By Brian Birmingham

I am a former member of an abusive authoritarian group, or “cult.”

As a teenager I was placed, by my parents, in a “troubled teens” program,” which is now defunct. The program was not religious, but it did use behavioral modification techniques and employed coercive persuasion to gain undue influence over its participants. The stated objective was to mold us into adults that would stay sober and adhere to the program’s principles.

In my opinion this was a generally toxic and harmful program. It took me almost fifteen years to begin to recognize the harm that occurred there. This program included confrontational and humiliating pseudo-therapies. Instead of helping people the program hurt me and the other teens subjected to it.

As an adult in my 30s I read Steve Hassan’s book “Combatting Cult Mind Control.” At that time, I was involved in yet another authoritarian organization called a “cult” in Dallas, Texas. After leaving this group, known as the Trinity Foundation, in August of 2006, someone recommended Steve Hassan’s book to me.

This is when I learned about what Steve Hassan calls the BITE model of mind control.

Reading the book was helpful in processing what had happened to me. Subsequently, I experienced a period of intense self-examination and went through a recovery program at a place called Meadow Haven, in Lakeville, Massachusetts. While at Meadow Haven I unraveled the effects of the program for troubled teens as well as my other cultic experience. I was also diagnosed as being within the autism spectrum. I was finally diagnosed definitively with Asperger’s syndrome. Learning this helped me to better understand my life and introverted nature.

The combination of undiagnosed autism and the trauma of going through an abusive authoritarian group as a teen profoundly affected my life and made me vulnerable.

Steve Hassan

In July of 2010 I was introduced to Steve Hassan by a mutual friend at a conference about cults. At the time I lived in the Boston area not far from him. Steve gave me his business card and told me to contact him when I got back to Boston. I did and he offered me a job at Freedom of Mind (FOM). I became his research assistant, performing various tasks for FOM for almost three years. I quit in 2013, which ended my association with Steve Hassan.

Today, I see and understand Steve in a whole new light and want to share those insights. I feel that he often exploits fragile former cult members for his own personal benefit.

In the early stages of my recovery Steve’s BITE model introduced me to psychological concepts which I’d never known about before. The ideas in his first book “Combating Cult Mind Control” helped me realize, that contrary to what I’d believed about myself for so long, it was not so much a matter of what was wrong with me, but rather what was done to me that was wrong.

There are different types of cults. They are not all religious in nature.

Steve Hassan, through his work, taught me these things.

But I now know that Steve did not originate the ideas he wrote about. Instead, his BITE model is derivative and the relabeled ideas of others. Steve simply rebranded those ideas and he presents them essentially as his own without meaningful detailed attribution. This seems to me to be dishonest and deliberately misleading.

The BITE model is actually a composite of the work and original research of psychologist Margaret Singer, communication experts Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, and psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton.

Let me spell this out specifically.

B,” for behavior control, is based upon the work of Lifton and Singer, accomplished decades before Steve’s first book was published.

I,” for information control, is predicated upon what Conway and Siegelman first identified as “information disease” within their book “Snapping” published in 1978.

T,” for the control of thinking, is derived from Lifton’s book “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism” published in 1961.

E,” for emotional control, also is based upon the previous work of Conway and Siegelman in their book “Holy Terror” published in 1982.

Steve Hassan did not identify or originate these specific principles of understanding and identifying how authoritarian groups and leaders dominate and control people. He merely studied them, collected and copied them and then rebranded them for himself. Steve presents the BITE model as his own, but it is not his original thought, even though he attempts to pass it off as such to the public.

Steve is very good at marketing and sales and he’s managed to make a lot of money from his books, cult interventions and consulting work. He is certainly a wealthy man. But the BITE model, which he promotes as the foundation for his work was never really his own original work. Steve just cobbled it together as a marketing ploy based upon the work of others. And to claim otherwise is academically dishonest and inherently wrong.

The BITE model in my opinion is also deeply flawed, at least in the way Steve loosely applies it. For anyone with an agenda it is fairly easy to use it to indict almost any group or person you don’t like.

For example, someone who doesn’t like Christians could use the BITE model to indict Jesus by selectively going through the New Testament to prove that Jesus was a “cult leader.” Or use the BITE model to do the same thing with the words of Paul.

Moreover, a person with a political or social bias can use the BITE model to frame a politician as a “cult leader” or call a political party a “cult.”

