Refutation of the disinformation about Monica Pignotti

Posts tagged ‘Cults’

John Knapp, LMSW: Timeline of My Very Limited Contacts With Him

UPDATE: As of January 14, 2014, after a lengthy process of investigations and hearings on a complaint filed by his former client, John Knapp’s license to practice Social Work in New York State has been revoked. Click here for further links and details.

Update September 28: As of this afternoon, Knapp appears to have taken down the blogs referred to, so some of these links to the blog in question might no longer work.

Update August 30: John Knapp just made a posting to his own blog with a very misleading heading that I was “120 days on the same subject and still counting”. This implies that I was posting about something for 120 days, which is completely false. What happened is what I described below. I contacted him 120 days ago about a concern I had. We had a discussion about it, which I allowed him to have the last word on, the discussion took place and concluded on one day, May 2. In fact, about 120 days elapsed with no communication between Knapp and myself.  The next communication between us was one John Knapp initiated on August 25, 2011 when he sent me a friend request on Facebook and then on August 26, John posted about his former client and also maligned her by calling her a cyberstalker and maligned me as well. John Knapp claims I have been “cyberstalking” him for the past 22 months. If you believed someone had been cyberstalking you, would you send them a “friend request” on Facebook? John Knapp sent me a friend request on Facebook and then when I sent him a response he did not like, challenging him on why he wanted to be my “friend” after posting the smear piece about me, he accused me of “cyberstalking” him. Either Mr. Knapp has formulated a mighty strange definition of cyberstalking or his accusations are disingenuous and he hoped no one would notice.

Mr. Knapp claims I reopened the “scab”. No, he reopened it on August 25, 2011 when he made the highly derogatory posting about his former client and attacked me. I refuse to stand by and remain silent when I witness what in my opinion is an egregious humiliation of a former client who filed a state board complaint against him and so yes, I did respond to this on August 26, 2011. People can read it for themselves along with the several other postings he has made about us over the past five days and decide if they agree.

Ironically, he posted our entire private e-mail dialogue on his website, which proves what I am maintaining, that we had a completely voluntary discussion, he never once indicated that he considered it harassment or asked me not to contact him and at its conclusion, I dropped it and let him have the last word. That is what he considers “cyberstalking” on my part. Having a dialogue with a colleague and extending him the courtesy of contacting him privately, as the NASW Code of Ethics says to do and I allowed him to have the last word. Go figure. Also observe the attempted double double bind. I would bet that if I had not attempted to contact him privately and instead had gone straight to his board, he would have complained that I did not follow protocol by first attempting to discuss the matter privately. It would seem that from that perspective, I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t, but what the board will look at is the actions of the individual they are investigating, rather than attempts to shift the blame to those who complained.

Here is a description of what happened in May:

John Knapp, LMSW has repeatedly accused me of harassing him for the past year. However, in  consulting my own records from my e-mail and Facebook messages, my contacts with him have been very limited and even my public postings about him are few and far between. Until recently I had not even mentioned his name on any of my blogs and only did so recently to defend myself against his very public attacks on me as well as a former client. Here is some more detail regarding the facts about my very limited contact with John Knapp over the past year.

May 2, 2011

I sent him a private message on Facebook expressing my concerns (go to the above link to read that and the entire dialogue).

My basis for this was a communication I received from Carol Welch (and yes, I recognize this is hearsay, which is why I contacted him privately to check it out and discuss it with him rather than publicly accuse him of anything), which she has more recently publicly discussed, maintaining that Knapp told her in a phone call: “I wouldn’t be surprised if Monica has Borderline Personality Disorder” as well as his posting on a public Facebook page where he appeared to be supporting someone who was grossly maligning me. Knapp denies this, so at this point it is his word against hers. Note that this action is proper and in keeping with the NASW Code of Ethics which says that if a professional has a problem with a colleague, to first try to discuss it with them privately and if that fails, go to their licensing board. The only reason I am making this public now is that both Knapp and Carol have already made this public and John Knapp has falsely accused me of harassing him and I need to post evidence to defend myself.

