You would not be surprised to be told that some people with mental health problems claim to hear voices and be possessed by demons. You might be a little surprised to be informed that the church still carries out exorcisms or “deliverances” (from evil) as they are now known. You probably would be surprised to learn the NHS uses exorcism as an alternative form of treatment for mental health problems. According to an article in the Times newspaper the Church and the NHS are quietly working together on exorcism.

This is not some wacky cult but mainstream religion and not some unconventional lone psychiatrist but respected professionals. The Church of England has 44 exorcists appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the article Dr Rob Waller, consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, referrers to medical support groups across the country include Church of England and Catholic exorcists and imams. Walker is quoted as saying that “Every consultant will see a handful of patients in their career requiring some kind of deliverance.”

Professor Robin M. Murray head of psychiatric research at Kings Collage Institute of Psychiatry is more cautious about the role of exorcism in treating mental health patients saying he doesn’t know of any scientific evidence that exorcism works but acknowledges that not all psychiatric problems respond to conventional treatments. He goes on to say that he would have thought it reasonable for a hospital chaplain to carry this out.

The Royal College of Psychiatry has produced a set of guidelines on spirituality written by Professor Christopher Cook. The article in the Times quotes Professor Cook as saying: ”There is a spiritual dimension to all health related issues and exorcism may be appropriate in some cases”. 

You can see why mental health services might want to know if someone is telling their priest or imam that they have been hearing voices telling them to hurt people or themselves. You can see why the Church might want to have links with local psychiatric services for support when coming across a member of their congregation in distress. But what is being discussed here seems to go beyond this and view exorcism as an appropriate treatment for someone with a mental health problem. I didn’t even think the Church still believed in evil spirits anymore!

I find the view that it can’t do any harm to try exorcism as an alternative treatment troubling, since I would have thought colluding with the delusion that an individual is possessed by a demon could be very damaging.