And someone manipulating this same BITE model can then claim that all those who disagree with him are somehow the “victims” of “mind control.”

This can also be seen as an effective marketing scheme to sell your services to “deprogram” all those perceived “victims.”

In my opinion this turns “Freedom of Mind” fairly upside down into a state of mind based upon a selective worldview and specific ideas that conform to those of what Steve Hassan thinks is acceptable.

Steve Hassan in his book “The Cult of Trump” contends that Donald Trump supporters don’t REALLY like Donald Trump, but are somehow instead the victims of “thought reform techniques” employed by the former president. And anyone that isn’t being so manipulated must be a bad person with racist or anti-Semitic sentiments. Or perhaps they may be psychologically or intellectually impaired.

It is important to recognize that cult experts don’t universally endorse Steve’s notions about Donald Trump and his supporters. Robert Jay Lifton noted, “Trump is not totalistic like [Shoko Asahara] the leader of [the Japanese cult] Aum Shinrikyo.” Michael Langone, Executive Director of the International Cultic Studies Association stated, “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.”

Steve seems to think it’s his job to straighten everyone out so that they truly have genuine “freedom of mind” (pages 7, and 216 “The Cult of Trump”).

But here is the problem. What really is “freedom of mind” according to Steve Hassan?

It seems to me that when someone has such freedom Steve surmises that they will then pretty much see and interact with the world just like he does.

In his book Steve implies that authentically liberated minds will see the world just like him.

Is Steve trying to clone himself and become some sort of guru determining what is the right and wrong way to think and feel?

Isn’t that the typical behavior of a “cult leader”?

On page 231 of his book Steve suggests that we might need a new set of commandments in addition to the original Ten Commandments.

Steve writes, “People consensually abide by rules for the common good. That is also true of our social behavior–the Ten Commandments were established thousands of years ago as a mechanism for helping people get along in groups. They were also established as a form of social control, with their focus on worshiping ‘the one true God’. What we may need now are commandments that guide our ethical behavior as citizens, regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, or sexual or religious preference.”

Who will write these new commandments?

Will Steve be our new Moses?

Will Steve’s new commandments replace or supplement the existing ones?

Don’t we have enough commandments already?

​Steve apparently wants something new that reflects his own worldview. All of this seems somewhat reminiscent of what Robert Jay Lifton calls a “Sacred Science.”

Lifton writes, “The totalist milieu maintains an aura of sacredness around its basic dogma, holding it out as an ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence. This sacredness is evident in the prohibition (whether or not explicit) against the questioning of basic assumptions, and in the reverence which is demanded for the originators of the Word, the present bearers of the Word, and the Word itself. While thus transcending ordinary concerns of logic, however, the milieu at the same time makes an exaggerated claim of airtight logic, of absolute ‘scientific’ precision. Thus, the ultimate moral vision becomes an ultimate science; and the man who dares to criticize it, or to harbor even unspoken alternative ideas, becomes not only immoral and irreverent, but also ‘unscientific.’ In this way, the philosopher kings of modern ideological totalism reinforce their authority by claiming to share in the rich and respected heritage of natural science.”

For most of 2005, I was in Baghdad serving as a medic in Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a medic, from time to time I was called upon to participate in patrols outside of our base perimeter. One day while patrolling, we had dismounted from our vehicles and were walking through a neighborhood. At one point, we stopped to take a rest. There was a group of young Iraqi boys playing soccer in a vacant lot across the street. The soccer ball was kicked into our midst. A little kid about ten or twelve years old asked our permission to retrieve the ball. We said yes, and then when he got the ball, I asked him if the people in his neighborhood liked the Americans. He said “No”. I asked, “Why not?” He said, “Because you’re all Jews” in a very matter-of-fact way, and ran off. All this child knew about America and the people who live there was what he learned from Saddam Hussein’s propaganda, and the anti-American, anti-Semitic culture in which he was raised. In a way, the boy lived in a type of bubble, from which he derived a distorted view of America and Americans.

Steve Hassan comes across as someone living in a bubble of his own. Just like the Iraqi kid I met in Baghdad, with his distorted view of America and Americans. Steve has his own ideological echo chamber that he inhabits and others that entertain alternative ideas and different views are summarily dismissed or labeled negatively.

