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Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?
Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Monday, March 5, 2012

Demon Attributions in the United States

In several posts about Helen Ukpabio and children’s deaths following accusations of witchcraft and demon possession, I’ve focused on beliefs that African Pentecostals encourage. Child deaths related to witchcraft and demon accusations have occurred both in Africa and among African immigrants in the United Kingdom. Using Dr. Rosalind Hackett’s work as a source, I also discussed the role that certain postulated spirits play in African Pentecostal life, and the value of such malevolent spirits in contributing to the worldview that emphasizes “spiritual warfare” between good and evil.

However, the fact that some Africans mistreat or kill children because they believe in demon possession does not mean that all non-Africans are free of this dangerous assumption. Children in the United States, too, have died during attempts to expel the demons that were thought to infest them. One recent case, discussed at , involved a recently-adopted 4-year-old, Kairissa Mark, whose adoptive father referred to her as a “demon child”.

Publications about expulsion of demons are easily available through Amazon and other source. For example, “Deliverance for Children and Teens”, by Bill Banks, was published in 1985 and reissued in 2008. “A Manual for Children’s Deliverance”, by Frank and Ida Mae Hammond, originally published in 1996, was reissued in 2010. (The term “deliverance” in these titles refers to the expulsion of demons, which the authors consider to be responsible for many childhood problems both trivial and serious.) Numerous websites profess problems that occur when demons attack children--  which, it is said, they may do through no fault of the child, but because a parent or even grandparent deviated from strict rules about sexual behavior or trafficked with the occult by using a Ouija board or an “8-ball”.

A recent youtube production,, was mentioned on the “Little Prince” adoption and Reactive Attachment Disorder website, and was accompanied by enlightening comments about the role demons are thought to play in a child’s development. (Please let me point out, though, that the video and comments are now said to have been taken down by the maker, so there’s no way I can arrange for you to check my accuracy here. My thanks to Linda Rosa for pointing these out; I didn’t move quite fast enough to see the video.) Here are a couple of the comments (verbatim):

@BlessedBlessedinHim said: If that was happening to me I would get spiritual help immediately there may not be nothing wrong with your child. Demons are real, and can enter children who are not baptised, and have not made the decision to repent they are open to demonic harm. I have seen these things myself so no matter what anyone says I will never be convinced they are not real. Maybe this is real to you? This is something a doctor can’t cure your child appears normal otherwise.

@Retro80Lady30 said:  I agree. some things are caused by demons and do believe that a child can be influenced by such things.. Our son has healed immensely but it has taken years of prayers and showing unconditional love. I do not believe the whole cause of Rad is demonic influence ..oe these children are hurt, traumatized, and angry from having no control … they need healing and sometimes healing does not come instantly.. In that case God gives us what we need in order to parent and love these children..

These comments demonstrate that it would be a mistake to think of demon possession beliefs as “what people used to think in the Middle Ages” or “what some people think in Africa, not here”. People living in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and no doubt elsewhere are on this very day attributing children’s behavioral, mood, and physical problems to possession by demons, and are seeking deliverance practices as cures for seizure disorders, ADHD, schizophrenia (a specialty of the Hammonds, who believed the word meant multiple personality), and, as we saw above, Reactive Attachment Disorder. Believing that deliverance can cure these problems, the adults are likely to avoid conventional medical and psychological treatments for these treatable problems.

I have had a long love affair with the First Amendment, but as time goes on my passion is turning to ambivalence. The problem is the difficulty in discriminating between the right to hold certain beliefs and the right to act on those beliefs in ways that affect other people. We tolerate  a belief in polygamy while simultaneously forbidding polygamous marriages. But it’s much harder to tolerate a belief in demonic possession of children while forbidding neglect of appropriate medical and psychological treatment, because we can’t foresee that neglect or detect it immediately. The tradition of the “family veil” prevents authorities from investigating what families do to children, unless it has become clear that a child has been harmed, and rightly so--  we would all be frightened if investigators (not necessarily knowledgeable ones) could come into our homes at a whim. Public and private schools used to provide a layer of protection for children whose parents’ beliefs were dangerous, but the rise in unsupervised homeschooling has removed that protection for many children.

Where do we go now? Is it possible to protect children from belief-based abuse and neglect, without instituting a force of Childrearing Police? When inappropriate action flows from beliefs, what ideas should we tolerate?  I can’t answer; I can only repeat that children in the United States have died from exorcism practices, and that the belief in demon possession of children is still very much with us.


  1. I don't recall that there was anything said in The Little Prince clip about demonic possession. From what I can remember, there were still shots of upset children, torn wallpaper, holes in doors, and distraught mothers. Typical Attachment Therapy propaganda.

    The comments (reproduced above) were what got my attention.

    There are plenty of references in Attachment Therapy (AT) materials that suggest demonic influences. In particular, Foster Cline and Nancy Thomas have much to say about one sign of "Attachment Disorder": "Preoccupation with blood, fire, and gore" – which is code for "devil worship."

    On this website, Cline provides a transcript from a treatment session where he claims a child admits to praying to the devil to be his child.

    Cline says, "...they begin to identify with the forces of evil....there is an identification with the devil..."

    In "Dandelion on My Pillow, Butcher Knife Below," Nancy Thomas makes it clear she believes in satanic cults, to the point of trying to the police to investigate the wild stories of a boy who had been pushed to confess more and more during Holding Therapy sessions.

    Thomas frequently tells groups that she doesn't allow children with Attachment Disorder (AD) to pray because she can't be sure to whom they are praying. In a workshop, Thomas said, "Most of [children with AD] actually worship the devil and pray to the devil." "I had one little boy who was in a ritualistic cult. … He had been a cannibal and had taken part in the rituals. He knew how to worship Satan, full blown.…"

    While therapists such as Cline and Thomas may not state outright that these children are possessed by demons, for any religious people who believe possession is possible, Attachment Therapy lends "professional" confirmation...and the hope of third-party reimbursement for a cure. This same hope may also be what restrains Attachment Therapists from claiming outright demonic possession.

  2. The issue may be not so much what dogmas people would state that they believe, but the readiness to accept without evidence ideas that are congruent with those they have heard preached. Arguments by analogy can be very persuasive, but are not necessarily accurate.

  3. One place to go from here is an end to unsupervised home schooling. If people had to show at regular visits that they were actually giving their children an education, including preparing them for national curriculum exams, it wouldn't be so easy for people to keep them off school to perpetrate weird cultish behaviour on them. Of course it wouldn't stop it altogether but people caught up in the fringes of the AT world might think twice about home schooling.

  4. One of the difficulties with this in the U.S. is that it's all "home rule" with local school systems making decisions. We have no national curriculum-- far from it.

    I'm not sure when things got so casual about homeschooling, but I know that even when my kids were little, in most places you had to prove that you could homeschool-- that you had enough education yourself-- that you had a curriculum that matched the state curriculum. When I was a kid, people who lived on remote ranches often did homeschool, but they usually used correspondence courses like the Calvert School curriculum, which was very good.

    I think the shift to unsupervised homeschooling parallels the Victoria Climbie problem of social services workers who are afraid to be seen as intolerant-- also the acceptance of "philosophical objections" to vaccination.

  5. Article on the issue of the growth of untramelled homeschooling.

  6. As far as I can ascertain, the figures are about 1.7% in the US and between 0.04 and 0.9% in different areas in the UK. The main reasons in the US were religious and moral education. In the UK it was bullying and special needs (autism). The provision for autism over here is crap.

  7. Note another application of the belief in demonic possession: