By Brian Birmingham

Slate recently reported about Steve Hassan’s “crusade” against what he calls the “Cult of Trump.”

However, the article at times calls into question Hassan’s claims and expertise concerning his determination of what exactly constitutes a “cult.” It also states, “some wonder if he’s gone too far.”

Slate concludes that Hassan, who is a former “Moonie” or follower of Rev. Moon’s Unification Church, was once on a mission to save the world for Reverend Moon. But now it appears, after leaving the Moonies through deprogramming he has now switched to a new crusade.

Almost half a century has passed since Hassan’s exit from the Moon cult, but he is still on a mission to save the world.

This time instead of saving the world for Reverend Moon in the name of “world peace and unification” Hassan is on much more personal self-promotional mission of his own. His crusade now is to deliver “Freedom of Mind” to those unfortunates victimized by Donald Trump.

Slate reports that “self-promotion leaks into his sermons. He sometimes sounds as eager to publicize himself (‘I scratch my head why everyone who cares hasn’t read The Cult of Trump book?’ he tweeted recently in response to a CNN segment on Trump and the Republican Party).”

Steve Hassan

According to Steve Hassan apparently almost anyone that doesn’t see things according to his political and social perspective must be a “victim” of “undue influence” and in need of “deprogramming.” Then they will be persuaded to see the world properly per his point of view.

Please keep in mind that Slate is one of the most liberal media outlets in America and certainly no friend of Donald Trump.

Even though the Slate piece was respectful, it was not always exactly complimentary concerning Steve Hassan and his work.

Slate reported that “Hassan’s definition of cult-like behavior can seem particularly wide-ranging.” For example, he seems to imply that British royal family might be a bit like a cult. Referring to the royal family’s treatment of Meghan Markle, Hassan wrote on his blog, “Any organization willing to maintain its public image by sacrificing the well-being of its members relies on many of the same psychological theories and tactics used by authoritarian cults.”

Does this mean that Steve Hassan thinks Queen Elizabeth II is a “cult leader” and the royal family might be a family cult?

If so, why?

If not, why not?

It seems Hassan is projecting and seeking validation from others.

Even his “mentor,” attorney and expert witness Alan Scheflin, doesn’t appear to take Steve’s perspective very seriously.

Scheflin told Slate, “I would say that Steve has a tendency in some ways to see everything as undue influence because he’s primed to see it that way. I feel that he’s still the victim of the cult. I think that one of the things that happens when you come out of a cult is you have tremendous distrust. You have to become the center of your own universe,” Scheflin concluded.

Interestingly, Alan Scheflin, who Steve has worked with and who he says mentored him, also did not think Hassan would make a good expert witness in court.

“I don’t know that’s the best forum for Steve,” Scheflin said. “I see him as a media person,” he concluded.

Apparently, Hassan has aspirations to be a recognized court expert, but Scheflin seems to think he should stick with the role of a talking head on TV.

Steve Hassan did testify once decades ago in a Boston custody battle (Kendall v. Kendall 1996).

However, according the court record, “the judge specifically stated that she did not rely on Dr. Hassan’s testimony in making her ruling.”

The Slate article also seemingly categorizes Steve Hassan as something of an “ambulance chaser” pursuing clients.

QAnon Shaman

Slate reports, “Hassan hopes to establish his BITE model as a way of evaluating undue influence in the legal system. He thinks he could be an expert witness for the defense of some of the [January 6th] insurrectionists, particularly given that one of the lawyers compared the insurrectionists to ‘followers of Jim Jones’ while another referred to Trump as a ‘cult leader.’ Hassan said he offered on Twitter a few months ago to talk with Jacob Chansley, the insurrectionist known for wearing a fur helmet and horns, but did not receive a reply.”

So, Steve tried to hook up with so-called “QAnon Shaman”?

In many ways Steve Hassan operates like a cult leader himself. He inhabits a solipsistic cognitive universe in which his decidedly liberal bias and political opinions become repeatedly confused with objective reality. Those that reject him may be labeled victims of “mind control.”

Apparently, Steve is now a type of self-styled guru, leading his flock of “Freedom of Mind” supporters or what can be seen as a “cult following.”

The late Dr. Cathleen Mann, who testified successfully in numerous proceedings across the United States as a judicially qualified court forensic expert called Steve Hassan’s teachings simply “Hassanology.”

Specifically Mann wrote, “This composite philosophical approach as now devised by Mr. Hassan might be called ‘Hassanology’. In the world of cults Hassanology essentially depicts Steve Hassan as the ultimate savior. He is a hammer, and there is an ever-expanding list of groups to be seen as nails. As they say, ‘When you are a hammer everything looks like a nail.’ Of course, this might once again simply reflect a convenient marketing strategy.”

Note: Brian Birmingham is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts in Boston with a BA in Psychology and Sociology. He is a native of Dallas, Texas and was once a member of the Trinity Foundation community. He later worked for Steven Hassan at Freedom of Mind.

CultNews recently received some interesting questions from a reader concerned about President Donald Trump.

The reader said, “I often wonder if my cousins are members of a cult. They worship Donald Trump. He has become a god-like figure in their lives and no matter what Trump does, their feelings do not change.”

The reader then asks, “If this is the case, will they ever change? I cannot talk with them because they see me as some type of liberal demon. It’s uncomfortable to be around them so I just stopped trying to have a relationship. What do cult leaders really want? What do their followers want?” 

Analysis by Rick Alan Ross

CultNews response

Donald Trump is not an absolute authoritarian “cult” leader like a Jim Jones, Charles Manson or David Koresh. He was democratically elected and is subject to congressional oversight, judicial review by the courts and must run to be reelected. The President of the United States is also constitutionally limited by law to no more than two terms (eight years) as president. None of this matches the history or narrative of cult leaders like Jones, Manson and Koresh.

Trump supporters do seem to be narrowly focused on frequently partisan news sources, which can affect their critical thinking, but these sources of information fit within the boundaries of propaganda and are not part of the framework of an intentionally planned thought reform program (“brainwashing”) run by Donald Trump.

Donald J. Trump

Trump supporters are not cult victims

Moreover, most Trump supporters already shared and appreciated Donald Trump’s ideas, feelings and attitudes before they voted for him. He didn’t change them deceptively through coercive persuasion without their knowledge and consent. Instead, like a savvy salesman, Donald Trump effectively shaped and marketed himself and his brand in response to the Republican base. He implicitly understood what that political base wanted in a candidate, which is why he won its primary. And his persistently precise perception of the attitude of the majority of Republican voters has repeatedly proven to be correct according to his polling numbers.

Trump supporters are not cult victims. Specifically, people that support Donald Trump are typically not happy about recent changes in the United States. This includes concerns about the shifting demographics of the country, immigration, increasing frustration regarding “globalization” through entities like the UN and various international treaties and agreements, growing discomfort about interdependent world trading markets, rejection of LGBT rights such as gay marriage, fears about the centralization of government and unhappiness about certain women’s rights such as reproductive choice. Many Trump supporters are also upset about questions being raised about gun rights. There is also substantial resentment and suspicion amongst Trump supporters about the influence and power of the “intellectual elite.” And religious leaders that support Donald Trump seem to be deeply troubled by decreasing church attendance and the corresponding decline of religious influence in the United States.

Trump did not need to implant these preexisting attitudes and concerns through “mind control,” which was already there and quite evident within the Republican base. Again, like a good salesman Donald Trump simply effectively marketed himself by tailoring his presidential campaign to concisely capitalize on existing concerns abundantly evident in the Republican base.

In his soon to be released book “It Was All a Lie” author Stuart Stevens interestingly concludes that Donald Trump ultimately represents today’s “Republican party in a purified form.” Stevens, a purported “veteran Republican strategist,” writes, “There is nothing strange or unexpected about Donald Trump. He is the logical conclusion of what the Republican party became over the last 50 or so years.”

Cultural divide

Summarizing the situation, Trump supporters appear to be generally uncomfortable and/or unhappy with recent cultural change in America. And to a large extent there are cultural lines of separation, or a cultural divide, which has become increasingly apparent between urban and rural Americans, as well as between coastal Americans and those that live within the middle of the country.

Apparently, Americans that support Donald Trump feel that he represents meaningful resistance to unwanted change. And Trump supporters think he can reverse certain cultural trends. Trump’s most popular slogans and mantras like “Build the Wall” and “Make America Great Again” seem to reflect this sentiment.

Some cult-like aspects, but not a “destructive cult”

There are aspects of Donald Trump and his supporters that may appear at times to be cult-like, such as Trump’s rather narcissistic seemingly messianic claim made in 2016 that “only [he] can fix this,” or his supporters apparent penchant for cognitive dissonance. CultNews commented about this in 2016. But it’s just too simplistic to dismiss an entire political movement and a democratically elected president as a “destructive cult” without noting the distinct differences that separate Donald Trump from historical cult leaders and his supporters from the victims of destructive cults.

Instead of characterizing devotion to Donald Trump as a “cult” without qualification, it’s preferable, more objective, accurate and concise to recognize the nuances and complexity of the cultural currents and rifts that are polarizing Americans. Donald Trump may have a kind of fan base or “cult following” like many celebrities, but he does not match the criteria that defines cult leaders who have historically exercised virtually limitless unchecked dictatorial power over their followers. Trump is also not empowered by a deliberate “brainwashing” process deceptively done through a premeditated intentionally planned thought reform program with the goal of “mind control.” It serves no useful purpose to reduce the word “cult” to a “buzz word,” rather than recognize its precise range of meaning and boundaries.

Robert Jay Lifton, a psychiatrist well known for his writings about thought reform and cult formation reportedly made the distinction that, “Trump is not totalistic like [Shoko Asahara] the leader of [the Japanese cult] Aum Shinrikyo.”

Deprogramming Trump supporters?

It’s also important to note that true believers cannot be “deprogrammed” regarding their personally held individual beliefs. Simply put, they were not programmed in the first place and therefore cannot be deprogrammed. Such true believers may eventually become disillusioned and move on, but this will be a personal choice, not the result of an intervention.

Historically, cult deprogramming is essentially an educational process, which centers upon the examination and unwinding of a thought reform program deceptively used without informed consent and knowingly maintained by a group or leader that uses coercive persuasion. This does not fit the profile or the circumstances of typical Trump supporters who already agreed with and endorsed Donald Trump’s core beliefs and the proscribed path he promised to implement for the United States.

