Monday, May 1, 2017

Exorcism as a Treatment for Mental Illness

Dr. Susan Turner
A psychiatrist based in New York City’s Flatiron District, Dr. Susan Turner has had an extended interest in bipolar disorder. During Dr. Susan Turner’s two years living in central Java, she became especially interested in how local cultures use "exorcism" and other local culture interventions as a way to treat psychosis and mental illnesses.

In modern Western medicine, mental illness is recognized and then treated with talk therapy, medicine, and sometimes lifestyle interventions. In some cultures, however, when a person exhibits symptoms similar to those of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, the person is understood to be possessed, and may be deemed to require an exorcism.

Though these treatments may seem very different, exorcism is sometimes understood as one of the earliest forms of psychotherapy.They can be seen as different ways of understanding mental states. Hippocrates, before he was the father of medicine, was an exorcist. While some experts believe all forms of possession are manifestations of an otherwise treatable mental illness like Tourette’s syndrome or bipolar disorder, others believe there is a marked difference between mental illness and "demonic" possession. Many Catholic exorcists will work with a psychiatrist to ensure the possession is bona fide before they go forward.

Considering that there is a religious and cultural element to a person’s experience of mental illness or possession, there are also some psychologists and psychiatrists who wonder whether exorcism may be useful in cases where patients believe themselves to be possessed. Spiritual ritual can be a useful form of treatment for some people, when combined with counselling and/or medication.

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Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons alumna Dr. Susan Turner completed her residency training at the Columbia Presbyterian and New...