I interview Dr. David Appleby, founder and president of Spiritual Interventions, Inc., which is based in Lynchburg, VA. Dave is also a graduate counseling professor and pastoral counselor. He has been involved in the deliverance ministry for more than 35 years.
Heather’s note: Dave doesn’t see like a demon-slayer: he has warm and kind brown eyes and has a very fatherly way about him. He’s also very soft-spoken. But don’t let that fool you. In addition to being super smart, well-educated, and possessing an impressive professional pedigree, he gets rid of things that literally go bump in the night. People come from around the world to see him, after they’ve tried just about everything. He then performs an exorcism (or deliverance, in evangelical Christian terms) on them, and their whole life changes for the better. Below is his story:
Do you consider yourself an exorcist?
By definition an exorcist is one who is able to cast out demons or spirits. It is usually a word associated with the Catholic tradition. Protestants often use the word deliverance, or deliverance ministry. That would be me.
How in the world did you end up in this line of work?
When I was an associate pastor I was responsible for providing counseling services for my church. I kept running into good solid Christian people who apparently weren’t able to overcome their problems when I used the standard psychological or spiritual protocols. I knew that I was missing something so I went back into the Scriptures to look for indications of supernatural change. I saw that change occur when demonic spirits were cast out. Back in the 1980s there were no books explaining how to do deliverance available (though there were several who made a case for it) so I just started experimenting. After 35+ years I’ve developed a methodology that seems to work consistently. I got into the field because nothing else was helping my clients.
Please describe your typical client?
Our clients are all Christians. We won’t work with anyone who is not. Deliverance is for believers. Why would one who has refused to be submitted to the Lord want, or hope to be set free from things when their whole attitude is in rebellion against the one who can provide their freedom? Plus, if you remember the story from the Scriptures about the strong man and the stronger man. When the house was cleaned out but not filled, the stronger man could come back with others that were seven times worse than the ones that were there to begin with. Why would we do that to anyone? Please see my book, It’s Only a Demon, for a more detailed explanation.
We see men and women, children and adults, professional people and not so professional people, the wealthy and the poor. We see the physically and emotionally well and those who are not. We see a huge range of clients. The consistent factor is often that they have been damaged in some way, which in turn, opened the door to demonization.
What are some symptoms of spiritual oppression?
There are many. First, feelings of shame or guilt that don’t resolve, accusatory voices in the mind that won’t stop, ungodly coping mechanisms (such as cutting, binge drinking, drug use) that just make the situation worse, difficulty making connections with people and with God, recurring nightmares or thoughts that disrupt sleep, and sins that don’t yield to traditional spiritual disciplines like meditation, prayer, fasting.
Some of this will be psychologically based, some physiologically based, and some spiritually based.
Here are a few more: a feeling that your life is not your own and that something else is working against you, personal or family problems that don’t respond to therapy, physical or psychological problems that don’t respond to medication, and finally, an inability to really, truly change.
How do you specifically make the demons leave the person?
I don’t have the authority to make anything leave anyone. As believers, however, we have all been given the authority by our Savior to command these things to leave in the name of Jesus. When we do that in faith, and stand firm, they go, not because they want to, but because they have to. Sometimes, however, we have to address the situations where these things gained access to the client before we can move forward. It is only through the name of Jesus Christ (and his power) that a client can be set free. While he is fully human, he is also the Son of God. He created everything that is, including Satan and his demonic kingdom. He defeated death when he died on the cross and rose from the dead. In him we find life and supernatural authority over demonic spirits.
So you’re telling me that some Christians are under the influence of demons. How does this happen?
Oppression is a non-biblical term that believers have decided to us to describe some level of demonic involvement that keeps the demon outside of the believer. If you don’t believe that a believer can be demonized you have to have some explanation of what is taking place in the person. Saying that the person is oppressed keeps the demon on the outside so you don’t have to deal with the theological issues. The common doorways are generational (coming down through family lines), occult involvement (such as Ouiji boards, divination, witchcraft, sorcery, false religions, Masonic involvement in the family, drug use), trauma and victimization (physical, emotional, sexual, and verbal abuse, abandonment or betrayal by parents or loved ones, etc.), and long-term sin (a commitment to disobedience).
So there are four doorways for demonic oppression. What is the most common one you’ve seen?
