Book Review - Combating Cult Mind Control (25th Anniversary Revised Edition)

International Journal of Cultic Studies, (7), 2016, 55-56.

Book Review - Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best-Selling Guide to Protection, Rescue, and Recovery From Destructive Cults

(25th Anniversary Revised Edition)

By Steven Hassan

Reviewed by Marcia R. Rudin

Newton, MA: Freedom of Mind Press. 2015 (earlier editions, 1988, 1990). ISBN-10: 0967068827; ISBN-13: 978-0967068824 (paperback), $17.74 ( 390 pages.

I met Steve Hassan when my husband, Rabbi James Rudin, and I were writing one of the first books about cults, Prison or Paradise? The New Religious Cults, published in 1980. Steve had recently been counseled out of the Unification Church after an automobile accident caused by consecutive sleepless nights as a result of intensive recruiting and fund-raising when he was an important leader in the group. He was a valuable source of first-hand information for our book at a time when we did not know any former members and few were willing to speak out.

Thirty-five years have passed since we met Steve and since our seminal book was published, and 27 since Steve first published Combating Mind Control. Since then, numerous books have been written by former members, families, and loved ones of present and past cultists, and by psychologists and other academicians. But Hassan’s book has been extremely influential because of its wide popular exposure and circulation. Over the years, I have heard former cult members talk about standing in the aisle of Barnes and Noble reading Hassan’s book and saying to themselves, “So that’s what happened to me! I was in a cult!”

Because so many years have passed and so many changes have occurred, Hassan revised and updated his book in 1990 and now again in 2015. This latest edition summarizes and explains the many changes throughout these years in cultic groups, members, and former members, and in the countercult movement itself. These important changes include the diversity of cult members, the presence of small children and the elderly in cults, members who were born into and raised in groups, varieties of cultic groups, different locations and methods of recruitment, internal changes in major cultic groups such as the Unification Church, progress in academicians’ and helping professionals’ understanding of what Hassan prefers to term “undue influence,” and the transformation of both cult recruitment and access to available assistance because of the growth of the Internet.

One of the most interesting changes in the countercult movement, Hassan points out, are the connections between research into and understanding of undue influence and human trafficking and terrorist groups. Survivors of these groups have movingly spoken at ICSA conferences, illuminating our knowledge of their experiences through the understanding of the subtle mind-control techniques used against them.

Especially valuable in this revised edition of Combating Cult Mind Control are the many personal stories Hassan includes. The former member accounts come from survivors of a great variety of groups, including Bible-based groups, therapy groups, the Church of Scientology, Buddhist groups, New Age groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses, MeK (an Iranian terrorist group), Transcendental Meditation (TM), and the Mormon Church. These testimonies illustrate the process of recruitment and indoctrination and enable the reader to sympathize with the problems former members face as they attempt to recover and rebuild their lives.

Also valuable is Hassan’s updating of our understanding of mind-manipulation techniques and his explanation of his always-evolving counseling philosophy and methods. Although he details the complex processes involved, he writes in a clear way that everyone can understand. These sections will be especially helpful to families and loved ones of those still in groups, and to former members hoping to understand what happened to them.

From the perspective of his many years in the countercult movement, which I share and hence can appreciate, Hassan provides a comprehensive total view of the cult phenomenon since it first came to public attention in the 1970s. Throughout the book, he details the increasing dangers both to our democratic society and to individuals. He describes the growth in political and social power of certain groups and their leaders’ attempts to squelch criticism. He bemoans the lack of governmental interest and action and legal remedies within the sphere of our First Amendment and freedom-of-religion rights. His presentation of Dr. Alan Scheflin’s latest thoughts on permissible legal approaches is especially interesting. In his final chapter, Hassan offers concrete suggestions for preventive education, how to help a recovering former cult member, and actions we can take to protect our minds and our society.

Including a resource list of current helping professionals and organizations would have been helpful, especially since Hassan warns the reader several times of the existence of cult-sponsored, fake “helping” organizations. But the latest version of Combating Cult Mind Control offers an excellent up-to-date, one-stop resource for those seeking information for the first time about cults. At the same time, it offers an insightful summary of the present cult scene for those with long-term interest and involvement in this important issue.

International Journal of Cultic Studies ■ Vol. 7, 2016