Politicizing the word “cult” and using it to label Trump supporters serves no useful or constructive purpose. It dismissively demonizes a majority of the Republican party and other voters that support Donald Trump without recognizing their preexisting personal sentiments. This inaccurate labeling also denigrates the suffering of real cult victims.

Michael Langone, a counseling psychologist and the director of the International Cultic Studies Association told a journalist in an interview, “I can understand why people don’t like Trump,” However, Langone concluded “But to jump from not liking Trump to Trump as cult leader, I think, is a bit of a leap.”


This Thanksgiving rather than being confrontational with relatives that disagree with your politics, it’s preferable to avoid conflict and instead focus on the family values, which you share in common. Talk about happy memories that confirm those values and earnestly express your appreciation for the opportunity of gathering for another Thanksgiving dinner together.

Thankfully we live in a free country, not a cult compound, where each election cycle provides an opportunity for American citizens to cast their vote privately and decide what changes will ultimately prevail and/or who will be the President of the United States.

Rick Alan Ross is a judicially qualified and accepted court expert witness who has testified in ten states including United States Federal Court concerning controversial authoritarian groups, some that have been called “cults” and the coercive persuasion techniques they frequently employ.

, ,

Recently the Cult Education Institute (sponsor of CultNews) received a very serious complaint about Steven Hassan, a cult specialist and licensed mental health professional based in Boston, Massachusetts. Hassan is also the president, treasurer, secretary and director of a for-profit corporation called “Freedom of Mind.” The complaint concerned the fees and questionable conduct of Steve Hassan concerning the counseling he provided to a former cult member.

Hassan charged thousands of dollars for his services draining the former cult member’s savings.

Steven Hassan’s former client said that Hassan’s counseling was worse than his bill. The former client characterized Hassan’s counseling as debilitating and damaging. The former cult member stated, “I did feel traumatized both during and after my therapy with [Steve Hassan].” Hassan’s former client subsequently sought and received professional help to recover from the counseling. The former cult member noted that “other professionals in the field” who were subsequently consulted described Steve Hassan’s counseling “as both unprofessional and potentially dangerous.”

Steven Hassan

Steven Hassan

Steve Hassan has a long history of complaints, including complaints filed with his licensing board.

On April 20, 2012 Hassan was officially notified by the Board of Registration of Allied Mental Health Professionals in Massachusetts that he was facing an official complaint filed by a former client against him. The board advised Hassan in an Order to Show Cause, that he might have his license as a mental health professional revoked or suspended.

The Massachusetts licensing board decided to forward the complaint for prosecution (In the matter of Steven A. Hassan Docket No. MH-12-014).

In June 2011 Hassan was served with three subpoenas and he retained an attorney to respond to those subpoenas. Hassan’s attorney then wrote a letter to the individual that served him, which contained the names of two former clients. Subsequently Hassan posted the letter publicly at his website “Freedom of Mind” and also used both Facebook and Twitter to further share the contents of the letter.

According to Hassan’s licensing board he violated ethical provisions of both the American Mental Health Counselors Association and the American Counseling Association (ACA). Specifically regarding “client confidentiality” and the expectation that “no information will be released without the client’s permission and written consent.”

Hassan’s licensing board also cited an ACA ethical code violation of “failing to respect the dignity and promote the welfare of clients.”

The Massachusetts licensing board concluded that Hassan’s conduct constituted “unprofessional conduct and conduct that undermines public confidence in the integrity of the profession.”

Attorney Jessica Uhing-Luedde was the prosecuting counsel for the Division of Professional Licensure. And a court proceedings later took place in Boston, Massachusetts.

On November 16, 2012 the Board of Registration of Allied Mental Health and Human Service Professionals in Massachusetts officially notified Steve Hassan that the complaint filed against him by a former client, which was forwarded for prosecution, was dismissed without prejudice.

It must be noted that when a complaint is dismissed without prejudice, unlike a dismissal with prejudice which is final, the complaint may not be dismissed forever and can potentially be reopened.

Within its official notification of dismissal the licensing board felt it was necessary to “remind [Steve Hassan] of the rules and regulations that govern all licensed mental health counselors in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

The board specifically focused on “the limitations of social media and the importance of maintaining confidentiality.” The board told Hassan that he must “monitor any posts on social media websites to ensure that patient confidentiality is never compromised.” And that “the responsibility for maintaining patient confidentiality always falls upon the mental health counselor.”

The board admonished Hassan, “All licensed mental health counselors are expected to adhere to these standards and failure to do so may result in disciplinary action against your license.”

It would seem, based upon the prosecution of the complaint and admonishments by his licensing board that Steve Hassan narrowly escaped disciplinary action.

CultNews learned that another complaint was filed against Steve Hassan with his licensing board more recently. However, this complaint was dropped and not prosecuted.

The Cult Education Institute has had a disclaimer posted concerning Steve Hassan since May of 2013. This disclaimer notes the numerous complaints received about Hassan.

From time to time the Cult Education Institute receives complaints and reports of other concerns expressed about cult intervention practitioners. The institute makes every effort to follow up on those reports and relay them to the individuals involved for their response. Steve Hassan is the only deprogrammer/exit-counselor about whom CEI has received numerous and consistent complaints over a period of years involving matters of cult intervention methods, fees, and professional ethics.

, , ,

You have seen them in movies and on TV, but cults are more prevalent than you think and they are armed with strategies that can “brainwash” and gain undue influence over even the most unlikely of candidates.

But how do individuals get involved with destructive cults in the first place, and what steps can be taken for those concerned to intervene “deprogram” and heal those who have been drawn into these damaging groups?

These questions and more are addressed in Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out, written with the help of current and former cult members, Ross demonstrates many of the tactics destructive cults use for control and manipulation—and, more importantly, some of the most effective methods he and other experts have used to reverse that programming.

As a result, readers will find themselves armed with a greater understanding of the nature of destructive cults and an improved ability to assess and deal with similar situations—either in their own lives or the lives of friends and family members.

From the Manson family to Heaven’s Gate, to multilevel marketing schemes, there are as many types of cults as there are leaders looking to control and manipulate.

Luckily the more people know and understand about these damaging groups, the less influential they will be–and Cults Inside Out exposes the inner workings of cults of all shapes and sizes.

About the author

For more than three decades, Rick Alan Ross has worked with current and former cult members, including participation in more than five hundred interventions. Along the way, he has learned the methods of these groups use to deceive and “brainwash” even the most unlikely individuals. Using real-life examples and first-hand accounts, this informative look at the world of destructive cults will arm readers with a greater understanding of the dangers of such cults–as well as providing valuable information about the intervention or “deprogramming” process.

Ross has consulted with the FBI, the BATF and other law enforcement agencies, as well as the governments of Israel and China on the topic of cults. Ross is a private consultant, lecturer and cult intervention specialist. He has been qualified and accepted as an expert court witness in eleven different states, including United States federal court. He has also worked as a professional analyst for CBS News, CBC of Canada, and Nippon and Asahi of Japan. He has appeared in thirteen documentaries and numerous network television interviews. Ross has been quoted by the media all over the world.

Rick Alan Ross is the founder of the Cult Education Institute, an online library and member of the American Library Association, whose database is one of the largest sources of information regarding cults on the Internet.

Comments about the book

“For any parent or family member searching for information about how to get a loved one out of a destructive cult, this book puts it all together — from the real nature of cults, to the right way to prepare for an intervention, to the actual experiences of a cult-buster who’s been at the head of his field for decades.”

–Tony Ortega, journalist and former Village Voice editor

index“Experts agree that thought reform is one of the greatest dangers to society and that the best defense is education. No person has done more to educate the public about its dangers then Rick Ross. When the media has needed explanations it has been Rick Ross providing the answers in simple easy to understand language. Now he has put it all into a book. Knowledge can be the best protection. And that’s the best reason to read this book.”

–Paul Morantz, author of “Escape: My Life Long War Against Cults”

“Rick Ross has provided us with a wealth of information in Cults Inside Out, which bears the fruits of his extensive knowledge and decades of experience in working with those who have been impacted by a destructive cult. His comprehensive review of the history from the 1970s to the present is much needed, given that many young people today are unaware of events that were headlines when they occurred, such as Jonestown and how they came about. There are many audiences for this book: people with loved ones in cults, former cult members, helping professionals looking to educate themselves, people working in the legal system, educators and others. This book also provides excellent guidelines for people who have decided to intervene with a cult-involved loved one and are seeking help. Ross presents his own approach in great detail, which is honest, educational, non-forcible and non-coercive – the opposite of what destructive cults do. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in learning more about cults and how to help others or themselves to become or remain free of undue influence.”

–Monica Pignotti, PhD

“In his masterful new book, Cults Inside Out, Rick Ross has delivered an exceptional and critically needed resource. He has gathered together in one comprehensive volume detailed, documented information about the diverse and growing number of controlling persons and groups preying on individuals, families and communities in the United States and worldwide. He brings to this impressive body of information his own expertise and first-hand experience spanning three decades helping victimized families. If you want to educate yourself, inoculate your family, and equip your loved ones with understanding and awareness about how predatory people and groups can steal their minds, their hearts, and their lives, read Cults Inside Out. Then make a gift of it to a friend.”

—Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, authors of

Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change

Schenzhen International Symposium on Cultic Studies 2010

Published by the Institute of Religious Studies Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences

By Rick Alan Ross

My work regarding cult deprogramming began in 1982. At that time I was deeply concerned about a group that had infiltrated a nursing home where my 82-year-old grandmother was a resident. The group had specifically asked its members to seek jobs as paid professional staff at the nursing home, with the ulterior motive of targeting residents for recruitment.

My grandmother made me aware of this situation. And working with the executive director of the nursing home we identified the group members on staff, who were subsequently terminated. This personal experience initiated me in the world of radical religious groups and cults. I then became an anti-cult community activist and organizer.

During this period I was appointed to two national committees and later asked to join the professional staff of a social service agency in Phoenix, Arizona. At the agency it was not uncommon for parents to bring an adult child, typically a college student, to my office for consultation regarding involvement in a radical group or cult.

I would work with the families often in conjunction with our staff psychologist and/or caseworkers, in an effort to extricate the individual from any further cult involvement. Little did I know at the time that this process of intervention was called “cult deprogramming”.