Trauma and victimization is the most common. We are constantly astonished how many children are traumatized by their families and sexually assaulted by friends and family members. When a person finds himself/herself traumatized, victimized, and isolated, with no support from the people who are supposed to care for them, they can become prey for the Enemy.
What are some of the strangest things that you’ve ever seen during your sessions?
Physically I have seen people act like spiders and try to climb up a wall, writhing on the ground, screaming, changes in voice and mannerism, etc. Just a variety of weird stuff.
Can you elaborate on this a bit more? I know there was a young man you mentioned in your book where it took you several men to pin him down. Can you give at least one more example of odd/crazy behavior?
One time I was speaking at a conference where I normally do a public deliverance at the end of the training. Actually seeing what takes place during a deliverance helps to normalize the experience for those observing. It also normally makes people more comfortable with the thought of them joining a team and participating in the ministry.
In any case, in preparation for the conference, I asked the host to find someone who was willing to have a public deliverance. The host was such a believer and had such confidence in God’s ability to deliver people that he went out and found the worst client that he could find. What I did not realize at the time was that my client was about 6’ 4”, weighed about 300 lbs., and had a long history of mental illness. He had also just been released from a mental hospital that morning. He had also not attended the conference, nor was he a Christian. I had no idea about any of this. I try not to work with openly mentally-ill people in public settings as it often leads to a whole other level of complexity that is not helpful in a teaching setting.
In any case, all the attendees were sitting in rows behind me while I was sitting in a chair facing him. He was an enormous, powerful man. The first part of the deliverance went well. When I addressed the demon, however, things deteriorated rapidly. Suddenly he stood up, put his face about four inches from mine and began roaring, I mean screaming with a power and volume that was new to me. I could feel his breath and spittle on my face. After he got finished roaring at me he stood up, still screaming, and moved to the back of the room, where he started picking up and tossing chairs and tables around. I sat in my chair without moving silently praying, “Lord, big angels, big angels. Lord, big angels.” Eventually he calmed down and told the host that he had to leave as he had to go to work. He walked out the door.
The observers, who were sitting behind me, didn’t say a word the whole time as they sat there in total shock. Needless to say, there were not many people who were interested in joining me in the deliverance ministry after that. 🙂
Another time, my team and I were working with a young woman who was suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (Sometimes what appear to be alters are actually demonic spirits. Other times they are legitimate alters; parts of a fragmented personality.) In the midst of this deliverance I excused myself to go to the bathroom while a colleague continued working with her. When I came back into the room I recognized that something unexpected had happened. In the midst of the deliverance the main personality, with whom we were working, disappeared and a pure demonic spirit took its place. It was not fettered by the presence of a human personality. As soon as I walked into the room it recognized me and began to speak to me. As it spoke every hair on my body stood up as an overwhelming sense of evil and terror filled the room. It then went on to suggest all kinds of sexual things that I could do to myself. It was a little unsettling. In any case, we went ahead and removed this spirit and several others. When we finished, our client was completely healed and never again had any episodes of dissociation. In this case, what appeared to be alters were actually demonic spirits. That is not always the case.
I hesitate to mention these extreme examples, as they tend to reinforce the Hollywood stereotype of what deliverance looks like. Events such as mentioned above almost never occur. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times such incidences occur out of literally thousands of deliverances. When these manifestations begin to occur I just tell them to shut up and sit down and they do. We have authority.
Have you ever been afraid during or after a deliverance session?
Rarely, mainly startled, because sometimes the unexpected can happen pretty quickly. Plus, I do have big angels (I am told).
Have you ever encountered a demon you could not cast out?
I have discovered that I cannot cast a demon out of someone who wants to keep it or who refuses to submit themselves to the Lord. I can’t help that person. I have encountered situations where I was unable to figure out what needed to be done in order to cast the demonic spirit out so we were not successful. Over the years we have, by God’s grace, become more discerning and have seen more success. We now just assume that the demonic spirits will be gone by the time we get finished working. That regularly proves to be true.
Can you tell me, briefly, about principalities?
These creatures, along with powers, thrones, and rulers, are mentioned in only a few places in the Scriptures ( Rom. 8:38; Eph. 3:10, 6:12; Col. 1:16, 2:15, and Tit. 3:1). Not much is said about them. I believe (and this is just my opinion) is that they are the same creatures that are referred to as Celestial Beings in 2 Peter 2:10 and Jude 8. They appear to be demons or angels of a higher order that are often responsible for overseeing specific territories or have specific responsibilities. Sometimes they find their way into people. We are able to help people remove them.
