A Discussion with “Cult Experts” Steve Eichel & Steven Hassan

Facebook discussion with Steve K. D. Eichel and Steven Hassan

AlanzosBlog.com Steve K. D. Eichel I saw this post you made and found it to be fascinating. You mean you see accusations of “Jewish Hypnotism” from people from other religions, you think it’s untrue, and defend against it, and yet you preach about “cults” and “brainwashing” for a career?

Please explain!

Steve K. D. Eichel Well, I can see that my earlier conversations with you were meaningless. First, I have written about the nuances of “cults” and “brainwashing”, which based on your replies you seemed to “get.” Then you (1) state I “preach” (??) about “cults” and “brainwashing,” which implies that I accept those terms on face value, and (2) you say I’ve made this a career!?!?! That is hilarious! I have spent FAR more than I have earned in cult-related matters. One thing all former members from a broad range of groups have in common: NO MONEY! The groups took it all.

If you want to have conversations, fine, but then don’t pull a bait and switch, OK? THAT is a tactic heavily employed by cultic groups and individuals. Is that how you want me to know you?

AlanzosBlog.com Steve K. D. Eichel OK. So you don’t like the term ‘preach’ that I used, and you don’t like the term ‘career’. I apologize for using those terms.

My point, which my terms got in the way of, is this is an example of an in-group assigning hypnosis techniques to an out-group in order to demonize that out-group, and try to delegitimize support for that out-group because its support was achieved not through reasoned power of choice, but through hypnosis, or (dare I say?) brainwashing.

Have we seen this rhetorical technique used anywhere else?

Steve K. D. Eichel I again direct you to the fairly vast amount of literature out there…especially the work of Janja Lalich and Alexandra Stein. This is not a black & white issue (you’re either brainwashed or you made a free choice). Lalich coined a term that I find very useful: “bounded choice.” Interestingly, there is an “old” hypnotic technique that perfectly illustrates her idea. Milton Erickson used to tell his subjects that “You are free to go into hypnosis now or later.”

I don’t know how familiar you are with hypnosis from a clinical and scientific perspective. I am an officer in APA’s division 30 (Psychological Hypnosis) and I’m the past-president of the Greater Philadelphia Society of Clinical Hypnosis; I’m approved to train clinicians by the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. But there are plenty of folks who know more about hypnosis than I do, and as I don’t know you, you may be one of them. At any rate, my take on the role hypnotic techniques (which can range significantly) play in cultic persuasion is somewhat explained in my article “The Theory that Won’t Go Away…” which can be found on the ICSA website.

AlanzosBlog.com Steve K. D. Eichel So do Jews use these bounded choice or hypnotic techniques to make people support Israel? Or do only minority religions or “cults” do that?

Steven Hassan Read Neuroscientist Kathleen Taylors book, Brainwashing, my books cites much of the research. See my blog with Jon Atack on cult apologists like Eileen Barker

AlanzosBlog.com Do you have a comment about the scientific data Eileen Barker and all the other scientists generated here – besides just calling them names?

Steve K. D. Eichel Sociological data and psychological data SHOULD complement each other…and if folks would think outside their own boxes, they typically do. The social and demographic factors mentioned by the sociologists are all true and real, BUT rather than negate the psychological factors, I believe they provide meaningful context for considering “brainwashing.”

It is very clear that harmful influence exists and people can be conned without realizing it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have terms like “con man” or torts in law that recognize undue influence.

The problem is “all or nothing” or “B&W” thinking. A new medicine that harms “only” 10% of the people who take it will not be approved by the FDA. Similarly, the fact that cults are unsuccessful at indoctrinating most of the people who attend their relatively open initial recruiting activities, does not in anyway mean that they are therefore safe and unharmful.

AlanzosBlog.com Steve K. D. Eichel This is a good argument. Thanks for this.

Can you pick a term, whether it’s brainwashing, or undue influence, or social coercion (pick one and don’t shift when its proven wrong) and provide a clear definition of what it is that “cults” do to people?