During the 1980s I was involved in about 100 interventions regarding cult-like groups. Families would find me through the previously mentioned social service agency, a community educational Bureau that also employed me or were referred by local clergy, educators and community leaders.

During this period I worked largely within the Jewish community, though increasingly through related conferences and professional exchanges, I became of aware of a network of anti-cult activists and helping professionals throughout the United States. It was through my interaction with others doing essentially the same work that I later learned the type of intervention work that I was doing, was known as cult deprogramming.

Margaret Singer often cited as a leading brainwashing and cult expert [I] defined cult deprogramming as “providing members with information about the cult and showing them how their own decision-making power had been taken away from them.”

Over the years that basic process of sharing information and demonstrating to cult members how the power of persuasion may have compromised their critical and independent thinking, has been refined continuously and improved. In fact, the name “cult deprogramming” itself has become something of a politically incorrect term. Today most professionals engaged in cult intervention work prefer other labels to describe their work. For example, “exit counseling,” “thought reform consultation,” or “strategic intervention therapy.” 

Many believe that cult deprogramming can only be applied correctly to involuntary cult interventions.

However, the simple distilled definition provided by Singer remains the most salient and basic understanding of the process of bringing people out of destructive cults through intervention.

Involuntary deprogramming with adults is no longer done within the United States.

The only involuntary interventions that continue concerning cults within North America is done regarding minor children, under the direct supervision of their custodial parent.  Legal concerns have precluded anything else, though for a relatively brief time during the 1970s through a court provision known as conservatorship, involuntary deprogramming did occur legally with adults.

In 1986 I began working privately. That is, working as a private consultant and cult intervention specialist. Over the past 24 years I have been involved in hundreds of intervention efforts. My work has taken me throughout the United States, and to Canada, Italy, Sweden, England, Ireland and Israel.

I have continually developed and refined my intervention approach. The basic foundation as defined by Singer remains the same, but the details of that process has evolved, especially in consideration of improved information technology that has become available, such as the easy access to information through the Internet.

In the 1980s and early 1990s information was provided to cult members during interventions through books, videos and direct interaction with former members.

Today the process of providing information has been directly affected primarily by the advent of the Internet, related streaming video, teleconferencing, DVDs and other technologies. These advancements have made the gathering, organizing and presentation of information for the purpose of an intervention much easier.

My own preparation, presentation and communication approach has been honed and refined over the years.

My hope in presenting this paper is that I can share with you the basic structure and content of my approach in concise language. By sharing my approach with you we can hopefully better understand and further the development of cult intervention work.


The first step in the process of any intervention is preparation.

After a family, spouse or someone concerned contacts me requesting an intervention I must evaluate the situation and assemble a file.

This file includes an intake questionnaire [II] which is composed of about 50 questions. These questions relate specifically to the individual cult members background, history of involvement and specific concerns regarding the immediate situation.

Additionally, I will also collect information for my file, which is specifically about the group and/or leader in question.

Most often a series of phone consultations will follow.

Then there will be a sit down meeting, which typically takes place the day before the intervention begins.

In this process of preparation the family identifies who would be most effective for participation at the intervention. That is, which family members and/or friends have the most respect, admiration and emotional hold on the cult-involved individual.

One net result of the preparation process is to specifically determine what people would be best suited as members of the intervention team.

After identifying and assembling the team, here is what is usually discussed at the final preparation meeting:

  • What are the rules of engagement?
  • What are the boundaries and parameters of participation?
  • What roles will each family member or friend play?
  • What should they say or not say?
  • How will the intervention process begin, proceed and ultimately end?

The basic role of each family member and friend can best be summarized as largely focused upon two primary objectives.

These objectives are:

  1. Essentially anchor the cult involved individual. That is, to keep them from leaving, by helping to create an atmosphere of support premised upon historical trust and understanding. Simply put, the cult member will not stay involved in the intervention process for my sake, as I am a total stranger. But the cult member will stay out of respect for their family, friends and others concerned. This is vitally important because any intervention done with an adult is on a voluntary basis and therefore dependent upon their consent and ongoing cooperation. In the preparation process possible scenarios and/or potential situations are discussed. For example, the individual may become angry, get up and begin to leave. How should that be handled? Who would be most effective in persuading him or her not to leave and to stay?
  2. The family and friends also are there to provide first-hand eyewitness testimony. That is, what have they seen and observed regarding the cult-involved person’s recent behavior, which has caused them concern? At various times during an intervention a cult member may engage in denial. Since I have not directly witnessed what has occurred, I rely upon the family and friends present to share their experience to counteract any effort to obscure or deny the historical facts surrounding the situation.

We also must discuss and define our roles.

What is the role of the intervention specialist?

When is it appropriate and effective for family and friends to interject their opinions, testimony and concern?

I typically will advise the family to allow me the role of presenting the main body of information, leading and/or facilitating the discussion.

The Intervention

An average cult intervention takes 3 to 4 days, not including travel or preparation.

This means approximately 24 to 32 working hours spread out at eight hours per day not including breaks.

The more time I have, the more likely it is that the cult member will leave the group.

About 75% of my interventions have ended in success. That is, the individual that was the focus of the intervention decided to leave the cult by the conclusion of the intervention process.

Most of my failures have occurred within the first day or 24 hours of the intervention.

Very few cult members I have worked with for 3 to 4 days chose to continue with the group. Ultimately what this means is that the more time that I have the more likely it is that the intervention will be successful.

An intervention is an ongoing dialog or discussion. During such a discussion everyone present offers their impressions, observations and opinions. My role is to lead and facilitate that ongoing discussion, often directing and focusing attention on specific points.

There are four basic blocks or areas of discussion essential for the completion of an effective and potentially successful intervention.

These blocks of discussion preferably can be discussed in the order that follows, but this sequence may be rearranged during the intervention, due to the interest and focus of the cult-involved individual.

The four blocks of discussion are:

  1. What is the definition of a destructive cult?
  2. How does the process of coercive persuasion or thought reform really work?
  3. What is the history of the group and/or leader that has drawn concern?
  4. What are the family’s concerns?

First block of Discussion: Defining a destructive cult

The discussion specifically about the definition of a destructive cult is premised upon a definition provided by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton. Lifton’s definition [III] is precise and objective, based upon the behavior of the group rather than its beliefs.

Lifton states that “Cults can be identified by three characteristics:

  1. a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power;
  2. a process I call coercive persuasion or thought reform;
  3. economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.”

The first criterion is that the group can be seen as essentially personality-driven. That is, defined by a living and totalitarian leader. He or she is the focus of the group and its driving force. Whatever he or she says is right is right and whatever he or she says is wrong is wrong. Members of the group therefore ultimately abdicate their ability to make many value judgments of their own in deference to the leader.

Within the intervention examples or profiles are given specifically of historical cult leaders and their personal power.

For example, well-known cult figures can be cited such as Jim Jones [IV], David Koresh [V], Shoko Asahara [V] and Charles Manson [VII]. The purpose is to establish a common thread and historical basis of understanding who and/or what constitutes a destructive cult leader.

Documentary DVDs may also be viewed, which report the history of particular cult leaders.

Conversation then is about how the particular group and/or leader, being discussed as the focus of the intervention, may in some way parallel the established definition and the historical examples given.

The discussion might then focus upon what if any meaningful accountability exists, which limits or checks the leader’s power?

Are there explicit boundaries regarding his or her influence?

Is the leader ever wrong?

Can the leader be meaningfully questioned or contradicted?

If the leader can in fact be questioned, contradicted and wrong, what are some specific examples?

At this point some simple observation might be made about the issue of thought reform, such as a pattern of behavior that demonstrates a lack of independent and individual thinking.

A perspective might also be posited that members of the group can be seen consistently doing things that are not in their own best interest, but that are consistently in the best interests of the group. 

The final criterion is that the group does harm and is therefore can be sees as a destructive cult.

The destructive nature of groups varies by degree depending upon the group.

Some groups may be more destructive than others.

The discussion here focuses upon what specific harm the group in question has done.

At this point documentation may be produced to establish a pattern of grievances and harm historically done as evidenced by previously published news reports, court documents and other sources.

Additionally, family members and others concerned attending the intervention may offer their perspectives.

Again parallels may be drawn between well-established historical cults and the group being discussed.

Second Block of Discussion: How does the process of coercive persuasion or thought reform work?

The discussion of coercive persuasion and thought reform techniques is based upon the writings of Robert Jay Lifton [VIII], psychologist Margaret Singer [IX], sociologist Richard Ofshe [X] and professor of psychology Robert Cialdini [XI]. The writings of these experts form a basis for discussion.

In Ofshe’s paper Coercive Persuasion and Attitude Change he offers four key factors that distinguish coercive persuasion from other training and socialization schemes.

1.      The reliance on intense interpersonal and psychological attack to destabilize an individual sense of self to promote compliance.

2.      The use of an organized peer group.

3.      Applying interpersonal pressure to promote conformity.

4.      The manipulation of the totality of the person’s social environment to stabilize behavior once modified.

These basic group factors can then be layered upon and expanded within the discussion. Also examined is Lifton’s eight criteria as outlined within his book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, which are used to establish the presence of a thought reform program.

1.      “Milieu control,” which Ofshe describes as the control of the environment and communication.

2.      “Mystical manipulation,” which Ofshe explains as emotional and behavioral manipulation done through the guise of group beliefs and practices.

3.      “The demand for purity,” or what Ofshe describes as demands for absolute conformity to behavior as prescribed and derived from the group ideology.

4.      “The cult of confession,” what Ofshe sees as the obsessive demands for personal and group confession, which ultimately render individual members completely vulnerable, transparent and without a sense of individual privacy.

5.      “The sacred science,” which Ofshe explains as agreement that the group ideology is absolutely perfect, faultless, or what Lifton calls its ultimate vision for the ordering of all human existence.

6.      “Loading the language,” explained by Ofshe as the manipulation of language often characterized by thought terminating clichés, which substitute for critical and analytical thought.

7.      “Doctrine over person,” further described by Ofshe as the reinterpretation of human experience and emotion as seen through the lens and according to the terms of group doctrine.

8.      “The dispensing of existence,” which Ofshe sees as the classification of those not sharing the group’s beliefs as inferior and not worthy of respect.