Does your ministry do anything else such as clearing out peoples houses of ghosts, or other paranormal activities?
Sure. I do that on occasion, as people request. When I do, the manifestations stop.
What are ghosts, and do you believe in them?
The Bible is really unclear about it so I leave the question open. When the Witch of Endor called up Samuel at Saul’s request it was apparently really Samuel. Would he have been a ghost? Probably. That is the only place in the whole Scripture where such activity is recorded. I suspect that most of what people encounter aren’t ghosts, but familiar spirits acting like ghosts.
We’ve all seen movies with Catholic priests reading from the Bible, using holy water, and symbols like the crucifix. How is what you do similar or different compared to this?
Sometimes we will read the Scriptures, sometimes anoint with oil, sometimes lay hands on the person. I’ve not used holy water or the crucifix, but others have with some success. Bless them. We try to do nothing unless we are directed to do so by the Holy Spirit.
What is the actual deliverance process like, and who is typically on your team?
Not generally dramatic. Quiet. Intense. Fun. Lasting about three to four hours. Successful. My team consists of men and women, some in their 20s and some in their 70s, all of whom love the Lord and are delighted to have found a place where their unique spiritual gifts can be respected and utilized. Each one blesses the other. It’s wonderful. Please see the book for more detail.
Is the devil real?
I think so. It is hard to look around the world and not see the fruit of evil surrounding us. If you believe in good, it is hard not to believe in evil. Whether or not that good is personalized as God or the evil as Satan is a matter of opinion. Since the Holy Spirit is the one who convicts of sin, I don’t spend much time trying to convince others one way or the other. I am too busy seeing people be set free. 🙂
What does it mean to be possessed?
Bad word, as it springs from a bad translation of the Greek in the KJV of the Bible. Better translation would be demonized (which says nothing about ownership), which means being under the control or influence of a demonic spirit.
Do you believe in angels? Have you ever seen any of them?
Yes, I believe in them. I’ve never seen an angel, but I have been aware when they have been around. Sometimes I can feel their presence. Those who can see them tell me that they are often around me. I need all the “air” support that I can get. 🙂
How does someone know that they may be spiritually oppressed and in need of deliverance? In other words, advice for someone out there reading this who thinks they may need some extra help in this area?
Lots of times these folks wrestle with guilt, blame, and shame that will not go away, in spite of the fact that they know that they have been forgiven by God. They find themselves tormented with no relief even though they are doing all the normal things that most churches teach should help to relieve such things such as more Bible reading, more prayer, more fasting, more worship, more church attendance, more small group participation or even, in the most desperate situation, working in the church nursery. Most churches believe that the remedy to such torment is simply more. The trouble is that that doesn’t fix the problem because these disciplines aren’t designed to address the issue of demonic spirits. Only deliverance can do that.
Can you tell me about the gift of the seer? How does that gift manifest? Have your seers seen angels and/or demons?
Sure. Seers are people who are wired to see spiritual things, as did many people mentioned in the Scriptures. Most of them have this gift from childhood but find it repressed by parents and churches who have no category for one who can see into the spiritual. Parents will keep telling the child that they didn’t really see anything; it was just their imagination. Those who are so gifted rarely tell others about this for fear of being seen as strange.
When such people join me in my work it is often like God suddenly opens a door and they find themselves seeing all kinds of things that they’ve never seen before. Some have impressions. Some see things in their mind’s eye. Others see things as clearly outside of themselves as clearly as you and I see people. We value these gifted people, affirm them, and train them to use their gift, particularly in deliverance settings. They bring a very unique flavor to deliverance sessions. Some can see demons. Some see angels. Some see both.
What are some of the positive changes the clients tell you about post deliverance?
A man with whom we worked a few weeks ago sent me an email. This is what he said happened to him:
- I must say that there is much that is different since we met. It has taken a couple of weeks to come to clarity and take shape. Let me describe what I feel is different.
- I don’t hear the noise of condemnation constantly in my head. And when I feel something threatening it is much easier to redirect.
