Anglican and Catholic priests are still performing the age old ritual of exorcism on patients, often with the sanction of their doctors. The Rev. Lisle Ryder regards exorcism as an alternative form of therapy for people with strong religious beliefs. ?Many people in distress come to the church for help because they have a religious frame of reference and are either put off from visiting a doctor because of the stigma of mental illness or because they don?t believe their problems have a scientific explanation,? he says.

But he warns that, ?Exorcism should only be used as a last resort. I?ve only carried out 5 in the past 8 years, but they have not followed the traditional rite. A simple blessing will usually suffice to comfort most people. Many clearly have a mental health problem.Our aim is to end or control their paranormal experience so they are more receptive to traditional treatment, although in many cases no follow-up is required.?

Rev. Ryder is asked to do an exorcism about 25 times a year. ?One case involved a woman who had suffered years of domestic violence at the hands of her first husband. It had all the signs of poltergeist activity, cold spots and the toilet flushing by itself. This had happened during her first marriage but started again when she remarried. Talking to her, it seemed that anxiety about the new relationship was the root of the problem.?

Mike Smith, director of nursing at North Birmingham mental health trust, believes blessings and even exorcism can prove beneficial to patients if performed sensitively. ?Many people believe their voices are rooted in demonic possession and many have explored this safely with a minister,? says Smith, who is an atheist. ?I know of one Scottish woman who was brought out of her distress through exorcism. Once she was able to put the experience in a religious framework she felt more in control and the voices stopped being so disruptive. After the spirits were cast out they went away and now she?s functioning normally.?

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