Psychologist faces complaint for discussing demons

Sunday, November 23, 2003

In a case that could revolve around the role of religion in mental health care, a Missouri psychologist is accused of violating professional standards by counseling a patient on demon possession and inviting her to a prayer group.

Psychologist Thomas DeVol markets himself as a Christian psychologist and, as part of his anti-divorce counseling, says he has invoked Jesus' name on dozens of occasions while commanding evil spirits to exit people.

The former Assemblies of God missionary considers it an appropriate method for healing people, noting the Bible contains numerous cases where Jesus dealt with demon possession.

But Attorney General Jay Nixon's office, in an administrative hearing beginning Monday, contends DeVol's demon discussions run contrary to current scientific and professional standards. If a hearing judge finds it a violation, the State Committee of Psychologists could revoke DeVol's license or impose any of several lesser penalties.

DeVol, 59, who practices psychology in Springfield, also is accused of various other violations in a 54-page complaint, including overbilling, disclosing confidential patient information and having social relationships with clients.

Although any of those could form the basis for an administrative judge to find DeVol in violation of professional standards, DeVol contends none of the other ethical allegations would have been raised were it not for his approach to counseling.

"This country is just not friendly to Christianity," he said.

The attorney general's office says Christianity is not on trial, but rather DeVol's methods.

"The thrust is that Dr. DeVol does not abide by accepted practices in the psychology field," said Nixon spokeswoman Beth Hammock.

Asked state committee

De Vol said that he asked the State Committee of Psychologists in 1985 whether he could advertise himself as a Christian psychologist who accepts the Bible as the moral standard of behavior. In a June 1985 letter, the committee said he could.

But the attorney general's office says that letter doesn't imply permission to discuss demon possession.

"There are other businesses that advertise themselves as Christian businesses, and that's an accepted business practice in Missouri. It's a way to describe your values and ethics," Hammock said. "But a psychologist licensed by the state of Missouri must follow accepted professional practices."

In the particular case cited by the attorney general, DeVol is accused of trying to convince a client that demon possession exists and that there were demons in her family.

DeVol says he did not actually cast out a demon. He says the client brought up the topic while complaining that her husband had a demon, and DeVol actually convinced her that he did not.

But DeVol says he has confronted evil spirits in 3 percent to 4 percent of his 5,000 clients over the past two decades.

"I'm arguing that it's not inappropriate," DeVol said.

After this week's administrative hearing, the judge could accept more written arguments before issuing a conclusion. Then if DeVol is found to have committed violations, more time could pass before the State Committee on Psychologists holds a separate disciplinary hearing.

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