In response to this communication, Knapp e-mailed me asking for specifics. I let him know that my problem with his was that he appeared to be supporting someone on Facebook who was attacking me, but most importantly what Carol Welch had written me about Knapp’s alleged statement to her about me (Knapp and I only met very briefly at a conference in the mid-1990s and he doesn’t know me at all, much less ever assessed me). I let him know I considered this improper. His response to me was to deny everything and that he wanted to forward all this to Doug Mesner. My response was that at this time, since there was already a board complaint against him by a former client, I would be willing to do nothing for the time being and let that investigation run its course. Knapp also passed along to me some second-hand communication that he claimed to have received from Jim Martin, a mutual acquaintance that I had been helping Carol with her Board complaint. I let him know that this was completely false. I did not even know that she was filing the complaint until after she had already written it up and submitted it. This, in legal terms is what is known as hearsay and not valid evidence and in fact, it is false although helping someone with a Board complaint does not constitute harassment. Knapp had the last word in this exchange.

Note that John Knapp and I had both received hearsay about one another, but we have chosen to deal with it in very different ways. The way I dealt with it was to contact him privately to discuss it and I did not make any of this public until he and the other party did. His way of dealing with the hearsay about me was to very publicly accuse me of internet harassment. I note this in case to demonstrate that these are two very different things, in case someone wants to accuse me of having a double standard.

Until our most recent exchanges of August 25-27, that was the extent of my direct communication with John Knapp over the past year and that completely voluntary exchange that he voluntarily engaged in and never asked me not to contact him, could in no way be considered harassment.

On August 25, 2011, John Knapp sent me the following message on Facebook:

A note you might find interesting:http://www.facebook.com/notes/john-m-knapp-lmsw/brava-megan-singer-for-firing-your-therapistout-loud/249684775064547

He also sent me a “Friend” request.

That same day, he posted an article on his blog, attacking his former client and me, accusing me of harassing him.

In response to the article and his private message to me, I sent him the following private message on Facebook:

I see you have launched a highly defamatory attack on me on your website and you want to be my friend? What’s going on with you, John? And by the way, I am not unemployed. I am self employed. Now that I have informed you of that, if you leave that up, I will consider this an intentional posting of a falsehood on your part.

Although he took this as a legal threat, it was not intended that way. The rest of what happened and our very heated (initially private) exchange that Knapp chose to make public, that followed is described elsewhere and although heated, was in no way harassment and he no way asked me to stop (his attacks on me in this exchange were quite strong) and in fact, encouraged me to keep contacting him. There is a big difference between two people having a conflict via e-mail and harassment. It is only harassment if one party asks the other to stop and that person does not. Knapp at no point asked me to stop. In fact, he repeatedly responded to me. It was not until he blocked me that he indicated he wanted no more contact and I have not contacted him since, nor do I have any intention of ever contacting him again.

Strangely enough, his posting blocking me was also peppered with all kinds of questions my background. This is the same type of straw man issue that the AT crowd has tried to fling at their critics. My background is publicly posted in detail on my CV, should anyone care to examine it. However, my background is completely irrelevant to the issue at hand, which was the public attack Mr. Knapp has launched on his former client. I do happen to have significant clinical experience (which contrary to Knapp’s insinuations has nothing whatsoever to do with Scientology, which I left and fully repudiated 20 years before I obtained my professional credentials and I have never practiced Scientology as a mental health professional and TFT comprised only about 10% of my work with clients at the time I was practicing it and I have not practiced TFT for more than seven years and am, in fact, a highly published critic of TFT). However, it wouldn’t matter if I had no experience whatsoever. The issue, which Knapp appears to be attempting to distract from by shifting the attention to me, is his obscenity-laced public diatribes towards a former client and a colleague. It really doesn’t take any credentials at all to see that this is just plain wrong. The only requirement to be able to discern that is some shred of human decency.

So in the past year, John Knapp and I had two private, completely voluntary exchanges (the second one initiated by him) on two occasions that in no way fit the legal definition of harassment. Hence, Knapp has made another demonstrably false statement against me that I have been harassing him for the past year.

Public postings on the internet do not constitute harassment. However, until my blog posting of August 27, I had not even mentioned his name on any of my blogs that I could find and on that date, did so only to defend myself against his attacks. Knapp chose to post my private communications of August 26-27 to his blog. If people Google our names together, that will be borne out, although free speech permits me to express any opinions about him that I choose to.

The only other posting I could find about him was one I made in 2009 [which was what I was referring to in my communication to him of May 2, 2011) on one of my blogs entitled “Symptom Lists Can Be Powerful Things” where I criticized some material on his website, but did not mention him by name, again, not harassment, not defamatory and only the expression of my opinions and perfectly legitimate. There were also some discussions about this posting and Knapp’s work that Knapp himself participated in, on a list serv that I run, Anticult Controversies, but again, those discussions occurred over two years ago and Knapp was on the list, at my invitation which he accepted. No communication was begin forced upon him and in no way could this be construed as harassment.

