Joyce Brothers, Ph.D. has been a regular on television and within newspapers for many years. She graduated from Cornell in 1947 and received her doctorate in psychology in 1955. “Baby boomers” have literally grown up with her advice
Still syndicated as a columnist Brothers dispenses advice on an array of subjects.
This week she has tackled “cults,” “brainwashing” and “mind control” in two of her columns.
Her first piece on Monday assured the concerned grandmother of a Marine that “cult brainwashing” is not the same as “torture and brainwashing” used on prisoners of war (POWs). Brothers’ comments were featured within the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
However, her commentary is actually somewhat misleading.
Psychiatrist, author and researcher Robert Jay Lifton revealed in his seminal book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, that civilians incarcerated by North Korean Communists during the Korean Conflict, subjected to “thought reform,” often called “brainwashing,” were temporarily transformed without the use of “torture.”
Likewise, imminent clinical psychologist and author Margaret Singer discovered the same, through her examination and research regarding military prisoners, while working for Walter Reed Hospital.
In other words, what Lifton and Singer found, is that there is no significant difference between what was done to POWs and the techniques employed by destructive “cults” through their thought reform programs.
Today Brothers lays out for readers the basics regarding “mind control,” within the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
The good doctor posits a couple of rather controversial points worth mentioning.
She said, “If the captors happen to be of the same religion as their captives…their task of mind control might be somewhat easier.”
Actually, this is a bit too simplistic.
For example, “cults” composed largely of former Roman Catholics, are actually most often schismatic groups that may have begun within a mainstream church and then were drawn away by a charismatic leader and later excommunicated, such as Christ Covenant Community.
Another example would be polygamist groups with many former mainline Mormons as members, such as “The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days” (“TLC”), which simply recruited within a state that, is overwhelmingly made up of Mormons.
Brothers also says, “The best targets for brainwashing are…upper and middle economic classes.”
But this can be seen as a direct result of cult recruitment efforts often focused at college and university campuses, where “upper and middles class” students are ubiquitous.
Both of these observations by Brothers can be seen as a kind of “victim bashing.”
That is, if the cult victim were not “religious” or “middle class” they would not be as vulnerable.
However, when psychiatrist John Clark of Harvard researched the issue of some demographic group’s special vulnerability to cult influence, he found no evidence to support such a theory.
Instead, Clark discovered this vulnerability to be widespread and that no special class or group was immune or predisposed to be taken in by cults.
Of course there are times when everyone is more vulnerable to suggestion, such as college students away from home and family for the first time in a new environment, people that are depressed and/or under extreme stress. And there is always the obvious vulnerability of a subject during a hypnotic trance, which might also include certain forms of meditation.
It seems there are no easy answers when attempting to understand whom destructive cults and leaders victimize.
Perhaps the only meaningful immunity that can be achieved is through specific education and increased awareness about destructive “cults,” their dynamics and the techniques they may employ to recruit, indoctrinate and retain members.