Distinctions are then must be made between the process of coercive persuasion or thought reform and other forms of persuasion such as education, advertising, propaganda and indoctrination.

Margaret singer provided a chart [XII] in which these distinct forms of persuasions are delineated as expressed in categories such as focus of body of knowledge, direction and degree of exchange, ability to change, structure of persuasion, type of relationship, deceptiveness, breadth of learning, tolerance and methodology.

It is important to discuss these distinctions in order to clarify that thought reform is a unique and separate category of persuasion, which unlike other forms of persuasion, can be seen as both coercive and deliberately deceptive.

In her chart Singer also expanded upon the three stages coercive persuasion as defined by Edgar Schein, an author and expert concerning persuasion techniques. Schein, a professor at MIT, outlined the process of coercive persuasion in three simple steps.

1.      “Unfreezing,” or what Singer describes as “the destabilizing of a person’s sense of self. This process includes “keeping the person unaware of what is going on and the changes taking place. Controlling the person’s time and if possible their physical environment. Creating a sense of powerless covert fear and dependency. And suppressing much of the person’s old behavior and attitudes.”

2.      “Changing,” or what Singer explains as “getting the person to drastically reinterpret his or her life’s history and radically alter his or her worldview and accept a new version of reality and causality.”

3.      “Refreezing,” or as Singer says, “Put forth a closed system of logic; allow no real input or criticism.” Ultimately this culminates in what Singer describes as a person frozen or “dependent upon the organization¦a deployable agent.”

Documentary DVDs may also be shown at this juncture in the intervention process to demonstrate these specific coercive persuasion techniques in action.

These DVDs might include news reports regarding destructive cults, which demonstrate their internal behavior. And also research regarding the suggestible states that can be achieved through hypnosis, trance induction, meditation, yoga, chanting and various repeated physical exercises.

How can such states of suggestibility be manipulated through guided imagery, indirect directives, peer pressure, modeling behavior and emotional manipulation?

The discussion then focuses upon how these criteria and coercive persuasion techniques are expressed by the group in question.

Those participating in the intervention offer their insights and perspectives about how the group demonstrates these criteria.

A review of more general influence techniques is also discussed.

This discussion is premised upon the writings of Robert Cialdini, author of the book Influence. In his book Cialdini, who is a professor of psychology at Arizona State University, offers what he calls the “six principles of influence” which are:

1.      “The rule of reciprocity,” which requires that one person tries to repay what another person has provided. Singer explains that this rule can be twisted by cults. That is, the cult provides a sense of security, salvation, well-being and love, but expects its devotees to repay this through absolute obedience and compliance.

2.      “Commitment and consistency,” expressed by the desire to appear consistent through words, beliefs, and attitudes and deeds, which is valued by society. Singer explains that a cult can turn this rule around and make members feel guilty whenever they fall short regarding their consistent performance of duties and obligations through commitments made to the group.

3.      “Social proof,” a means used to determine what is correct by observing what others around us believe is correct. Within a cult environment Singer explains that “if you look around in the group, you will see people behaving in particular ways. You imitate what you see and assume that such behavior is proper, good, and expected.” Singer further explains that this rule can be used within a cult environment to stimulate compliance. “If you look around in the group, you will see people behaving in particular ways. You imitate what you see and assume that such behavior is proper, good, and expected.”

4.      “Liking,” people prefer to say yes to individuals they know and like. But as Singer explains new initiates within a cult group may be the target of seemingly unconditional love, which is frequently called “love bombing.” This makes members feel wanted and loved, and pushes them to like the people in the group. They then feel that since they like and/or love these people they should comply with their concerns, suggestions and be obedient.

5.      “Authority,” there is strong pressure within society for compliance when requested by an authority figure. Singer explains that this tendency to respect authority can easily be applied to a cult leader that claims superior knowledge, power, and a special mission. Members accept the cult leader as an ultimate authority.

6.      “Scarcity,” people assign more value to opportunities when they appear less available. Singer says if cult members are told that without the group they will miss out on living life without stress; miss out on attaining cosmic awareness and bliss; miss out on changing the world, gaining the ability to travel back in time; or whatever the group offers that is tailored to seem essential. The group may also may exemplify this rule by claiming exclusivity, i.e. no other group exists that can offer the same and/or equal path of fulfillment.

The discussion once again focuses on how the cult specifically being discussed exemplifies these principles or rules of influence.

At this juncture there may be a review of group literature through which examples can be seen. Participants attending the intervention may also offer their first-hand experiences dealing with the group and its leaders, which exemplify these points.

Third block of discussion: What is the specific history of the group or leader?

At this point the specific group that has drawn concern is examined.

What is its unique and particular history?

What is the background and personal history of its leader or leaders?

The objective at this point in the intervention process is to review the history of the group and also to focus upon and discuss whatever might have been hidden by the group and/or its leader from members.

What events have occurred that might have been falsely interpreted or propagandized by the group?

This process is of often currently made easier by the accessibility of information through the Internet.

Whatever file concerning the group and/or leader, which has been developed, will now be discussed.

Various press clippings, historical papers, court documents and televised news reports and/or documentaries may be reviewed that are specifically about the group and/or leader at this point.

The back-and-forth discussion at this juncture increasingly focuses on how the family views the history of the group and the specific involvement of the individual. Those present at the intervention may add additional important first-hand information about what they feel is noteworthy about the group.

This process offers the cult member a unique opportunity to evaluate and critically examine the group and its history outside of what is most likely a largely controlled environment. Possibly for the first time the cult member has an outside frame of reference, and feedback from different perspectives not controlled by the group.

Fourth block of discussion: what are the family’s specific concerns?

At this juncture family members and those concerned express why they feel it was important to stage the intervention and have the discussion.

They explain in detail, based upon their first-hand observations, why involvement with the group seems to them problematic or even potentially unsafe and/or dangerous.

For example, areas of concern might include the financial demands made by the group, diminishing and strained communication, increasing isolation, substandard living conditions, medical neglect, illegal behavior, sexual abuse, child abuse and neglect, present or potential violence and/or seemingly apparent psychological and emotional instability.

Each participant in the intervention at this point offers their personal perspective.

Anecdotal examples explain how these concerns have become evident.

This this is often the most volatile, difficult and emotional phase of the intervention.

My role through this process is to focus attention on how the group may have caused and/or exacerbated personal problems and situations.

For example, the intervention may have been prompted by a particular crisis brought about through cult involvement. This could be a pending separation or divorce, personal bankruptcy, serious but untreated illness and/or some type of pending or anticipated cult-related legal situation.

Case examples

What follows are some specific case examples of recent interventions within the United States and Canada.

This includes two cases that were successful, one that had mixed results and another, which ended in failure.

The [T] Institute

I was retained by a husband concerned about his wife’s involvement in a Neo-Eastern group called the “[T] Institute” located in […], California.

The couple had been married for more than 10 years with two children ages seven and nine.

The 39-year-old wife had been involved in the group for approximately 2 years. She had a master’s degree and had worked in the private sector as a marketing executive. However, in order to raise their two children she had given up employment to become a full-time homemaker. This ultimately caused the wife to experience a lowered sense of self-esteem and blurred her individual identity.

Initially, encouraged by a friend, she attended yoga classes at the [T] Institute. Her motivation was physical fitness, through regular exercise. She did not initially understand that [T] was a religious group.

But as the classes continued it became apparent that the group was not simply a place to exercise, but rather a group with the spiritual leader and particular belief system. The members of the group demonstrated extreme deference and devotion to their guru [Mr. R.], also known as “[D.S.].”

[Mr. R.] maintained a compound in Thailand in addition to his [T] facilities in California.

The wife’s involvement had continually escalated until it caused conflict within the home.

The young children were neglected due to her ever-increasing commitment and schedule at the Institute.

Ultimately, after many heated arguments the couple separated.

The wife moved out of the family home and took an apartment within a building occupied by [T] members.

After being retained I coached the husband to stop arguing about his wife’s involvement with the Institute, apologize for any angry confrontations they may have had and to filter his future conversations, eliminating anything negative.

After he did this for weeks the friction diminished and their relationship became increasingly friendly.

The couple remained separated, but agreed to take a family vacation in Hawaii for Christmas.

Upon their return from Hawaii the husband urgently requested for me to fly to California and undertake the intervention.

His wife had advised him that on January 1st she would be moving into a more controlled setting within group housing.

I promptly flew to California to begin my work.

Upon my arrival I met with the husband and his wife’s family members, which were included on the team for the intervention. This included both his wife’s parents and her brother.

I coached the family what to say and not to say regarding the parameters of their participation.

The family was encouraged to offer first-hand observations regarding their concerns, but not to be argumentative, accusatory or needlessly confrontational.

We also discussed who had the most emotional pull, to keep the wife from leaving. We discussed and rehearsed how to handle any sudden effort by the wife to abruptly cut off the intervention and leave.

I also reviewed with the family our main blocks of conversation, which we would go through during the days ahead. They asked questions about our schedule, breaks, food and what to do during the intervening evenings between each day of the intervention.

Our preparation process took several hours, the day before the intervention began.

A plan was set in place, which involved the husband requesting that his wife come to their home to watch the children while he attended a business meeting.

But when she arrived at the family home her parents, brother and I were all waiting and the children were being cared for by relatives at another location.

Immediately the wife recognized that this was a type of family intervention. She reacted angrily and initially refused to participate, running back into the garage. The wife was followed immediately by her parents. Prepared from the day before, they pleaded with her to return and talk things out. After about 30 minutes she came back.

At this point the husband introduced me as a consultant retained to facilitate the meeting and offer expert input. The wife asked me questions about my background, experience and the ultimate goal of the meeting.

I explained that the purpose of the intervention was to share information in an effort to present alternative perspectives, opinions and to explain concerns.

It was emphatically stated by everyone present that the final decision to separate, divorce and/or continue with the group was hers to make. We expressed hope that part of her decision-making process would include the consideration of relevant research, our sharing of information and discussion.

I talked about my many years of experience dealing with controversial groups and movements similar to the [T] Institute. And I pointed out that I had reviewed materials produced by the Institute and its leader regarding its history, structure, practices and purpose. I concluded by telling the wife that an organization with nothing to hide has no reason to fear examination.

At this point the wife agreed to stay and participate.

During the first day of the intervention we discussed an array of subjects which included portions of each of the four blocks of discussion previously outlined.