So those are the facts, which soundly refute John Knapp’s accusations that I have been harassing him for the past year, which I have shown are demonstrably false. Anyone reading this blog will see that my attention in the past year has been taken up with a number of matters that had nothing to do with Mr. Knapp who I thought of very little until he began his current, very public attacks on me.

I predict the anonymous smear campaigners who are not affiliated with Mr. Knapp as far as I know, who are upset with my criticism about certain adoption therapists, will try to piggyback off of Mr. Knapp’s profanity-laced postings denigrating me. Just watch.

Mr. Knapp has already piggybacked off of them by quoting some of their material about me, including their prediction “when she appears in court, it will be a complete circus” which turned out to be far from the case. Not only did that one not come to pass, but my lawyer went to court and made a very solid argument in my defense, that got the case dismissed. The proceeding was a dignified one in Federal court where I won my motion for dismissal on both the grounds of the plaintiff’s failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and also jurisdiction, not a circus at all.

The most laughable part of all this is that John Knapp, on his Facebook page, is now asking for an apology from those he has victimized with his public smear campaign after he called his former client a cyberstalker and made statements that, according to that client, are complete fabrications and in my opinion has egregiously violated the NASW Code of Ethics by making public, derogatory remarks about a former client maligning a colleague in a number of obscenity-laced diatribes. Here are some passages that apply:

1.12 Derogatory Language Social workers should not use derogatory language in their written or verbal communications to or about clients. Social workers should use accurate and respectful language in all communications to and about clients.

and this: 2.01 Respect

(a) Social workers should treat colleagues with respect and represent accurately and fairly the qualifications, views, and obligations of colleagues.

(b) Social workers should avoid unwarranted negative criticism of colleagues with clients or with other professionals. Unwarranted negative criticism may include demeaning comments that refer to colleagues’ level of competence or to individuals’ attributes such as race, ethnicity, national origin, color, age, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, political belief, mental or physical disability, or any other preference, personal characteristic, or status.

and this: 2.11 Unethical Conduct of Colleagues

(a) Social workers should take adequate measures to discourage, prevent, expose, and correct the unethical conduct of colleagues.

(b) Social workers should be knowledgeable about established policies and procedures for handling concerns about colleagues’ unethical behavior. Social workers should be familiar with national, state, and local procedures for handling ethics complaints. These include policies and procedures created by NASW, licensing and regulatory bodies, employers, agencies, and other professional organizations.

(c) Social workers who believe that a colleague has acted unethically should seek resolution by discussing their concerns with the colleague when feasible and when such discussion is likely to be productive.

(d) When necessary, social workers who believe that a colleague has acted unethically should take action through appropriate formal channels (such as contacting a state licensing board or regulatory body, an NASW committee on inquiry, or other professional ethics committees).

My actions of contacting him were entirely proper and in keeping with (c) above and after that failed, I did (d) and as a result, the NYS board is now in possession of John Knapp’s blog diatribes denigrating his client and colleagues.

And note the passage about dual relationships, which says nothing about there having to be a quid pro quo and note especially the last two sentences:

(c) Social workers should not engage in dual or multiple relationships with clients or former clients in which there is a risk of exploitation or potential harm to the client. In instances when dual or multiple relationships are unavoidable, social workers should take steps to protect clients and are responsible for setting clear, appropriate, and culturally sensitive boundaries. (Dual or multiple relationships occur when social workers relate to clients in more than  one relationship, whether professional, social, or business. Dual or multiple relationships can occur  simultaneously or consecutively.)

An apology? The irony is rich indeed. Let’s let that state board complaint run its course, see what its outcome is and we’ll see who needs to apologize to whom. Since there is nothing in my activities that even remotely fits the legal definition of cyberstalking or defamation, John Knapp needs to take the time to learn about my history and track record which includes a very recent legal victory in Federal court, getting a case against me dismissed by someone who tried to silence me and failed. Click here for some interesting reading. If Mr. Knapp has even the remotest fantasy that I can be bullied into silence while exercising my very legitimate and constitutional rights to free speech, he has chose the wrong person to try to bully.

