For eight weeks between mid-June and mid-August, an 18-year-old charismatic believer, who identified himself only as Carl-Johan H., was committed against his will to a local psychiatric hospital in Stockholm, Sweden. The hospital psychiatrists diagnosed him with "religious delusions" and forbade contacts with "all friends ... associated with [the patient's] cult."
In the first two weeks Carl-Johan was kept in total seclusion and given medication against psychosis and schizophrenia. The young believer had been reported by his mother, who feared for her son's sanity after hearing him speak in tongues and witness publicly.
In the meantime other psychiatrists have said Carl-Johan manifested no signs of mental disturbance. Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare initiated an investigation into the case in August.
Two days before his release, Carl-Johan told Charisma that the hospital committed him against his will based on his mother's information only, though Carl-Johan is an adult and had no record of mental or social disorders.
Carl-Johan said he had accepted Jesus and was baptized in the Holy Spirit in a large charismatic church in Stockholm in May 2002. "It was a new world to me," he said, "and I had questions that I discussed with my mother. I always found her a wise person." Until April Carl-Johan was not active in his newfound faith, and he is still not a church member.
"But in April I started witnessing to people and praising God publicly, which made my parents very upset, especially my visiting the neighbors," Carl-Johan said. "I also prayed in tongues, and hearing this my mother got hysterical. Once she tried to hit me. I did not recognize her at all. Then doctors started showing up at home, without notice, to examine me.
"On one Sunday two people dropped in: a man calling himself a cult expert and his sister, who was a psychiatrist. I guess I should have said no, but I agreed to talk to them."
The "cult expert" is a well-known figure in Sweden, Peter Öhlén, a radio journalist who got involved with "deprogramming" people who left the large Word of Life Church in Uppsala in the 1980s after what the former members described as very negative experiences. Öhlén has no medical training.
The same night a hospital psychiatrist visited, though Carl-Johan refused to speak with him. "I had had enough for one day." The result was that the doctor called the police, while Carl-Johan's parents locked the doors to prevent their son from "escaping."
"At the hospital they gave me an injection that made me very weak and dizzy. It turned out to be something against schizophrenia," he said.
Thomas Jackson, a veteran psychiatrist with specialist authorization in both Sweden and England, told Charisma that "with 100 percent surety Carl-Johan is not seriously mentally ill." Jackson was not allowed to visit with Carl-Johan, but talked to him repeatedly over the phone and had unlimited access to the medical journal, which he describes as "full of mistakes, and typical of stressed doctors."
"One doctor who diagnosed Carl-Johan with 'fulminant psychosis' had obviously not read through the journal," Jackson added. "Colleagues [in the same journal] describe Carl-Johan as 'fully together.'"
The Uppsala Hospital, where Carl-Johan was sent in August for what the doctors call a "second opinion," confirmed Jackson's assessment. On his return to Stockholm, Carl-Johan was released.
Carl-Johan's legal adviser Marina Rosing has reported two heads of department at the psychiatric hospital in Stockholm to the National Board of Health and Welfare, commenting to the Swedish press that the doctors' treatment of Carl-Johan "is reminiscent of methods that were used against Christians in the old Soviet Union."
Committing Christians to psychiatric care against their will is rare in western Europe, but human-rights organizations monitoring religious liberties have said there is a clear trend in some countries to view charismatic Christianity as potentially harmful to the emotionally unsettled. A French law passed last year forbids evangelism directed at people groups defined as "weak," such as children, the elderly and the sick.
Jurist Ulf Holmgren at the National Board conceded to Charisma that the discrepancies in the opinions given by different psychiatrists concerning Carl-Johan's mental state "seem odd," but pending the investigation he refrained from further comments.
Professor Lars Farde, head of Psychiatry at the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm and an international authority in the field of "the human brain and the spiritual," was highly critical of the interpreting of spiritual experiences in terms of mental disorder.
Farde, himself a Pentecostal believer, told Charisma: "The understanding of the normal Christian experience has been lost in our secularized society." He said hundreds of thousands of Swedes have had "spiritual experiences [similar to Carl-Johan's]."
Farde, whose latest research on the human brain's handling of the spiritual is soon to be published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, also cautioned against "cult deprogramming," which he described as scientifically "undefined and lacking in quality control."
Tomas Dixon in Sweden
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