We touched upon the definition of a cult, the process of thought reform, talked about the history of the group and what concerns the family had.

We spent a full eight hours devoted to discussion and review on the first day.

At the conclusion of the first day I asked the wife to meet with us the following day. I also asked her to refrain from having contact in any way, shape, or form with anyone associated with the [T]. This specifically included e-mail, text messaging phone calls and/or communication of any kind. I explained that the many hours of her training at the Institute had been uninterrupted. And that our discussion on balance would also not be interrupted by [T].

The family expressed concern that her response to the information presented be her own thoughts and spontaneous, without any coaching or input from the group.

Once again there was an emotional outburst. The wife became angry and attacked her parents and husband, accusing them of interfering in her life and attempting to control her.

At this point the brother stood up and expressed his feelings. He stated that this situation was so important to him that he had given up time with his wife and children, driving many hours to attend the intervention. This immediately impressed upon the wife the importance of the family’s concerns again.

She then agreed to continue the discussion the following morning, without communication or interference from the group and to stay at the family home overnight.

As the husband drove me to my hotel we went over instructions given during the previous day of preparation. That is, that no one should talk about the group and/or related topics until we gathered together the next day. This must be done to avoid an argument, which might explode without me there.

The following morning we resumed our discussion. During this day we focused on the definition of a cult much more and in-depth. Our conversation frequently focused on examples of cult-like behavior, dynamics, structure and how this was paralleled by the [T] Institute and its leader Mr. R. Building upon these guidelines we also reviewed the group’s published literature and some e-mail communication between members, which had been obtained by the husband.

We watched a documentary DVD with historical footage about an assortment of well-known cults, which included the commentary of former members.

This concluded the second day.

At the end of our second day the wife seemed curious, asked questions and was neither angry nor argumentative about the intervention.

She agreed to meet again for third day without any difficulty.

On the third day we discussed in-depth the thought reform process of coercive persuasion.

This discussion included going over research material previously cited by Lifton, Singer, Ofshe, Schein and Cialdini, which served as a basis for talking points.

Again, there were frequent comparisons made regarding the similarities of [T]’s internal behavior and practices as parallel examples concerning the techniques being examined.

Towards the end of the third day we watched another documentary DVD, which was specifically focused on psychological and emotional manipulation. This included trance induction and related meditation techniques, hypnosis and the use of indirect directives. As altered states of consciousness are a primary focus of [T] Institute, we discussed the suggestibility and vulnerability of individuals while experiencing such altered states of consciousness.

At the conclusion of the third day the wife appeared intensely interested in, though also deeply disturbed by, the information we had covered. She was much more at ease with her family and particularly her husband.

There was no hesitation regarding an agreement to meet for a fourth day.

On the fourth day we discussed in-depth the history of the [T] Institute and its leader [Mr. R.]. We reviewed corporate documents, disclosure statements, real estate records and finally personal e-mail communications between [Mr. R.] and his followers, which the husband had obtained.

A pattern of exploitation began to emerge.

The organization purportedly had a charitable purpose and supposedly sought to improve the human condition. However, it was apparent that the guru lived a life of ease and luxury at the expense of his followers. This was made evident by the documentation, living arrangements at the group compound in Thailand and also through the persistent and personal demands made by [Mr. R.] through e-mails. All of this hardly reflected an “egoless” or “enlightened” being, but rather a selfish opportunist.

We watched additional DVDs illustrating the behavior of an array of cult leaders.

Repeatedly the family interjected their observations about the group and its influence upon the wife’s life.

Near the conclusion of the fourth day the wife was very quiet and finally began to cry.

She asked her family for their forgiveness concerning her “stupidity.”

At this point I interjected that it was impossible for her to realistically evaluate the group given the deceptive way in which she had been recruited and manipulated. And that her harsh self-judgment seemed misplaced.

What about the group and its leader?

What responsibility did they have regarding the negative consequences of their influence?

Didn’t they deserve at least some of, if not most of the blame?

We later discussed follow-up counseling and the various resources available in California for her continuing recovery.

The conclusion was a very emotional, but happy one, for everyone there.

The husband-and-wife reconciled. She had no further contact with the group and/or group involvement in any way.

The wife subsequently contacted me regarding concerns about the group potentially bothering her and/or her family.

[T] Call of God

A 30-year-old website developer, project manager and married mother with two children, ages six and two, became involved with an online religious group known as the “[T] Call of God.”

The group included about 20 to 30 active members connected entirely through the Internet.

The leader of the group, [S.T.R.], claims that he receives revelation directly from God. These revelations are then transmitted in the form of “letters from God” released through and published by [Mr. R.].

The group communicates almost entirely online using teleconferencing, frequent e-mails and website message boards.

Members are located throughout the United States, Canada and Australia.

[Mr. R.] himself runs the organization from his home in the state of […].

Contributions to the [T] Call of God are made primarily through the Internet.

The young mother living in Canada had been a member for two years before her husband and family contacted me. At this point she had recently told her parents and brother that she would no longer communicate with them due to her beliefs.

Her 10-year marriage was also becoming increasingly strained, though she still lived with her husband.

I was retained by the parents for the intervention, which was also supported by the young woman’s husband.

The preparation day meeting included all the family members together. Just as in the previous case preparation time was used to explain and discuss the parameters of our respective roles and what might be reasonably expected.

The following day the young woman arrived at her parent’s home for a special visit, ostensibly to share her beliefs and explain her commitment.

My presence was as usual a complete surprise.

She also did not expect her brother, sister-in-law and husband to be present.

All phones and Internet access within the family’s home had been disconnected.

After several hours of conversation the young woman became visibly agitated and protested that this was an “attack” upon her beliefs. I assured her that no one present wished to criticize her Christian faith, but rather the behavior of the group and its leader.

She calmed down.

At the end of the first day of discussion, which totaled approximately 8 hours, the young woman agreed to sleep over at her family’s home, turn off her cell phone and give it to her mother. We also asked that she make no effort to communicate with or contact anyone associated with the group. She agreed to these terms at the urging of her family and husband.

We spent an entire day discussing the definition of a cult, historical cults and how many cults are supposedly “bible-based.” Aspects of bible-based cults were then outlined in parallel to the [T] Call of God.

For example, David Koresh and the Waco Davidians was discussed, as Koresh had historically claimed special revelations from God.

Jim Jones had a penchant for twisting scriptures and using them to manipulate his followers. We talked about Jonestown and the so-called “Davidians” that followed Koresh in some detail.

The next day was spent examining thought reform and coercive persuasion techniques, but specifically as they might be used within the context of bible-based cults.

Documentary DVDs about the Waco Davidians and Jonestown were viewed and discussed.

We also discussed how a lack of financial transparency and accountability is typical within such groups. That is, how no one but the leader actually knows where the money ultimately goes.

A private investigator’s report commissioned by the family was then reviewed.

The report included a listing of [Mr. R.]’s real estate holdings, some corporate referenced records and his recently declared income, which was substantial. All of this information directly contradicted what [Mr. R.] had been telling the group and his repeated claims that he was not motivated by money.

Finally, on the last day each member of the family shared his or her specific concerns regarding the group and how it had affected the young woman’s behavior.

Her parents expressed profound sorrow concerning her recent decision to stop communicating with them. They explained that regardless of her beliefs, they would always love her and could not understand why she had decided to cut them off.

Her brother talked about the many months that had gone by without any word from her and how he missed her.

In conclusion, the husband explained how her commitment to the group seemed to supersede any other practical consideration, including both her marriage and the care of their children.

During the final two days the young woman increasingly asked critical questions.

On the third day she began to divulge unknown inside and critical information about the group. She talked about others in the group with strained marriages that had neglected their children. The young woman also disclosed that one extremely devoted member was ultimately forced to declare bankruptcy, which she suspected was due in part to excessive contributions made to the group.

These disclosures offered evidence that the group influence and control was fading.

In the end the young woman’s primary concern was how to warn others not to become involved with the group.

We discussed sharing information through the Ross Institute message board and the possibility of contacting others in the early stages of group involvement.

The young woman totally terminated her involvement with the [T] Call of God.

Falun Gong

A 36-year-old married mother with four young children all under the age of 10 became involved with Falun Gong through a close friend.

Initially, she saw the group as an opportunity to exercise and become physically fit.

However, step-by-step the organization manipulated her mind and progressively influenced her personally held religious beliefs.

The young mother came from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish background. Her entire family was devoutly committed to a well-known Hasidic Jewish sect. Their observance included strict dietary rules, observance of the Sabbath and stringent guidelines concerning dress and appropriate relationships between men and women.

Her husband and family were shocked when they discovered her commitment to Falun Gong, which they correctly viewed as a contradiction of the family’s long-held traditions and cherished religious beliefs.

I arrived at the preparation meeting on a Thursday morning. Our meeting took place at her brother’s home where the family had agreed to meet for the Sabbath, which begins at sunset on Friday and concludes at sunset on Saturday.

Orthodox Jews that observe the Sabbath are prohibited from using any electrical appliances or electronic devices, during the Sabbath. Using any form of transportation is likewise prohibited.  We had agreed that the best time for staging the intervention would be at a private home on the Sabbath due to the stringent rules, which would inherently preclude any outside communication with members of Falun Gong.

The preparation meeting was attended by the young woman’s parents, her husband and brother. The parents had flown in from […] and the intervention took place in […].

Everyone present was deeply concerned that if her involvement with Falun Gong continued, a divorce and child custody battle was inevitable.

On Friday I arrived at the brother’s home just before sunset.

I was introduced by the family as an outside expert and consultant. We all sat down in a comfortable den and began our discussion.

I further outlined my background and the purpose for our meeting.

She plaintively asked her family why this meeting was necessary, considering that Falun Gong was a “harmless” and “benign” group?

Each family member individually explained their concerns.

Her parents said that there was a tradition of Orthodox Jewish religious observance within their family and they could not understand why their daughter had apparently rejected this and abdicated her role of an Orthodox Jewish mother.

Her brother expressed similar dismay concerning her choices. He said that for many years his sister had been an inspiration concerning his own involvement in Orthodox Judaism.

The husband was the most pointed, emphatically and flatly stating that they had a Jewish wedding and had made a mutual commitment “before God” to raise a Jewish family and honor “God’s Commandments.” He concluded that she had broken those vows and ignored her promises.