“The Cult of Trump”​ also appears to dismiss or disregard that alternative ideas have a right to exist. This can be seen as a reflection of what Lifton calls the “dispensing of existence.”

Lifton writes, “Are not men presumptuous to appoint themselves the dispensers of human existence? Surely this is a flagrant expression of what the Greeks called hubris, of arrogant man making himself God. Yet one underlying assumption makes this arrogance mandatory: the conviction that there is just one path to true existence, just one valid mode of being, and that all others are perforce invalid and false. Totalists thus feel themselves compelled to destroy all possibilities of false existence as a means of furthering the great plan of true existence to which they are committed.”

Steve’s book raises some larger questions that need to be asked by its readers, which are applicable to everyone.

Is there such a thing as objective truth or must everything be based upon the bias of the believer?

Don’t we all need to be fact based and objective regardless of our political bias and world view and not allow our subjective sentiments cause us to negatively label others?

Isn’t hard objective evidence preferable to politicized characterizations like those within Steve’s often polemical book “The Cult of Trump”?

And finally, is it really useful to politicize the word “cult” turning it into a derisive pejorative label used to dismiss the existence of alternative political ideas?

In my opinion politicizing the word “cult” in this way serves no useful or factual purpose, but rather portrays a deeply distorted view of politics in America today.

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.

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Steven Hassan, author of the “The Cult of Trump,” a book that is very critical of those who mislead people, seems to have a problem with the facts himself. Hypocritically, Hassan lambasts President Trump for distorting the truth, while he deliberately conflates his own CV with false claims of professional status and even a fictional medal of honor.

Hassan says that he is a teacher and/or instructor at both Harvard Medical School and Harvard Law School. However, Harvard University does not list Steven Hassan as occupying any official teaching position through its faculty locator. In fact, Steven Hassan is not even so much as mentioned anywhere on the Harvard University website.

Hassan apparently deliberately misled multiple media outlets about his professional status. WMNF Radio host Rob Lorei states at the broadcast’s official website that “Hassan now teaches at Harvard Medical School.” The Daily Beast also reported that Steven Hassan “teaches at Harvard Medical School.” And The Daily Mail in the UK describes him as “Harvard Medical School teacher Steven Hassan.”

Hassan’s CV specifically states that he is “Member of the Program in Psychiatry and the Law at Massachusetts Mental Health Center- A teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.” Hassan also states that he was a “participant” at a Harvard Law School “workshop.” But participating in a program or a workshop does not confer any official teaching status upon Hassan at Harvard.

Steve Hassan with his book

Hassan’s Facebook page shows a photo of him apparently volunteering at a Harvard program. But again, volunteering is not the same as having a faculty appointment as an instructor or as a teacher at Harvard University.

Hassan’s CV lists Harvard several times, notably Harvard Law School. Hassan states that he was a “participant in Trial Advocacy Expert Witness Workshop.” On his Facebook page Hassan says he has been an “instructor” at Harvard Law School five times rather than simply a “participant.” Interestingly, Hassan doesn’t list any expert witness work or any court jurisdiction where he has been qualified, accepted and testified as an expert witness on his CV.

There is a Trial Advocacy Workshop at Harvard with an expert witness component, but Steven Hassan isn’t mentioned anywhere in the workshop description, which denotes the inclusion of “experienced trial lawyers and judges who teach as volunteers during the workshop.”

CultNews contacted Harvard University directly for comment. The Office of Faculty Affairs at Harvard Medical School responded unequivocally that there is “no record of Steven Hassan currently holding or having held in the past a faculty appointment at the medical school.” That is, despite the fact that there are thousands of full- and part-time faculty members consisting of assistant, associate, full professors and part-time instructors, Steven Hassan is not and has never been one of them. Melody Jackson, spokesperson for Harvard Law School, told CultNews that Hassan has never held any faculty appointed teaching position as an “instructor” at Harvard Law School.

