“As a psychiatrist, I diagnose mental illness. Also, I help spot demonic possession.” That’s the headline from a Washington Post essay from Richard Gallagher, a Catholic Ivy-league educated mental health professional who has worked for decades with priests to determine the difference between the two phenomena. While Gallagher’s colleagues have raised their eyebrows at the nature of his work, “careful observation of the evidence presented to me in my career has led me to believe that certain extremely uncommon cases can be explained no other way,” he writes.

Part of that comes with experience, says Eric Johnson, a professor of pastoral care at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. When “you have experience with people with schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder and someone that is demon-possessed, you know the difference,” says Johnson, recalling what others who have worked with those in both situations have told him. (Johnson has not himself worked directly with anyone he believes suffered from demonic possession.)

Johnson joined Katelyn and Morgan to discuss studying the supernatural, how our understanding of mental health makes sense of spiritual warfare, and the importance of holistic health.

  • (5:45) As a psychologist, how do you discern the difference between the demonic and mental illness?
  • (13:30) When did people start studying mental illness as a phenomena?
  • (21:18) You talk about the importance of keeping an open mind while also being skeptical when it comes to these issues. What part of the church does this apply to?

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Quick to Listen is produced by Richard Clark and Cray Allred, with help from Kate Shellnutt.

Additional Reading

Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal