Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Anti-Cult Abuse and Its Cover-Up

Steven Hassan ended his first book, Combatting Cult Mind Control with the quote from Edmund Burke: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." (

His main thought was that in order to defeat the evil of cults, people should resist the cults and not to be silent. Some people (including myself, actually) were very impressed and inspired by that and decided to stand against the evil of cults.

This is good, of course. But what about anti-cult abuse? What do mental health professionals do when they know about unethical and abusive behaviors of their colleagues? Most of them do nothing. Well, they may gossip behind the abusers' backs about those abuses, but their gossips will never do any good and will never put the end to those abuses.

In fact, mental health professionals who (rightly) accuse cults for abusive behaviors, but who tolerate a similar behavior of their colleagues or/and behave this way themselves are hypocrites. Why do they consider that the same kind of behavior is wrong when it is practiced in cults, but it is normal when it is practiced by their colleagues in the anti-cult field? And if they do not consider it to be normal, why do they tolerate it? I believe that until they condemn abusive behavior of their colleagues, they have no moral right to condemn abusive behavior of cults because it is hypocrisy. And even if they are not involved into such behavior, their cover-up enables the evil in the anti-cult field to triumph and enables corruption in the anti-cult field.

Here is one example. Every country has police. Police is necessary for normal life of any country. Without police a country will encounter uncontrollable growth of crimes and will be in a chaos. However, in some countries, police becomes corrupted. This happened, for example, in Russia and other countries of the former USSR. It became quite usual for policemen to take bribes and some of them even got involved into criminal groups. Of course, not all the policemen became like this. Some remained honest and fulfilled their duties as they should. But since many policemen were involved in bribes and other crimes, police began to be viewed as a criminal organization in the society. Most people stopped trusting police. There have been many attempts to reform police and to get rid of the corruption, but their effectiveness is questionable.

Anyway, is it normal when policemen behave like criminals? Of course, not. I think no one will argue with that. But why is it considered normal when anti-cult mental health professionals behave like cult leaders and abuse people in the same way as cults do? Why many people in police are concerned about its corruption and try to do something to change the situation, but anti-cult mental health professionals do not do anything?

Psychotherapy and Post-Cult Recovery

There is a common belief in the anti-cult movement that ex-members of cults should seek for psychological counseling or therapy and better if this counseling/therapy is provided by mental health professionals who are knowledgeable about cult issues.

It looks quite logical, but there is one problem. There are no independent studies that indicate that it is so. There are probably millions people who left cults and most of them have never went to therapists who counsel ex-members of cults. Most of them probably do not know that they "should" do that. Who can say that they are in a worse position than those who go to therapists for years? I know some ex-members of my former cult (and some of them were very seriously abused by it) who have never contacted the secular anti-cult movement and did not seek therapy after their leaving, but who have very happy and fulfilling life now.

So, there are no independent data that indicate that ex-members of cults need therapy. Well, of course, therapists who counsel ex-cult members often say that it is very important for them to get therapy, but do not forget that these therapists earn money from counseling ex-members of cults. Also, some people who were counseled say that they got help, but it is quite subjective and not all of the people who were counseled are satisfied with their therapists. When people believe that therapists help them, it is very easy for them to feel better regardless of whether they really get help from the therapy or not. In medicine, there is a famous placebo effect: when people believe that a certain pill is a very effective medicine, many of them will feel better, even if this pill is absolutely useless. Of course, placebo effect exists in psychotherapy as well. And, as I wrote, there are no independent studies that therapy for the post-cult recovery really helps.

In 1952, H. J. Eysenck published his classic study ( where the main conclusion was that psychotherapy does not affect people's recovery from psychological disorders: whether people undergo therapy or not, the result will be the same. This study sparked a lot of controversy, and there have been many attempts to disprove this study, but they do not look very satisfactory to me. I know that there are many cases when researchers publish studies that indicate that certain psychotherapies do not help or even harm, people who practice them try to disprove these studies. Of course, people who practice such therapies (whether they are really harmful or not) are unhappy that someone criticizes them, but this reaction itself does not mean that the researchers wrong when they say that these therapies are harmful. I think it is a very similar situation with Eysenck's study. If any psychotherapy is useless, than, it means that all the practicing psychologists, psychotherapists, and all the other mental health professionals should close their practices and seek for another job. But do they want it? Of course, not.

So, Eysenck's study indicated that any psychotherapy is useless for treating psychological disorders. And there are no independent studies that indicate that psychotherapy has any benefit for ex-members of cults.

There is another problem. There are some "popular" diagnoses that are often given to ex-members of cults, such as PTSD, C-PTSD, and DID (or DD NOS). Some of these diagnoses are very controversial by themselves. C-PTSD has never been considered as a valid diagnosis by DSM. DID is also a very controversial diagnosis (even when it is not applied for ex-members of cults). Moreover, DSM does not say anything about cults or disorders that have been caused by cults.

There are some mental health professionals who prefer not to give any diagnoses. Well, I do not think that is is better. Suppose, you go to a medical doctor and he or she does not give you any diagnosis. What does it mean? Usually, it means that: (1) either you are healthy and do not need any medical aid or (2) he or she does not know what is the problem with you and how to treat you. In either case, you will probably not go to this doctor for treatment. But why should anyone go to a therapist who does not give any diagnosis?

Another point is that probably there are no two mental health professionals who counsel ex-members of cults who would agree with one another. They disagree on, practically, everything: on the definition of a cult and what groups are cults and what are not; on the definition of cult mind control (thought reform or whatever other term is used); on the definition of post-cult recovery; on what therapy is more helpful for ex-members of cults; and on many other things. In this diversity of opinions, who is right and who is wrong? Probably, no one is right. And, actually, this diversity of opinions just shows that the whole secular anti-cult field is far too subjective.

