Deprogramming

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Deprogramming was a term coined by Ted Patrick in 1971 to describe his work in helping parents "rescue" their children from destructive cults and is a harsh form of exit counseling that arose as a reaction to the cults spawned by the 1960s.

Margaret Singer defined deprogramming as "providing members with information about the cult and showing them how their own decision-making power had been taken away from them" (Margaret Singer, Cults in Our Midst,San Francisco: Jossey Bass Publishers, 1995).

In most cases, deprogramming involved the literal abduction or kidnapping of members to deprogram them. Although there were a few cases in which parents obtained temporary conservatorship orders to deprogram their adult children, in general most deprogramming involved criminal acts of abduction and false imprisonment. Ted Patrick reasoned that the law did not recognize the psychologically destructive power of the cults and until it changed, deprogrammers had to sometimes break the law to "rescue" cult members:

But the laws, and the politicians who administer and interpret them, were protecting David Berg, and the parents' hands were tied. It seemed wrong to me. I thought something had to be done. And, everything considered, nobody seemed better prepared to do it than me...

Addressing a meeting of FreeCOG at my house in August, 1971, I told the assembled parents, "We have to be willing to do whatever is necessary to rescue your children. The cult operates illegally under legal sanctions. We have to do the same thing. There's no other way to fight them. Hopefully, in the long run, as a result of what we're doing, the laws will be changed. Until then, we do what we have to do."

Source: Ted Patrick and Tom Dulack, Let Our Children Go!, (New York: E. P, Dutton Company, 1976).

Patrick also reasoned that courts would be reluctant to prosecute parents for kidnapping:

From my research into the subject I was reasonably well as­sured that a parent would not be prosecuted for kidnapping his own child, especially if the child was a minor. With that in mind, I began to formulate the basis of my approach to seizing the children and deprogramming them. The first rule was al­ways to have at least one of the parents present when we went to snatch somebody. The parents would have to make the first physical contact; then, no matter who assisted them afterwards, it would be the parents who were responsible. And if a parent was not committing a crime by seizing his or her child, no one else could be considered an accessory to a crime. I also counted on the fact that only the abducted child could bring suit against anyone. I was confident of being able to "deprogram" the child counteract the brainwashing he'd undergone—so that once he had come out of it he would have no desire to press charges.

Source: Ted Patrick and Tom Dulack, Let Our Children Go!, (New York: E. P, Dutton Company, 1976).

However, although some courts were indeed reluctant to prosecute parents or deprogrammers, other courts were not and deprogrammers began to encounter many legal problems including civil suits and criminal charges. In 1980, Patrick was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to 5 years probation and a $5,000 fine.[1] Jason Scott, a former cult member deprogrammed by Rick Ross sued Ross, 3 others and the Cult Awareness Network and in 1995 was awarded $5 million by a jury. Scott later settled his claim against Ross for $5000 and 200 hours of professional consultation with Ross [2] However, the suit (and more than 50 other lawsuits, many of them frivolous claims which resulted in sanctions, against CAN by Scientology and its supporters) bankrupted the Cult Awareness Network and a Church of Scientology member purchased the organization, its name and all its assets in a bankruptcy auction.

In the 1980s, deprogrammers began to use the term "exit counseling" and describe themselves as "exit counselors." In part this was an attempt to move away from the controversy and negative connotations of deprogramming, but exit counseling has also adopted non-coercive or less coercive techniques.

The Watchman Fellowship describes exit counseling as follows:

Exit Counseling: (Thought Reform Consulting) A non-coercive technique (in contrast to deprogramming) designed to help rescue members of religions or cults that are considered false, harmful, or dangerous. The program usually involves a two to three day voluntary counseling session emphasizing education and dialogue, often with a licensed mental health professional, a former member of the group, and/or a specialist on cult dynamics. The approach stresses true personal and religious freedom in the context of providing additional information and full disclosure, which facilitates more informed decision-making. Family counseling and intervention techniques may also be incorporated.

Source: The Watchman Expositor: Index of Cults and Religions

[edit] Deprogramming Photos

The following four photographs and their captions are from Patrick's book, Let Our Children Go!. They show the deprogramming of former Children of God Member Marc Manecke.

[edit] Related Family Publications

[edit] More Information

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