The supernatural model of abnormal behavior has existed since prehistory and is still with us today. The basis of this model is that evil spirits, a god, Satan, or demons causes abnormal behavior. Supposedly, these vile spirits take control or possess people, making them behave in immoral or bizarre ways.
Often the supernatural model is reflected in informal superstitutions or beliefs. Sometimes belief in the supernatural model leads to laws or other societal efforts to control abnormal behavior. For instance, in the Middle Ages a book called the "Witch Hammer" detailed how to identify and punish witches. The Salem Witch trials are another tragic example of a misguided belief. The judges of the witch trials were mostly intelligent and well intentioned. Their goal was lofty, to protect their society from evil. Sadly, they failed to realize that the evil inhabiting their town was not witches, but their own belief in the supernatural model.
History is replete with examples of people being killed or otherwise treated cruelly, because their neighbors believed in the supernatural origins of abnormal behavior. It is interesting to note the cognitive inconsistencies that characterize the response of many modern societies to the supernatural model. With one breath they laugh at the Salem Witch trials as an expression of ancient ignorance and with the next breath they affirm their belief in the existence of Satan.
In the 1990s, a man cut off his hand at ASU, because he
believed it was possessed by the Devil. So much for harmless superstitions.
In addition to the cruelty arising from belief in demon possession, the
supernatural model had another terrible impact. Because people believed
that demonic possession explained the odd behavior that they observed,
they never looked for the actual causes of abnormal behavior. One
wonders how much more advanced we would now be in the treatment of persons
with abnormal behaviors if the supernatural model had never obscured our