Doctor advised woman patient that she needed an exorcism, not medication

A DOCTOR, working as a locum in Staffordshire, told a patient to ditch her medication, including antidepressants, and instead undergo an exorcism in his local Pentecostal church.

According to this report, the unnamed patients was taken by Dr Thomas O’Brien to the  church in Stoke-on-Trent where she was advised that:

God is her surgeon and God will heal her.

This photograph was taken at a Pentecostal exorcism service in Brazil

This photograph was taken at a Pentecostal exorcism service in Brazil

The General Medical Council has now imposed conditions on his registration for 18 months after it ruled that his professional and private boundaries became “blurred” and that he imposed his religious beliefs on the woman.

The conditions included confining his medical practice to posts within the NHS.  He must also notify the GMC of any professional appointments he accepts and allow the GMC to exchange information with his employer.

The GMC was told the doctor had also sent her books about the church, which he ran with another person, and pamphlets including “An Occult Checklist”.

The woman said she was even subjected to a four-hour “testimony” where an exorcism was performed on January 19.

She claimed that O’Brien specifically told her not to tell her psychiatrist about the meetings – because they “do the devil’s work” – and told her “she would be cursed” if she told the GMC.

The patient ignored this advice and told her psychiatrist, who then rang a confidential helpline to report her allegations.

They were then reported to the GMC’s interim orders panel, who found that there:

May be impairment of Dr O’Brien’s fitness to practise which poses a real risk to members of the public.

A report on his case said:

The panel is concerned about Dr O’Brien’s apparent lack of insight into the seriousness of the allegations against him. It appears that he may have allowed his professional and private boundaries to become blurred, in particular with a vulnerable patient. The panel is further concerned that Dr O’Brien may have also imposed his religious beliefs with regard to the treatment of another patient.

It added:

Dr O’Brien admitted in representations to giving another patient a religious DVD so they could make up their mind about treatment.

O’Brien denied all of the accusations against him, calling them “attacks” on his:

Private Christian faith and life.

He said that he was a lay Bible teacher who did not run a Pentecostal church and described the statement about the exorcism as “a total fabrication”.

O’Brien, who did not attend the GMC hearing, admitted in statements that he had formed a friendship with the patient, helping her daughter to move and giving her lifts to the church for several weeks.

Hat tip: Ivan, Angela K & BarrieJohn

36 responses to “Doctor advised woman patient that she needed an exorcism, not medication”

  1. barriejohn says:

    There was a very well-known Pentecostal GP in Swindon when I was a young man who held meetings in his home, and put this sort of pressure on patients of his, but nothing was ever done about it, and he was highly regarded in the town!

  2. barriejohn says:

    The Plymouth Brethren never went in for exorcism, nor ever said much about “demon possession”, which I always thought rather strange; after all, it’s there in the Bible in black and white, and they believe that Satan is the “Prince of this world”, and that he is assisted by his “fallen angels” and other “spirits”.

    “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph.6:12 KJV)

    If you believe the Bible then you have to accept these things, surely?

  3. Broga says:

    It is difficult to accept that Dr O’Brien is competent to practise medicine. Whatever his clinical knowledge the evidence is that his fundamentalism has proved destructive to that. How far will he go in thinking that the exercise of his faith will cure problems. What is worrying is that as a fundamentalist, whatever the GMC says, he is going to remain convinced that he knows best.

  4. Marky Mark says:

    Dr O’Brien = Witch Doctor

  5. JohnMWhite says:

    Once more, I agree with Broga. If a doctor thinks they have god on their side they are hardly likely to take a slap on the wrist from the GMC with any seriousness, and naturally if they truly believe in an all-powerful super being who will heal people and that mental illness is caused by demons, why would such a doctor even bother to try regular medicine? As a locum I imagine he saw numerous patients with mental health issues, so it is concerning that if he was willing to suggest one of them go for an exorcism, he may not have been offering much in the way of real treatment to any of them.

    Presumably the only patients he didn’t badger with religion were amputees; we all know god isn’t interested in them.

  6. Angela_K says:

    I find it startling that a person can go through all the science based training to become a Doctor but still retain the preposterous belief in an imaginary friend with supernatural powers. The required biological knowledge and seeing humans in “kit form” convinced my late Mother that the bible is nonsense gods do not exist.

    This religious nutter of a Doctor must possess extraordinary powers to switch off part of his brain, the logical bit.

