Just in time for the summer picnic season, a psychiatrist who’s made a career out of helping priests with exorcisms has come out with a checklist to determine if your friend hanging upside down and naked from the diving board while swearing and puking is just drunk or possessed.

In an article in the Washington Post, Richard Gallagher says he’s a psychiatrist, a psychoanalyst and a Catholic. None of those prepared him for a call he received in the late 1980s from a priest who at the time was the top exorcist in the U.S, yet was puzzled by a woman who had symptoms of both mental illness and possession. When she demonstrated paranormal abilities (secret knowledge, speaking in languages unbeknownst to her), he recommended exorcism (she was later “cured”) and Gallagher had a new career as a psychiatric exorcism consultant.


His 25+ years of experience have helped him develop a checklist of signs to help him separate the paranoid from the possessed.

Saying terrible things about religion, clergy members, sacred symbols, etc. This is a good place to start since so many people are doing it. Gallagher says the truly possessed spews hate and venom far beyond that of people at political rallies. Gross disrespect towards religious symbols and icons is common.


Excessive and unexpected strength. Adrenaline can cause people to perform superhuman feats in times of stress, but the possessed use this ability strictly for destruction and terrorism, especially towards religion and anyone trying to help. Although he hasn’t seen it himself, Gallagher puts levitation in this category.


Speaking coherently in unknown foreign languages. “Foreign accent syndrome” is a real condition that can be brought on by a concussion or stroke, but Gallagher claims the possessed speak with perfect clarity and grammar in languages they’ve never studied, especially using crude language and swear words.

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I know what you did last summer!

Knowledge of others' unknown, hidden or shameful secrets. This is the big one that convinced Gallagher the first time he saw a woman possessed. He has experienced a person telling him secrets about his mother’s illness, but the hidden knowledge is often of deep, dark, long-buried and shameful secrets.

If you see one or more of this symptoms in an individual, do you call a psychiatrist, an exorcist, the police or all of the above and let them sort it out? Gallagher practices in New York and, although he’s the leading expert in hi his field, he can’t be everywhere and acknowledges that most other doctors don’t believe in demonic possession or prescribe exorcisms. He wishes they would at least be more open.

In the end, however, it was not an academic or dogmatic view that propelled me into this line of work. I was asked to consult about people in pain. I have always thought that, if requested to help a tortured person, a physician should not arbitrarily refuse to get involved. For any person of science or faith, it should be impossible to turn one’s back on a tormented soul.

Don't turn your back on a potentially tormented soul. Watch for the signs, carry a copy of Gallagher’s article and get to know your nearest exorcist.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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