Update: Steven Hassan has been busy apparently doing “damage control.” The day after this CultNews report appeared Hassan apparently sought and received a one-page letter from the Massachusetts Mental Health Center (75 Fenwood Road in Boston), which was subsequently posted on Facebook (the link is now restricted though CultNews has a copy). The letter is signed by Angie Mines, Residency Program Coordinator. The letter consists of one short paragraph. Ms. Mines writes that Hassan has been “teaching an elective course” for psychiatric residents. Addressed “To Whom This May Concern” Mines states, “If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.” CultNews contacted Ms Mines who seemed surprised that her letter was posted online. When asked specific questions such as is Steven Hassan paid to teach? And is teaching at the Harvard affiliated Longwood Hospital the same as “teaching at Harvard Medical School”? Ms. Mines replied, “I will have to talk to the program director.” Ms. Mines later concluded in an email, “As advised by my supervisors, I’m not going to be providing any further information.” Mines has since requested that her name and contact information be removed from her letter, which is now linked from Hassan’s website. Hassan later posted a letter signed by a doctor that says he has been “a valued invited presenter” at a Harvard affiliated hospital where the doctor co-teaches a course. Steven Hassan has also added a link to a video of one of those presentations. Apparently, Hassan has been a volunteer at the hospital as a guest speaker for a classes there. Steven Hassan has also recently recruited people to email CultNews in an apparent effort to pressure CultNews to remove this article. Hassan now insists that he is “teaching at programs that are part of Harvard Medical School” [see “The Truth About Steven Hassan”]. However, no one from Harvard Medical School confirms his claim. None of the letters posted confirm this claim and more specifically, certainly not Harvard Medical School. Hassan continues to perpetuate this misleading mythology about his supposed Harvard teaching status in an article he wrote for Medium (April 12, 2020) criticizing Donald Trump for “misinformation” and “falsehoods.” Medium states in a disclaimer, “per our Policies, but we don’t fact-check every story.”

But Hassan does have at least one proven personal and professional link to Harvard Medical School.

Steven Hassan’s wife Misia Landau who received a PhD in anthropology from Yale University and a Diploma in human biology from Oxford University, taught at Harvard prior to becoming a senior science writer at Harvard Medical School. Landau left her position at Harvard in 2009.

Hassan received his Masters degree from Cambridge College, which features online education. The college has a branch near Harvard. Hassan says he is currently working on a PhD from Fielding Graduate University, which is also known for its distance online educational programs.

Hassan also lists Boston University School of Medicine, but not specifically as an employer. It appears that he may have done volunteer talks at some hospital programs, again without any official status.

Steven Hassan is licensed as a Mental Health Counselor by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But it must be noted that a serious complaint was filed against Hassan by a former client. The Massachusetts licensing board charged Hassan with an ethical violation for breaching client confidentiality. Hassan was prosecuted, but ultimately the matter was dismissed without prejudice in November 2012. The board warned Hassan that any further failure to adhere to its ethical standards might “result in disciplinary action against [his] license.”

In addition to Hassan’s ethical lapses and conflated teaching status at Harvard he also claims to have received a nonexistent medal of honor. At his CV under the heading “Honors” Hassan lists the so-called “Jerusalem Medal,” which he implies was awarded to him by the Director General of the Israel Ministry of Social Affairs.

In fact, there is no such honor known as the “Jerusalem Medal” awarded to anyone by the Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs.

In 2010 the Israeli agency’s Director General Nahum Itzkovitz visited the United States and while in New York he gave out a few token gifts of appreciation to some people that were helpful to his research. CultNews has what Hassan calls a “Jerusalem Medal” sitting on an office shelf, but it’s merely a souvenir memento with the word “Jerusalem” engraved on a small metal medallion displayed on a little wooden stand. It has a sticker on the back, which says that it’s a “gift” from Director General Itzkovitz.

Steven Hassan seems to have penchant for conflating his CV and also behaving badly with clients. CultNews has received many complaints over the years.

Cult leaders often conflate their biographies in an effort to impress people and are known for their ethical lapses. Hassan’s attempt to mislead the media and public, while simultaneously criticizing others for deception, is really rather rich isn’t it?

More information about Steven Hassan

Serious complaints about cult specialist Steven Hassan

Cult Watcher Steve Hassan’s links to fugitive sex offender

Steve Hassan fans want “information control”

Third installment of Steven Hassan’s trilogy adds little understanding

Disclaimer regarding Steve Hassan

Postscript: Steven Hassan has changed his CV since this report was published online (CultNews has screenshots and a printed copy of the original). He has somewhat softened his claims concerning any official teaching status at Harvard. Hassan has also changed his “Honors” heading to “Honors and Awards” and added that his so-called “Jerusalem Medal” was “given with gratitude.” However, Hassan still won’t admit that he never received a “medal,” only a souvenir gift, which has no special status or meaningful significance to credibly list on his CV. Hassan has also apparently encouraged a number of his devoted supporters to post as his seeming surrogates on Facebook in an attempt to discredit this report. However, CultNews firmly stands by its reporting and fact checking.