  7. barriejohn says:

    As I said above, the Bible says as much about the devil, his angels, demons, and his efforts to lead people to hell, as it does about God, so why do Christians ignore all that and just concentrate on the “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” bit? You can’t have one without the other. This guy has it right:

  8. AgentCormac says:

    How does the man get to be a doctor in the first place? How does he simply set aside all reason, ignore the incredible wealth of medical knowledge he has been given and dish out the very worst advice possible to his patients (and who knows how many more he has abused this way)? He should be struck off and never allowed to have influence over another person’s wellbeing ever again. O’Brien is a menace and a danger.

    As one comment puts it over on the Daily Hate Mail’s take on this story: “Another shinning example of the stunning stupidity of religious people.” Just about sums it up for me.

  9. barfly says:

    It is fortunate that the women lived to tell the tale,stopping taking her medication for depression could i suppose have led to all sorts of problems. I wonder what would have happened if the women took her own life or that of another person. He as shown complete disregard for his patient and blurred not the division between his private life and professional, but the division between delusion and reality. He should never practice again

  10. Stonyground says:

    Sorry to be OT but I came across this story on my webby travels. I seriously feel bad about laughing because the story involves an unfortunate woman being punched in the face by a nutter. But it is just the Pythonesque silliness of the story.

  11. AgentCormac says:


    Saw that one myself and had a good chuckle. Looked more like a panto than a passion play!

  12. barriejohn says:

    Stonyground: They seem to be overlooking the prohibition upon men and women dressing as the opposite sex. It’s another “abomination”, so I wonder what sort of a punishment might be appropriate!

  13. barriejohn says:

    PS Monty Python went the whole hog: men pretending to be women pretending to be men. Old Java must have got into a real lather over that one!

  14. Stonyground says:

    The thing is, this woman was a proffessional actress who did not deserve this. She went on to be a real trooper by holding her beard on and going on with the show.

    Regarding Python, death by stoning isn’t funny either. When I first saw MPLOB, I was under the impression that stoning people to death was ancient history. I am now aware that there are still Middle Eastern cultures that are so backward that they practice this kind of barbarism today.

  15. Robster says:

    If you really believe that the baby jesus/god/ghost thing(s)can cure disease, why bother with medical training to become a qualified doctor? It’s supposedly all under control thanks the assorted deities, so why bother. People could leave space in medical schools for real doctors not afflicted with absurd religious nonsense.

  16. 1859 says:

    It’s odd how the word ‘witch’ has become associated with the word ‘doctor’. Does anyone know when the two were put together and why?

  17. barriejohn says:

    Robster: Because, as I said above, they pick and choose which bits of the Bible to believe. If “God” is in control of everything, and his will is best, then we shouldn’t be trying to cure diseases anyway, as he has a purpose in them. I knew Christians who did follow this line, and it is the reason why many of them oppose vaccination. I have also heard them decry insurance, because (according to their logic) if “God” can’t touch you through your possessions then he will have to bring you into line by touching your nearest and dearest. What a loving Creator!

  18. Ken says:

    I think you do have to accept all the bible or none, i.e. the demons doctrine as well as the rest.

    I also don’t see any contradiction between faith in God and obtaining higher education and doctorate level qualifications.

    The panel hasn’t made a judgement of fact about who said what in this case. What happened to innocent before proven guilty, or doesn’t that apply if the person happens to be religious? The woman made allegations, and the panel had to respond in case the code of conduct on politics and religion had been breached. That’s fair enough. But it’s premature to demand the doctor be struck off.

    Why didn’t the psychiatrist contact the doctor before going to the panel? They could have cooperated perhaps. Dr O’Brien emphatically denies telling the women to stop taking her medication (which would indeed be a cause for concern), only to limit her opiate intake. She was the one who decided to stop taking it. O’Brien also disputes the allegation of ‘exorcism’ being performed, which I can well believe as this kind of terminology isn’t normally used in pentecostal/evangelical/protestant circles. If her underlying problems do stem from dabbling in the occult, then it may be appropriate to offer help with this, but to keep this strictly separate from the NHS health system to avoid the very thing the doctor has been accused of. Perhaps he was lacking wisdom there.

    I would be wary of automatically believing the allegations and testimony of someone who is clearly in need of help one way or another.

  19. Broga says:

    @Ken: Your last sentence, I assume, refers to yourself. Thanks for the warning. Not that we needed it.

  20. Matt Westwood says:

    “I think you do have to accept all the bible or none,…”

    Hang on, we’ve been here before. Eating shellfish and wearing clothes of mixed cloth *is* the death sentence then?

  21. Broga says:

    @Matt Westwood: Don’t collect sticks on a Sunday or you are for the chop. Talking snakes? What language and what kind of vocal chords? All the animals, insects etc on the Ark. I think Ken must be getting some kind of psychiatric counselling. He is just so detached from reality that it must be noticed by those around him. Perhaps the tolerance of this site gives him some means of expressing his religious mania? He may have been normal once.

