An Irish American psychiatrist has said he believes in demonic possession.iStock/Getty Images

A leading Irish American psychiatrist has written how he believes the devil does possess certain people and that there is such a thing as demonic possession. He is currently writing a book on the topic and has written about individual cases he believes were demonic possesions in the Washington Post.

Doctor Richard Gallagher, Yale and Columbia University trained, who has worked closely with Catholic priests who are exorcists, instances a small number of cases where the person’s symptoms give him no other option but to diagnose possession.

Gallagher writes of one such person he met In the late 1980s,

“I was introduced to a self-styled Satanic high priestess. She called herself a witch and dressed the part, with flowing dark clothes and black eye shadow around to her temples. In our many discussions, she acknowledged worshipping Satan as his “queen.”

“I’m a man of science and a lover of history; after studying the classics at Princeton, I trained in psychiatry at Yale and in psychoanalysis at Columbia. That background is why a Catholic priest had asked my professional opinion, which I offered pro bono, about whether this woman was suffering from a mental disorder... I was inclined to skepticism. But my subject’s behavior exceeded what I could explain with my training. 

“She could tell some people their secret weaknesses, such as undue pride. She knew how individuals she’d never known had died, including my mother and her fatal case of ovarian cancer. Six people later vouched to me that, during her exorcisms, they heard her speaking multiple languages, including Latin, completely unfamiliar to her outside of her trances. This was not psychosis; it was what I can only describe as paranormal ability. I concluded that she was possessed. Much later, she permitted me to tell her story.

From the 1973 Warner Bros. film, 'The Exorcist.'

From the 1973 Warner Bros. film, 'The Exorcist.'

“The priest who had asked for my opinion of this bizarre case was the most experienced exorcist in the country at the time, an erudite and sensible man. I had told him that, even as a practicing Catholic, I wasn’t likely to go in for a lot of hocus-pocus. 

“Well,” he replied, “unless we thought you were not easily fooled, we would hardly have wanted you to assist us.”

"Julia" is a middle-aged, self-supporting Caucasian woman who lives in the U.S. She first approached her local clergy on her own, and was soon referred to an official priest-exorcist (who collaborated on this article) to explore getting help. She herself was quite convinced from the start that she was being "attacked" in some way by a demon or Satan.

During the course of her lengthy and thorough evaluation, she was eventually seen by this writer, a board-certified academic psychiatrist, who was asked to provide a medical and psychiatric opinion. 

In 2008 in the New Oxford Review, Gallagher revealed further details about the possessed woman he calls Julia.

“Julia revealed a long, disturbing history of involvement with explicitly Satanic groups (an obvious, historical antecedent to her then-present condition and to her accompanying "psychic" abilities, as they might be characterized). Though raised a Catholic, she no longer practiced the Faith. But, with considerable ambivalence, she stated she might need the Catholic Rite of Exorcism. 

“Julia was not the typical type of individual who frequently importunes the Church for help but who is really in need of psychiatric or other medical intervention. She was in no way psychotic; in fact, she was consistently logical, highly intelligent, and even quite engaging at times, despite her obvious turmoil. 

“Periodically, in our presence, Julia would go into a trance state of a recurring nature. Mentally troubled individuals often "dissociate," but Julia's trances were accompanied by an unusual phenomenon: 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." The tone of this voice differed markedly from Julia's own, and it varied, sometimes sounding guttural and vaguely masculine, at other points high pitched. Most of her comments during these "trances," or at the subsequent exorcisms, displayed a marked contempt for anything religious or sacred. 

“When Julia came out of these trances, she strongly professed no recollection of these remarks or of having said anything at all. An experienced psychiatrist might well conclude that we were probably, therefore, dealing with a dissociated personality or, more precisely, even Dissociative Identity Disorder (elaborated on later). What quickly made this understandable hypothesis implausible, however, were several other peculiar though obviously related phenomena, but a sampling of which is covered here. 

“Because of the complexity of this case, we assembled a team to assist. At varying points, this group comprised several qualified mental-health personnel, at least four Catholic priests, a deacon and his wife, two nuns (both nurses, one psychiatric), and several lay volunteers. We made a number of phone calls to arrange gathering together to help Julia. Julia herself was not in on these phone discussions; she was far from the area at the time. 

“Astonishingly, Julia's "other" voice -- again sometimes deep, sometimes high pitched -- would actually interrupt the telephone conversations and somehow come in over the phone line! The voice(s) would espouse the same messages: "Leave her alone," "Leave, you idiots," "Get away from her," "She's ours." Julia, again, said later that she was unaware of any such conversation. And yet this speech was heard distinctly by several of the team on a number of occasions. 

