Free Church Pastors in Germany – Perceptions of Spirit Possession and Mental Illness

by Michael Grossklaus (Author)
©2017 Thesis 148 Pages


This book focuses on Free Church pastors in Germany and their perceptions of spirit possession and mental illness. To explore Free Church pastors’ understanding of spirit possession and mental illness is critical in light of the overlap of symptoms. Misdiagnosis may result in a client receiving treatment that may not be appropriate. Interviews with Free Church pastors were conducted. The results were analysed and four themes were identified. Based on these interviews conclusions could be drawn which ultimately made it clear that the German free church pastors’ theological training needs to be supplemented in the area of psychology and that the pastors are unable to cope in the area of «spirit possession or mental illness».

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword
  • Abstract
  • 1 Psychology and Spirit Possession
  • 1.1 What is Psychology?
  • 1.1.1 What is the history of psychology?
  • 1.2 What is mental illness?
  • 1.3 How do psychologists diagnose mental illness?
  • 1.3.1 General possibilities for diagnosis
  • 1.3.2 DSM-5 and ICD-10
  • 1.3.3 Further indications for the diagnosis of mental illness
  • The conviction of the psychologist towards the applied method
  • The therapist effect
  • Expectations of the client
  • Feedback
  • Medication
  • 1.4 Cultural expressions of mental illness
  • 1.5 Spirit possession from a psychological perspective
  • 1.5.1 Culture-bound phenomenon
  • 1.5.2 Witchcraft explanations
  • 1.5.3 Hysteria and dissociation
  • 1.5.4 Delusions
  • 1.6 Interdisciplinary approach to spirit possession
  • 1.6.1 The Anthropological Perspective
  • Natural explanations
  • Trance possession
  • Spirit possession without trance
  • 1.6.2 The theological/historical perspective
  • 1.6.3 The social-psychological perspective of Protestant and Catholic theologians
  • 1.6.4 The medical-psychological perspective
  • 2 Theology and Spirit Possession
  • 2.1 What is Theology?
  • 2.2 What is spirit possession?
  • 2.3 Theological history of spirit possession
  • 2.3.1 Antiquity, the Bible and early Christianity
  • 2.3.2 The Middle Ages and Exorcism in the Catholic Church
  • 2.3.3 The Time of Enlightenment
  • 2.3.4 From the 19th Century Up to the 20th Century
  • 2.3.5 Deliverance Ministry in the 21st Century
  • 2.4 How do pastors diagnose spirit possession?
  • 2.4.1 The Dilemma of free church pastors
  • 2.5 Religious and cultural expression of spirit possession
  • 2.6 Spirit possession in a theological-biblical perspective
  • 2.6.1 Exorcism in the Old Testament
  • 2.6.2 Exorcism in the New Testament
  • 3 Psychological Theories of Spirit Possession
  • 3.1 Hypnotism, hysteria and subconscious ideas
  • 3.2 The psychodynamic theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung
  • 3.2.1 Sigmund Freud
  • 3.2.2 Carl Gustav Jung
  • Spirit Possession
  • The Shadow
  • The Evil
  • 3.2.3 Transpersonal Psychology
  • 3.3 Organic psychiatric interpretations
  • 3.3.1 Dissociative Disorders
  • 3.4 Weak Quantum Theory
  • 3.5 Model of Pragmatic Information
  • 3.6 Parapsychological theory
  • 3.6.1 History of Parapsychology
  • 3.6.2 Current Status of Research
  • 3.6.3 Criticism of parapsychological theory
  • 4 Theological Theories of Spirit Possession
  • 4.1 Theological Theories of Spirit Possession in the Protestant Churches in Germany
  • 4.2.1 Dr. Kurt Koch
  • 4.2.2 The Charismatic Movement within the Protestant Church
  • 4.3 Theological Theories of Spirit Possession in the Catholic Churches in Germany
  • 4.3.1 “Rituale Romanum”
  • 4.3.2 Charismatic Movement within the Roman Catholic Church
  • 4.4 Theological Theories of Spirit Possession in Free Churches in Germany
  • 4.4.1 Bund evangelisch-freikirchlicher Gemeinden (BEFG) – Baptist Churches
  • 4.4.2 Bund freier-evangelischer Gemeinden (BFEG) – Alliance of Free Protestant Churches
  • 4.4.3 Bund freikirchlicher Pfingstgemeinden (BFP) – Alliance of Pentecostal Churches
  • 5 Methodology
  • 5.1 Research objective
  • 5.2 Rationale
  • 5.3 Design/Approach
  • 5.3.1 Main characteristics on qualitative research
  • 5.3.2 Interviews
  • 5.3.3 Research Questions
  • 5.3.4 Interview guide
  • 5.4 Sampling
  • 5.5 Participant demographics
  • 5.6 Data collection using the semi-structured interviews
  • 5.7 Thematic content analysis
  • 6 Results and Discussion
  • 6.1 Theme 1: Distinction between mental illness and spirit possession
  • 6.1.1 Pastors who had treated and diagnosed spirit possession
  • 6.1.2 Pastors who diagnosed mental illness
  • 6.1.3 Pastors who are unsure
  • 6.2 Theme 2: If it is a mental illness, how do they proceed?
  • 6.3 Theme 3: If it is demon possession, how do they proceed?
  • 6.4 Theme 4: Lack of integrated knowledge regarding mental illness and spirit possession
  • 7 Conclusion
  • Reference List
  • Appendix
  • Appendix I
  • Appendix II

← 10 | 11 →


This research work with the PhD as a goal had a beginning. This beginning lies several years back in the past. In order to understand the motivation and appreciate the intention of this thesis, some history will be briefly referred to. How did everything begin that was to end with the PhD?

