Abdominal acupuncture with a crucifix, or exorcism? Is there a difference?

You know it’s hard out here for a Psychic
When she tryin’ to get this money for the rent
For the Cadillacs and gas money spent
Because a whole lot of skeptics talkin’ shit

You know it’s hard out here for a Psychic
When she tryin’ to get this money for the rent
For the Cadillacs and gas money spent
Will have a whole lot of skeptics jumpin’ ship

In my eyes I done seen some crazy thangs in the clinics
Gotta couple NDs workin’ on the track just for me
But I gotta keep my game tight like Kobe on game night
Like takin’ from a patient don’t know no better, I know that ain’t right

Thomas Jefferson

The recent Skeptical Inquirer has an article entitled “Psychic Arrested in Exorcism Scam.” It makes for an interesting analysis.

A New York based psychic was arrested for convincing a client that her failing marriage was caused by an evil spirit that could be driving out only after expensive exorcism.

Evil spirits do not exist.

But then, neither does chi. Or meridians. Or subluxations. Or innate intelligence. Or effects of hyper-dilute solutions. Or the ‘energy’ that is allegedly altered by reiki or therapeutic touch. Or toxins. Or the diagnoses from applied kinesiology. Or the intracranial fluid fluctuation of craniosacral therapy. Etcetera etcetera.

None of the theories of alternative therapies differ in any meaningful way from possession by a devil.

Psychic Lisa knew how get rid of the devil.

Just as acupuncturist knows how to unblock the chi, the chiropractor knows how adjust the subluxation, the naturopath knows how to detox, the homeopath knows curing like with like or the reiki practitioner knows how to adjust ‘energy’.

None of the treatments of alternative therapies differ in any meaningful way from exorcism of a devil.

the psychic conned the victim out of nearly $62,000 dollars over the course of several months.

It takes alternative cancer clinics to reach that kind of money. Anti-neoplastons cost $7,000 to $9,500 per month. Chiropractors charge $100-200 a visit, but you can get a deal of 20 visits for $429, cash. Acupuncturists are a bit less. But as a country? $30 billion a year or so.

While the mean per user out-of-pocket expenditure for complementary health approaches was $435 for persons with family incomes less than $25,000, those with family incomes of $100,000 or more had mean per user expenditures of $590

The legitimacy of spending money on alternative therapies does not differ in any meaningful way from the spending money on the exorcism of a devil.

Nicholes’s alleged scam [no, not supplements, complementary and alternative medicine] – as bizarre as it seems – follows a well-worn and often successful formula.

Why bizarre? 59 million Americans partake of in one kind of alternative therapy or another, which does not differ in any meaningful way from possession and exorcism.

What is the psychic’s formula?

  • incremental investment
  • sunken cost fallacy
  • people who are vulnerable to exploitation
  • people who are unhappy with some aspect of their lives

Psychic scammers become masters of emotional manipulation and quick learn what deep psychologic issues their client in going through and thus will respond to.

Does mentioning a cancer cure qualify? A cure of an imaginary chronic Lyme? Lifetime adjustments to maintain spinal health?

Is the formula used by SCAM providers substantively any different from the exorcist?

In a particularly insidious theme of victim-blaming, the psychic may even tell the client the entire success or failure of the curse removal depends on their faith that it will work- thus entertaining any doubt will jeopardize the plan.

Compare that to:

After at least 15 years of looking at alternative cancer cure claims, one thing I’ve learned is this. Whenever these “cures” fail, it’s never, ever the quack’s fault. It’s always the patient’s.

At least the victims of the possession scam ‘only’ lose a fortune and do not usually die. Usually. There are occasional deaths. But most who are involved with the psychic scam do not

come forward because they are embarrassed at having been fooled by what in retrospect was an increasingly outlandish series of claims.

No outlandish claims in any ND, DC, AC or Integrative Medicine Clinic. Oh, no.

SCAM users can lose far more than money and thanks to the internet, dead men can tell their tales:

On Feb 9, however, someone at his bedside reports that James is acidotic, his breathing is failing. He dies an hour and a half later. He was 6 years old. Burzynski’s treatment seems to have done nothing but make the boy miserable while he was conscious.

Or Katie May. Or acupuncturists.

Deaths from pseudo-medicine are materially no different than a death by exorcism.

Those who run the possession/exorcism scam, if caught, are fined and can go to jail, sometimes for a long time.

Pseudo-medical providers? They have nice clinic in the suburbs and a comfortable salary, and if they are lucky, an integrative medicine clinic in a University. With insurance reimbursement for their services.

It isn’t what you do, but how you do it. Billy gets fired, Donald gets to be President.

Don’t be a psychic, fortune teller or palm reader. Call yourself an alternative medical provider, you do not even need the quack Miranda, and you will can get away with anything, no matter how ludicrous. Including exorcism.


Posted by Mark Crislip

Mark Crislip, MD has been a practicing Infectious Disease specialist in Portland, Oregon, since 1990. He is a founder and  the President of the Society for Science-Based Medicine where he blogs under the name sbmsdictator. He has been voted a US News and World Report best US doctor, best ID doctor in Portland Magazine multiple times, has multiple teaching awards and, most importantly,  the ‘Attending Most Likely To Tell It Like It Is’ by the medical residents at his hospital. His growing multi-media empire can be found at