Repeatedly the wife assured everyone that Falun Gong was not a religious choice but rather a exercise practice, which did not contradict her religious beliefs.

She also claimed that there had always been problems in her marriage and then broke down in tears.

The family contradicted her claim and said that though no marriage was perfect, her marriage appeared to have been reasonably happy, until her deepening involvement with the Falun Gong.


At the conclusion of the first evening we agreed to meet the following day.

There was little need to solicit a commitment to cease communication with the group, due to the rules regulating the Sabbath regarding phones and/or any electronic communication. And everything in the house had been shut down.

The following morning our discussion centered upon the definition of a cult and whether or not Falun Gong fit that description.

We talked about the role of “Master Li,” his supernatural claims and the way in which his personality defined the group.

We also discussed the meditation practices of Falun Gong and the process of trance induction.

Did Falun Gong encourage suggestible altered states of consciousness?

Could some of the group’s exercises be seen as self-hypnosis?

How could any subjective results achieved through Falun Gong based upon a member’s feelings be objectively measured?

Other than anecdotal stories wase there any scientifically measurable results produced by Falun Gong?

How could Li Hongzhi substantiate his supernatural claims?

These points were discussed throughout the day and well into the afternoon.

As sundown approached the young woman pointed out that the supernatural claims made within the context of Judaism could likewise not be proven.

Did the miracles mentioned in the bible really occur?

Did Moses part the Red Sea?

What about Noah’s Ark?

What accounts within the bible were actually proven and historical?

I then asked the young woman if she meant to imply that the supernatural claims made by Falun Gong were to be understood as religious claims based upon faith.

She didn’t readily respond.

I pursued the point and asked specifically if she meant to say that Li Hongzhi’s claims were religious claims. And if they were religious claims, then how could she could she practically hold two religious belief systems simultaneously?

We also discussed the racist statements made by Mr. Li.

Part of her explanation given concerning Li’s racist remarks included a cosmology of many gods assigned to various races. 

I pointed out the problem of holding two belief systems simultaneously, especially when they directly contradicted each other. That is, on one hand Judaism is monotheistic, but Falun Gong is not.

How could she hold two such conflicting belief systems simultaneously?

I also asked her if it was appropriate for Falun Gong to deliberately deceive her in the recruitment process, by withholding and/or obscuring the fact that they are a religious belief system and not simply an exercise practice? Didn’t she deserve to know all the facts before becoming more involved?

As the sun set she seemed to have reached an impasse.

The young woman insisted that somehow her involvement with Falun Gong was possible without any conflict.

She then promised her husband and family that her children would be raised in a “Jewish home.”

I then reiterated that monotheism was the single most important feature of Judaism and therefore the basis for a Jewish home. And how could she reconcile this with the teachings of Master Li?

There are was a kind of meltdown.

At this point the young woman refused to talk further and said that our discussion must be concluded.

Ultimately everyone agreed to honor her wishes and end the intervention, but with the understanding that the couple would participate in professional marriage counseling.

The young woman also agreed to completely terminate her involvement with Falun Gong and/or anyone associated with the group. Subsequently though her actions seemed to indicate that this promise was not fully kept.

The Kabbalah Centre

A Jewish family […] decided after [many] years of committed membership to terminate their involvement with a controversial group known as the “Kabbalah Centre.

This organization is led by Rabbi Philip Berg, his wife Karen and their sons Michael and Yehuda Berg.

The Kabbalah Centre is not officially recognized by the leadership of the organized Jewish community, nor is it generally considered very credible within the larger community of Kabbalistic scholars.

Instead, the Kabbalah Centre has frequently been referred to as a “cult.”

The father and mother had raised their […] children within the group. When they left, their […] youngest teenage children readily left the group with them. However, their [oldest child] refused to leave. She insisted that the parents were wrong to separate from the organization.

I was retained for an intervention focused on exiting the [adult] daughter from the group.

We met numerous times for preparation meetings.

Finally we gathered for the last preparation meeting in […] the day before the intervention was scheduled to begin. Those present were the parents, an aunt and uncle from […] and a former member of the Kabbalah Centre […].

Within our meeting we determined that the daughter would be most sympathetic to her uncle.

Both parents had numerous arguments for more than a year with their daughter concerning her continuing involvement with the group.

But her uncle had never been critical of the Kabbalah Centre.

We specifically discussed the importance of blocking communication with the group and its subsequent influence for the time we spent together, which had proven to be a problem regarding her behavior before.

It was hoped that the daughter would share a room with her aunt at the […] hotel where the intervention was being staged.

Her parents would be in a room on the same floor.

Shortly after the intervention began the following morning the young woman burst into a rage. She was furious with her parents for not warning her in advance about the meeting.  I explained that this was my decision due to concerns about the Kabbalah Centre’s ongoing influence and potential interference.

She found this very difficult to accept and stormed out of the room.

Her uncle followed her into the hall and eventually persuaded her to come back into the room and sit down.

A former member of the Kabbalah Centre […] shared her experiences. She was once a staffer, though her pay was little more than room and board, without any meaningful fixed benefits, such as health insurance.

The former member explained how staffers like her were exploited by the leaders. She also offered an insider’s view of the harsh treatment often endured through the extremely authoritarian leadership style of the Bergs.

We discussed the definition of a cult and how the Kabbalah Centre can be seen to fit the specific criteria.

The discussion that followed, focused on thought reform and coercive persuasion techniques.

At times both parents and the former member would offer their personal recollections about the Kabbalah Centre and specific experiences, which I then copared to coercive techniques of persuasion.

Throughout the day as the discussion continued there were periodic emotional outbursts, and the daughter would once again leave the room in a fit of rage.

Her uncle would quickly follow her out, talk to her at length in the hall, and ultimately they would return to the room together again.

This happened about three times.

Finally, after eight hours of discussion punctuated by these periodic outbursts we concluded the first day.

But the daughter refused to stay with her aunt or anyone else at the hotel.

She eventually agreed to stay at her uncle’s home in […].

We all agreed to begin again the following morning. And the daughter specifically agreed to have no communication of any kind with the Kabbalah Centre during the interim.

However, the next morning she was gone.

Her uncle had left her alone at his home, when he took his two children to school.

Apparently, shortly after he left she contacted the Kabbalah Centre and then ran away.

Subsequently, for several months, the daughter moved out of her family home, refused to meet with parents and lived instead with a member of the Kabbalah Centre.

Today the daughter continues to be a member of the Kabbalah Centre despite her family’s concerns, though communication with her has resumed and greatly improved.


Hopefully, this basic explanation of my intervention/deprogramming approach has been helpful in gaining a better understanding of the process.

Deprogramming in its various forms has essentially endured for more than 30 years within the United States as the single most effective organized approach used to break through cult programming through an intervention process.

As you can see from the case vignettes offered this process is difficult and not always successful.

It is my hope that by working together, comparing approaches, sharing our collective knowledge and relevant information, we can better serve the many individuals and families adversely affected by destructive cults.

End Notes:

[I] “Margaret Singer, a leading brainwashing expert, dies at 82” the New York Times December 7, 2003 by Anahad O’Connor

[II] Intake Questionnaire located at

[III] “Cult Formation” the Harvard Mental Health Letter February 1981 by Robert Jay Lifton

[IV] Ross Institute bio located at

[V] Ross Institute bio located at

[VI] Ross Institute bio located at

[VII] Ross Institute bio located at

[VIII] “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism” by Robert Jay Lifton University of North Carolina press 1961

[IX] “Cults in Our MidstJossey-Bass Publishers 1995

[XI] “Coercive Persuasion and Attitude Change” Encyclopedia of Sociology Volume 1, Macmillan publishing Company, New York

[XII] “InfluenceRobert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. Quill, NY, 1984 Revised 1993

[XIII] “Cults in Our Midst” Chapter 3 located within the Ross Institute archives at

In something of a strange spin about the work against destructive cults and the history of cult deprogramming Carol Giambalvo, a board member of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) formerly known as the American Family Foundation (AFF), will present a program at an upcoming ICSA conference titled “The Anti Cult Cult.

Giambalvo claims, “A very narrow boundary exists between the desire to help and the desire to control. Sometimes organizations and individuals can blur this boundary with good intentions, exhibiting the same totalistic control and ideology that exists on the other side of the line.”

Ms. Giambalvo was also once a regular contributer and board member of the Cult Awareness Network (CAN).

The coming panel discussion will include an explanation of how “dissent” over deprogramming supposedly led to “the demise of CAN.”

60min002.jpgHowever, according to reliable sources like CBS “60 Minutes,” the Washington Post, National Law Journal and American Lawyer, the “demise of CAN” was due to Scientology sponsored lawsuits.

Is Ms. Giambalvo attempting to construct a revisionist history concerning CAN?

Academic Anson Shupe was paid $500.00 per hour by Scientology lawyer Kendrick Moxon to testify against CAN in court.

“Are you saying the anti-cult movement is a cult?” the lawyer and Scientologist once asked his “expert witness” under direct examination referring to CAN. “It has aspects of it,” answered Shupe, “yes.”

Has Carol Giambalvo gone from CAN board member to actively supporting Anson Shupe’s opinions about a so-called “Anti Cult Cult”?

Cynthia Kisser didn’t see Shupe as either objective or credible, the former executive director of CAN called the college professor a “cult apologist.

Giambalvo will be joined in her planned program by a former cult member who will “discuss her experience of a Ted Patrick Deprogramming (kidnapping), showing the destructiveness of this method and the long term damage suffered as a result.”

It appears that the former cult member and Giambalvo will attempt to posit the theory that this pioneer anti-cult deprogrammer may have done more harm than good through his intervention work.

snapcoverscan03.jpgWill Ted Patrick be cast in the role of an “Anti Cult Cult” leader?

Mr. Patrick is described by authors Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman in their ground breaking book “Snapping” as follows:

“A controversial figure dubbed by the cult world Black Lightning, Patrick was the first to point out publicly what the cults were doing to America’s youth. He investigated the ploys by which many converts were ensnared and delved into the methods many cults used to manipulate the mind…His first-hand experiences with cult techniques and their effects led him to develop an antidote he named ‘deprogramming,’ a remarkably simple and-when properly used-nearly foolproof process for helping cult members regain their freedom of thought.”

