Spiritual Conflict in Light of Psychology and Medicine

Jerry Mungadze


The reality of spiritual conflict in our world is a given to those who believe the Bible, but sometimes those who are convinced of the reality of spiritual conflict deny or minimize the reality of psychological and psychiatric illness. Often Christians suffering from psychological or psychiatric illness have been treated as if they were demonized. Those who had demonic problems in addition to their psychological and psychiatric illness, often get their demonic issues attended to and not their psychological and psychiatric illness.

This paper is an attempt to balance the spiritual and the natural needs of man as we seek to help people with all sorts of problems. This approach is going to be referred to in this paper as Holistic. In Isa. 61:1-3, the ministry of the Lord Jesus took in to account the natural aspect of man’s suffering. In this passage, people are referred to as, “broken hearted, in mourning, grieving, despairing, captives and prisoners in darkness.” It is clear in this scripture that the ministry of the Lord Jesus went beyond preaching good news. It included meeting other needs that people had.

The Reality of Spiritual Conflict

To those who believe the Bible, the reality of Evil spiritual forces is undisputed both Old and New Testament. Paul points out in Eph. 6:10-12 that the believer is already involved in the conflict. The evil forces consisting of Satan and his fallen angels wage war against the angels of God and God’s people. In Daniel 10:10-13, 20-21, an angel of God informs Daniel of the war that was being fought over countries, regions and nations. Daniel was involved in the conflict by his prayers, but he may not have realized that the answers to his prayers were held up due to the war the fallen angels of Satan were waging against the angels of God and the Israelites. In the New Testament, there are several examples of demonic forces causing physical and mental illness. Perhaps the real question is not whether spiritual conflict exists, but what is the best way of dealing with spiritual conflict when it can co-exist with psychological, psychiatric, and physical illness. This is further complicated by the fact that there are times when psychological and psychiatric illness exists with no direct link to spiritual conflict. In such cases, assuming the presence of spiritual conflict may lead to serious mistakes in helping others. (Mungadze, 2000).

The Reality of Psychological, Psychiatric, and Physiological Illness

Genesis 3 outlines the fall of man and the entrance of sin, death, pain, suffering, and illness into the world. The fallen world we live in is subject to natural laws. Psychology and medicine help us deal with our problems related to the natural laws. Our minds or souls contain our decision-making capacity, our desires, our will and our emotions. The mind or soul is the realm where psychological processes take place. Our bodies, including the brain, interact with our mind/soul, and physical medicine helps us with problems related to the body. The following diagram may be helpful in understanding the relationships and the interconnectedness of our being (Genesis 2:7; Heb. 4:12):


Man is body, soul, and spirit. The spirit is the part of man that communes with God: It’s the place of regeneration. Upon the occurrence of the new birth, the spirit of God indwells our spirit. The process of spiritual growth or sanctifications is really the influence of salvation into our mind, which controls the body. The body has many organs, including the brain, which is the powerhouse of most bodily functions. The brain regulates certain chemical processes in the body for our survival and sustenance.

It is very unfortunate that the Western World view seems to split man into separate parts namely body and mind or material and immaterial. It appears from a biblical viewpoint man is so interconnected. Body, soul, and spirit are so intertwined that it can’t be separated. Doing so can only harm the process of maintaining unity of the body. The same unity of the body also makes it difficult to tell when certain problems are largely psychological, psychiatric, physical, or spiritual. This brings us to the discussion on correct discernment and diagnosis.

Discernment And Correct Diagnosis When Dealing With Spiritual Conflict

One of the fundamentals in dealing with people is that no harm should be done to people in the name of deliverance or help. If someone is having problems with physical manifestation, they could have a physical condition that needs a physician’s attention. What may be appearing as spiritual conflict, could be a physical problem based in a physical disease. Ignoring this could lead to death or physical impairment for the person seeking help. As a rule of thumb, physical manifestations need to be followed up with questions concerning the presence of a history of physical disease in the person or their family, and also by a visit to a physician. This area may not be the hardest one to discern. The next area, which presents possibly the hardest challenge, is the manifestation of what could be demonic or mental illness. The safest approach is to first rule out the mental illness or psychological problems before assuming that it is a spiritual conflict.

1.) We need to ask for a history of mental problems.

2.) We need to check for distress of emotional or mental nature in the person’s life.

3.) We need to find out if the person has sought psychological or psychiatric help before or even help from traditional healers.

