Therapist-as-Shape-Changer, Part 1: Exorcism Escapee

Alix McMurray
3 min readMar 1
Credit: Filip Obr via istockphoto standard license

This post kicks off a series I am calling, “Therapist-as-Shape-Changer.” Clients may write everything on our blank slate from genie-in-a-bottle to reincarnated mommy dearest. This is what we signed up for, and it makes for good therapy. But as any glob of silly putty can attest, shape-changing can be a stone trip. How about a near-miss with an exorcism?

I remember the vibe I got when I walked into that metropolitan art gallery some 30 years ago, looked around at the overly innocuous oil paintings, and felt that something was off. The generic paintings didn’t look like they were painted by an expressive human being at an easel. They looked mass-produced, like the kind sold in furniture stores. Just as I was thinking I should leave but didn’t yet know why, the gallery manager walked up and began making small talk.

My first error was telling this random stranger that I was a psychotherapist. My second error was mentioning that I specialized in addiction. I baited my own trap. The gallery manager stated her belief that addiction was possession by the Devil. She said this quietly at first. But just as a chorus must be built from several or many individual voices until it reaches a dramatic critical mass of sound (sort of like a flash mob event,) so too, did this chorus build.

If you have five minutes and want to feel that vibe, have a listen at “O Fortuna” from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. That captures it nicely:,vid:GXFSK0ogeg4

Suddenly a second person appeared, then a third. I don’t know where they came from, but they seemed to materialize from the shadows. And now they were marching as one towards me. Their each advancing step pressing me into the back of the gallery. And they took turns with their chant. ANY affliction of the mind is the Devil’s work. I could hear my voice and myself becoming small.

“What about depleted neurotransmitters?”


“Neural pathways distorted by trauma?”


“Poor choices prompted by low impulse control?”


I have no memory of how I escaped this attack by furies. Maybe someone walked in the front door. Maybe I found a side door to the street. I really don’t remember, but I hope never again to come so close to involuntary exorcism.

Now, I am not telling you that addiction isn’t the Devil’s work. (After all, cocaine is sometimes called, “Devil’s dandruff.” But then again, so is paprika.) I have certainly seen some strange things in my life, and Demonic possession might be the most parsimonious explanation for them.

(To be continued….)

Originally published at

Alix McMurray

Psychotherapist and writer; xeric gardener; animal companion