I interviewed U.K. based Dr. Joseph Dib, on the topic of the role of psychology in spiritual warfare ministry. Many times (far too often), pastoral care tends to ignore or overlook the importance of psychology in adequately addressing the many issues that can arise, including those of a preternatural nature. I think it is important to get the viewpoint of a Christian psychologist to bring some clarity to the issues.
Q: First, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. As a start, could you please tell my readers a bit about your professional background?
A: My pleasure. I’m a PhD Researcher (Clinical Psychology) at the University of Nottingham, England, United Kingdom. My academic background is a Bachelors in Clinical Psychology with a minor degree in Political Science. I also have a Masters of Science in Neuro-Psychology. My therapeutic background is in CBT Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Analytical Therapy (Known as Jungian Psychology)
Q:Let's discuss demonic activity. We break down such activity into three levels: oppression, obsession, and possession. Each is a different degree of said activity. How would you advise those involved in this area of ministry to discern whether they are dealing with a psychological issue- for example, in cases of obsession- and something you as a professional would consider clearly preternatural?
A: I’m cautious with these terms because they tend to be generalised and it’s very difficult to give a straight simple answer here so bear with me. From the theological point of view, evil is present in the world ever since the fall. Things like murderous intent and sickness can be classified into obsession and oppression respectively. Though it’s true, it has the tendency to take off to much of the burden from the individual, thereby reducing the importance of free will. This could make an individual prideful and thus any bad thing he or she does or is inflicted with could easily project blame onto the devil. Sometimes, people tend to do or think bad things because they do enjoy it. People who psychologically repress (withhold these thoughts) are at a danger of projecting it onto other people or risk being eaten from the inside out. The act of confession in the Catholic faith is the act of an individual confessing his own shortcomings with full knowledge of the act committed. At the start of the 20th century when Freud came about, psychoanalysis replaced confession. Rather than an individual confessing his own sins, the therapist relays the blame onto someone else. It’s not uncommon to hear the therapist say 'oh you’re neurotic because so so happened with your mother or father', or whatever, therefore conditioning the individual to believe he or she are never really at fault and sin has been reduced to an excuse. The result is a society of prideful individuals who can do no wrong. Possession, on the other hand, is a different case because it is concrete, pulsating and most importantly, it breaks through free will; hence, why it’s called a possession. My first thought is how Hollywood has given the wrong impression (As they do with everything) of possession, making people believe every possessed case is movie worthy. Possession, as far as I know, is extremely rare because the devil’s job is to create atheists. If the devil was to possess an atheist, then the atheist would very much start believing in God – probably more than all of us. Psychotic episodes in themselves are rare – Schizophrenia is diagnosed in 1% of the general population. To the untrained practitioner, seeing an individual screaming the demonic voices are telling him to kill himself may not necessarily be a possession as depicted in movies. Mental disorders, as far as science goes, can be categorised. Possession, in its nature, is not of the material world. Therefore, the differences (i.e. the ‘symptoms’) are more profound than the similarities (speaking in tongues, knowledge the individual could not possibly know). An exorcist once told me about a possessed case whereby the individual lived a very Jekyll and Hyde life. Not to drag on, but assuming if confronted with a case, and one has to do a differential diagnosis, if it’s a mental disorder then drugs should make the individual better. If it’s a possession, drugs have no effect, and this is where the professional needs to swallow his skepticism and wonder if there’s something more at work. The problem is that many professionals may just keep drugging the individual if they see no improvement.
Q: What disorders do you commonly think are misunderstood as preternatural activity?
A: I would personally say Schizophrenia. The psychotic symptoms include hallucinations and delusions. If the hallucinations are of the auditory type, the ‘voices’ could be anything from a celebrity, to demons and/or angels. Delusions could be anything from persecutory (being chased) or grandiose (believing oneself to be the messiah or emperor of Antarctica).
Q: Having encountered such things as Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, Bipolar Manic Depression, and other cognitive and behavioral disorders, I'm often shocked at the fact that some clerics have no grasp of these issues, and act on them as if they were preternatural issues. What do you think the potential dangers of this ignorance are, for both the cleric and the client?
