CBS News Affiliate Channel 2 in Chicago did an excellent two-part story last month about the power of hypnosis and controversial therapies.

Within this compelling piece reported by Pam Zekman viewers actually can observe hypnotherapy sessions and see how suggestible people are, while in a hypnotic trance.

Under the influence of a self-proclaimed “psychologist” participants recall “past lives.”

It is easy to see through this televised two-part series how some bizarre claims of “ritual abuse” and/or “alien UFO abductions” can be created through implanted or false memories.

A virtual subculture exists in America today composed of “satanic ritual abuse” and “alien abduction” “survivors,” many basing their claims upon “recovered” memories brought forth through such controversial modes of therapy.

Richard Ofshe social psychologist and professor at the University of California at Berkeley commented about the latest sensational claims made by Scott Peterson’s defense team.

Ofshe won a Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for his work exposing a drug rehab turned cult called Synanon.

But the noted scholar pronounced the theory that Laci Peterson was slain by a satanic cult, dead on arrival.

He said, “I think you’d be better off suggesting Saddam Hussein really did it,” reports ABC News.

This does seem like a more plausible theory.

Ofshe, author of Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria, stated that the idea of “organized satanic cults are a complete myth.”

The most readily recognized expression of Satanism within the United States was the Church of Satan, founded by Anton LeVey.

LeVey was a provocateur and religious entrepreneur who seemed to thrive on controversy, but his church was essentially benign.

The Church of Satan had no history of murder and human sacrifice. Instead, it was for many of its adherents often a means of expressing disdain for the established norms of organized religion in America.

Stories about roving Satanists searching for blood to be spilled on their altars are now relegated to the category of urban myth.

Law enforcement authorities in California apparently know this. And they are dragging the bay rather than seriously searching for fictional cult assassins.

Harvard Professor of Psychology Richard J. McNally recently presented definitive research, which demonstrated that emotional trauma, can come from imagined experiences, such as UFO abductions.

McNally seems to think such claims are actually only “false memories” produced largely through “the power of emotional belief.”

But apparently another academic at Harvard thinks otherwise.

John E. Mack, a professor at Harvard Medical School runs “The Center for Psychology and Social Change” and his spokesperson disputed McNally’s results, reported the Harvard Crimson.

Instead Mack’s man announced that “a spiritual reality…exists apart from the material and the non-material.” He added, “McNally assumes that the alien encounters are just beliefs…but that’s not clear-cut.”

Huh?

Of course Mack’s center cited no objective evidence to substantiate its statements.

In 1995 Mack was warned about his questionable research. The professor was told it was “affecting the academic standards of the Medical School.” Harvard’s affiliation with the Mack center was subsequently withdrawn.

The editor of the New England Journal of Medicine said John Mack’s approach to research is rather to “only gone through the motions.” He quipped, “If I were dean, I might have said to him, ‘John, for God’s sake, take a look at what you’re doing, you’re making a fool of yourself.’”

So it seems that the ranks of “true believers,” who accept without meaningful proof such strange imaginings as UFO abductions, are not only naïve, uneducated, unsophisticated folks or X-Files fans.

At least one believer, who apparently thinks the “truth is out there,” is a tenured faculty member of Harvard Medical School.

In Martensville, Saskatchewan Canada claims of “Satanic cult” activity turned out to be nothing, reports CBC’s Fifth Estate.

Incredibly, a child’s “diaper rash” led to suspicions of “ritual abuse.” And after one constable asked children leading and manipulative questions, a bizarre “cult” conspiracy eventually emerged about a strange “devil church.”

Eventually that conspiracy would include police officers. And five Canadian cops were actually arrested.

Welcome to a reenactment of the Salem Witch Trials in Canada.

All the cases against the supposed “Satanists” “collapsed” when it was proven conclusively no physical evidence existed to support the fantastic stories of the alleged “devil church.”

Officials involved in the arrests don’t appear anxious to talk now, while some have moved on to other employment.

One falsely accused officer received more than a million Canadian dollars in a settlement. Others are still suing for malicious prosecution, but are waiting for their day in court.

Like many other cases of supposed “Satanism” this mess in Martensville illustrates the often-fanaticized existence of “Satanic cults.”

In fact, no evidence has ever supported the existence of an alleged vast underground network of Satanists, which once received sensational coverage through American talk shows and news stories.

What about the “ritual abuse” claimed by supposed “survivors”? This appears now to be nothing more than strange imaginings, most often brought about through questionable therapies that frequently included hypnosis.

