Devils, Demons and Dybbuks: Possession, Exorcism and Psychotherapy
What is the Dybbuk?
Posted Sep 02, 2012
In medieval Jewish folklore, the dybbuk was a transmigrating spirit or soul capable of causing physical sickness and psychological suffering by possessing one's body or brain. Those perceived to be destructively possessed by the dybbuk would be forcibly brought for exorcism to the synagogue and supportively surrounded by a minyan of ten men traditionally required for Jewish religious services. The group, led by the exorcist, would then deliberately provoke the presumedly possessed person into a rage in an (evidently often successful) effort to forcefully evict the dybbuk from his or her body. However, unlike in Christian exorcism, which seeks solely to extirpate and expel the offending evil demon, the purpose of the Jewish exorcism is to heal both the person being possessed and the troubled spirit or disembodied soul (dybbuk) doing the possessing.
Perhaps it's time psychologists start asking some of those same questions. What is exorcism? How does it heal? Can we learn something valuable about psychotherapy from exorcism? Are there certain techniques employed by exorcists that psychotherapists should consider when treating angry, psychotic or violent patients? Are there vital existential or spiritual questions addressed by exorcism--for example, the archetypal riddle of evil--that psychotherapy detrimentally avoids or neglects?