How to differentiate Demonic Possession from Schizophrenia
by Pastor Steven Waterhouse
Pastor Steven Waterhouse has written an excellent book called, “Strength for his People: A Ministry for Families of the Mentally Ill. It will be useful to those who have a devout belief in Catholicism and an interest in neurobiological disorders (formerly known as mental illness). The author’s younger brother suffers from schizophrenia. The following is a paraphrasing of one chapter of the book that interested me. The arguments in the book are more solidly expressed than this abbreviation.
Schizophrenia can strike anyone, including individuals from deeply religious homes. The concepts of devils, heaven and hell is part of Catholicism. “Demonic influence” is a rare, but integral belief of many. And many Christians who research schizophrenia wonder about the demonic. “Is my relative possessed?” The New Testament mentions demons over 100 times including Matt 8:29; Matt. 10:1ff and John 16:11.
Even those who have other beliefs or choose to remain skeptical still must relate to Christians who do believe in the supernatural. Many Christians who endure a family member’s battle with schizophrenia will have questions about demonic involvement with a loved one and deserve real answers instead of a condescending response which dismisses such concern as nonsense on the part of ignorant people.
The Bible itself makes a distinction between disease and possession (Mark 6:13). Thus, Christian theology should recognize the difference.
At least six factors differentiate schizophrenia from demonic possession as described in the Bible.
These factors can be helpful when trying to determine if an individual is possessed or has an NBD. These have helped me better understand my brother’s illness.
1. Attraction to vs. Aversion to Religion. Demons want nothing to do with Christ. Conversely, people with NBD are often devoutly religious.
2. Irrational Speech vs. Rational Speech. In New Testament accounts involving demons, the demons spoke in a rational manner. Untreated people with schizophrenia will often speak in nonsense and jump rapidly between unrelated topics.
3. Ordinary Learning vs. Supernatural Knowledge Demons in the New Testament would speak through people to convey knowledge that otherwise could not have been known to the possessed individuals. Those with NBD have no such ability to know facts which they have not acquired by normal learning.
4. Normal vs. Occultic Phenomena. There is an aspect to demon activity that is just plain spooky (ex.: poltergeists, levitation’s, trances, telepathy). These have an impact on others in the room not just the possessed. With schizophrenia, the effect of the disorder is only on the disordered, not others.
5. The claim to be possessed Authors who have clinical experience both with demon possession and mental illness, believe those who claim to be possessed are very likely not possessed. Demons wish to be secretive and do not voluntarily claim to be present.
6. Effects of Therapy. If prayer solves the problem, then it was probably not schizophrenia. If medicine helps alleviate the problem, it was not demon possession.
I picked the book up at a NAMI Convention. For a free copy of the book (donations appreciated), contact Dr. Steven Waterhouse, Westcliff Bible Church, Box 1521 Amarillo, TX 79105. You can reach him at (806) 359-6362 or (806) 359-6882. You can read “Strength for his People: A Ministry for Families of the Mentally Ill” for free here