One Saturday evening in 2004 I received a telephone call. A helper from a free church youth group called me to say I should come as soon as possible as there was a lady whose behaviour was very strange. He didn’t want to go into any more detail on the phone, but I should immediately go to the church where she was.

At that point in time I was pastor of this free church and since I knew the caller I drove to our church immediately after the call. There I saw the woman cowering in a corner on the floor and when I spoke to her she turned her head to me. Her look was totally misplaced and I was more than shocked when she spoke to me with the voice of a young boy. I looked at the youth worker and he just said: That is what I couldn’t tell you on the phone.

As of this day a counselling case began which changed my pastoral ministry as well as my world view because I was confronted with phenomena that I had never believed possible.

There are not enough pages here to describe everything that I experienced in the time that followed. I contacted many free church pastors, but none of them were familiar with what I had to report. Psychiatric institutions were also completely overwhelmed with this case. Was the woman possessed? Was she mentally ill? These questions came time and again and the answer was so hard to find.

Why could she speak in such different languages, why could she write with both her left hand and right hand, how could she play piano nearly perfectly when she had never learnt this? How could she know things that were impossible for her to know, that she could leave her body (demonstrably) and be insensitive to physical pain etc. Suddenly I was confronted with Satanism, ritual abuse and unbelievable experiences and the question became ever clearer: is this an expression of mental illness or spirit possession? ← 11 | 12 →

Against this background and some similar experiences with others who were seeking advice, I began, as a Free Church pastor, to search in the Bible and to deal intensively with the topic of Satan, demons, spirit possession, exorcism and deliverance ministry against a theological background. As well as reading the Bible, I read much literature on the topic. Some answers helped a little, others confused me.

Little by little I ventured into psychological literature and read about personality disorders, dissociative identity disorders, schizophrenia, demonological neuroses…

It became clear to me that my Christian faith and my theological knowledge seemed to be insufficient in cases such as these. It seemed to be not possible to ‘pray away’ everything, but first I had to acquire the psychological knowledge. Thus I became ever more aware of the specialist literature that was concerned with the experience and behaviour of people and I decided to begin to study psychology. At the end of the course for my master’s degree at Lee University I wrote a thesis on the topic: Holistic counselling in cases of paranormal phenomena. I wanted to retrospectively research into what had happened, against a specialised background and using psychological knowledge. The course and the associated thesis broadened my theological horizon with psychological knowledge and this helped me immensely, and aided me to advance personally and in my vocation. I was involved with scientists at the IGPP in Freiburg, the leading European institution that has dealt with border areas of psychology for decades. Since this time the connection between theology and psychology has grown dear to me.

When it became possible for me to take a PhD course in psychology at UNISA, it was clear to me that the research project should also be dedicated to this particular group of themes. I wanted to investigate further into what possession phenomena were all about, that is how they can be demarcated from mental illnesses: Free Church Pastors – Perceptions of Spirit Possession and Mental Illness – this is the title of my PhD thesis. I was able to write the necessary research proposal for it in October 2013 and was then registered on the PhD programme.

Month by month I became more aware of the enormous challenge that this presented, but the goal was clearly defined and had three letters: P h D.

It was a great help for me that a supervisor was found from the University of South Africa (UNISA), Dr. Yaseen Ally, who himself had researched into ← 12 | 13 → witchcraft and was interested and motivated to accompany me over all the years up to the finished PhD thesis. I was his first PhD student and I found him to be very encouraging and competent as a supervisor. If it had been otherwise, an effective collaboration, without having even stood opposite each other, would not have been possible.

In the German psychology scene terms such as demons and spirit possession were and are not taken seriously by the majority – unfortunately. International professional circles see it differently, in a more differentiated way.

The question mental illness or spirit possession? continues to fascinate and the connection between theology and psychology is more than worthwhile; this I noticed not only in my pastoral ministry but also when giving counselling and therapy to people in a poor mental state.

Since I had hardly any help in 2004, I wanted to find out whether this was an isolated case or whether other Free Church pastors in Germany would fare similarly in this specific topic.

What was important to me, as well as the relevant specialised literature and my own previous research results, were the qualitative interviews with free church pastors. Their statements were to reveal to what extent they had concepts and were educated in order to effectively help people or not. It was clear to me that I would have to specifically choose free church pastors so as to be in accordance with the research topic.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (May)
Exorcism Theology
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2016. 148 pp., 5 coloured ill.

Biographical notes

Michael Grossklaus (Author)

Michael Grossklaus holds a doctoral degree in Psychology from the University of South Africa. He works as a psychologist.


Title: Free Church Pastors in Germany – Perceptions of Spirit Possession and Mental Illness