Many lawsuits won against unethical therapists have helped the public better understand the nature of such false memories.

The real victims of “Satanism” have often been not only those falsely accused, such as the policemen in Saskatchewan, but also children terrorized through manipulative and coercive interrogations masquerading as criminal investigations.

Elizabeth Loftus is one of the most respected, but despised psychologists in America, reports the Orange County Journal.

Loftus’ groundbreaking work established that memory is often much less precise and reliable than we would like to believe. And that it can often be shaped, influenced and manipulated relatively easily.

What seems to anger some of her critics most, is that Elizabeth Loftus has repeatedly exposed so-called “repressed” or “recovered” memories, which are frequently the product of controversial therapy techniques.

This category of memory has largely come to be known as “false memories.”

In the late 80s there was something of a “witch hunt” concerning “Satanic ritual abuse,” that was later proven to be without any meaningful objective and factual foundation.

Much of the “evidence” cited to support claims of “Satanic ritual abuse” came from “survivors” with “repressed memories” that had supposedly been “recovered” through therapy.

The media, some professionals and experts were at times largely taken in by such sensational claims.

However, Elizabeth Loftus disputed these anecdotal stories on the scientific basis that memory really doesn’t work that way. That it cannot be “repressed” and then “recovered” as many therapists insisted. This earned her the contempt of “true believers,” active opposition and ultimately personal attacks.

However, Loftus survived and won the “memory wars,” though her opponents often appear to be sore losers. And though the courts have essentially turned the tide regarding such controversial therapies, many people who were falsely accused suffered needlessly.

A recent statement by the American Psychological Association acknowledged this saying, “Psychiatry still needs to help the main victims of RMT[Recovered Memory Therapy]: those falsely accused of heinous crimes, which never happened.”

John Popowich, a Canadian police officer, was paid $1.3 million dollars in an out of court settlement last month, according the Canadian Globe and Mail. The settlement marked the conclusion of a malicious prosecution lawsuit he filed against Canadian authorities in 1994. Popowich was falsely charged as a satanic cult criminal. He also received an official apology from the government. However, he and his family suffered needlessly for years until his name was finally cleared.

All the evidence, which supported his alleged crimes was proven baseless. Popowich was arrested solely based upon statements made by children through a discredited interview process. Those statements were later dismissed as false.

This is a sad example of the Satanism hysteria, which hit America in the late 80s and 90s. That “Satanic panic” was often fueled by sensational and bizarre stories about secret Satanic cults, “ritual abuse,” human sacrifice, “breeders” who produced infants for slaughter and other fantastic claims.

Many families suffered and reputations were ruined through needless witch-hunts. Ultimately, objective research and official reports proved these claims were most often based upon false memories, fantasies and/or delusional thinking. No network of violent and destructive Satanic cults and/or web of related conspiracies has ever been proven to exist.

Sadly, there is still a subculture of so-called “survivors” in America that persist with such claims and who have their own network of support groups. And like other conspiracy theorists, no amount of proof seems sufficient to dissuade them.

Stephanie Salter of the San Francisco Chronicle recently tangentially raised some meaningful questions about some sexual abuse allegations, which are based upon supposedly “recovered memories.” That is, memories claimed as “repressed,” which are then supposedly recovered through a controversial therapeutic process that may include hypnosis.

This issue arose through the appointment of a renowned psychiatrist, researcher and teacher, Dr. Paul McHugh, to a 12-member Catholic board that will oversee the church’s response to sexual abuse by priests.

McHugh has historically opposed and at times exposed what has become known as “false memories.” Now this history has caused him to be suspect by some Catholic victims groups. However, McHugh’s position has repeatedly been supported through numerous court cases. Likewise, many of the claims of supposed “Satanic ritual abuse” have been proven groundless through official reports and research.

It is important that despite the moral storm, which deservedly has now engulfed the Roman Catholic Church regarding clergy abuse, balance also be brought to the table through research and science, when it is necessary and indicated. Let’s not turn this crisis into a modern-day witch-hunt and demonize anyone who raises questions.

Simply put, some claims of sexual abuse against priests may be false. This was certainly the case regarding the now deceased Cardinal Bernadin of Chicago, who was falsely accused of sexual misconduct. His accuser later recanted those accusations and specifically cited the process of therapy, which formed the basis for his claims.

McHugh is clearly not an apologist for the Catholic Church. He describes its historical cover-up of sexual abuse as both a “betrayal,” and a “terrible sin.” And he has concluded that the church’s own conduct is responsible for the current “deep crisis of trust.”