Well, I like to say that I have never been under psychotherapy (including therapy for post-cult recovery) and have never needed it. But who can prove that it is an exception and not the rule? And who has ever proven that ex-members of cults need therapy? No one.

Cult and Anti-Cult Abuse

Quite frankly, I do not have much desire to write about cult abuse here. There are a lot of books, articles, websites, etc. about cult mind control, thought reform, coercive persuasion, undue influence, and spiritual abuse. I do not want to write another article about it.

What is less known (but is not less dangerous) is that secular anti-cult movement (including mental health professionals who counsel members and ex-members of cults) is not so benign as many people believe.

Several months ago, a social worker John Matthew Knapp lost his license due to his ex-client's complaint. Well, this case is quite unique due to several reasons. No, Knapp was not the only abusive and unethical mental health professional in the anti-cult field. But he was somewhat "unlucky" because his ex-client was courageous enough to file a complaint against him and patient enough to wait several years while her complaint was being investigated. He also was "unlucky" because his licensing board did not reject her complaint. Another social worker who is licensed in the same state was very surprised that they did not reject the complaint and told that in many cases licensing boards do not care about complaints.

Yes, John Knapp was somewhat "unlucky," but he is not the only abusive and unethical mental health professional in the anti-cult field. However, not always people file complaints against abusive and unethical mental health professionals. Moreover, many people in the anti-cult field prefer to cover up cases of abusive and unethical behavior of their colleagues. This is why other abusive and unethical mental professionals in the anti-cult field are more "lucky" than Knapp.

When Steve Eichel, the current president of ICSA, gave his first speech in this position, he said (

"Following Lorna Goldberg as President of ICSA is going to be a great challenge. Lorna is a class act. As I said at the ICSA membership meeting in Montreal, I have heard criticisms about almost everyone I know in this organization (including me); I have never heard a negative comment about Lorna."

Well,  think about this sentence: "I have heard criticisms about almost everyone I know in this organization [ICSA] (including me); I have never heard a negative comment about Lorna [Goldberg]." Doesn't it mean that he considers that it is something unusual when people do not criticize someone in ICSA and it is something normal when they do so.

Another interesting thing is that he did not say that this criticism was invalid. In fact, if the criticism had been invalid, he would not probably praised Lorna Goldberg for not being criticized. His words about Lorna Goldberg actually indicate that he considers that she is better than others exactly because other people do not criticize her. [Actually, unlike Steve Eichel, I did hear criticism about Lorna Goldberg from one person who is her ex-client, but, to me, that criticism looks like misunderstanding and not a valid criticism.]

So, Steve Eichel admits that most people in the ICSA have been criticized and probably most of this criticism has been valid. This means that probably some of these people have been criticized for unethical violations and other such things. What is his response? He just does not care. ICSA website ( states:

"[O]ne of his favorite quotations: “Less judgment, more curiosity.”"

Well, I do not really know what he means by curiosity, but judgement is obviously criticism. Thus, the obvious conclusion is that criticism is discouraged in ICSA. It is well-known that criticism is discouraged in cults, but it is less known that it is also discouraged in, at least, some of the anti-cult circles. In other words, it is fine for anti-cult mental health professionals to be unethical, but it is wrong to criticize them (and even if they are being criticized, the criticism should be neglected).

Another interesting observation is that some of the anti-cult mental health professionals who discourage criticism when their colleagues are being criticized, at the same time like to criticize people whom they do not know (for example, religious people or religious leaders, politicians, etc.). It looks quite strange that they consider that any criticism is fine unless someone among their colleagues in the anti-cult is being criticized. If it is not hypocrisy, then, what is it?

Although some anti-cult people prefer to suppress criticism and not to speak about the problems in the anti-cult field openly, there are others who go to another extreme and criticize almost everyone, like, for example, the "unholy trinity" - Rick Ross, Cathleen Mann, and Monica Pignotti. However, the problem is that their criticism is not constructive: their goal is criticism for criticism, not for any improvement. Also, these people are not any more ethical than those whom they criticize, but they will never admit it. So, they are actually hypocrites.

Among the anti-cult people (whether it is said openly or behind people's back), it is quite popular to say that their opponents are unrecovered (from their cult involvement) and behave like cult members or leaders. Well, it is actually an interesting statement because most people in the anti-cult field are ex-members of cults and because most anti-cult people believe that ex-members of cults will never fully recover. Even the anti-cult people who have never been cult members might have grown up in dysfunctional families or have other problems that they have never recovered from. So, the anti-cult movement may be defined as a group of unrecovered people who behave like cult members or leaders.

Even the anti-cult people admit that, at least, many people in their field behave in the same way as people in cults, which means, of course, that the anti-cult movement is not any better than the "kingdom of cults." But what is worse is that it is considered to be normal. So, since cults are abusive, no wonder that the anti-cult movement is abusive as well.

Well, apparently, the goal of the anti-cult movement is to fight against the cult abuse. But it does not fight against its own, anti-cult abuse. Probably, there is a need in the anti-anti-cult movement in order to fight against the anti-cult abuse, but this new movement may become corrupted itself.

I think that the best solution for ex-members of cults who do not want to be abused again is to leave not only their cults, but also the anti-cult movement. Eventually, you will not miss anything because most anti-cult mental health professionals do not believe that the full recovery from cults is possible. In other words, if you leave the anti-cult movement, you will not miss your chance to recover from your cult involvement.