Also observe an interesting double standard at play. There are numerous examples of former members and other critics of cult leaders doing much more than I have done in this case, to expose the cult leader and express their opinions. Sometimes this sort of criticism has gone on for decades and I applaud it and completely support the courage of the ex-cult members who blow the whistle. However, when it comes to figures in the anti-cult movement, it seems that such criticism is not acceptable and some behave no differently from cult leaders and try to silence critics with smear campaigns and threats of legal action. It seems that some people hold anti-cult leaders to a very different standard than cult leaders. Sometimes I have great difficulty telling the difference when it comes to the dynamics that I observe at play.

The Blind Stupidity of Google Search Engines and The National Enquirer

Come on people, it’s just a computer program and in my opinion, not such a good one at that because Google searches all too often, produce unreliable information. No offense intended personally to any of the individuals who are programmers for Google  — I have known a few and they are very bright individuals — but something really needs to be done because all too often, a Google search on a person’s name is not an accurate representation of who they are (which also points to the flaws in critical thinking of people who make such an assumption that it is). More and more people who have even minimal critical thinking skills are coming to understand that Google is not a reliable source for information and to really find out information about someone, sources of whatever comes up, need to be carefully and critically examined. Anyone can post anything on the internet about anyone and if they have a bit of technical knowledge and know how to Google bomb or if someone is a critic of certain pseudoscientific practices, the blind stupidity of the Google search engine will make these ads for practices come up with the person’s name. Anti-cult activists have been aware of this for quite awhile now. The reason these ads come up and not ads for more credible sources is that often, these pseudoscientific practices aggressively advertise on the internet whereas the more credible sources most often do not buy so many Google ads, if any. Academics and  clinicians who already have busy, successful practices often see no need for aggressive ad campaigns because they have busy practices with long waiting lists simply through word of mouth and do minimal to no advertising.

Perhaps this is why attorney John Dozier, co-author (with Sue Scheff) of the book, The Google Bomb has compared Google to The National Enquirer. Virtually anyone can post anything about someone and Google does not discriminate as to whether it is backed up by any evidence. Dozier stated:

I can see the day when Google will be the National Enquirer of the online world. And ironically, it will be by the vote of each of you. The online society will have voted to leave for greener pastures, tired of the trash Google presents as authoritative (p. 221).

Dozier went on to explain that better search programs will be developed. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has been victimized by an online smear campaign.

Ironically, what’s happening lately is that people, to defend themselves from the libel and defamation that comes up on Google searches that Google will not remove without a court order and since most people cannot afford to hire teams of lawyers to deal with this, is that people are getting Google alerts on their names and doing their own searches in order to defend themselves and this gives even more hits and business to Google. I would bet this is temporary, though, until a competitor steps in and creates a better, more reliable search engine.

So Google, get with it and fix your search program so it does not misrepresent people, or your competitors will do it for you and Dozier’s prediction will come true. In my opinion and experience, for critical thinkers, it already has. In the meantime, smart people or perhaps I should say people that have at least minimum levels of intelligence and critical thinking skills, do not jump to unwarranted conclusions about a person based upon Google ads or what comes up on Google searches.

Until this search engine reliability problem gets corrected, which could be years, I highly recommend people read books like The Google Bomb for things they can do to minimize the damage.

Hate Speech: A Subjective Term

Since Ronald Federici’s supporters are now accusing me of “hate speech” or a “hate campaign” on that other anonymous WordPress blog, I need to point out that “hate speech” is a highly subjective term. So-called “hate speech” or “campaign” is not against the law unless it contains libel/defamation or specific threats of/or incites violence or if it discriminates against someone because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation, but  my “speech” or writings have contained none of this, since Dr. Federici’s interventions are presumably not a religion and therapy interventions are not considered a “protected group” as race, religion, ethnicity are. In other words it is not against the law to “hate” or criticize TFT, EMDR, CISD, or any other alphabet therapy or Federici’s intervention although I do not equate criticism with hatred as the true believers in these approaches might.

The very idea of “hate speech” is highly controversial. One person’s “hate speech” could be another person’s sincerely held opinions and thus, the US Constitution protects hate speech that does not fall into the categories I described, even the type of hate speech most people would find repugnant (although again, no reasonable person would consider what I have written to fall into that category).

For example, Scientologists consider any criticism of Scientology to be “hate speech” especially former member/whistleblowers. Can they sue for that? Of course not. They have sued for many other things, but not hate speech. Scientologists have every right to believe that it is hate speech, but no right to enforce that belief on critics by silencing them.