A: The dangers go both ways, since ignorance affects everyone. If someone is suffering from a mental disorder-say the prodromal symptoms of schizophrenia- and the cleric is praying with no changes of symptoms, the untreated person will eventually develop the disorder fully with the brain fragmenting even more as time goes on, making treatment and recovery difficult. As for the cleric, not being able to recognise these differences puts himself at risk as mentally ill patients can be violent. It also puts a stain on his reputation and legal problems will follow if the patient requiring medical attention has been neglected. Overall, it does put a bad stain on religion.
Q: Would you advocate that clerics study psychology at more depth than is generally expected? If so, what could be gained to assist them in exorcism ministry.
A: In the Catholic Church, the exorcist should have a background in psychology or psychiatry in order to make a differential diagnosis. I would definitely advocate the same. It’s important to note that 99.9% of cases received by the Vatican are dubbed as a mental health problem since a true possession is rare.
Q: Unfortunately, most in your field take a very Atheistic approach to mental health, or at the very best a relativistic approach. You, however, are a man of faith. Does this cause you any problems with colleagues?
A: I always stand up with my back straight. If you make yourself a sheep, people will be quick to turn into wolves. I never needed the Bible to make a point of attacking atheism or relativism – common sense could do that. My colleagues could never say ‘Oh this is coming from your religious background’ (Even though they knew), because I could always dispel their statements from an analytical approach. The idea of assisting suicide goes against the Hippocratic Oath, for example. Atheism is too simple and nihilistic. I tend to laugh when addressing the issue merely because it is absurd. If everything is hopeless, then why bother helping a depressed patient who is hell bound on committing suicide? Are we to extend his hopelessness by helping him? Or are we to end his hopelessness by allowing him to kill himself as soon as possible? Our beliefs resonate out of us the same way the Holy Spirit resonates out of every practicing Christian. People who are suffering could sense this, because the human soul, no matter what state it is in, is always seeking hope. I was told by a colleague that one of the patients told her he enjoys conversing with me, because I talk about things like hope (even though I don’t mention my faith unless the patient brings it up), but I always thought this was common sense. The job of every Christian is to help set someone’s soul on fire. Atheists cannot do that, because they don’t believe in a soul. At best, they can tell someone to get better so they can do what exactly? Go back to their 9 to 5 job? Sports? Life? These things are beautiful, but only when seen from the spiritual sense, otherwise it’s all bland and repetitive. And like every Christian, one has to stand and fight like a knight. Since God created the human psyche, He understands it. When Christ said we should be like doves and serpents, He didn’t mean we should just be doves or just serpents. The same should be applied in the workplace.
Q: I think you would agree that evil absolutely does exist. With that said, in what ways do you see it most commonly manifest in the psychology of our current culture? To what extent do you think our culture is an expression of evil?
A: This answer could manifest itself into multiple books. As I mentioned above, the act of therapy has overtaken the act of confession, so we live in a culture whereby the blame is always someone or something else, therefore creating a society of ‘oppressed victims’. One of the directors of the American Psychiatric Association, who was an Atheist, committed suicide and his suicide letter addressed evil. He was perplexed how a society has become extremely relativistic. The act of removing sin and adding ‘disorder’ has gone too far. For example, a serial killer in today’s world is now a subject of fascination. Why did he do this? 'Oh, he did this because his father used to beat him causing his brain not to grow normally therefore creating a personality that thrives on violence' etc. Eventually, we find all sorts of reasons, to the point we don’t blame the serial killer and we even forget the victim. The moment we dismissed the idea of sin – the one thing in Christianity that can be proven without reasonable doubt, we allowed evil to pour in relentlessly. I’ve always seen evil the way it’s been seen from the beginning, but has always been intelligent to change forms. What is good and what is true stays the same, as it has nothing to hide, but evil is deceptive. The seven deadly sins is like a hydra with 7 heads – you cut one head in one era and it comes back in another era.
A lot of people say communism is a 20th century idea, but in truth it’s traced back all the way to the Garden of Eden. (Why serve God? Why not you become Gods?) It only manifested itself from a humanistic perspective to a political one.
Psychologically, I’ve noticed severely psychotic patients tend to have bizarre delusions, and I’ve observed that, in some cases, where insight is completely devastated, their delusionary content can’t identify to anything properly. For example, I’ve seen patients believe they are a sort of hermaphrodite figure. Jung said the hermaphrodite was a phase where man and woman were at one time, before being separated. However, I see it differently. I see it as utter chaos, because the mind no longer has a foundation. Like evil, it is malleable and ever weary. One day I was reading on the Knights Templar, and how they were accused of worshiping the demonic figure of Baphomet, who has the head of goat, a woman’s breast and is presumably male. I took a break, went on Twitter, and saw how the LGBTQ organised a reading to little children with a man (or woman) with horns and colours educating the children. At that point I realised something; that someone doesn’t need to be clinically ill to be diagnosed with a disorder; evil does it for them.