- I feel at peace more often than not. I routinely sleep in when I want to instead of waking up to anxiety way earlier than I should be.
- I don’t feel powerless. Even when I don’t do something I want to do I don’t relentlessly beat myself up. I am much better able to create and implement a plan than I have in years without feelings of pressure and hopelessness to perform. I have developed several plans and have actually followed through. Who knew 😊.
- I do not feel a profound sense of incompetence. I feel much more like other people.
- When people ask how I am doing I more often spontaneously say ‘great’ – I never used to say that – ever.
- I do not feel a profound weight of hopelessness around my spouse like I have for these few years, though this is still a matter of prayer.
- I experience myself as uniquely gifted by God. Several have told me recently that I am anointed and I am actually experiencing that in a humble way.
Other common experiences include the removal of voices, fear disappears, there is more peace. Even if nothing overtly can be reported, everyone will say that they feel more peace than they have ever had. It’s all good.
Can you tell me an example of a client where the deliverance was not successful? Why was it not successful?
Sorry, but I can’t. I can think of people who have walked away from deliverance because they decided that they wanted to keep their demons because it gave them a sense of power that they didn’t want to lose. I can think of people who stopped the process because they had, in infancy, been so traumatized that the demonic spirit had so closely identified with the human personality that they didn’t know where they ended and the demon began. As we removed the demonic spirits the person became more and more fearful as they felt like they were losing themselves. The demon that they knew was less threatening to them than the freedom that they had never experienced.
Have demons ever come after you personally because of your line of work?
Sure. I am a target. After 35+ years of doing this I suspect that somebody from the other side knows my name. I’ve been impacted personally and professionally. Of course, the Lord has always used if for the good. Sometimes I’ve found myself demonized as a result of trauma, or personal sin. Sometimes the Lord has delivered me spontaneously. Sometimes I’ve had to call my team to help me. Fortunately that doesn’t happen a lot. I’ve always viewed what I do as like being in a boat. As the water gets deeper the boat floats. As long as you stay in the boat it doesn’t matter how deep the water is.
What is the biggest misconception about the devil?
That if you leave him alone, he will leave you alone.
In your view, what is the Devil’s primary role in someone’s life?
His desire is to destroy everything that God loves because he hates God so much. God loves you and he loves me.
What is the biggest misconception about God?
That he isn’t good. That he doesn’t love us. That he wants to punish us. That we can’t trust him.
What have you learned about God through your participation in this ministry?
He is more loving, forgiving, accepting, and powerful than anything that I can conceive. The Enemy has already been defeated. God has chosen to use his children to set other children free. That is so cool.
Second to last question. What would you say to readers who would not yet consider themselves a Christian? What evidence can you give to them that points to a loving God?
You don’t know what you are missing. The fact that all of creation has been created for our pleasure and that we are surrounded by a God who loves us and gave his Son over to death that we might experience all these good things. After all, he is love.
Finally — If you could sum up your entire ministry in one sentence — What would it be?
My six year old granddaughter was trying to explain to a friend on the school bus what it is that her grandfather does. She said, “My grandpa is a doctor who takes bad dreams out of people’s lives.” Love it. 🙂
P.S. from Heather, in bullet format, because bullets are fun:
- I have been fascinated with the Dark Side since high school and used to read a lot of books about the occult and watch a lot of horror movies. I’ve always wanted to interview someone who has direct contact with the spirit world — so here you go peeps! I hope you enjoyed it.
- I have my own demon story to share, and will do so in a later post.
- I am always hyper sensitive to people’s reactions when I post a blog. First of all, not everything that people experience is demonic oppression. Problems and issues can be physical, psychological, mental-health, emotional, chemical, or spiritual (demonic) in nature. Or, more likely, a combination thereof.
- I also don’t want people to think that only Christians can be oppressed by demons. That is far from the truth. Everyone certainly can, from every walk of life. Christians are able to be set free from Satan and demons, however.
- Deliverance is a ministry that can help some people. If you think you need help, or have further questions, please contact Dave directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.spiritualinterventions.org. His book is “It’s Only A Demon.” You can find it on Amazon for $16 bucks — however there are only a few left, as it’s being replaced by his new book. Fair warning, the cover of his book is creepy and weird. The book itself is super interesting. He also just released a new book called “Transformative Encounters” which will be available shortly.
- Thanks for reading!!