During the civil rights movement, early activists were portrayed as angry haters, simply because they were fighting for their civil rights. The best definition for “hate speech” or a “hate campaign” seems to be anything someone says that one strongly does not like. But guess what? You don’t have to like it, but it is protected by our Constitution. People who want to silence the speech of others they do not like would be better off moving somewhere there is a totalitarian dictatorship and making sure they are the ones in power so they can oppress and silence anyone with whom they disagree, but here in the US, we have a Constitution.

Calling something “hate speech” appears to be yet another propaganda tactic to attempt to smear critics. No reasonable person would consider my sincere expression of concerns about interventions that lack evidence for safety and efficacy that may do harm to children to be “hate speech” or a “hate campaign”. Again, this looks to me to be yet another attempt to manipulate others with propaganda.

Ludicrous comparisons of ACT have been made to Fred Phelps and the blatantly false statement was made that ACT was “Scientology-backed” (the website in question, a reputation management company, which denies Federici had anything to do with it but yet vigorously defends him and states that he has retained their services, has now removed the false statement about Scientology but persists with their ludicrous analogy to Phelps — fine by me, as it exposes what in my opinion is quite obviously faulty thinking and blatant propaganda tactics — kind of like calling someone a Nazi).

In any case, to set the record straight, ACT is not Scientology backed in any way, shape or form. And no, the fact that I left Scientology 34 years ago and have been a strong critic of Scientology ever since, is in no way an indication that ACT is “Scientology-backed” and if this does get to court, this blatantly false statement will be exposed (this lie has been repeated more than once and not just by that rep management company who edited their website to remove the statement). I am adamantly opposed to Scientology and any Google search on my name will reveal very high profile, public criticism that I have been engaged in on the internet since I first got online in 1996. I have no desire whatsoever to ever be a member of Scientology and never have in the 34 years since I left, but there is no way Scientology would even allow a person who has criticized them to the extent that I have, to be a member, much less work for them. Public criticism of Scientology is considered by Scientology’s own policies to be a suppressive act of the highest order and that makes me a Suppressive Person, in the eyes of Scientology.

As for Phelps, their “opinions” and rationalization of it is in my opinion, some of the most convoluted and ludicrous propaganda I have ever witnessed. They argue that we are taking a ridiculous position and that no reasonable person wants to see a child subjected to terror. That has never been my argument or that of anyone connected to ACT. No one is saying what these therapists “want”. We are not mindreaders and would not presume to know what they want. What we have done is pointed to specific examples of therapy that employ prone restraint positions that much literature has shown to be dangerous, even when used in institutions by professionals under highly supervised conditions.

We have criticized certain holding therapy methods, that do exist and in my opinion and in the opinion of many who have observed them are cruel and abusive, regardless of whether the people who employ them are in favor of terrorizing children. It is what they actually do, not what they want or intend, that is important. For example, view the video of Neil Feinberg, who finally, after more than a decade of subjecting children to these tactics as a licensed mental health professional, just this year finally had his license permanently revoked by the State of Colorado. This is not some made up problem. This was a licensed mental health professional that hundreds of parents trusted and turned over their children to for “therapy” for decades and he is not the only one.

Do I hate the way Feinberg is dealing with the child on that video? You bet I do. I hate, what in my opinion are verbally and physically abusive acts and the fact that they were done in the name of “therapy” makes them even worse. I have been accused of having “no respect” for such “professionals.” Darn right I don’t. Imagine how quickly a child would be removed from a parent’s custody if a parent were ever seen treating a child in that manner, yet therapists get away with it for years on end — this is a disgrace to the profession and to any licensing boards that allow these kinds of practices to continue. How many children suffered before that happened? Yet I do not know Neil Feinberg and have no idea what he really wanted and what his intentions were and I don’t give a flip what his intentions were or what he wanted. For all I know, he may have been merely misguided and sincerely believed he was helping children and had nothing but the best intentions. The bottom line is, however, that these so-called “therapies”, in our opinion, do terrorize children and in some cases have done much worse.

