhile, the patients who were already diagnosed with schizophrenia generally exhibited bizarre behavior and suffered from an additional chronic illness like the schizotypal personality disorder. This study had similar results to an older research study conducted in the 1980s by another prolific psychiatrist.

Demonic Possessions

In 2012, a research study was published in the Journal of Religion and Health in regards to demonic possession and schizophrenia. Kemal Irmak, a prolific researcher of psychiatry, examined spiritual possessions and aimed to bring critic to the subject.

For three months, Irmak began treating psychotic patients of different age groups to see if he can cure them of their hallucinations. By labeling demonic possessions as a form of hallucination caused by schizophrenia, Irmak was able to use pathophysiology and faith healers to successfully treat his psychotic patients.

The treatment eliminated the delusions and hallucinations brought forth by the illness schizophrenia; this resulted in Irmak concluding that faith healers should get together with psychiatrists to develop better treatment for schizophrenic patients.

As with many other researchers on demonic possessions, Irmak became interested in cases like the one that occurred in Germany with Anneliese Michel, also known as the inspiration behind the film The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

According to researchers, this case of demonic possession provides even further proof that bizarre behavior exhibited by similar patients, is simply a symptom of schizophrenia.

In one of the books published regarding the strange case, it was learned that Michel was raised in a strict, abusive religious background.

Michel would be a victim of child abuse and soon began hallucinating once she reached her teenage years. She would hear negative voices that told her to “rot in hell”, and see dark figures that resembled demons.

As Michel grew older, her symptoms began to worsen and she was soon recommended an antipsychotic drug called Thorazine. But due to her parent’s strict religious faiths, Psychiatry was soon out of the question, and instead, a priest was called to treat her.

At age 23, Michel became aggressive, anorexic and severely psychotic, to the point where an exorcism had to take place. Eventually, she died of malnutrition and her parents, along with the priest, were charged with her death.

This incident, of course, sparked a backlash and became known in the psychiatric community as a perfect example of how religion can affect an individual’s mental health.

Childhood Abuse

Since the start of the new decade, researchers have strengthened their belief that childhood abuse is one of the main contributors as to the cause of schizophrenia.

In cases where patients exhibited demonic possessions, a history of childhood abuse, like strict parenting, narcissism, or obsessive religious practices, have all been documented by researchers.

One such form of religious abuse occurred in 2015, where a committed female patient told researchers how her strict religious mother locked her in the basement for three consecutive days, simply because she was caught talking with a person of the opposite sex; she was 18 years old.

It is also seen that a lot of children raised in strict, abusive religious environments, have a high risk of social isolation, compared to those who are raised in non-religious environments.

With childhood abuse being one of the likely causes of schizophrenia, according to researchers, the hunt for treatment to help reduce delusions, hallucinations, and bizarre behavior has popularized.

Cognitive impairment is a disturbing reality in patients with schizophrenia. When researching about new treatment studies for the news-aggregator The Inquisitr, I found a John Hopkins University study which utilized light brain stimulation.

Using electric currents, this new treatment could help restore the brain’s cognition and memory that becomes distorted as a result of a mental illness like schizophrenia.

In the article, it was concluded that the same treatment can also be used to relieve symptoms of other disorders like clinical depression and Alzheimer’s disease, however, more research needs to be done.

Jose Florez is the founder and editor of Mental Daily. His work has appeared in Psychology Today, Glamour, HuffPost, among others. He is a mental health advocate, and currently studying psychology.