Patrick explained cult deprogramming to Conway and Siegelman this way.

“The only thing I do is shoot them challenging questions. I hit them with things that they haven’t been programmed to respond to. I know what the cults do and how they do it, so I shoot them the right questions; and they get frustrated when they can’t answer. They think they have the answer, they’ve been given answers to everything. But I keep them off balance and this forces them to begin questioning, to open their minds. When the mind gets to a certain point, they can see through all the lies that they’ve been programmed to believe. They realize that they’ve been duped and they come out of it. Their minds start working again.”

Patrick summarized, “Deprogramming is like taking a car out of the garage that hasn’t been driven for a year…The battery has gone down, and in order to start it up you’ve got to put jumper cables on it. It will go dead again. So you keep the motor running until it builds up its own power…Once we get the mind working, we keep it working long enough so that the person gets in the habit of thinking and making decisions again.”

The cults hated Patrick and feared deprogramming.

Ted Patrick’s success working with families concerned about loved ones caught within cults begged the question, how could anyone be “deprogrammed” if they weren’t “programmed” in the first place?

The cults avoided answering this question by routinely vilifying Patrick and by trying to turn “deprogramming” into a “dirty word.”

Such an attempt to manipulate and redefine words is what thought reform expert Robert Jay Lifton calls “loaded language,” characterized by the thought-terminating cliché.

Giambalvo wants those attending her presentation to make a “clear distinction…between ‘exit counseling’ and ‘deprogramming.'”

She insists that deprogramming should be specifically and exclusively defined as only involuntary intervention, while Ms. Giambalvo believes efforts that require the voluntary cooperation of cultists should be called “exit counseling.”

Has the Giambalvo redefinition of the word “deprogramming” become thought terminating?

In popular culture deprogramming remains the most readily recognized word used by the general public to describe the process of cult intervention, either voluntary or involuntary.

41gqxty1d1l_aa240_.jpgIn fact, clinical psychologist Margaret Singer, the preeminent cult expert of the 20th Century and a board member of AFF/ICSA until her death, did not concur with Giambalvo’s proposed distinctions. Singer instead defined deprogramming simply as “providing members with information about the cult and showing them how their own decision-making power had been taken away from them” (“Cults in Our Midst” 1995).

But by the time Singer had completed her book, Giambalvo and others were looking for a new definition.

It seems rather than denouncing cult propaganda they had embraced it.

However, this rigid would-be orthodoxy is without historical precedent.

Many deprogrammings were done on a voluntary basis, though more dramatic efforts that included physical restraint captured the public’s imagination, as popularized by Hollywood movies such as “Ticket to Heaven,” and “Split Image.”

At one time there were dozens of cult deprogrammers working full-time across the United States. Today that number has dwindled to perhaps a dozen. Many of those formerly referred to as “deprogrammers,” have chosen more politically correct titles such as “Family Intervention Specialist,” “Cult Information Consultant” and “Cult Intervention Specialist.”

ICSA for its part seems intent upon branding the name “Thought Reform Consultant.”

Giambalvo says that some “professionals” have “crossed boundaries” and that this can be seen by a “potential addiction to ‘being right,'” which might “surface in helping organizations.”

Perhaps this is true, but here is a conundrum.

Whose rigidity about “being right” coupled with a penchant for political correctness just might potentially place them within such a category?

Indonesia has been “deprogramming” terrorists successfully, and such efforts have yielded meaningful results, as formerly “brainwashed” fanatics provide helpful inside information about their organizations.

Some “civil libertarians” insist upon labeling this process “torture.”

However, deprogramming typically consists of discussion between the designated “deprogrammer” and the “brainwashed” member of a “cult” or as reported within Indonesia a radical Islamic group linked to terrorist attacks.

Australian Minister Downer considering 'deprogramming' as tool against terrorismIndonesia has used a former member to do its deprogramming of convicted terrorists. The man is also a Moslem cleric and has effectively turned extremists to a more moderate faith. Subsequently, those turned have reportedly provided information on terrorist operations to authorities.

The same deprogramming process has been used in Singapore, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. And the Australian government is currently considering using deprogramming tactics too reports The Age.

“In many parts of the world, in Europe, in the Middle East and certainly in Indonesia, those governments have made an attempt to persuade extremists and terrorists who’ve been held in prison to change their point of view and to understand that it’s not the Islamic way to kill, it’s not the Islamic way to murder. And in some cases that process has been successful. It’s something that we will give thought to,” said Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

The word “deprogramming” was demonized by groups called “cults” in the United Stated beginning in the 1970s as part of an ongoing propaganda campaign to end the practice. Groups called “cults” such as the Unification Church led by Rev. Sun Myung Moon lost many members through such interventions.

Cults despised deprogramming because it worked.

Seemingly in response to the cult propaganda campaign new terms and descriptions were coined to describe essentially the same practice such as “exit-counseling,” “thought reform consultation,” “strategic intervention therapy” and “cult intervention.

Psychologist Margaret Singer, the preeminent cult expert of the 20th Century, defined “deprogramming” as simply “providing members with information about the cult and showing them how their own decision-making power had been taken away from them.”

Noted psychiatrist and author Robert Jay Lifton defined the process often used to compromise “decision-making power” as “thought reform.” His lauded book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism became a seminal classic and the guide used by deprogrammers to define and determine “cult brainwashing” techniques.

The first cult deprogrammer was Ted Patrick, often called “Black Lightening” by the cults he opposed.

Some of those deprogrammed during the 1970s and later subsequently became deprogrammers themselves. 

Osama bin 'brainwasher'?Now the families of terrorists, such as the followers Osama bin Laden, say their loved ones are also the victims of “brainwashing” and thus became terrorist pawns. An article recounting such stories and reviewing the parallels that can be seen between terrorist training and thought reform has been archived for some time at Cult

It is interesting to observe that Islamic countries are now largely leading the way in an effort to effectively adapt deprogramming as a response to terrorist indoctrination. 

Waleed Kadous, spokesman for the Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network, does not oppose deprogramming if it’s voluntary.

“It’s important to highlight that already many respected scholars in the Muslim community are informally deconstructing terrorism and condemning terrorism to their congregations” reported Al Jazeera.

Understanding the process of thought reform and how to unravel its effects is an important step in the fight against global terrorism. Rather than simply blaming culture, religion or politics for the increase of terrorist attacks this response recognizes the reality that almost every nation or region around the world has been affected by “cult brainwashing” and related tragedies.

As deprogrammers have proven in the past and as they are proving within Islamic nations like Indonesia today, those programmed by radical and extremist groups can be helped and that destructive mindset unraveled

Patrick L. Ryan, “thought reform consultant” (TRC), a job more commonly called “cult deprogrammer,” recently lost a court appeal filed in Philadelphia. Ryan attempted to reverse a two thousand-dollar judgement awarded against him regarding an unearned deposit the TRC would not return to a potential client.

ICSA President Alan Scheflin won't comment about associate's legal woesRyan is closely associated with the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) previously known as the American Family Foundation (AFF).

CultNews reported details of Ryan’s first trial.

Another CultNews article reported the interest expressed by “Judge Judy” to televise that proceeding, but the plaintiffs passed on her offer.

On September 17th an appeals panel of the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas ruled, “We find in favor of the plaintiffs and against the defendant [Patrick L. Ryan] in the amount of $2,447.00.”

Interestingly, the arbitration panel composed of three attorneys, increased the amount of the judgment against the TRC by about $400.00.

Nevertheless Ryan has decided to try again and the TRC filed yet another appeal on October 17th further forestalling payment of the money he owes.

Early last week just before Thanksgiving a courthouse conference was scheduled in downtown Philadelphia concerning Ryan’s latest motion.

Diehard legal maneuvering like this is typical of Scientology lawyers engaged in seemingly endless legal wrangling with a plaintiff they don’t want to pay.

But Mr. Ryan is a TRC, which is supposedly someone devoted to helping the victims of alleged “cults,” not working for one.

Ryan was represented by Robert A. Rosin, Esquire an attorney in the Philadelphia area.

The plaintiffs had no lawyer and represented themselves pro se; nevertheless they scored their second victory.

Patrick Ryan is the Webmaster for the ICSA, a member of its Cultic Studies Review Editorial Board and he also helps to facilitate the organization’s conferences.

Ryan, TRC Joseph F. Kelly and TRC/ICSA Bord of Directors member Carol Giambalvo essentially make up what is considered the TRC professional association. Their bios and papers appear on the ICSA Web site, which promotes them and is largely either directly and/or indirectly responsible for many of their client referrals.

This same trio was also largely responsible for putting together the TRC “Ethical Standards,” which were published by the ICSA and sold through its Web site.

But it seems Ryan violated one of those standards that states; “a subscribing consultant recognizes the importance of clear understandings on financial matters with clients. Arrangements for payments are settled at the beginning of the consultation relationship. Each consultant will provide a written and dated schedule of fees to potential clients.”

However, according to the facts as established in court and the rulings of one judge and subsequently an appellate panel Ryan had no “clear understandings on financial matters with [his] client.”

CultNews repeatedly attempted to contact ICSA President Alan Scheflin for comment concerning Mr. Ryan, but he never responded. Scheflin likewise did not respond to previous requests for comment before each of the other two reports were run about Ryan’s legal problems, despite the TRC’s close ties to ICSA and its programs.

It should also be noted that the TRC ethical standards Carol Giambalvo co-authored with Ryan state, “when information is possessed that raises doubt as to the ethical behavior of a professional colleague…the member should take action to attempt to rectify such a condition.”

However, TRC member Carol Giambalvo gave no response when asked by CultNews what “action” she has taken or plans to take in an “attempt to rectify” Ryan’s behavior.

Ms. Giambalvo has personally and professionally recommended Ryan, including an endorsement to the would-be client that now holds a judgment against him.

However, Ryan’s fellow TRC member has failed to resolve this professional dilemma.

The only TRC that has taken action specifically related to Patrick Ryan’s legal problems is Joseph Kelly.

Kelly offered testimony in court on his domestic partner/professional associate Ryan’s behalf in an attempt to keep the unearned deposit.

When asked to support his professional standing at the September appeal hearing Patrick Ryan presented certificates to the court issued to him by the ICSA.

ICSA states at its Web site that it is “known for its professionalism and capacity to respond effectively to families.”