Most believers in brainwashing can’t do this, including people like Steven Hassan. Once brainwashing has been disproven, they shift to “influence” – when no critic of brainwashing ever claimed influence did not exist.

It’s this idea that something, like witchcraft, can cast a spell on you and make you do things against your will. This is an extraordinary claim, and it requires extraordinary positive evidence to support it.


And the first step of providing that evidence is to pick one term and define it to the point where we not only can identify when it is happening, but we can also identify when it is NOT happening.

Wouldn’t you agree?

Can you do it?

And welcome to AlanzosBlog.com, Steve: The Facebook edition!

Steve K. D. Eichel Hey, I don’t even like the term “cult” very much. But that’s the word people seem to use.
Sadly, I don’t think there is a very good term to describe cultic dynamics. The closest one that makes sense to me was the one invented—and then eschewed—by Margaret Singer: SMPSI, the Systematic Manipulation of Psychological & Social Influence. But it’s a mouthful.

AlanzosBlog.com Steve K. D. Eichel All right. And so when SMPSI is in use in the Marines, or in a college fraternity, or in the Minnesota Vikings, we can identify it there, too?

But when there is a minority religion which simply has beliefs and values that are different from mainstream society – we can see when they are NOT using SMPSI?

Can you see the importance of this?

Steve K. D. Eichel AlanzosBlog.com In my work, I prefer to talk about “cultic relationships.” These can exist anywhere, including intimate relationships. Back in the mid-80’s, many of us in the “cult-critical” community recognized the similarities between the relationships a cult member may have with his or her leader and the destructive dynamic we see in IPV/DV (domestic violence). In the end, it’s the relationship that matters. So yes, cultic relationships can exist in schools, sports teams, etc. And minority religions can be totally benign. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s I used to get calls about the Church of the Subgenius. Certainly not a cult.

AlanzosBlog.com Steve K. D. Eichel OK, so what are the specific techniques of SMPSI that allow us to make a forensic or an objective observation that one person came by his beliefs by his own choice, and another person has had his beliefs ‘brainwashed’ into him?

Steve K. D. Eichel AlanzosBlog.com You are asking for a dissertation! You can find a ton of information on the ICSA website (https://www.icsahome.com/icsa-publications/indexarticlesicsa); in addition, I address some of your questions in a book chapter I wrote on performing a custody evaluation when one parent may be involved with a cult. You can find that on my website’s articles page: https://drsteveeichel.com/articles (look for “Cults, Extremist Movements and the Child Custody Evaluation”).

Steve K. D. Eichel This may help: http://cultrecovery101.com/cult…/thought-reform-today/

AlanzosBlog.com Steve K. D. Eichel Thanks Steve. As an ex scientologist who has been through every bit of the anticult movement belief system and seen the harm that the belief in “brainwashing” and “cults” have done to my fellow Exes, I appreciate your willingness to engage. Most people like you just run from my questions. 🙂

I’d asked Steve Hassan a question on another post, and he’s gone absent. So let me ask you.

In terms of brainwashing, what do you think the difference is between the people who committed suicide at Masada, and those who committed suicide at Jonestown?

Steve K. D. Eichel I’ve often pondered that same question. I’m not a fan of mass suicides, be they in Jonestown or at Masada.

One major difference: the Romans really were indeed out to kill anyone involved in the Hebrew rebellions. (And of course, we don’t REALLY know what happened at Masada…CNN blew that coverage, I guess.)

Whatever one might say about the anti-cult movement in its heyday, I really do not believe Congressman Ryan was about to lead an armed party into Jonestown to kill all the PT members.

Still, perception is a strange and interesting–and understandable–phenomenon, is it not? We Jews (but not me!) celebrate the heroic suicides (and murders, since children were involved) at Masada. To me, that’s insane and I will have nothing kind to say about it.

AlanzosBlog.com It is an interesting context, isn’t it? I’ve been to the top of Masada and thought these same things.
I see the overwhelming majority of what people call “cults” as sub-cultures whose values, morality and beliefs differ from the mainstream society around it.

