Many persons born after a certain time may remember some of the origins of the anti-cult movement. Following the impact of Jonestown in 1978, there came into modern awareness the phenomena of “deprogramming” or being referred to as a “deprogrammer”, if one practiced it. Thus, if we read that term used in today’s news articles and reports on cults, one might think it is rather heroic or noteworthy. It might indicate a return to old methods, which generally include the intrusion of an individual’s civil rights under the guise of “helping” them. Almost always the cult member’s family is used as emotional blackmail to inundate the current cult member with ultimatums and what-about-isms.
Such is the case with a recent article on Steve Hassan, a self-proclaimed “expert” in the field of cults. Hassan carries some historical appeal, and liberally advertises his travels and lectures about cults and mind control (he recently started using the term “undue influence.”) Certainly, Mr. Hassan should know by now that if a term is being used to describe him or his activities, or that he objects to as not accurate, that it is solely his responsibility to correct it.
Hassan is the author of four self-published books and has a manicured social media network. He often seems professional, knowledgeable, and self-presents as an example of an expert on cults. His background in the anti-cult community is rather controversial. He has admitted to conducting involuntary deprogramming, allegedly discontinuing in 1976.
Hassan has called himself “America’s #1 exit counselor, ” but recently has walked off that label. His previous role as a coercive deprogrammer has been minimized, and he attempts to play it down as being a very small part of his life. However, if it lands him in a hot news story on a trending cult news story of several weeks’ duration, he has done nothing yet to set the record straight.
Reference to Hassan’s site: https://freedomofmind.com/
Perhaps he is now embracing the practice once again as described in this recent article https://artvoice.com/2018/05/29/source-allison-mack-getting-de-programmed-by-cult-buster-steve-hassan/#.Ww5Lp7motdg of Allison Mack getting “de-programmed” by Cult Buster Steve Hassan.
According to this recent report, she (Allison Mack) is “resistant” to him. Is he using old methods or his newly advertised “respectful methods?” How is Allison Mack being treated?
This article also reports “Mack may be unwillingly enduring deprogramming efforts as a condition imposed by her sadder but much wiser [and poorer] parents”
But can Hassan help? According to an article written and researched by Rick Alan Ross, he reports:
“Hassan charged thousands of dollars for his services draining the former cult members savings”
“At least one of Hassan’s former clients has 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”.
Ross also states in his article: 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 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. a
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 ostensibly garner sympathy for his “persecution” by cults + a large part of his life narrative.)
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, it was confirmed that he violated provisions regarding client confidentiality and the expectation that no information will be released without the client’s permission and written consent.
Hassan is apparently very sensitive to any criticism.
In a blog written by Dr. Monica Pignotti, who knew and worked with Hassan closely for many years, (and has an insider’s view,) opens her blog with this statement by Hassan:
“The refusal to be silenced often causes issues. When disagreements arise between activists, the resulting fallout can have damaging consequences. Public infighting and social media attacks dilute the core message and alienate the many who are looking for real help. Divisions and mudslinging sessions between former members serve as leverage for the very groups activists claim they are combating”.
Dr. Pignotti then writes: “He (Hassan) then goes on to say we need to focus on the greater cause regarding activism and undue influence. That focus is all well and good, but should it be at the expense of turning a blind eye when we see harm being done? That is the question I would like to explore here.”
First, I need to point out that Hassan is marketing a type of deflection of criticism deal by conflating any kind of disagreement or criticism as division. This is what the cults say, too. There is a major difference, however, between bickering and mudslinging vs. legitimate criticism and exposure of practices that could be harming consumers. And yes, believe it or not, ex-cult members who become counselors are not immune from blind spots. I offer just a few examples (there are general categories, not accusations of anyone in particular):
If a practitioner is charging very high fees, much higher than their colleagues, that consumers need to go into debt to afford unless they are very wealthy, yet there is no research evidence that their approach is superior to any of their lesser charging colleagues, this needs to be exposed. This is particularly egregious if the person is using their knowledge of undue influence to manipulate a person into paying high fees (for example, guilt and fear induction by asking the person if they would hesitate in paying a high fee if their loved one had cancer or saying that horrible things will happen to their cult involved loved one if they don’t do the practitioners particular highly-priced brand of intervention when in fact, the family does have options for how/whether to intervene).
If a practitioner is abusing others, such as taking advantage of the person sexually (which has been alleged regarding some high-profile deprogrammers from the 1970s. In 2008 in Philadelphia, there was even a presentation on this topic at an International Cultic Studies Association called The Anti-Cult-Cult.
If the practitioner is engaging in other unethical behavior such as violating client confidentiality, misrepresenting their credentials, engaging in dual relationships as I blogged about previously was the case with a licensed social worker who counseled ex-cultists and eventually lost his license due to his unethical behavior documented by his State Board.
Making unsubstantiated claims about their intervention (e.g. that it is superior to all others, that it is the only way to save their loved one, that it has been shown to be effective when only very preliminary pilot studies have been done).
Engaging in mental health practices that have been shown to be potentially harmful
Practicing beyond the scope of their licensure or education (for example, someone without a mental health degree engaging in mental health practice or someone with a license making diagnoses in areas that are outside their area of expertise or diagnosing someone they have not personally met with)
Steve Hassan continues to follow the cult trend and doesn’t seem to mind being a deprogrammer one minute, an exit counselor the next, and seems to be now working to become a court expert witness. He doesn’t refute, repudiate, or correct. Historically, he has sent others to attempt that. All publicity is good publicity for him. As long as it furthers his agenda.
#Cultbuzz is a weekly column, written by Debra Van Neste