Their attempts to relate our protest of prone restraint procedures, coercive holding therapies and interventions that lack scientific research to support their efficacy is a completely reasonable position and has absolutely nothing to do with Phelps. Obviously a number of professional peer reviewers have disagreed with this reputation management company and consider our position and criticisms reasonable ones, because we have had a number of our articles published in peer reviewed journals. Trust me, I have absolutely no desire to know what is going on inside the minds of those who carry out these therapies and I don’t care if they have the best intentions in the world. I am not claiming to know what they want and what their intentions are. All I care about is the fact that they are using treatments that have no scientific evidence for their safety and efficacy and in my opinion, based on my observation of videotapes of these treatments, are cruel and abusive, regardless of what the therapists intended. Connell Watkins did not intend to kill Candace Newmaker. She thought she was doing “therapy” and helping her but that makes no difference because the bottom line is that a 10 year old child died.

The people using these propaganda tactics need to realize, however, that they may have grossly underestimated the intelligence of the average American who I believe is unlikely to fall for such an obvious smear tactic, attempting to make loose and convoluted associations to people and organizations that have nothing to do with ACT.

If people are interested in a more appropriate analogy, here’s one for you. Extensive interviews with the followers of Jim Jones who were fortunate enough to survive the Jonestown mass suicide/murder revealed that most of these followers were extremely well intentioned individuals who were attracted to following Jim Jones and his People’s Temple because they sincerely believed he was doing good in the world, fighting poverty and racism. Who would be opposed to that? We cannot fault them on their intentions, but nevertheless, instead, what ended up happening was that they were led by Jones to brutally murder their own children, but forcing them to drink a cyanide-laced punch. The act was brutal, but the vast of these people, if asked, would never have said they were in favor of murdering children and they would have been completely sincere. Yet that’s what they did. Prior to this mass atrocity, people who expressed their concerns about what was going on were seen as anticult cranks and fanatics by some. This is an example of what what people want and what they actually do can be quite different. Too often, people confuse motives with actions. And to anticipate a way this might be twisted, I am not saying that these cult members or Jim Jones was like attachment therapists. My point is that people who commit atrocities whether it be abusive “therapies” or cult members who abuse/kill their children, very often do not see themselves as bad people who want bad things to happen and this even often holds true for the leaders. Good actors who play villains in a convincing manner, know this.

Instead of flinging around terms that in no way would be anything anyone could be charged with, my offer to Dr. Federici remains open to have a professional, sensible discussion that names specific statements I have made that he considers to be legally actionable — meaning factually false. There is nothing I have written that I consider, based on my own careful review of the literature,  to be factually false but again, I am not infallible so my offer remains open.

Are people with strange belief systems not of sound mind?

There is a commonly believed myth that people with strange belief systems are always psychotic or not of sound mind in some way. In fact, the research of Richard J. McNally and his team of researchers at Harvard University and others demonstrates that by and large, people with strange belief systems are not psychotic.

McNally and his colleagues studied people who believed they had been abducted by aliens. Some even had the delusion that they had been taken up to spaceships, medically examined, and impregnated by aliens. Understandably, people uninformed in this area would make the assumption that such people had to be psychotic. However, when McNally and his team performed an extensive battery of psychological and psychiatric testing, they found that the vast majority were not psychotic and their mental health pathology was no different from a comparison group of normals who were subjected to the same tests.

This has implications for people in cults who adopt strange beliefs. Furthermore, the DSM IV-TR excludes a diagnosis of schizophrenia if the delusion is culturally based. If a person, for example, lives full time among Scientologists who have the Scientology belief system, which includes at its most advanced levels, a belief in Xenu and body thetans and incredible past life incidents, that could be considered a cultural belief because Scientology is that person’s culture (note the first four letters of the word). People who leave Scientology, usually drop that belief although there are some Scientologists who leave the organization and continue to affiliate with independent Scientologists who have that belief. Since leaving Scientology, I completely dropped that belief.

UPDATE: In a recent other WordPress blog, an absurd comparison was made that betrays the author’s ignorance about extensive social psychology research on social influence dynamics and techniques. The statement was made that most people laugh when they heard the OT III materials, but I did not. This completely and probably intentionally drops the context in which this belief evolved. If I had heard the OT III materials when I was new to Scientology I too would have laughed it off. I was not introduced to these materials until more than two years after I first became involved with Scientology and by that time was very much a part of the culture and under their social influence. Most people who stick with Scientology and get to OT III do believe it when they see it, not because they are gullible, stupid or kooky people but because they have come under social influence and have gradually accepted the belief system. The fact is that most people who have come under the influence of Scientology’s belief system do not “laugh” when they see the OT III materials. There is a very large body of social psychology research showing that susceptibility to influence techniques has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence, nor doe it mean that the person is in any way mentally ill or odd. Normal, intelligent people, given the right (or the wrong) circumstances can be influenced to believing some very strange things.