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Cult interventionist and professional counselor Steven Hassan is the focus of a recently released video produced by the World Missionary Society Church of God (WMSCOG). The online video is critical of Hassan and it quotes both a CultNews critique of his latest book and comments posted at the message board within the Ross Institute of New Jersey (RI) Web site.

Hassan runs a for-profit corporation called “Freedom of Mind” and is a licensed counselor in Massachusetts.  Apparently WMSCOG sees Hassan as an adversary largely due to his intervention activities and ties to some former members of WMSCOG.

220px-steven_hassan_headshot_02.jpgFans of Steven Hassan have frantically contacted the author of the book review and RI to share their dismay. They are concerned that criticism of Hassan is accessible through the Internet, which can therefore potentially be quoted by anyone.

However, despite the dismay and demands nothing will be deleted or censored at this blog or within the RI database. No one is above criticism and simply because a purported “cult” has quoted critical material doesn’t mean that information must be purged from the Web.

Apparently Hassan’s fans also have a history of “information control” at Wikipedia.

Steve Hassan warns about what he calls “mind control the BITE model.” Ironically, the “I” in BITE stands for an effort to control information.

RI has a history of protecting critical information about groups and/or leaders and has repeatedly resisted attempts to censor its database.  Five frivolous lawsuits have been filed against RI and/or Rick Ross in various harassment efforts. Nothing has ever been taken down as a result of such litigation. All the lawsuits were dismissed, though some claims are still pending regarding a single lawsuit associated with a group called NXIVM (pronounced nexium).

Former cult deprogrammer Steve Hassan has a long history of borrowing upon the ideas of others for his writings without proper attribution and charging exorbitant fees for his services. In recent years his fees have ranged from $2,500.00 to $5,000.00 per day. He also promotes “team” interventions, which consists of former cult members and other professionals assisting him before, during and/or after an intervention effort. The other team members charge additional fees and expenses. All of this means that hiring Mr. Hassan can be a very expensive proposition. Some families have mortgaged their homes and/or raided 401k retirement accounts to pay the bill.

RI has received repeated complaints about Mr. Hassan. Families have said that his approach has failed and/or produced questionable results at great expense.  

CultNews and the Ross Institute certainly do not endorse or support in any way, shape or form WMSCOG. But as the old adage goes “even a broken clock is right twice a day.” In this context WMSCOG has correctly quoted the cited material, which raises meaningful questions concerning Steve Hassan’s books, methodology and fees.

RI does not endorse or recommend Steven Hassan and does not list his books through the reading list at its database.

WMSCOG is included as a controversial group within the RI database.

WMSCOG certainly bears more than a faint resemblance to another Korean organization known as the Unification Church founded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, which has been called a “cult.” Interestingly, instead of a male “messiah” WMSCOG has a female leader they often call “mother,” who seems to wield dictatorial power over the group with little if any meaningful accountability. Rev. Moon who occupied a similar position of authority was often called “father” by his followers.

RI has received many complaints about WMSCOG from families, former members and others concerned. Many of the “warning signs” attributed to a potentially unsafe group or leader appear to apply to WMSCOG.

 Update: The Ross Institute  does not recommend Steve Hassan see this disclaimer.


August 28, 2012

By Cathleen A. Mann, PhD


bookfreedom.jpgSteven Hassan’s latest book, Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs, just released in summer, 2012, is the latest in what can be seen as a trilogy of sorts, starting with Combatting Mind Control in 1988 and then Releasing the Bonds in 2000.  A large portion of the material in his latest book is a verbatim repetition of material from Releasing the Bonds. In his most recent book, Hassan reports that his sister was the impetus to changing his “approach” in interaction away from interventions, an activity that Hassan has been involved in for over 30 years.  In the preface to this book, Hassan repeats the story of his introduction to and his exit from the Unification Church (Moonies) and how that exit helped him find his life work of education and liberation from “mind control cults”. 