But how is Ryan’s behavior coupled with the deafening silence of both ICSA President Alan Scheflin and its board member Ms. Giambalvo a reflection of that claim?

Alan Scheflin certainly cannot say he doesn’t understand the weight and significance of two court rulings against Ryan. After all Scheflin is a lawyer with a LL.M. from Harvard Law School and he teaches law at Santa Clara University.

CultNews also contacted Steve K. D. Eichel, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Pennsylvania who has been associated with both ICSA and Patrick Ryan for some time.

Ryan cited Eichel during his testimony in court as a mental health professional that would work with him.

Dr. Eichel responded through a prepared written statement.

The psychologist said that he is “greatly pained by what has happened” and has “deep empathy and respect for the travails and tribulations of the client” that sued Ryan.

He also says that “most professional associations have mandated consequences when a member of that association breaches its ethics code” and that “an ethics code without some means of enforcement…is of educational value and little more.” Eichel added, that a “meaningful venue for enforcing an ethics code” is required or a “‘code of ethics’ is simply a set of aspirations that has no bearing on actual behavior.”

No “consequences” appear likely for Patrick Ryan due to his “breaches” through either ICSA or the TRC professional association. The only meaningful “venue” for any of Ryan’s injured or potential clients with grievances appears to be before a judge in court.

Dr. Eichel also observed that perhaps the “ethical standards put together by Ryan and Giambalvo and published by the ICSA” may be little more than “a political platform.”

This is an interesting point.

The TRC “ethical standards” can be seen as politics or advertising. And the TRC professional association essentially uses ICSA as its “platform” for business purposes.

Eichel concludes that Ryan’s current situation may “clearly demonstrate the need for some form of accountability.”

But based upon the history of this situation don’t expect any “accountability” at ICSA, the TRC group or from Patrick L. Ryan outside of a courtroom.

Update 2006: After losing a second time in court Ryan filed yet another appeal again. But this time his former clients decided that they were done with the seemingly endless and time consuming litigation process, so they did not appear in court. The case was then dismissed  due to the plaintiff’s “failure to appear”  (May 2006). Despite the fact that Ryan had lost twice in court, he managed to abuse the appeals process to quite literally wear his victims out, and in this way avoided paying the judgment recorded against him.

Nothing was every done to enforce the TRC ethical standards. And there was nothing done by ICSA concerning Ryan’s conduct, despite repeated court rulings against him and pleas from his former clients.

For the first time a judgment has been awarded to the paying client of a cult intervention professional.

A judgment in the amount of $2,000.00 plus court costs was awarded against Patrick L. Ryan, a Philadelphia “Thought Reform Consultant” closely associated with the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), formerly known as the American Family Foundation.

The title “thought reform consultant” is used to describe professionals once called “exit counselors,” a term that historically replaced the most common title given to cult intervention specialists, which is “cult deprogrammer.”

CultNews previously reported that a producer from “Judge Judy” inquired about featuring the then pending litigation on the popular show, but the plaintiff was not interested in making a private matter public, though eventually she did appear within the confines of a courtroom in downtown Philadelphia.

The proceeding that finally took place in February was originally scheduled for December, but was postponed because Ryan was initially a “no show.”

The court ruled specifically regarding the matter of Mr. Ryan refunding a $2,250.00 deposit, which was paid to the plaintiff for work she said was never done.

According to the summary submitted to the court “each time the discussion of cost for the counseling was brought up [Ryan]…couldn’t even give…a clear idea of how long it would take or how much it would cost.” He eventually told his former client that the bill for his services might run “upwards of $10,000.00.”

At this point she decided to terminate their working relationship.

“I felt he just wanted to drag things out so that he could squeeze more and more out of us,” she said.

But getting her deposit back from the thought reform consultant proved to be difficult.

“I asked him if he would send the money back and he said ‘yes,'” she told the court.

However, Ryan never did send her money back and he allegedly “changed his story” every time the plaintiff called.

When his day in court finally came in February Patrick Ryan did not appear personally though counsel represented him. The plaintiff appeared pro se on her own behalf.

Interestingly, despite this seeming imbalance at court the plaintiff prevailed. It seems the judge didn’t believe Ryan’s story and ordered him to pay back all but $250.00 of the deposit plus court costs.

But Mr. Ryan still has not paid back his former client and instead filed an appeal of the judge’s decision late last month.

CultNews contacted Patrick Ryan for comment, but has received no response.

And it seems Mr. Ryan has no meaningful accountability through his professional affiliations.

Ryan belongs to a group of thought reform consultants, which essentially operates under the auspices of the ICSA. Each member of the group supposedly subscribes to “Ethical Standards,” which are sold at the ICSA Web site and posted at the Web page of fellow Thought Reform Consultant Carol Giambalvo.

As CultNews previously reported Ms. Giambalvo recommended Patrick Ryan to the client that later sued him, but then said it was “none of [her] business” when problems arose.

Patrick Ryan apparently violated the very ethical standards he helped to write, which state that “a subscribing consultant recognizes the importance of clear understandings on financial matters with clients. Arrangements for payments are settled at the beginning of the consultation relationship. Each consultant will provide a written and dated schedule of fees to potential clients.”

However, one reason cited by the judge for the subsequent decision against Mr. Ryan was that the thought reform consultant had no “written and dated schedule of fees” nor any formal written agreement whatsoever. And per the complaint by the plaintiff there were no “clear understandings on financial matters.”

After the judgement was ordered against Patrick Ryan CultNews once again contacted Ms. Giambalvo and also Michael D. Langone the Executive Director of the ICSA and that organization’s President Alan W. Scheflin, a Professor of Law at Santa Clara University in California.

They were asked to comment regarding the court’s decision and if they foresaw any consequences through a disciplinary action to be meted out concerning the matter.

There was no response.

But according to the standards penned by Patrick Ryan and his colleague Ms. Giambalvo “when information is possessed that raises doubt as to the ethical behavior of professional colleagues…the member should take action to attempt to rectify such a condition.”

This provision would seem to directly contradict Ms. Giambalvo’s statement that Mr. Ryan’s behavior is somehow “none of [her] business.”

And doesn’t a court judgement against Ryan in favor of his former client raise “doubts as to [his] ethical behavior”?

Shouldn’t Ms. Giambalvo “attempt to rectify” this by getting Mr. Ryan to pay back the money he owes his former client as ordered by the court?

It must be noted that according to the published guidelines a subscribing consultant “voluntarily agrees to abide by a set of ethical standards.”

And it seems that enforcement is likewise not only voluntary, but also apparently arbitrary.

This raises the troubling question of how Ms. Giambalvo and Mr. Ryan, both connected professionally and also organizationally through the ICSA, can be expected to essentially police themselves and/or each other?

Patrick Ryan is the ICSA Webmaster, a member of its Cultic Studies Review Editorial Board and a regular workshop and panel presenter. He also helps to organize and facilitate the organization’s conferences.

Carol Giambalvo is an ICSA board member, director of its recovery programs and often serves as a referral source through that organization for other thought reform consultants.

The Ethical Standards authored by Mr. Ryan, Ms. Giambalvo and others cautions against “dual relationships” with clients, but perhaps this pair should consider their dual relationships through the ICSA?

Is there a conflict of interest here?

Not since the days of the first cult deprogrammer Ted Patrick during the 1970s has any cult intervention professional been sued by a his or her paying client, let alone lost in such an action, resulting in a recorded judgment.

Patrick L. Ryan now has the dubious distinction of being the first.

Note: The judgment against Patrick L. Ryan was recorded at the Philadelphia Municipal Court First Judicial District of Pennsylvania (Claim number SC-04-09-23-6469)

Update: Ryan appealed the judgment. See “‘Cult deprogrammer’ Patrick L. Ryan loses in court again

A self-described “thought reform consultant” named Patrick Ryan is now being sued by a former client.

The lawsuit currently filed in Philadelphia Municipal Court First Judicial District of Pennsylvania (Claim number SC-04-09-23-6469) states that Mr. Ryan was “verbally contracted” in June “to provide counseling services,” commonly called “cult deprogramming.”

On June 23rd he received $2,250.00 on deposit for “three days worth of counseling”

Shortly after making the deposit the plaintiff “cancelled” due to the “uncomfortable technique that [Patrick Ryan] was explaining.”

The thought reform consultant later allegedly agreed to refund the deposit, but it was never returned.

Now Mr. Ryan’s former client is seeking that refund through legal action.

Patrick Ryan lives in Philadelphia and is the webmaster for the American Family Foundation (now known as the International Cultic Studies Association), a nonprofit cult research and education organization.

Mr. Ryan often does presentations at the organization’s conferences and is scheduled for an upcoming panel discussion about cult “exit counseling” this month.

According to his bio Patrick Ryan is “a co-author of ‘Ethical Standards for Thought Reform Consultants.'”

Another co-author and fellow thought reform consultant Carol Giambalvo strongly recommended Patrick Ryan to the person now suing him.

Ms. Giambalvo is also a board member of the American Family Foundation and an ex-cult member herself who often leads recovery workshops.

The ethical standards Ms. Giambalvo and Mr. Ryan co-authored specifically emphasize “the importance of clear understandings on financial matters with clients…at the beginning of the consultation relationship.”

But according to the lawsuit filed against Mr. Ryan “he would not give an actual amount of the time and money that [his] counseling would cost.”

Patick Ryan was contacted for comment by CultNews, but he did not respond.

When asked by CultNews about the pending litigation Ms. Giambalvo said, “It’s none of my business.”

Interestingly, a producer for the popular TV program “Judge Judy” wants to make it the judge’s business.

The producer for the nationally syndicated show starring retired Judge Judith Sheindlin wrote the plaintiff late last month, “Please call me at your earliest convenience if you are interested in the possibility of arbitrating your case on ‘Judge Judy.’ I look forward to hearing from you.”

Meanwhile Mr. Ryan’s former client has heard nothing from him lately about any deposit refund.

Note: The case is currently scheduled to go to court December 3, 2004 at 1:15 PM. Anyone interested can attend the proceeding at 34 South 11th Street Courtroom 4F in downtown Philadelphia.

Update: Patrick Ryan lost in court repeatedly. First he lost at trial and later on appeal.

See “‘Cult deprogrammer’ loses court battle–judgment awarded to former client.

See  “‘Cult deprogrammer’ Patrick L. Ryan loses in court again.