  22. barriejohn says:

    Broga: You’re wrong – it’s Saturday, as any fule no!

  23. AgentCormac says:

    “I think you do have to accept all the bible or none, i.e. the demons doctrine as well as the rest.”

    Agreed. So, let us just take a look at what the bible has to say and perhaps come to a rational conclusion about whether it is indeed the infallible word of god, or rather the imaginative fantasies of a whole bunch of humans who, over decades if not centuries, tried to scare everyone else into subservience by creating a superstitious cult that is based on such implausible and absurdly inconsistent ‘truths’ that it beggars belief that anyone with any education could fall for it these days.

    In Genesis it says that god created light and darkness on day one, but the sun (and planets) didn’t appear until day four. So, where did the light come from? No sun, no light. Also, the almighty apparently created plants and trees on day three. So how did all that vegetation photosynthesise? And if we are truly made in god’s image, why aren’t we all invisible? And is god black, Asian, caucasian, Chinese? Surely the vast majority of people on the planet aren’t made in his image.

    Then, of course, in the second chapter of the bible we are told that god made man before all the plants and trees. Isn’t this a complete contradiction to the first chapter?

    Now we come to the assertion that all animals and humans were created at precisely the same time, on day six. Radiocarbon dating, I would suggest, renders this so ludicrous it’s laughable. The dinosaurs, were for example, here around 65 million years before we were, give or take a couple of hundred thousand years.

    Moving on, where did Cain’s wife come from? Where in Palestine did Noah and his family find polar bears or penguins to load onto the ark? Then how, just a few thousand years ago, did every single species on the planet come from the only breeding pair that god had allowed to survive? If we are all descended from Noah and his family (they being the only survivors of god’s generous flood) why are we all so different? Why did god, that most intelligent of designers, get it all so wrong that he decided to wipe us all out in the first place? Why did he decide we should all speak different languages? Why did he create homosexuality just so his most devote followers should abhor those who are homosexual? Why, being such a pure and loveable entity, did god renege on his deal with Abraham?

    I could go on an on, Ken (and will at length if you want me to). And I know you will say that christianity has got nothing to do with the OT. But that, just like everything else to do with your religion, is just an easy and convenient cop-out when it doesn’t suit you.

    As you said, you either accept all the bible or none of it.

  24. Ken says:

    AgentC: There is a huge apologetic literature on the questions you raise, some of which really are old chestnuts. Many can be answered simply by more careful reading of the text itself or consulting a decent commentary. Genesis has to be read with the target audience in mind, so it is anachronistic to impose modern scientific theories and knowledge on it, or to ignore the symbolism that finds explanation in the rest of the pentateuch. Doesn’t mean that Genesis isn’t true in all that it affirms.

    For example, where did Cain get his wife – Adam and Eve had other children, so one of these is the answer, the text itself assumes an expanding population. The laws against incest set out in Deuteronomy came much later. And of course that legal system was binding on the OT Jews, so unless you are an OT Jew you can have mixed fibres and enjoy a shellfish or two. There is now a new covenant/testament, and a better one, but it doesn’t mean the old wasn’t applicable to those to whom it was given.

    I find it difficult to believe you really don’t know what the expression ‘made in the image of God’ means. The Sceptic’s Annotated Bible is a black light, though occasionally amusing.

    All this is a useful distraction from the thread, where both here and particularly in one of the links above Dr O’Brien has had atheists setting themselves up as prosecutor, judge and jury and sentencing him before the case has even been put before the court!

  25. Broga says:

    @AgentCormac: You are wasting your time. Ken is so steeped in deceit he would not recognise a fact which was contrary to his superstitions if it punched him in the nose. He is not an honest man and, from what he claims to believe, he is undoubtedly a fool.

  26. AgentCormac says:


    Completely agree. How Ken can try to dismiss criticism of his religious tome with a virtual wave of the hand and a claim of ‘not that old chestnut again!’ hardly addresses the problem which he himself has identified. Namely, if you buy into the bible you have to accept that it is self-contradicatory, cannot stand up to modern scientific evidence (how very, very unfair of us to use knowledge to evaluate its veracity!), and that it is therefore a work of fiction.

    His view that one can happily read anything one wants to into some of the most ‘profound’ biblical texts, such as how everything in the universe was created, merely demonstrates how deceitful and unreliable those texts are. Unlike the rest of us, Ken and his tribe will happily change their tune and, more importantly, their story to avoid having to confront the reality that their religion is based on fantasy. But then, that’s just us not understanding that what it says isn’t real fact, it’s supposed to be ‘interpreted’, right?