However, it is notable that in this third book, Hassan has greatly expanded his target audience due to what he says is cult activity “increasing exponentially,” and the “rise of the Internet”.  Since Hassan maintains a substantial Internet presence through his Web site,, it could be argued that he has increased public sensitivity to cults, thereby magnifying the importance of his solutions, as well as providing a forum where he can extensively promote his own theories and agenda.

“Cults are on the rise” seems to be the theme of this latest book.  But there is no proof of this claim. Hassan offers no scientific study or survey with statistics to prove his theory. It may be that “cults are on a downward turn,” or perhaps “cults have stayed the same”. These possibilities may not help in the marketing and sale of books, but they are two equal possibilities. Of course none of these statements regarding the growth or decline of cults is based upon scientific evidence. Hassan’s theories are not genuinely informative in any factual sense. 

It seems to me that Hassan’s purpose at conflating cult numbers is to frighten people and provide him with a marketing tool to sell books, rather than genuinely seeing so many groups and/or relationships as somehow being “cult-like”. He certainly hasn’t proven otherwise in this book.

It’s interesting to note that Mr. Hassan has written the preface to his new book. In the preface he offers the usual anecdotes and testimonies to his success. Hassan defines both the problem and the cure as “cult like traits seen at every level of society.”   Postulating his theory about an overwhelming societal problem, Mr. Hassan then offers his own unique solution.

Defining terms

It is important to note that within his third book Hassan has added new ingredients to his definition of a cult.  He claims in the first chapter that a cult uses (1) authoritarian leadership, (2) deception, and (3) destructive mind control.  The title of his new book now mentions “beliefs,” but this is not in his definition.  It is troubling that a book supposedly written to educate the public about cults would even enter into the area of “beliefs,” when almost all cult educators and experts don’t focus on beliefs, but rather on harmful practices.  In fact, it is a myth that cults are solely defined by beliefs. After all, the First amendment or Establishment Clause of the US Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, which includes the right to believe whatever you wish.  Hassan persists in using the term “destructive mind control,” which is not a term used in any legal setting and that has no real meaning.  Mind control seems quite ominous and rather sensational, but this term does nothing to further the discussion about the dynamics of cults and how they operate.  The research done in this area does not mention the term “mind control,” but uses terms such as “undue influence”, which express a more precise and exact meaning. 

Ultimate authority

Steve Hassan’s Twitter handle also can be seen as an interesting example of his problem with defining terms and labels. His Twitter handle is “cult expert”. Being qualified and 220px-steven_hassan_headshot_02.jpgaccepted in a court of law as an expert is typically meaningful proof of expertise. But Mr. Hassan has never provided expert testimony in a court of law.  What authority then, outside of Hassan himself, has officially recognized him as an expert concerning cults? For that matter has an authority officially recognized Hassan as an expert in anything? 

Steve Hassan’s latest book, just like the one before it, is self-published.  If Mr. Hassan were in fact “the #1 exit counselor,” surely he could find a publisher.  Having a publisher would bring in the much needed contribution of objective professional editing, and perhaps a peer review process, which might have made this a better and more credible book.

Starting with page 6, Hassan describes what he calls “common cult scenarios”.  These accounts may be the factual descriptions of actual cases or composites, but they read like the most sensational scenarios.  Hassan repeatedly places himself at the center of these brief case examples. He is the hero. He never fails to come up with just the right thing to say to successfully get through to a cult member.  Once again this fits a familiar pattern. Just like Hassan’s statement about the rise of cults, these scenarios appear self-serving and seem designed to elevate Mr. Hassan to a pedestal. Apparently, he is the one that can snap people out of a cult with just one or two artful remarks. He thus sets himself up as the ultimate authority on what to say and when to say it.  There is no mention of similarly artful things, which family members can say, even though the supposed purpose of this book is “helping loved ones” out of cults.  The definition of cult put forth by Mr. Hassan could be applied to many groups. He offers insufficient distinctions between what he considers a cult and what might be considered an ordinary group.  The message in this book seems to be that Steve Hassan has somehow become the final arbiter who will define such things for everyone.

Borrowing ideas

In Chapter 2, Hassan introduces Lifton’s eight criteria or psychological themes for thought reform, another term used to define “mind control,” even though Lifton never used the words mind control in his work.  Hassan also introduces Singer’s 6 criteria and brings in the social psychology construct of cognitive dissonance.  Even though Hassan names the origins of these ideas, nowhere in the body of his book within any chapter does he include properly cited references. In fact, the reader is told near the end of the book that a bibliography is not available, but rather can be found at Hassan’s Web site.  This is certainly not in keeping with any protocol of academic writing and seems like a device to minimize as much as possible the owners of the ideas that Hassan claims as his.  Not including such text references when you have depended upon the ideas of others might be considered something akin to plagiarism. 