4.) We also need to know if the person is using psychiatric medications or if they have ever received them before.

5.) We can ask to see if they have been hospitalized for emotional or mental problems in the past. If the information given seems to contain these natural situations listed above, then the person needs psychological or psychiatric care even if they have already been through deliverance or prayer.

There is a mental illness that is perhaps the most misunderstood as demonization in the Christian deliverance ministry. This illness is called Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder (Friesen, 1991). This illness is characterized by the afflicted person hearing voices; seeing people and things no one else sees; speaking in different voices; having memory lapses too great to be accounted for by ordinary forgetfulness; self-destructive behaviors and unexplainable physical symptoms (Mungadze, 1992).

Sometimes people with this illness are convinced that they are demon possessed. The voices they hear do claim to be demons when they are actually not. In North America, this mental illness is well understood and successfully treated (Ross, 1995). In the majority of third world countries, it is largely seen as spirit possession or ancestral mediumistic activities. Usually in these societies, people with this condition go through traditional healing or traditional Christian exorcism. Which actually antagonizes the created personas and make them more angry and destructive towards the person who is afflicted (Ross, 1995). The following are helpful guidelines when dealing with people who claim to be demonized.

1.) If the person who claims to be demonized is also a victim of childhood trauma, the person may have this disorder. Doing an exorcism without a good understanding and acceptance by the person’s created parts, can lead to harming them emotionally (Bull, Ellason, & Ross, 1998).

2.) Their created parts are not foreign beings or spirits of grandparents, but parts of the mind they created unknowingly to deal with the trauma. Therefore these parts need to be embraced rather than cast out (Fraser, 1993).

3.) Although these created parts claim to be separate people, they are really parts of the person’s mind. The person must be encouraged to realize that there is only one real person (Ross, 1993).

4.) This type of disorder needs to be treated by specially trained professionals. When ministering to a person with Dissociative disorders, it is best to work together with such a trained professional (Rosik, 2000).

5.) Occasionally these created personas do not share the same beliefs, behaviors, and perceptions with the main person. As a result, usually some type of conflict arises. If the person is a Christian, it is important to know that it does not mean that they are automatically going to hell. They are just very unstable.

6.) Every so often this illness will exist with spiritual conflict. In such cases, deliverance is not effective if the existence of the illness is ignored.

Below is a useful illustration of how people with this disorder may view themselves.


A man in seminary inspired the above picture. He believed that he was possessed by a legion of demons that yelled obscenities to him daily and told him to get out of seminary. Sometimes he heard little boys crying and adult voices screaming. He had been through many deliverances. According to some of his ministers, he had been delivered from the spirit of anger, hate, suicide, and lust. But he still heard voices. Once in a while, he would experience the same problems with anger, hate, suicide, and lust. After encouragement from his wife, the man sought out therapy from the seminary counseling center and was referred to a trauma specialist. It was here where he discovered that the voices belonged to created parts inside called “alter personalities” not demons. The personalities carried different emotions that developed because of early childhood abuse. Some acted out in anger and some in hatred. Some even wanted to die because they were so wounded by the abuse.

When it comes time to discern whether or not some of these problems are a direct result from a spiritual conflict, I believe that some of the other conference speakers have or will cover this topic. However, given the controversial nature of this particular topic, a few appropriate cautions will be taken. At times, various deliverance approaches go overboard when diagnosing people with demonic problems when they actually have emotional and psychological problems. Some even go as far as to believe that any emotional problem invites demonic forces. We have heard of demons of anger, lust, eating, suicide, depression, anxiety, etc. Some of these “demons” are actually psychological and psychiatric diagnoses. Others make it sound as if it does not take much for demonic forces to invade people’s lives. It’s helpful to realize that demonic strongholds are often connected to covenants and pacts with evil forces rather than fleeting brushes with evil. The overboard emphasis on demonizing seems to cheapen the validity of the safety that is found in the blood and name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It can also lead to an over spiritualization of emotional and psychiatric problems.

When considering the possibility of demonization, it is important to obtain the following information from the person seeking help:

1.) Do they have any involvement in the occult or cultic practices? This is an important factor because most of these groups practice making covenants or pacts with demonic forces.

2.) Did anyone in their family line practice occultism or cultic arts?

3.) Have they willingly, under any circumstances, vowed to follow Satan?

4.) Did anyone dedicate them to Satan or some other god, spirit, or any being when they were a child?

These types of experiences indicate that the person may indeed be subjected to a spiritual conflict, which would need attention immediately.