The result of removing sin has caused the mind to fragment, ever looking for a foundation, and this is why our society has individuals who can’t even identify with their own gender. They have become a personified form of Baphomet. They are forever and always changing, until even the mind has had enough and will put an end to itself. Of course, the blame would be to society that doesn’t accept them, but as I said, the blame is on everyone except the individual. I could go on, but I don’t want to drag this on. I’ll conclude with how it’s important to recognise evil – literature shows us different forms and how they manifest into our culture today. It comes in the name of tolerance, because everyone is a victim, since no one can accept their own fault, thus producing a society of victims and extremely weak men. The truth stands ground, even if it has gone through abandonment, flogging and crucifixion. The truth recognises itself while evil does it best to be called evil.
Q: In the 1980s there was a wave of claims of Satanic Ritualistic Abuse. Memories were said to have been recovered using regression therapies, etc. Later, it turned out that the people accused were innocent and many of those making claims said they had been manipulated by their therapists. First, do you believe such abuse is real? Second, to what extent are such regression methods actually trustworthy and useful?
A: Absolutely. I’ve said feminists can’t get over their lack of feminism the same way psychologists can’t get over their pasts. You’ll be surprised how many people studying psychology go into this profession because they’re trying to fix something within themselves. We’re living in a narcissistic society and pride, which is the worst sin, has gone into everything. We can see this in medicine – a doctor is a civil servant but acts as if he has the power over life and death. I tell my doctor friends that it was St. Luke the physician who accompanied Paul, not the other way around. It’s the same with Psychologists. The cases seen in the 80s were seen in the 90s, and even today.
Freud announced his famous ‘Wolf Man Case’ was cured of depression, even though the patient wrote that his depression got worse. Unethical practices are common in therapy but they’re also common in research. I work in doing systematic reviews, and there are many studies that, when analysed, don’t add up. Some treatments can’t possibly do well with this trial, and do bad in that trial. Eventually, a pattern begins to show that there were biased results and researchers were approached by big pharmaceutical companies to test their drugs and pay them for it.
The first book my Professor gave me was called “Testing Treatments” by Hazel Thorton that addresses all these issues. If evil can get into the priesthood, it can definitely get into anything else – quite easily too.
As for therapeutic methods, it depends on the case and the evidence relating to it. There are different therapeutic methods, but if you’re addressing the issue of regression, I would say that it is useful, though it is seen to be romanticised. I’ve dealt with patients who suffer with psycho-somatic symptoms. That is, a psychological pain manifesting itself physically. Some are conscious and some aren’t. When the patient addresses them, the symptoms disappear. But as I said, they’re all very case specific.
Q: Any final thoughts you'd like to leave my readers with?
A: I’d advise anyone to read people who spoke relentlessly on the topic. G.K. Chesterton is the best example I could think of. Mainly because he spoke about anything and everything. I advise people to pray and meditate from the Christian perspective. Prayer is when you speak to God, but meditation is when you listen. In today’s world, we aren’t listening, and our prayers are heavily based on requests rather than asking God’s will be done. As a Catholic, my cathedral whereby I find my alone time to pray and meditate is filled with statues of Saints and scenes from the Bible. When gazing upon a Saint, I contemplate the extraordinary life he or she has gone through and I identify the main issues at the time he or she dealt with, and if I could identify my own issues and the issues of the world today, and what I can do to fulfill God’s commandments. I’d recommend something overlooked in today’s world – the body as a temple. The body is where the soul dwells so if it is failing, then both mind and soul are in disarray. Diet and exercise is extremely neglected and is something we should take seriously. Lastly, buy your local parish priest or revenant a pint of beer – they go through a lot for your sake. I smile mostly when in company of priests and monks. Eventually, we started having weekly philosophical and theological meetings after mass at the local pub. People from different professions added their inputs and exchanged readings which helped one another grow, made onlookers curious which is always a potential candidate and saint waiting to happen. God bless.