    But then you have to start wondering about those interpretations. For example, where Cain’s wife came from can, according to Ken, be explained away by the notion that Adam and Eve had other children. Oh, really? Where does it tell us that in the bible? And even if true it means that Cain married his own sister. Not good.

    Ken asserts that Genesis is true ‘in all it affirms’, yet we are also supposed to understand that it is actually rich in symbolism – in other words, you can’t take it literally. He can’t have it both ways, surely? Is it the truth, or is it all just suggestion? An allegory? As for me being so naive as to think that ‘made in god’s image’ is just ‘an expression’, well… pardon me for thinking that the infallible word of god could be so easily dismissed!

    You would either have to be an idiot or deluded to put forward the claptrap Ken has posted here as rational argument. As to which one he is, your guess is as good as mine.

    And finally, let me just remind you what Ken posted earlier: I think you do have to accept all the bible or none. Clearly that bible can be edited, interpreted, revised, re-presented, disregarded and modified any which way you want as long as it gets you around the undeniable fact that it is actually a work of crude and implausible fiction. The points I raised earlier may well cover some old ground in the debate regarding the bible’s validity, but the fact of the matter is that Ken still hasn’t got a single credible answer that will explain away any of them.

  27. Broga says:

    @AgentCormac: And which bible? There are many and in many languages. Ken, being a primitive, assumes the KJ version, written of course, in English and ignores the language of the early bibles. The talking snake seemed to have acquired human vocal chords and learned a language. Which language and how did Adam and Eve acquire it? It soon becomes tedious to discuss with Ken as he ridicules himself, shames the Christianity he tries to represent and offers no substance that would enable debate to take place. I commend you patience in replying to him.

  28. Ken says:

    AgentC: Would you like an exhaustive answer to every point you raised? Or would you do a Broga on Psalm 137 and not bother reading a few lines in answer to his accusation about babies and rocks?

    Cain’s wife – the existence of an expanding population is implicitly referred to Genesis 4, and to answer your question ” … Adam and Eve had other children. Oh, really? Where does it tell us that in the bible?” try Genesis 5: 4 “The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters …” I anticipated the charge of incest earlier – the Mosaic law against that came much later.

    As for symbolism v literal (which is a fair question of yours), I see it as literal history in symbolic language. Take the serpent. Whatever it was, it was not like a modern serpent you see in the zoo, and the word evokes an occult background, a deceiver, a false light. That is how the original audience would have understood it, more like a proper name. A bit like the pharisees being a ‘brood of vipers’, they weren’t literally snakes.

    Since God is not physical but spirit, the image of God refers to the non-material aspects of man, volition, emotion, reason and thinking. Interestingly the SAB quotes Gen 1 : 27 “So God created man in his own image, … male and female he created them” as being contradicted by Gen 2 : 18 – 23 where Eve was created after Adam. There is of course no contradiction, and Gen 1 does not say they were created at the same time, you have to add that to the text to create a contradiction. Why should it be necessary to do that? The technique is precisely that of the serpent in Gen 3!

    Broga – why do you keep going on about various bibles as though there is a pick n mix you can choose to suit your own ideas? There is one bible, translated from the original languages, but published in various versions depending on the philosophy of translation and to cater to changes in the English or other target language.

  29. Broga says:

    @Ken: Whatever the version they all contain contradictions, cruelties and absurdities. There is no Christian God and no afterlife. Stop being terrified and face facts. Epicurus (who is a better guide than the nonsense in bibles) says: No need to fear death because you cannot experience it. When you are here death is not. When death is here you are not.

    He says somewhere else that to have died is like the billions of years before you were conceived. No problem. Cheer up Ken, stop being so scared and then you can stop taking your tablets.

  30. Angela_K says:

    Arguing over a book of mythology such as the bible is like arguing over J.R.R. Tolkien’s allegory in “The Hobbitt” – both are works of fiction so the exercise, while amusing is rather pointless. But the exercise becomes farcical when one side claims these “Novels” are factual.

    In spite of the contradictions, fairy-tales and downright nonsense in the bible – that has proven to be just that – Ken will never give up his absurd belief, he has invested too much.

  31. Ken says:

    Angela_K “In spite of the contradictions, fairy-tales and downright nonsense in the bible – that has proven to be just that – Ken will never give up his absurd belief, he has invested too much.”

    I can understand why, from a barely superficial reading of bits of the bible, atheists can make statements like it teaches a flat earth, condones slavery – and all the other set-piece objections made to it. I’ve tried to have some sympathy for how you view things. I’ve had problems with some of it too (like slavery), but usually that resulted from a failure to take into account the audience and culture being addressed or making unwarranted assumptions.