Combining Spiritual Warfare Healing and Spiritual Growth

If it becomes obvious that the person is in spiritual crisis, it needs to be remembered that the person needs to be empowered to fight their own battle instead of relying on an outsider doing it for them. The person needs to take responsibility over their situation, even if it is an ancestral one. They need to fully recognize what happened, how it happened, and repent from it. Then renounce their pact or whatever covenants were made or possibly made for them. Which will help the person realize that as a believer, they have the authority to remove their loyalty from Satan to God. Furthermore, it lets them know that it is their responsibility to stay close to God.

It has been said before that getting delivered is the easy part, it is the resisting the devil that is hard. Simply because that requires one to know how to walk with God when the deliverance ministers are gone.

Collaboration Between Mental Health and Spiritual Ministry

The seeming conflict between Theology and Psychology is nothing new. It appears, though, that recently there seems to be a growing understanding that the two can be in collaboration (Moll, 1993).

Collaboration is needed today in the world we minister in. As the church seeks to evangelize the world, it faces challenges in the people it seeks to reach. Woundedness is a common reality in the world today. Abuse, poverty, war, disease, and serious occult practices cause all kinds of spiritual and emotional problems for people. Mental health sciences have done helpful research in this area. The research can help the church better understand wounded people and how they react to certain situations. Research has shown that when people are traumatized during childhood, certain biological alterations occur in the way their brain processes information (Van der Kolk, 1995).

These alterations can severely impact the way they function in society, which includes the church. Some of the following problems are an example of what wounded people may experience:

1.) Inability to control emotions and negative behaviors

2.) Inability to rationalize

3.) Severe panic attacks

4.) Memory problems (Van der Kolk, 1994)

To illustrate how trauma or woundedness affects people, I have included a picture of the brain with the major parts affected by trauma. Research has discovered that the structures in the left hemisphere of the brain process our rational thinking, organization, and analyzing. These are significantly reduced in activity, thus making trauma victims unable to be rational when they are reminded of past trauma. When victims are in those situations, they are extremely emotional making it hard to reason with them (Van der Kolk, Burbridge, & Suzuki, 1997).



Van Der Kolk (1997)

If the people who are going through deliverance prayer happen to be victims of trauma, chances are they may respond to any threatening or disturbing stimuli as if the trauma is happening all over again. In such a case, the person becomes re-traumatized by the deliverance instead of receiving help.

For example, a 45 year old man who has struggles with anger most of his adult life seeks deliverance. The minister says there may be a spirit of anger. The minister addresses the spirit of anger in prayer. The man goes into a trance and an entity manifests and shouts, “I am angry!” People move to restrain the man. This goes on for over an hour. The man goes in and out of the trance while the minister calls the anger spirit out. He is tired, in pain, and very afraid. Finally, he calms down and goes home believing he was delivered. For several months he has no problems with anger, but it eventually comes back. The man goes to see a psychologist for marriage counseling because his marriage is in trouble due to his anger. His children are afraid of him. The psychologist takes a history of the man’s life. He finds out that this man was molested as a young boy and that the spirit of anger was a split off part of the person who held the anger from the abuse. This part of him begins weeping. Then begs the psychologist not to cast him out like the preacher did several months prior.

This is a typical scenario when dealing with wounded people who may seem to present as angry, aggressive, and demon-possessed. Given this situation, it would appear that to approach wounded people effectively, especially in the light of world evangelism, we would need collaboration between mental health and spiritual ministry. These two disciplines look at people and the world a little different from each other. Each can contribute to what the other does not know much about.

There are certain details we need to know about people and our world in order to reach people successfully.

l .) We need to know that people are complex. They cannot be easily explained in one dimension such as spiritual or psychological. People are impacted by their heredity, culture, environment, geography, and new birth.

2.) We need to know that people are not always aware of the processes at work in them. Therefore denial of certain realities could be due to unawareness instead of pure denial or resistance.

3.) People are more than what we can see and touch. There is an element of spiritual essence that science cannot put a finger on.

Now because our world helps shape who we are, we need to realize some things about the world itself, especially parts of it where the people we minister to live.

l .) The world is a complex place. Cultures, societies, governments, and climates do influence people. The way people understand life around them is greatly influenced by their world view.

2.) The world also consists of the seen and the. unseen, therefore reducing our understanding of the world to the seen only. In addition, it diminishes our ability to reach people who are open to the reality of the unseen.

