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Thursday, 3 November 2011

An exercise in exorcism

Exorcism on the National Health Service? Yep, it’s true.

However, suppose you were mentally very ill indeed and believed your problem was possession. Suppose you believed that only an exorcism could make you better. Suppose you had a health professional – your psychiatrist, say – who wanted you to be cured, had so far hit a brick wall and wanted to try a new kind of “therapy”.

Once you take the quote marks off the word therapy you’ve just about incorporated exorcism into the psychiatrist’s armoury. He or she might wish to call it something else – deliverance therapy, say – but knows the patient will still think of it as exorcism.

So before you condemn exorcism (or whatever you wish to call it) on the NHS, give this article a go.

I’m not in favour or wildly against, but sometimes it comes down to how we frame things in our nomenclature, what we call things, how we categorise things. In the world of mental health, nothing is solid, tangible, operable with a scalpel or a chemical in a capsule or syringe.

All kinds of therapy have been used, be they chemical or talking; electroconvulsive or mild hypnosis; a straitjacket or neurolinguistic programming. And all to get at something in that most elusive of phenomena, the human mind. It may well be the product of electrochemical stuff going on in there, but it’s so damned complex that it’ll never be fully understood.

Sometimes, something unusual must be done.

OK, some people are going to be uncomfortable with the idea of using something that smacks of churches and God and priests and that kind of thing. But our fictitious patient above can be cured of his affliction only by being in that world, smelling the incense, hearing some Latin, perhaps, watching a guy shouting, “In the name of Jesus Christ be gone!” to a nonexistent demon.

And our patient would presumably respond just as well if a psychiatrist – even an atheist one – donned a dog collar and read bits of dramatic text from a prayer book or a bible.

But is this costing the NHS more than can be justified in terms of people cured? That’s another question. And it may be on such grounds that the practice should be accepted or rejected, not just on whether it involves hoodwinking an ill patient that a demon really is being driven out of him.

Perception moves in mysterious ways, and ultimately all is subjective.


George Broadhead said...

It seems that exorcism is not only practised by crackpot evangelicals. Non other than the Arcbishop of York, the second most senior cleric in the Church of England, has told peers in the House of Lords that he freed the spirit of a girl who feared she was going to be sacrificed by witches.

The C of E has a "Deliverance Ministry" with a cleric on standby in each of its 43 diocese to cast out evil spirits if required to do so.

Stuart Hartill said...

Have to agree that the rituals of psychiatry can, like as those of religion, be no more than rituals. I well remember, for example, from my time working in mental hospitals that certain patients learnt to come and ask for their 'special pill' (which unknown to them was a milk-powder based placebeo) every time they felt a violent episode coming on, and it was the only thing which seemed to work.
But maybe the point is that if priests really believe in the exorcism process and that they're saving someone from the Devil they have a Christian duty to make it available free of charge, and not, as seems to be happening here, be trying to create some kind of 'niche industry' within the NHS. Even spiritualists only have the cheek to ask what the client thinks they can afford, and don't prey on the NHS.
Bit of class distinction going on perhaps over what is and isn't regarded as 'respectable' or 'state approved' hocus pocus?