Bible, Main, Spiritual Warfare, z19, z32
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A psychiatrist’s encounter with demon possession

Ynys Llanddwyn Lighthouse, Newborough, Wales, England Photo: Alex Brown/Flickr

Ynys Llanddwyn Lighthouse, Newborough, Wales, England Photo: Alex Brown/Flickr

In an article published in the New Oxford Review, Dr. Richard Gallagher — an associate professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College — said a woman he worked with displayed overt signs of demon possession including levitation and paranormal acts.

Julia, a pseudonym, was a former Catholic and first went to a Catholic priest seeking help believing she was being attacked by demons. From there she was referred to an official Catholic exorcist, who after a thorough examination, brought in Dr. Gallagher to examine Julia’s mental condition.

Based on a number of sessions with Julia, Gallagher determined she was demon possessed. Gallagher states her actions were not only witnessed by himself and other fellow “mental health professionals,” but also by nurses, priests, lay people and nuns.

Gallagher says most psychiatrists and doctors are not open to demon possession, despite frequent encounters with patients claiming they are under demonic attack. As a result, most in his profession routinely miss instances of genuine demonic possession.

Written from a Catholic perspective, Gallagher provides insight on possession from a person in the psychiatry field. Though the middle-aged woman initially sought help, at the time he wrote the article, Julia had not been delivered.

Possession rare

Gallagher says he has been called numerous times to offer an opinion on people considered possessed of which only a “scant few” were genuine demonic possessions.

“Possession is only one and not the most common type of demonic attack,” Gallagher says.

“Possession is very rare, though not as exceedingly so as many may imagine. So-called ‘oppression’ or ‘infestation’ is less rare, though hardly frequent either, and sometimes more difficult to discern accurately.”

Gallagher says there are a number of medical conditions Bipolar and addiction problems – discussed briefly at the end of the article — which are easily confused with possession. These individuals require medical treatment not deliverance to alleviate their problems.

So why did Gallagher conclude this was a genuine possession?

  • Trances

Julia routinely went into trances. Gallagher said it is not unusual for people struggling with mental illness to “dissociate” in this way and in itself is not a sign of demon possession. However, during these trances Gallagher writes: “Out of her mouth would come various threats, taunts, and scatological language, phrases like ‘leave her alone, you idiot,’ ‘She’s ours,’ ‘Leave you imbecile priest,’ or just ‘leave.’”

While speaking, Julia’s voice distinctively changed. At times, it was quite low with man-like qualities and at other times very high. She also growled like an animal. Julia never remembered speaking or making noises during these trances.

Gallagher said Julia’s trances were interrupted by “an independent, intelligent entity (or entities).”

What Gallagher reported has similarities to the demon-possessed man, Jesus and the disciples encountered after crossing the Sea of Galilee and landing at a spot referred to as the Gerasenes in Mark 5:

“When He [Jesus] got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken into pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him.” (Mark 5:2-4 NASV)

During the encounter, the evil spirit who possessed the man took control of his vocal cords and spoke to Jesus.

When Jesus asked the evil spirit what its name was, it said, “My name is Legion, for we are many (v 9).  As Jesus took authority and cast out the demons, they pleaded “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them,” (v 12).

Though, there is no mention of the man being in a trance, Mark noted after the deliverance that the man was “clothed and in his right mind” (v 14).

  • Reviling of things sacred

Gallagher said that while in a trance Julia showed “a marked contempt for anything religious or sacred.” This is similar to what happened in verse 12, as the demonic associated themselves with things considered unclean by the Jews — pigs, in an effort to the leave the area.

  • Mimic the Divine

During the trances, Julia spoke in different languages. Those in his group were able to identify words from two languages – Latin and Spanish. Later, Julia claimed she knew nothing but English.

This may have been an attempt by the demonic to mimic glossolalia – speaking in tongues. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fell on those gathered in the upper room resulting in them pouring out into the streets of Jerusalem speaking languages of other nations which they had no knowledge of (Acts 2:6-8).

The Apostle Paul writing on tongues which continued as an everyday experience in the church describes it as “tongues of men and of angels” (1 Corinthians 13:1 NASV).

We know satan does attempt to mimic the actions of God. When God sent Moses to deliver Israel out of Egypt, God had him perform a number of significant miracles before the pharaoh. Pharaoh’s sorcerers initially mimicked Moses’ miracles step for step including: turning a staff into a snake (Exodus 7:10-12), turning water into blood (Exodus 7:20-22) and even the plague of frogs (Exodus 8:5-8). But they were stopped at the gnats (Exodus 8:17, 18).

It shows satan, who is a fallen angel, does have similar powers to God, but because of his limited nature is doomed to fall short.

  • Aggressive and insolent behavior

During the sessions, the evil spirit became quite aggressive and abusive. It said to the attending nuns “Stop, you whores.” A priest in attendance was called an “imbecile.”  In another instance, the voice said, “Leave you idiots,” and “She’s ours” [Note: in this later instance the demonic spoke the words after interjecting itself into a phone conversation between a member of the deliverance team and another individual.]

