Oct 16

“The Cult of Trump” by Steven Hassan

Like [Jim] Jones and other cult leaders, Trump exhibits features of what psychologist Erich Fromm called “malignant narcissism”—bombastic grandiosity, a bottomless need for praise, lack of empathy, pathological lying, apparent sadism, and paranoia. In short, he fits the stereotypical psychological profile of a cult leader. Author of The Cult of Trump Steven Hassan, in The Daily Beast

Why do so many still bow to Trump despite so much evidence he’s an incompetent and malicious president? Steven Hassan, an expert on cultism, addresses this in his new book called The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control. 

From the publisher’s description:

…(M)ind-control and licensed mental health expert Steven Hassan draws parallels between our current president and people like Jim Jones, David Koresh, Ron Hubbard and Sun Myung Moon, arguing that this presidency is in many ways like a destructive cult. He specifically details the ways in which people are influenced through an array of social psychology methods and how they become fiercely loyal and obedient. Hassan was a former’ Moonie’ himself, and he draws on his forty years of personal and professional experience studying hypnosis and destructive cults, working as a deprogrammer, and a strategic communications interventionist. He emphasizes why it’s crucial that we recognize ways to identify and protect ourselves and our loved ones.

In a recent article (The Daily Beast) Hassan refers to the cult leaders’ “playbook” and lists some of the mind-control strategies employed by Trump:

These include his grandiose claims, his practice of sowing confusion, his demand for absolute loyalty, his tendency to lie and create alternative ‘facts’ and realities, his shunning and belittling of critics and ex-believers, and his cultivating of an ‘us versus them’  mindset.
Of all these tactics, the ‘us versus them’ mindset is probably one of  the most effective. From the moment you are recruited into a cult, you are made to feel special, part of an ‘inside’ group in opposition to unenlightened, unbelieving, dangerous ‘outsiders.’

Kirkus Reviews adds to this: “…Hassan makes it clear that he is a master of certain rhetorical devices that do not require much intelligence but speak to much practice: the repetition of words and phrases (e.g., ‘I’m a very stable genius, very smart’) that, through ‘a primarily unconscious and memory-based process,’ lead the listener to think that they must be coming from more than one source and are therefore true, ‘crowding out analytical thinking and causing the mind to retreat into a kind of trance.'”

How to convince people they’ve fallen prey to such cultism? For one thing, oppositional attitudes don’t help the “deprogramming” process. From the Daily Beast piece: “…(A)ttacking their beliefs is doomed to fail. To help them recover their critical faculties, it is essential to develop  a warm and positive relationship before teaching them about how mind control works. I often do that by showing how it operates in other groups, like the Jonestown cult or Scientology…Ultimately, the goal is to educate and inspire people to regain their capacity for critical thinking, and to free their own minds.”

Hassan’s book has received praise from various mental health professionals, including psychiatrist Thomas G. Gutheil, Harvard Medical School:

…Hassan opens a wide-ranging, thoughtful and well-researched analysis of some of the most puzzling aspects of the current presidency, including the remarkable passivity of fellow Republicans, the gross pandering of many members of the press, the curious avoidance of clear labels that could and should be applied  by the media. Quibbles and speculations about diagnosis do not play central roles. Instead, the current administration is best understood through cult analogies, including factors such as total authoritarianism and intolerance of any questioning or deviation from the ‘playbook.’ This is both a clarifying and a terrifying book. Highly recommended.

Apr 08

“Trance”: Is the Use of Hypnotherapy Accurately Depicted?

Currently in limited release, the new crime drama Trance, directed by Danny Boyle, is largely about the use of hypnotherapy by character Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson).

IMDB describes the plot: “An art auctioneer who has become mixed up with a group of criminals partners with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.” Seems the auctioneer/robber Simon (James McAvoy) can’t recall what happened to the uber-expensive Goya since stealing it. That will happen when you get conked on the head by your leader in crime, Franck (Vincent Cassel), after you do all the dirty work.

The London Evening Standard elaborates on the ensuing shenanigans among Franck, Simon, and Elizabeth in this “heist ‘n’ hypnotism movie”:

…(T)he story gets mighty complicated, as this trio play out scary games on each other, leaving you trying to work out who’s screwing whom, unsure whether you are watching hypnotically induced dreams or actual events, and whether what you are seeing is past, present or future, even if it is real. But that’s amnesia for you, if I remember rightly.

Watch the movie trailer, which opens with Elizabeth saying, “Five percent of the population can be described as extremely suggestible.” Franck: “What can you make him do?” Elizabeth: “Anything.”

David Carr of The New York Times notes that “…trances are the building blocks of the movie” and that Dawson did research for her role at the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in California. In addition, psychologist David Oakley, who co-directs a hypnosis institute abroad, served as a consultant on the film.

Amnesia, of course, isn’t the only thing Elizabeth treats with hypnotherapy in her practice. She’s also seen in the movie with clients who have “agoraphobia, arachnophobia, obesity and golf trouble,” according to the London Evening Standard article.

In the real world, hypnotherapists do tackle a variety of problems, though psychiatrist Robert London believes the technique is “underused” as a therapeutic tool. He talks it up in a Psychology Today blog post, first exposing some misinformation:

For many people, including plenty of mental health professionals, hypnosis brings to mind mental weakness, mind control, sleep, or loss of consciousness. Women are often considered more hypnotizable than men. Those are myths. Hypnosis is neither mind control nor a strategy for the weak-willed.

It is not mind control, he states. But only when used appropriately and for the right reasons.

And Trance goes well beyond appropriate. From David Carr’s NYT article:

Of course, this being a movie, there had to be subterfuge and subtext to the hypnosis, which meant some aspect of mind control would come in. Elizabeth is threatened on all sides, and she fights back with what she knows, which is the ability to guide people down different paths…As Elizabeth struggles to regain custody of her own life, she manipulates Simon into losing control of his.

Well, it’s just a movie, you say. Unfortunately, mind control via hypnosis exists in the real world too. Whereas some reputable therapists treat trauma with hypnosis, some unreputable ones cause trauma with hypnosis. A recent legal case in the UK involved a hypnotherapist sexually abusing a 19-year-old female client—and filming it. As reported in the Telegraph, the judge, who gave him 18 months in jail, also expressed his concern about the field’s lack of regulation and inadequate requirements regarding formal training.

You can find out more about the misuse of hypnotherapy at such sites as WanttoKnow.info, where there’s a special section on Mind Control and ritual abuse cults.

Anthony Lane‘s review in The New Yorker reveals even more about broken ethics in Trance—and it only gets worse. Although Lane issues no spoiler alert, the following could be regarded as a bit TMI:

If you want to see ‘Trance,’ do so before it is sued, and outlawed from cinemas worldwide, by the British Society of Hypnotherapists. As matters stand, the profession may never recover from the defamatory portrait of clinical hypnosis that is enshrined in Elizabeth Lamb. Having discovered the hoodlums’ quest, she joins them for a cut of the loot, professing great boredom with her usual clients. She also sleeps with Simon, not content with putting him to sleep.

Apart from the film, and recognizing that those who misuse hypnosis or any other therapy technique are in the minority, hypnotherapy has many adherents who say it works. If you’re interested in using it, though, just a warning: make sure you use your good-consumer skills and do your research before moving forward.

And, don’t steal any paintings.