Psychiatrist Richard Gallagher on His Encounters with “Demon Possession”


Richard Gallagher is a board-certified psychiatrist and a professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College. He has some striking cases of what he considers, as a skeptical medical and mental health professional, to be legitimate cases of demonic possession when holding sessions with clients. Gallagher is not short on experience, especially with work relating to a religious context,

“For the past two-and-a-half decades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness – which represent the overwhelming majority of cases – from, literally, the devil’s work.

Regarding religion and being a professional mental health practitioner, Gallagher does not

“see these two aspects of my career in conflict. The same habits that shape what I do as a professor and psychiatrist – open-mindedness, respect for evidence and compassion for suffering people – led me to aid in the work of discerning attacks by what I believe are evil spirits and, just as critically, differentiating these extremely rare events from medical conditions.”

Gallagher is also aware of the presence of falsehood and superstition when it comes to demonic possession,

“Unfortunately, not all clergy involved in this complex field are as cautious as the priest who first approached me. In some circles, there is a tendency to become overly preoccupied with putative demonic explanations and to see the devil everywhere. Fundamentalist misdiagnoses and absurd or even dangerous “treatments,” such as beating victims, have sometimes occurred, especially in developing countries. This is perhaps why exorcism has a negative connotation in some quarters.”

Gallagher maintains that people with psychological problems should receive psychological treatment. However, although initially inclined toward skepticism, several convincing encounters convinced Gallagher of the truth of the demonic. In one striking case, he notes how a “subject’s behavior exceeded what I could explain with my training.” The client “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.”

There have also been other encounters when a client may suddenly,

“[I]n 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… 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.”

Gallagher is confident that he has witnesses the “real thing” explaining to have 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.”

But Gallagher is also well aware of what he calls “pseudo-possession” when “individuals who think they are being attacked by malign spirits are generally experiencing nothing of the sort.” He acknowledges that,

“Practitioners see psychotic patients all the time who claim to see or hear demons; histrionic or highly suggestible individuals, such as those suffering from dissociative identity syndromes; and patients with personality disorders who are prone to misinterpret destructive feelings.”

He finds that ignorance and superstition have often surrounded stories of demonic possession in various cultures, and that many “alleged episodes can be explained by fraud, chicanery or mental pathology.” Gallagher is therefore very careful to judge the symptoms to his best ability. In fact, he always approaches,

“each situation with an initial skepticism. I technically do not make my own “diagnosis” of possession but inform the clergy that the symptoms in question have no conceivable medical cause.”

He knows all too well how a misdiagnosis can produce a negative image of the demonic. But what are some of the views from other medical and mental health experts in the field regarding demonic possession and the supernatural? Gallagher explains that,

“the American Psychiatric Association has no official opinion on these affairs, the field (like society at large) is full of unpersuadable skeptics and occasionally doctrinaire materialists who are often oddly vitriolic in their opposition to all things spiritual.”

But Gallagher claims to be “pleasantly surprised by the number of psychiatrists and other mental health practitioners nowadays who are open to entertaining such hypotheses. Many believe exactly what I do, though they may be reluctant to speak out.” He concludes that

“As a man of reason, I’ve had to rationalize the seemingly irrational. Questions about how a scientifically trained physician can believe “such outdated and unscientific nonsense,” as I’ve been asked, have a simple answer. I honestly weigh the evidence. I have been told simplistically that levitation defies the laws of gravity, and, well, of course it does! We are not dealing here with purely material reality, but with the spiritual realm. One cannot force these creatures to undergo lab studies or submit to scientific manipulation; they will also hardly allow themselves to be easily recorded by video equipment, as skeptics sometimes demand.” But “multiple depictions of the same phenomena in astonishingly consistent ways offer cumulative evidence of their credibility. As a psychoanalyst, a blanket rejection of the possibility of demonic attacks seems less logical, and often wishful in nature, than a careful appraisal of the facts.”


Gallagher, R. 2016. As a psychiatrist, I diagnose mental illness. Also, I help spot demonic possession. Available.



  1. For whatever reasons, Dr Gallagher has chosen to believe in demonic possession. Yet he provides nothing more than heresay as evidence, with the unsupported rationale that “One cannot force these creatures to undergo lab studies or submit to scientific manipulation; they will also hardly allow themselves to be easily recorded by video equipment, as skeptics sometimes demand.”

    He notes that many alleged episodes can be explained by fraud, chicanery or mental pathology.

    You’ll have to forgive the rest of us skeptics, who, in the absence of any meaningful evidence, will conclude that he has been likewise duped, or has misinterpreted his observations (giving him the benefit of the doubt, that he is not a willing participant in any such fraud).

  2. Sent from my iPad


    Dr. Karl Payne – Spiritual Warfare: Christians, Demonization and Deliverance

    Dr. Karl Payne shares in his book that he had to learn from George Birch , a retired missionary pastor of Overseas Missionary Fellowship; “Brother Birch was a missionary with the respected Overseas Missionary Fellowship, begun as China Inland Mission by Hudson Taylor. In Borneo (Kalimantan) he encountered and learned to deal with cases of demonic activity. Back in Canada, he found that evangelical believers had similar problems. Many of them came apparently from the charismatic experiences. I talked to the author myself while he was still alive and am very convinced that his experience is genuine.”-

    “Pastor George Birch and his wife Grace, who introduced me to the “how to’s” of successfully and systematically identifying and responding to demonic warfare. Thank you for being willing to sacrificially give away the things you learned on the mission field and in the pastorate at home when so many of your colleagues and friends were afraid to do so. The Christian world owes you both a great debt of gratitude for your courage and faithful service”- Dr. Karl Payne

    I believe that Catholic priests can learn to improve their methods from other experiences.

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