Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Critical Issues in the Dissociative Disorders Field: Six Perspectives from Religiously Sensitive Practitioners

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Critical Issues in the Dissociative Disorders Field: Six Perspectives from Religiously Sensitive Practitioners

Article excerpt

This article is a compilation of responses to six questions concerning critical issues in the contemporary psychological and spiritual treatment of dissociative identity disorder (DID--formerly multiple personality disorder). The panel of respondents, most of whom are well known in the dissociative disorders field, is comprised of Elizabeth Bowman, M.D., Harry Carlson, M.Div., Christine Comstock, Ph.D., James G. Friesen, Ph.D., Jerry Mungadze, Ph.D., Christopher H. Rosik, Ph.D., and Carl Wilfrid, M.Div. An overview of the responses indicated that the panelists varied sharply in their willingness to consider exorcism as a therapeutic option. Even those who were willing to consider exorcism differed in their understanding of the clinical threshold that needs to be met before initiating such a spiritual intervention. Clinical neutrality and caution regarding the veracity of specific traumatic memory content was commonly urged. The church community was seen as an important potential resource for healing, despite its historically mixed record in ministering to DID sufferers. Perspectives on the future of the dissociative disorders field ranged from guarded optimism to overt pessimism. These responses highlight the divergence of opinion that can exist over controversial issues and suggests the need for continued dialogue between and among clergy and religiously oriented therapists.


The phenomenon of dissociation and its clinical manifestations, especially Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), have gained increased scientific attention and scrutiny in the past two decades. Many contentious professional debates can be found in the literature that involve some aspects of DID theory or treatment. However, there have been few forums for professionals with religious sensitivities to share and contrast their views on issues within the field of particular interest to the faith community. (1)

The intent of this article is to create such a forum by soliciting responses to several questions from seven professionals who each have extensive experience in treating dissociative disorders (DD). The panel consists of one psychiatrist (Elizabeth Bowman), four psychologists (Christine Comstock, James Friesen, Jerry Mungadze, and Christopher Rosik), and two clergy (Harry Carlson and Carl Wilfrid). These panelists respond to questions concerning exorcism, false memories, the role of the church, the positive and negative effects of religious faith, changes in the treatment of DID during the past two decades, and predictions about the future of the dissociative disorders field. As the reader will observe below, although there is a general consensus of opinion in some areas, meaningful differences in perspective also exist and shape the specific therapeutic approach these practitioners take to the religious and spiritual aspects of DID treatment.

What is the role of exorcism in the treatment of DID?

Bowman: DID is not a spiritual disorder, but a mental disorder that calls for psychological treatment. Exorcism is a spiritual treatment that does not belong in the treatment of psychiatric disorders, DID included. Persons who advocate exorcism for DID patients view them as ill with both a psychological and a spiritual illness (i.e., DID and possession); thus, they believe they are making accurate differential diagnoses and applying appropriate treatments for both conditions. Exorcisms in DID treatment are performed by well meaning practitioners, but I believe they are the result of misunderstanding the psychodynamics of DID, mis-diagnosing dissociative phenomena as spiritual possession, and failure to recognize transference and counrertransference pressures. The majority of outcome reports on exorcisms in DID patients show negative or short-lived clinical consequences (Bowman, 1993; Bull, Ellason, & Ross, 1998; Fraser, 1993; Pfeifer, 1994). In the United States, exorcisms are also extremely risky legally, so I advise secular and religious therapists avoid them. …

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