“As mentioned, even outside her trances, Julia unmistakably displayed "psychic" abilities; put another way, her presence was clearly associated with paranormal events. Sometimes objects around her would fly off the shelves, the rare phenomenon of psychokinesis known to parapsychologists. Julia was also in possession of knowledge of facts and occurrences beyond any possibility of their natural acquisition. 

“She commonly reported information about the relatives, household composition, family deaths and illnesses, etc., of members of our team, without ever having observed or been informed about them. As an example, 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 conceivably have guessed. She once spoke about the strange behavior of some inexplicably frenzied animals beyond her direct observation: Though residing in another city, she commented, "So those cats really went berserk last night, didn't they?" the morning after two cats in a team member's house uncharacteristically had violently attacked each other at about 2 AM. 

“As another example, Julia once described not only the actual surroundings (including the décor of his room) but the exact state of mind (skeptical and dismissive) of a priest peripherally involved, whom she had never met. The facts were subsequently precisely confirmed. Julia could also consistently depict, from afar and with amazing detail, the activity of one of the principal priests involved. She would repeatedly report, from her distant vantage, whether and when he was in pain (he suffered from a recurring illness), often where he was (e.g., walking on a beach), and remarkably, even what he was wearing at the time (e.g., a windbreaker). 

“Rounding out the picture of this case, finally, were the happenings during the lengthy exorcism rituals, that Julia herself requested. There were two series of such sessions separated by a period of time. (Ultimately, due to her hesitations, these efforts were interrupted and may or may not be resumed. Exorcism per se, a worthy and complex topic in itself, is not the focus here. This article looks rather to the reality of the subject of possession and its counterfeits.) 

“The exorcism began on a warm day in June. Despite the weather, the room where the rite was being conducted grew distinctly cold. Later, however, as the entity in Julia began to spout vitriol and make strange noises, members of the team felt themselves profusely sweating due to a stifling emanation of heat. The participants all said they found the heat unbearable. 

“Julia at first had gone into a quiet trance-like state. After the prayers and invocations of the Roman Ritual had been going on for a while, however, multiple voices and sounds came out of her. One set consisted of loud growls and animal-like noises, which seemed to the group impossible for any human to mimic. At one point, the voices spoke in foreign languages, including recognizable Latin and Spanish. (Julia herself only speaks English, as she later verified to us.) 

“The voices were noticeably attacking in nature, and often insolent, blasphemous, and highly scatological. They cursed and insulted the participants in the crudest way. They were frequently threatening -- trying, it appeared, to fight back -- "Leave her alone," "Stop, you whores" (to the nuns), "You'll be sorry," and the like. 

“Julia also exhibited enormous strength. Despite the religious sisters and three others holding her down with all their might, they struggled to restrain her. Remarkably, for about 30 minutes, she actually levitated about half a foot in the air. 

“The presumptive target of the exorcism, the entity (or entities) that was possessing Julia, could also distinguish between holy water and regular water. She would scream in pain when the blessed water was sprinkled upon her, but have no reaction to clandestine use of unblessed water. During the ceremonies, she also, as previously, revealed hidden or past events in the lives of the various attendees, including information about deceased relatives completely unknown to her. 

“While many other details could be added, the above sufficiently convey the general picture. As noted, the exorcisms were seen as helpful, but have not yet resolved the matter of the possession. It should again be noted that Julia herself had no recollection at all of what occurred during the ceremonies.”  

For twenty five years now Gallagher has helped Catholic authorities deal with what he describes as demonic possessions as there is no other possible diagnosis.

He write “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.”

Gallagher writes that the problem appears to be getting worse and the Catholic church now has 50 exorcists in America up from 12 just a few decades ago.

Despite the skeptics, Gallagher believes he has seen the real thing.

He writes: ”Assaults upon individuals are classified either as “demonic possessions” or as the slightly more common but less intense attacks usually called “oppressions.” A possessed individual may suddenly, in a type of trance, voice statements of astonishing venom and contempt for religion, while understanding and speaking various foreign languages previously unknown to them. 

“The subject might also exhibit enormous strength or even the extraordinarily rare phenomenon of levitation. (I have not witnessed a levitation myself, but half a dozen people I work with vow that they’ve seen it in the course of their exorcisms.) He or she might demonstrate “hidden knowledge” of all sorts of things — like how a stranger’s loved ones died, what secret sins she has committed, even where people are at a given moment. These are skills that cannot be explained except by special psychic or preternatural ability.

“I have personally encountered these rationally inexplicable features, along with other paranormal phenomena. My vantage is unusual: As a consulting doctor, I think I have seen more cases of possession than any other physician in the world  Gallagher says 

As to why he does it, Gallagher writes “it should be impossible to turn one’s back on a tormented soul.”