For instance, Coptic Christians in Egypt are considered a cult by the mainstream Islamic society around it.
I’ll bet those Muslims believe those coptics are “brainwashed” too.

Wouldn’t you say?

Steve K. D. Eichel I tend toward pragmatism. When I have a problem drinker in my practice, I don’t care if he doesn’t go all AA Step One and own up to being an alcoholic. I just want him to seriously cut down on or cease his drinking.

Same with former members. Call the groups what you want, the important thing (to me) is recognizing that all groups can cause harm, but some groups (like Co$c) are more harmful than others.

AlanzosBlog.com Steve K. D. Eichel Yes. From a pragmatic point of view, over time, the anticult movement beliefs of “I was brainwashed” aren’t sustainable.

Those beliefs wall off who you were and what your true decision making was based on. They diseasify your past spiritual pursuit and make you turn a whole section of your life toxic.

People learn and evolve and grow. Delegitimizing your past self as a “brainwashed cult member” is simplistic and self-destructive.

Pragmatically speaking, I believe that adopting the beliefs and attitudes of the anticult movement is harmful to any Ex of any minority religion.

Steve K. D. Eichel Here I suspect we probably disagree. First, I’m not sure what you consider the “anticult movement.” These groups no longer exist…and we all know what happened to CAN. ICSA is a cult-critical organization, not an “anticult” movement; it is open to anyone. We used to get quite a few Scientologists at our conferences. I’ve had some “interesting” talks with John Carmichael. (Not about cults of Scientology, btw, but mostly about personal backgrounds, e.g., comparing his time at cornell with mine at columbia).

I would also question your conclusions about former members “adopting” a belief that they were brainwashed. It’s possible, although I’d be a bit surprised, you’ve seen more former cultists than I have. Wayyyyy back in 1984 or so, I coauthored an article that described “cult-hopping”, which was (and still is) common among those who had not been deprogrammed or exit-counseled. Can you please provide a reference for the claim you made (that former members who adopt the “brainwashing” explanation are harmed)? My experience with quite literally hundreds of former members between 1975 and the present suggests just the opposite.

AlanzosBlog.com That claim is based on my own personal experience and observing dozens if not hundreds of ex “cult” members. There is also a sociological study of attitudes of Ex-cult members who underwent “deprogramming”, which as you know was the forcible indoctrination of the beliefs of the anticult movement.

In all cases, an Ex who adopts these beliefs that he was “brainwashed” and that his previous spiritual pursuit was a “destructive cult” creates cognitive distortions and a kind of over-the-top nightmare interpretation of their own lives.

Some people in minority religions were abused.

But the overwhelming majority were not.

I think that Leah Remini is a great example of what I’m talking about. She was a scientologist for 34 years. Yet after adopting the beliefs of the anticult movement on Scientology, she told the Hollywood Reporter that Scientologists believe in pedophilia.

This is absolutely false.

At one time years ago as an antiScientologist, I would have jumped right onto this claim because it made Scientology look bad.

But in the last few years I’ve witnessed some of the same hypocrisy and cruelty and tribalism in anti Scientology that I escaped in scientology.

This has made me question my belief in brainwashing and what exactly is being referred to as a “cult”. And that has led me to a much more sustainable, constructive and productive way of seeing my evolution into, through, and out of Scientology.

These beliefs of the anticult movement are able to be questioned. And because of the damage I’ve seen them do to Exes, they should be. I’ll give you another example of the damage I’ve experienced from adopting another belief from the anticult movement.

The belief of the “cult self”. I picked this up from Steven Hassan’s books.

It’s the idea that there was a “real self” that was me before the cult and then having adopted the beliefs of Scientology – and self identifying as a scientologist – I somehow became a “cult self” – not the “true me” any more.

Are you familiar with this idea that Ex members are offered to believe about themselves, Steve K. D. Eichel?


And poof! He was gone.

Since having this discussion, I’ve fleshed out my ideas about the damage I’ve seen done to myself and others from adopting the beliefs of the anti-cult movement.

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