This penchant that Steve Hassan has for borrowing upon the ideas of others without specifically cited attribution should be glaringly apparent to anyone familiar with Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP). According to Mr. Hassan’s first book Combatting Cult Mind Control; he has studied NLP extensively with its founders. He has also described how NLP and the writings of its predecessors influenced the development of his own cult intervention model. In Hassan’s latest book (p. 208-214) he discusses concepts and techniques that come from NLP such as Visual Kinesthetic Dissociation and the idea of representational systems. But he fails to cite their source. Hassan makes no mention of NLP whatsoever, nevertheless borrowing from it quite heavily. This is especially troubling, given that NLP remains highly controversial amongst people that study cults, particularly because it can be seen as a manipulative technique of persuasion. NLP also poses an ethical dilemma when used within the context of cult intervention work. The integrity of an intervention and for that matter the interventionist is compromised by the use of such deliberately deceptive techniques and manipulation.

 BITE model

On page 23, Hassan introduces what he describes as the powerful BITE (Behavior, Information, Thought and Emotional control) model, something that he seems to see as a superior definition of the manipulation involved within cults.  Much of the BITE model is borrowed material from a 30 year long tradition of social psychological research.  In reading the elements of the BITE model within Hassan’s current book, that model has now been greatly expanded from his previous two books. The BITE model he now proposes is so broad that it could be applied a very wide array of groups.  What is troubling is that Hassan has not provided any guidelines to separate out the groups, which might warrant the cult label and those that do not.  The BITE model, as now applied by Hassan, has become a kind of philosophic construct not grounded in facts, but rather theories, many of them borrowed from others.


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.

Hassan, repeating themes from his previous two books, introduces on page 52, this idea of dual identities, i.e. a pre-cult identity and a cult identity.  There is no evidence of a cult identity v. a pre-cult identity.  It is not even established that human behavior works in this way. These are not constructs that are generally accepted in psychology or professional counseling.  These claims exist entirely within the confines “Hassanology”.  Again, the tone of Mr. Hassan’s book is that these beliefs are true, rather than just one person’s untested ideas. 

Another troubling claim is that Hassan believes that all cult members suffer from phobias (p.56).  Again, Hassan presents his idea as an absolute truth, ignoring the fact that there is no scientific theory and/or scientific evidence to back it up.  Hassan seems to think that his ideas on phobias mesh with his claim that all cults practice hypnosis. He doesn’t acknowledge any exceptions. According to Mr. Hassan all cults do these things.  It is true that many cults teach members that leaving the group is wrong or bad, but where are the scientific studies that conclusively demonstrate that this practice constitutes phobia indoctrination?

Strategic interaction Approach

In Chapter 3, Hassan re-introduces his intervention model, the Strategic interaction Approach (SIA).  He states that this model will “promote change and encourage growth in the family as well as in the cult member” (p. 36).  Mr. Hassan promotes this model as the preferred alternative to “old style” deprogramming and/or “exit counseling”.  However, what Hassan does not discuss here or for that matter in his two preceding books, is that his approach includes elements of counseling.  And there is nothing specifically mentioned about the cult member being counseled explicitly understanding that they are participating in counseling, i.e. informed consent.  In fact, it appears that Hassan does not see the need to offer his SIA counseling as a matter of choice, but instead uses the family dynamic as  tool to keep the cult member talking and then to spring his counseling upon them without informed consent.  All professional counseling requires such an understanding and explicit consent before it begins. Counseling, by its very nature, is persuasive and constitutes an unequal power dynamic.  A licensed professional counselor that does not know this can do harm to people. People must agree and be amenable to receiving counseling, regardless of what the setting or stated goal may be. The ends do not justify the means. This principle is often cited concerning the questionable behavior of cults, and should apply to those attempting to help cult members as well.

