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:
Patrick also reasoned that courts would be reluctant to prosecute parents for kidnapping:
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. 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  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:
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.
"The next day, Marc is rushed to the Maneckes' home in Connecticut. The Children of God had tried to get the Boston police to stop the car at a tollbooth the night before, but the police were sympathetic to Patrick and refused. During the start of the deprogramming, Marc escaped out a window, but the local police were sympathetic too and returned him."
"Marc and Ted Patrick square off as the deprogramming gets underway. Marc fights hard and at one point he cries: "If you don't let me go back, I'm going to kill myself." But Patrick persists, refuting Marc's arguments, helping to see he has been exploited by the Children of God and duped into behavior he could not be blamed for."
"After three and a half days, Marc breaks down and is deprogrammed. Patrick leans back and smiles as Marc's mother embraces the boy. "Welcome home, baby," she says. And Marc replies: "I'm sorry for all the trouble I caused you, Mom. Please forgive me. But it was almost a year before the last traces of the brainwashing disappeared.
Related Family Publications
- Kidnapped! This Could Happen to You! -A True Story By Cephas — GP, 1974-12-10
- Special - War on the Sects! The New Exorcists! — 1977-06-01
- Let Our Children Go! — 1976 – Excerpt from book by Ted Patrick and Tom Dulack
- Bethel Ministries Newsletter - Deprogramming and Exit-Counseling: Are They for Christians? — 1990-01 – by Randall Watters
- Christian Research Institute Journal: Ethical Problems in Exit Counseling — Winter 1992 – by William M. Alnor and Ronald Enroth
- Rick Ross: Cult Deprogramming — A collection of newspaper articles, court records and other information relating to deprogramming.
- Rick Ross: Ethical Standards — 1999-01 – Rick Ross explores ethical issues in deprogramming and exit counseling.