3.) The world has become a global village. In other words, there is a lot of interaction between countries, cultures, and world views. It then becomes imperative that we be aware of others world view besides our own.

A comprehensive understanding of people and the culture that they live in can only enhance whatever type of ministry or secular work one does. The church should be no exception. It needs to develop an awareness of people and their different worlds.

Those who live in metropolitan areas know that large cities have become melting pots of diverse cultures and ethnic groups. These ethnic groups bring about unique social, spiritual, and psychological issues when seeking help. For instance, a young woman who lives in a little Haitian area of Miami, Florida, goes to a deliverance service for her problems. She informs the minister about voices in her head telling her to kill herself. The minister suggests that these are probably evil spirits and proceeds to question her about involvement in the cult. She denies and states that she is a Christian. The minister begins praying for her. The woman jumps up and starts wiggling on the floor like a snake while hissing. The confrontation goes on for two hours, but nothing happens in terms of relief. Furthermore the woman is disappointed. Later on, she attends a seminar on trauma survivors knowing that she grew up in an abusive home. While there, she reveals that she hears voices. The seminar leader, who is a Christian therapist, encourages the young woman to discuss her early life experiences. She reveals that her father was both verbally and physically abusive. The therapist asks her what the voices inside are saying besides “kill yourself.” She replies with, “They sound like my parents and the things they use to say to me when they hurt me.” Then the therapist suggests that she ask these voices who they are, where did they come from, and what they want or if they have any concerns or fears. The young woman went home.and asked the voices. When she came back the next day, she brought several pages of communication from the voices in her mind in which she had created to deal with the abuse. One of these parts claimed to have supernatural voodoo powers. The therapist questioned this particular part about why she needed the power, and the answer was that she could avoid feeling pain of the abuse. This specific part went through the deliverance, which meant letting go of the dependence on evil power and withdrawing the agreements made with the voodoo gods.

The following diagram will help us comprehend how spiritual conflict can operate in people who have fractured souls or minds:


Concluding Remarks

World evangelism is more complex today because man has become more complex. Although, the church has sought to use worldly means to reach man where he is in his complexity, this without the power of God is futile. Other times the church fails to ignore the complexity of man and over spiritualizes therefore not producing lasting results. This paper is proposing a strong collaboration between Christian mental health workers and evangelists to help meet the needs of the whole person in a Holistic way.

This collaboration can be done efficiently in several different ways.

l .) Christian mental health workers can hold seminars on issues related to spiritual growth and the mental health field, in conjunction with theology.

2.) Churches can offer classes on emotional well being in addition to the other classes held within -the church.

3.) Churches can employ a fulltime mental health staff to minister to the wounded people in the church.

A lot of these ideas already exist and are being put into practice in other countries. These ideas need to spread in those countries that do not yet practice them.


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Friesen, J. G. (1991). Uncovering the mystery of MPD. San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers.

Mungadze, J. (1992). Multiple Personality Disorder; No Longer a Rare Diagnosis. Treatment Centers Magazine, 9.

Mungadze, J. (1997). Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder an Update. Treatment Centers Magazine, 9, 2.

Mungadze, J. (2000). Is It Dissociation or Demonization? Sorting Out Spiritual And Clinical Issues in the Treatment of Dissociative Disorders. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Vol. 19, No. 2, 139-143.

Noll, R. (1993). Exorcism and possession: The clash of worldviews and the hubris of psychiatry. Dissociation, 6, 4, 250-253.

Rosik, C.H. (2000). Some Effects of World View on the Theory and Treatment of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Journal of Psychology and Christianity. Vol. 2, 166-180.

Ross, C.A. (1993). Response: Critical issues committee report: Exorcism in the treatment of patients with MPD. ISSMP-D News, 11(2), 4.

Ross, C.A. (1995). Satanic Ritual Abuse: Principles of Treatment. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

Van der Kolk, B.A. (1995). The Psychological and Biological Processing of Traumatic Memories. Symposium conducted in Seattle, Washington.

Van der Kolk, B.A. (1994). The Body Keeps the Score: Memory and the Evolving Psychobiology of Posttraumatic Stress. Harvard Rev Psychiatry, 1:253-65.

Van der Kolk, Burbridge, & Suzuki. (1997). The Psychobiology of Traumatic Memory. In Yehuda and A.C. McFarlane (Eds), Annuals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 821.

Date: 22 Aug 2000

Gathering: 2000 Nairobi


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