    When getting down to specifics though, ‘contradictions’ claimed turn out on examination not to be contradictions when taken in context, or even prove to be read into the text to make it say the opposite of what it actually does. Dan Barker has a list, and I didn’t even need to look some of them up to know they weren’t contradictions. I’m certainly not prepared to take it on faith from sundry atheist web sites!

    And I don’t believe in fairy tales – this says more about the atheist and the age at which they decided God was not for them. But the real world I experience does match the world so honestly portrayed in the bible, including in some cases the ‘supernatural’ element.

    So whilst it is true I have invested time in all this, it has proved far from being absurd, rather so many of the objections are plainly absurd, something I would not have expected from those claiming to be ‘freethinkers’. I doubt very much I could answer every objection made to the bible, but the facile objections indicate a desire to prove a pre-existing conclusion that it must be nonsense, something that must not be disturbed by actually engaging with the opposing argument!

  32. Daz says:

    And I don’t believe in fairy tales

    Ken, your god is a fairy tale. He is a mythical supernatural, nonexistent being.

    Want to prove me wrong? Show me a photo of his big-bearded phisog.

  33. Angela_K says:

    @Ken “..prove a pre-existing conclusion that it must be nonsense”

    I studied the bible whilst at school and, at the same time, the major Physical sciences which led me over a period of a couple of years that the scientific method was correct and that the bible is indeed nonsense – it was not a forgone conclusion. Incidentally, my partner is quite an authority on the bible with a knowledge greater than most christians. Also, there are – as I’m sure you already know – many ex-christians on this Forum who too, have reached the same conclusion as me. It is disingenuous and absurd to suggest that we non-theists dismiss religious texts without first examining the content.

  34. Ken says:

    Interesting, Angela_K, you pit science and the bible against each other. There’s nothing wrong with science, but it deals with issues other than the existence of God, who would have to be part of the physical universe to be knowable through science. (It’s a huge subject and not one that interests me that much.)

    ” It is disingenuous and absurd to suggest that we non-theists dismiss religious texts without first examining the content” – well I did not and do not say this is a truth universally acknowledged to be applicable to all atheists, but a visit to Sceptics Annotated, evilbible, Dawkins combox amongst other places will very soon reveal an appalling lack of knowledge of the bible, with reinforced ignorance obtained from hostile secondary or third sources. A favourite is the recurring ‘God commands child sacrifice’ always based on Abraham and Isaac, and betraying a failure to read the whole story but concentrate on one verse, and also failing to bother to find out just what the OT law did say about child sacrifice. I conclude from this that they don’t want to think about this issue, and cover this up by claiming to have ‘science and reason’.

    Can you imagine Broga’s composure if I said I’ve read a couple of quotes of Dawkins’ God Delusion and don’t need to bother to read any more to know the whole thing is nothing but utter rubbish?!

    Why Daz do you think God has a beard? Like a grandfatherly figure in the sky? Sounds more like man making God in his image ….. !

    The title of this thread (remember that far back anyone?) is still an inaccurate reporting of what went on.

  35. Broga says:

    @Ken: There is nothing you could say that would affect my “composure.” My feelings towards you are of sympathy for someone whose life has been warped superstition. Life is short, eternity is long and we should take what joy we may from what is available to us. You give the strongest indications of someone desperate to keep reality at bay by clinging to absurd beliefs. If there is any laughter, happy communion with others, the optimistic pleasure of looking forward to the day ahead, close and intimate personal relationship in your life you manage to keep those feelings deeply hidden.

    Others here may not but I do feel sadness at your terrible superstition inflicted fate. The life of the fundamentalist Christian, when compared to the freedom and joy of the atheist, seems like a hell on earth. That is the mental slavery you seem to be exchanging for a non existent heavenly paradise. But you are, of course, a typical pawn for the preachers. They have always ground down the poor and ignorant, extractinf what they could from them, for the promise of an invented paradise. You are living a tragedy, Ken, and it is pathetic to see you provide so much evidence of it.

  36. Daz says:


    Why Daz do you think God has a beard?

    Ken, why would I think that a non-existent person had a non-existent beard?

    Still an’ all, that little digression on beards did allow you to ignore my main point, didn’t it. Well done for spotting that handy diversion!

    Allow me to reiterate and rephrase, thus relating it to the story you so adamantly want it to be related to:

    Any alternative to medication, whether proposed by a GP or not, which relies on the interjection and help of a supernatural being is buncombe, unless that supernatural being can, first, be shown to exist and can, second, be shown to be willing and able to provide such help.

    Or, in short, we do not not fund treatment based on fairy stories on the NHS.