Dr. Steven Hassan Praises His Forcible Deprogrammers

The history of forcible deprogramming is an important history to understand if you are interested in cults and anticults, and the ideology of anticultism.

No one has lived it more than Steven Hassan.

Critical Thinking Question:

Why is this, or is this not, a case of Stockholm Syndrome?


“May 11th 1976 was the day. After five days of deprogramming, I “woke up” and emerged from being a “model Moonie” and leader to a very upset, confused, angry, ashamed self. A team of four people hired by my parents: Nestor Garcia, Michael Strom, Gladys Gonzalez, and Gary Rosenberg* worked together until I “snapped” from my fanatical involvement in the Moon cult and allowed a doubt to surface. The rest is history.

“Nestor, Michael, and Gladys were all former Moonies themselves. Gary was not but played a pivotal role in the process that has become a guide to me in my own career. During my deprogramming, he would gently, respectfully ask me, “How are you doing, Steve?” and “What do you think, Steve, about what they were just discussing with you?” I would respond to him and ultimately my answers steered the process towards telling them how to help me get free.

“My family had no idea where I was for over a year. But I “surfaced” after nearly dying in a van crash due to sleep deprivation. While in the hospital recovering, I violated Moonie instructions, and called my loving sister Thea. She and my brother-in-law Doug Luba successfully convinced me to come visit and recuperate for a few days at their house on Long Island. I made them promise not to tell my parents that they had heard from me or about my visit as my programming had me convinced that Satan was working in my parents because they called the “family” a cult. Luckily for me, my sister broke her word and my parents acted decisively to rescue me.

“I am SO grateful to my family and to the team of dedicated people who endured my extremism. Without them I may have never left the Moon cult mind control. At first, I had been highly persuasive telling them “I was happy”,“making my own decisions”, and that “I had found a profound experience with God.” But my family knew the “real me” and knew I would never blindly obey an elitist fascist who wanted to take over the world. To this day, there are some people I know from the 70’s still trapped in the cult. I could have easily been one of them, living a life of servitude as an unwitting victim of undue influence.

“I had been fully programmed to fear forceful deprogramming! I was told people were kidnapped, abused and tortured by terrible people and that deprogrammers were Satan’s agents and loved money, sex and drugs and hated God. But my deprogrammers who basically kind, thoughtful people and a couple of them told me they left because they wanted to follow God and knew the group was not what it claimed to be. Still recovering from my injuries, my crutches were taken and I was forced to listen to the team criticize and question the Moonies—a group I was devoted to. I was so unhappy with the situation that on the second day, while changing locations to avoid being found by the cult, I nearly murdered my father on the Long Island Expressway. (A more detailed story is in chapter two of Combating Cult Mind Control). It took five days, but eventually I managed to wake up start thinking independently once again.

“My life was forever changed by the love my family showed. How grateful I am that they recognized I was involved with a cult and took the radical steps to rescue me. Love is stronger than mind control and their love gave me the chance to be myself again. I have gone on to live a full and successful life. My family, my career, and my happiness would not have been possible without their actions and support.

“To everyone involved in helping me find my freedom of mind, Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

“And look how many people you have indirectly helped by helping me to exit and wake up!

*Nestor went on to become a psychiatrist and Gladys became a Licensed Social Worker. Both stopped doing forcible deprogramming. Mike Strom I have lost all contact for 40 years. And unfortunately, Gary died of MS a number of years ago. After my exit, I was asked to help others leave the Moon cult by doing forcible deprogramming for about a year. But by 1977, I stopped as legal conservatorships were no longer being granted and I did not like the stress and trauma of the approach. Also, I feared being arrested or being sued by the cult. By 1980 I was speaking out publicly against illegal forcible deprogramming (much to the chagrin of the counter-cult movement), and started doing voluntary exit-counseling. Over the decades I evolved the Strategic Interactive Approach.

– Dr. Stephen Hassan


After this, Stephen went back to his Jewish family and, per his own testimony, regularly reads and studies the Torah and is a devout Jew again.

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