Kirsten's Reviews > Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist's Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption

Glimpses of the Devil by M. Scott Peck
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Feb 02, 08

bookshelves: read-pre-12-07, from-library, crackpots, non-fiction
Read in June, 2007

I feel a little unfair rating this book, since I'm apparently not anywhere near the intended audience. Peck is not going to convince anyone who doesn't already believe in actual demons and in Satan as an entity, and even those who believe in such things might find that this book stretches their credulity.

This book, as near as I can figure, expands upon two situations mentioned in Peck's earlier work, People of the Lie, where he encountered women in his psychiatric practice who he believed to be possessed. In the early eighties, Peck became interested in exorcism and possession and whether these could somehow be scientifically proven. In the process, he became acquainted with Malachai Martin, author of Hostage to the Devil. This already had my eyebrows shooting up, since Martin was a controversial figure and more than a little bit of a huckster. Martin eventually asked Peck to investigate the case of a young woman named Jersey, who believed herself to be possessed.

Peck meets Jersey, and almost immediately recognizes the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder, yet he uses hypnotism to speak directly to the "demons," and they convince him that there might be some truth to Jersey's belief. He agrees to continue to investigate the case. Soon after this, during a psychiatric interview, Jersey suddenly has what appears to be a psychotic break, exhibiting symptoms of schizophrenia, but this ends abruptly when Peck tells her to "cut it out." Peck finds this sudden change "breathtaking," and he takes it as evidence of possession. This is interesting, since I've read at least one account of a woman with BPD who suffered from extremely brief episodes of psychosis that usually resolved themselves within an hour. Anyway, Peck goes ahead with a deliverance (an intense prayer session designed to relieve the sufferer of demonic influences), and when that affords only temporary relief, he performs a full-on exorcism, which takes four days. At the end, there is a marked improvement in Jersey's condition, but Peck himself states that his initial assessment was that "at most, what the exorcism did was to transform a severe untreatable borderline personality into a severe treatable one."
At this point, my reaction as a reader was basically that I thought Peck was misinterpreting psychiatric symptoms as demon possession, but Jersey did seem to be helped by the exorcism, so maybe it was a case of "no harm, no foul." Then Peck does something I consider to be unconscionable.
Peck is of the belief that possession can only occur if the victim leaves the demons an opening. Because both he and Jersey have come to believe that Jersey was possessed sometime around twelve years old, Peck spends a lot of time trying to find out what happened that gave the demons a foothold. Gradually it comes out that after Jersey had her appendix out when she was twelve, her father sexually molested her under the guise of medically examining her. While her father had a PhD in psychology and had a practice of seeing his patients in a starched white coat, he was not a medical doctor. Jersey emphatically swears up and down that she thought he was, but Peck tells her that at the age of twelve, she should have known that he was not a medical doctor and that what he was doing was wrong. Thus, her decision to lie to herself was what gave the demons a foothold and caused her possession. Peck emphatically tells her that no one would blame her, and that it was perhaps a necessary lie -- but it was a lie nonetheless, and that's what caused her to be infested by demons for the following fifteen years. "During the twelve days that followed," Peck writes, "we were to go over her father's sexual molestation several times, elaborating on the unfairness of it as well as the unfairness that the devil had taken advantage of such a tiny and pardonable wrong choice. But I also emphasized during those times that it had been, in fact, a wrong choice on her part. ... I repeatedly told her that God is truth, and truth is what is real. The choice to believe her father's lie because it was the less painful alternative was a choice to believe unreality. And unreality belonged to the devil.(p. 83)" I, frankly, have no words to respond to this, except that I consider it to be one of the most f-ed up things a therapist could tell a survivor of sexual abuse.
At any rate, this is getting long, but my main reaction on reading this case study and that of the other woman Peck exorcised, is that I'm glad that Peck stopped practicing as a psychiatrist in the mid-eighties in favor of the lecture circuit, and I hope he didn't infect too many other mental health professionals with his ideas.
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Katy totally agree with you. As a former psychiatric patient, I am SO glad he was not my doctor! Imagine where I might be now, if my erroneous beliefs were REINFORCED, instead of neutralized!


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