Christian mental health experts have warned of an 'astonishing' rise in exorcisms, which 'are now a booming industry in the UK' according to an extensive new report on Christianity and mental health.
The report by the think-tank Theos describes 'the burgeoning exorcism scene in the UK' and says that 'there is a danger of what one interviewee (a Christian psychiatrist) referred to as "Christian over-spiritualising", by which he meant a tendency to ascribe anything and everything to spiritual causes when other medical ones may exist'.
The research instead suggests that mental health problems are medical and found that interviewees, including mental health chaplains, said that 'in the vast majority of cases, the person in question was suffering with mental health issues which required psychiatric assistance'.
The report adds that 'if Christians start treating people with mental health issues as if they are possessed when they are not, they run the risk of doing very serious harm...exorcisms are now a booming industry in the UK, with a number of interviewees noting the astonishing increase in demand – often, as one noted, in defiance of any actual rules or procedures put in place by any church'.
The report's author, Theos researcher Ben Ryan, said: 'There has been an increased concern on the part of Christians to address this crisis. From our report we've identified dozens of programmes, charities and activities done by Christian groups to engage in this sector. These range from chaplaincy work in clinical settings to suicide prevention charities, Christian counselling to support for clergy, and from major national charities to small local, volunteer run operations. There is a huge scope of work being done in this area.
'However, much of this work is poorly networked and supported. The churches nationally have been campaigning, but at a grass roots level there is little sense of an overall strategy or system for connecting and resourcing activities, or of sharing best practice.'
A spokesperson for the Church of England said: 'The Church of England takes deliverance ministry very seriously and treats each case in a pastoral and private way. Any case would be dealt with locally through the diocese.
'Our guidelines state that particular caution needs to be exercised, especially when ministering to someone who is in a distressed or disturbed state.'
The report concludes that the Church needs to reassess how it responds to mental health problems, including a 're-appraisal of how we use the Bible on this topic'. It says: 'Rather than focusing on limited accounts of explicit mental illness, or demonic possession, more attention ought to be paid to the ability to begin building an authentic Christian language of mental health from the perspective of sufferers. Where many Christian resources currently focus on raising awareness of different mental health issues there is more to be done in terms of letting sufferers find a legitimately biblical and theological language to verbalise their own experiences.'
It also calls for more 'biblical resources that allow for Christians to embrace medical science and prevent the danger of "over-spiritualising" problems'.