Jesus had a similar experience when speaking in a synagogue in Luke 4. The evil spirit inside a man sitting in the congregation suddenly spoke out loud in an aggressive tone, “Leave us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth?” (v 34 NASV)”

In this particular case, Jesus rebuked the evil spirit saying, “Be quiet and come out of him” (v 35 NASV).

  • Incredible strength

Gallagher also said Julia displayed an incredible strength. At times, it took a number of people to hold her down.

In the case of the demon-possessed man from the Gerasenes, Mark reported that the people tried to restrain the man with chains, but he simply broke them off revealing not only an incredible strength but a dulling of pain as well (Mark 5:2-.4).

In Acts 19, Luke records the incident involving seven Jewish priests who tried to cast an evil spirit out of a man using a formula of “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” (v 13)

Though clued in to the power of Jesus’ name, they lacked the relationship and authority that comes with it to cast out the evil spirit.

The evil spirit spoke to the group saying, “I recognize Jesus, and, I know about Paul, but who are you?” (v 15). The priests were quickly over powered by the demon-possessed man and fled the house stripped of their robes.

  • Paranormal awareness

Gallagher said another characteristic that Julia displayed was an unusual paranormal awareness of what was happening around her – especially in the lives of those involved in the deliverance.

This was an attempt to spook and intimidate those involved in the deliverance.

Gallagher said “she knew the personality and precise manner of death (i.e., the exact type of cancer) of a relative of a team member that no one could have conceivably guessed.”

Paul the apostle encountered a similar ability when he visited the city of Thyatira (Acts 16). Upon his arrival he encountered a young slave girl who immediately followed Paul and his group crying out, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God who are here to proclaim to you the way of salvation.” (v 17).

Paul eventually became so annoyed that he cast out the evil spirit. (vs 17-20). The demonic was aware of who Paul and his team represented much in the same way they were aware of who Jesus really was (Luke 4: 33, 34).

Gallagher also noted that Julia spoke to one member of the team saying “those cats really went berserk last night, didn’t they.” The previous night the team member, who lived in a different town, said his cats had violently fought at 2 am, something totally uncharacteristic for them.

How was Julia aware of this?

It’s probable, the demonic stirred up the two cats to intimidate and spook this team member. We do know from scripture that demonic can affect animals in unusual ways. When the demons received permission to enter the herd of pigs in Mark 5, the whole group uncharacteristically charged down a steep incline into the ocean where they drowned (v 13).

  • Psychokinesis ability

Psychokinesis is a term used to describe the ability of a demoniac to move objects. Gallagher noted similar phenomena with Julia.

He reported in one instance she levitated off the ground for a full 30 minutes. This was witnessed by a number of individuals. Objects were also thrown off shelves.

We have a similar incident recorded in Mark 9 involving Jesus deliverance of a young boy possessed by a spirit. The boy’s father claimed the evil spirit often threw the young lad into the fire and the water.

“And it (the evil spirit) has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” (Mark 9: 22 NASV)

Now it could be argued that the boy jumped in the fire on his own power. However, in this verse the boy’s father uses the Greek word “ballo” which means to throw. It is used in Mathew 4:18, to describe Peter throwing his net into the sea. Obviously, it did not appear to the father that his son jumped in the fire on his own volition, but rather was thrown in by some unseen force.

Demonic counterfeits

Though Gallagher firmly believes there are genuine cases of demonic possessions, he says there are many situations that are confused with possession that are symptoms of medical, physical and emotional conditions. In these cases, people need medical help not deliverance.

This includes “personality or character disorders.” People may be experiencing “deep-seated feelings of rage, low self-esteem, a need for attention, a strong sense of victimization or …. a strong sense of inner ‘evil.’”

They come to him claiming they feel an evil presence inside them. Some describe these evil presences as a “writhing serpent or a dark spirit” inside them.

The apostle Paul speaks of a “root of bitterness” that can develop in people Hebrews 12:15. Certainly, such feelings of inner rage and anger could be confused with a satanic presence.

As well, Gallagher says there are a number of conditions that lead to hallucinations or delusions. This can include such things as bipolar disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, and addiction withdrawal. The patients themselves may even be convinced demons are speaking to them, but Gallagher says these are conditions requiring medical treatment.

There is also a third group whose lives are severely disassociative. This can happen as a result of abuse and people can leave reality to the point of even forming multiple personalities. Again, Gallagher says what these people need is medical help not deliverance.


It is vital Christians recognize that the enemy is real and we are involved in a very real war.

However, it is just as critical for believers to understand their positional authority in Christ:

“Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.” (Luke 10:19 NASV)



  1. Scary stuff. Unfortunately a lot of clergy these days are unbelieving rationalists and when people in these situations go to them for help they don’t find any.


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