If we examine the belief systems of many mainstream religions, if looked at from the perspective of an objective outsider, many of those beliefs could be considered just as strange as those of nonmainstream religions. What makes them not seem strange is that the beliefs are held by millions of people, not their content.

It is a highly stigmatizing myth that people in cults are psychotic. The vast majority are not. In fact, although of course there are tragic exceptions to this, such as Lisa McPherson (who became psychotic long after her initial involvement) people who are truly psychotic usually do not last long in cults because in many cults, they would not be on medication and would not be able to function in the community. Eileen Barker cites a number of studies that dispel the myth that all or even most people in cults are mentally ill. On the contrary, most are not.

People leaving cults, especially those who were in for most of their adult life, have very real challenges adjusting to life in the outside world. Let’s not compound that by stigmatizing them with myths.

My attackers have written that I am “not of sound mind” because of my long-past experience in Scientology, so I thought I would use this as a opportunity to debunk myths and educate people on cults. There is no evidence to support this claim. Since leaving Scientology  in 1976 (which I was in for less than 6 years in the 1970s) I have operated as a high functioning adult with credible mental health professional references, who has held down long-term jobs, and acquired a BA, MSW, and PHD and have never received a diagnosis of psychosis or serious mental illness of any sort.

Similar assertions are made about my experience with TFT. TFT involves the stimulation of acupressure points. Millions of Americans believe in acupuncture/acupressure and in Eastern cultures, belief is even more widespread. The theory of meridians have no scientific basis, but believing in something that has no scientific basis hardly means that someone is mentally unstable. Were that the case, the vast majority of Americans (who surveys show believe in all kinds of unscientific things such as ESP) would have to be diagnosed. If so many believe in ESP, people believing in distance healing is not such a stretch, although VT is claimed to be based on a specific technology, not ESP.

More potentially dangerous than that, are therapists who recommend interventions for children that involve instructing parents to put disobedient children in a prone restraint position. While it is unlikely that these therapists are mentally ill, the intervention, like TFT, has no randomized clinical trials to support its efficacy and according to a 2002 review published review in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry by David M. Day, the theories behind such therapies have virtually no empirical evidence to support them. Day wrote (p. 274):

Second, as stated previously, none of the theories has been subjected to careful and systematic empirical evaluation. To be sure, there is a need for research to assess the propounded theoretical models to determine which are sound and which need to be revised or discarded. For example, Singh et al. (1999) commented that the underlying theory of restraint “is based partly on the unproven assumption that coercive interactions, which impose control through force, effectively reduce an individual’s aggression and lead to more socially acceptable behaviors” (p. 251). Drawing on the work of Patterson (1982), they went on to note that “in fact the opposite occurs” (p. 251), in that restraining children may serve to reinforce the aggressive behavior by fostering the coercive cycle of escalating aversive reactions. Such assumptions need to be carefully examined and revised on the basis of empirical observations. Moreover, there is a paucity of high-quality, methodologically sound research to inform clinical practice.

Rather than personally malign people with whom one disagrees as being psychotic or not of sound mind (which is unlikely to be the case), I find it is more useful to discuss the theories themselves and the degree of  research support for the interventions. In this case, it is sorely lacking. Given that the prime directive in any health/mental health professional code of ethics is to first, do no harm and given the controversy over the safety of restraints, the ethical thing to do would be to refrain from such practices or in a true emergency, which is defined as an immediate (not longer-term) threat of harm, use the least possible restrictive method for as short a time as possible. For example, if a child backs down and promises to be good, there would no longer be what the hospital restraint guidelines would consider an acceptable emergency. Some people believe otherwise, however and unlike my detractors I do not assume that people who disagree with me are mentally unstable. The literature does show, however, that there is very little support for these methods and burden of proof is on the therapists who are using these methods to show they are safe and effective with well designed controlled studies. So far, as Day’s review and several more recent systematic literature reviews have demonstrated, this has not occurred. Note that this is not an argument from “polemics” or authority. This is an argument from evidence or in this case, lack thereof.

Moreover, we, as a society, need to be really careful about labeling people who are different from the mainstream as mentally ill. History has shown that the infamous dictatorships that have done this have not created societies in which any rational, humane, decent person would want to live.

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