It is important at this juncture to point out that there is really nothing new or unique about the SIA approach.  It merely represents a reworking of family systems theory, with no credit given by Hassan to its pioneers, such as expert family systems practitioners Virginia Satir or the Milan Family System theorists. SIA relies heavily on the body of theory and practice within family systems. Hassan’s remarks about the superiority of the SIA over exit counseling within his books is a thinly disguised attempt to say his method is fundamentally more effective,  and therefore has better results.  However, nowhere does Hassan provide a base rate and/or any type or accepted statistical method defining his results or what constitutes a successful SIA type of family work with a cult member.  Yes, Hassan provides anecdotal evidence selectively through testimonials, but there is no way to check if these are legitimate or edited for content. These testimonials are always glowing and positive, which is one of the major drawbacks to using testimonials; it’s deceiving and engenders the idea that your work with cult members is superior, always successful, and has better outcomes than any other approach.  This is why professional organizations such as the APA (American Psychological Association) have discouraged reliance upon testimonials. In contrast, one of the defining characteristics of pseudoscience is an over reliance on such anecdotal evidence, rather than scientific study.

Is the SIA approach the best approach? What happens when a cult member does not have a family suitable for the SIA approach?  Is that situation ignored?  The SIA approach, as advertised, has the family doing the bulk of the work and seems to include both deception and emotional blackmail to make it work.  Current cult members are never told they are facing an intervention. They are not told they will be subjected to counseling. And they are in a situation where family members confront them with family issues and disappointments, often in a very emotional way, which may be used to persuade the cult member to leave the group.  

In Chapter 13, the last chapter in the book, Hassan conjures up possible solutions to the “cult problem”.  First, he suggests more involvement by the legal system. Apparently he doesn’t realize that the legal system is already actively involved in sorting through cult issues. Perhaps Mr. Hassan’s ignorance of this fact is because he has never testified in any legal proceeding.  Second, Hassan calls for action by mental health professionals to join the “cause,” and that they should be trained in his SIA approach.  However, such training would be of questionable value and essentially redundant, since SIA is merely family systems, which is quite familiar to mental health professionals.  In what appears to be a contradiction, he also states that people can use his book to develop their own approach, working with their family members themselves. Why then the need to gather a group of mental health professionals under Mr. Hassan’s guidance if families can do this independently? He seems to cotradict himself. 


In my opinion proper distinctions are not sufficiently made regarding what are actually Hassan’s purported ideas and the ideas he has copied from others, which have not been given proper attribution.  And providing a general bibliography on a Web site simply does not meet either the academic criteria or ethical responsibility regarding meaningful attribution. Although Hassan is obviously not bound by such academic codes of honor, borrowing the ideas of others without citing them has frequently resulted in the expulsion of students from graduate school programs. No reputable academic journal would accept or countenance such omissions.  Has Hassan fallen into an academic trap? Does he believe that what he learned from others years ago has somehow now been transformed into his own ideas? Is he somehow convinced that he now owns those ideas?  The citation of sources is always an academic requirement and should be an author’s ethical responsibility, regardless of how long ago someone might have been introduced to the material.

Mr. Hassan’s latest book gives the impression that he sees his methodology as the only way, but there is a woeful lack of objective evidence to prove his theories.  It’s curious that Hassan includes pages on how to battle his critics.  Isn’t it possible that other ideas might be valid?  At the very least, extraordinary claims should require extraordinary evidence. Or has Hassanology become an “absolute science”? 

It is interesting to note that on page 25 under the condition “thought control,” is listed the “[r]ejection of rational analysis, critical thinking and constructive criticism”.  This is an excellent point and one that should be followed by every cult critic, cult interventionist, professional counselor, or expert. This would include accepting criticism without becoming defensive and the ability to see and correct problems. Debate should be based upon rational analysis. A person working in the cult recovery or education field should endeavor to emulate these characteristics. It is incumbent upon him or her to model this behavior, as it is the rejection of such values that quite often forms the basis for criticizing the leaders and dynamics of cults.

Cathleen A. Mann has a doctorate in psychology and has been a licensed counselor in the state of Colorado since 1994. Dr. Mann has done research regarding cult formation and the recruiting and retention practices of high demand groups. She has been court qualified as an expert in 12 states.

Update: This review was quoted by a purported “cult” in an online video produced to examine and/or criticize Steven Hassan. Subsequently Hassan’s supporters contacted the author of the review and CultNews suggesting and/or requesting that this article be deleted. Read more about this in the following CultNews report. The Ross Institute does not recommend Steve Hassan see this disclaimer.