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Case Reports
, 67 ( Pt 3), 247-58

Belief in Demons and Exorcism in Psychiatric Patients in Switzerland

Case Reports

Belief in Demons and Exorcism in Psychiatric Patients in Switzerland

S Pfeifer. Br J Med Psychol.


Belief in demons as the cause of mental health problems is a well-known phenomenon in many cultures of the world. However, there is little literature on this phenomenon in Protestant subcultures of the West. The author conducted a systematic investigation of the prevalence of this attribution in 343 mainly Protestant out-patients of a psychiatric clinic in Switzerland, who described themselves as religious. Of these, 129 (37.6 per cent) believed in the possible causation of their problems through the influence of evil spirits, labelling this as 'occult bondage' or 'possession'. One hundred and four patients (30.3 per cent) sought help through ritual 'prayers for deliverance' and exorcism. Prevalence of such practices was significantly related to diagnosis (p < .01) and to church affiliation (p < .005). Patients in charismatic free churches suffering from anxiety disorders and schizophrenia reported the highest rate of exorcistic rituals (70 per cent), and patients with adjustment disorders from traditional state churches the lowest (14 per cent). The various forms and functions of these healing rituals are described. Although many patients subjectively experienced the rituals as positive, outcome in psychiatric symptomatology was not improved. Negative outcome, such as psychotic decompensation, is associated with the exclusion of medical treatment and coercive forms of exorcism.

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