Depossession, a term used in past-life therapy, emerged when therapists encountered phenomena not accounted for by reference to past incarnation of their subjects. Depossession is similar to exorcism, but differs in that no reference is implied to demonic spirits. In her research, psychologist Edith Fiore, the person most responsible for developing past-life therapy as a specialization within psychology, discovered that what appeared to be attached spirits were interfering with the exploration of past lives of patients. These spirits are thought to be deceased human beings who have remained in the Earth plane rather than moving on with their life experience. Such deceased spirits commonly attach themselves to a family member, but may also choose a person weakened by alcoholism or drug abuse or a severe illness, or a person with a significant hostility component in his/her personality.
The idea of treating patients with possessing entities echoes the work of rescue circles in Spiritualism. Such work was pioneered by Dr. Charles Wickland and his wife in the early twentieth century and subsequently became a popular practice in the Spiritualist community. Spiritualists moved beyond the idea of demon possession, but placed their work in the context of attempting spirit contact and the continued upward evolution of spirit entities. Wickland was also working at a time when psychological sciences were still in their infancy. In their rescue work, Wickland's wife Anna would operate as a medium and invite the possessing entity to speak through her. Thus, conversation with the entity would not occur through the patient as is the case in past-life therapy.
Like Wickland, Fiore hypothesizes that most possessing entities are deceased humans. Depossession is accomplished by confronting the possessing entity and persuading it to leave. Such entities are seen as attached to the spirit/soul of the patient and may have been attached for many years, the original attachment having occurred during a past incarnation. Fiore's colleagues have noted that some past-life reports that they obtained from patients were in fact the past lives of the possessing entity. On occasion nonhuman entities, described as elementals or evil-natured entities, have been encountered.
Possessing entities account for a range of symptoms from mood swings, chronic pains and illness, or suicidal urges. They frequently are associated with the use of alcohol and mood-altering drugs. Patients are rarely aware of the attached entity, but once "releasement" has occurred, they report positive changes.
Ongoing research based upon the idea of depossession is reported periodically in The Journal of Regression Therapy, a scholarly journal that grew out of therapy based on the idea of treating psychological problems as the product of past lives. Critics have suggested that the past lives that Fiore and her colleagues have elicited from patients, however useful in treatment, do not offer evidence of reincarnation. the fact of the patient's prior existence in another life, or of the existence of possessing entities. The phenomena reported by past-life therapists, similar to forgotten memory syndrome, can as easily be seen as stories that have a certain psychological truth for the patient without providing any objective report on what had actually occurred.
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