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Disclaimer: The purpose of this Blog

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do bad things, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” – Albert Einstein

This blog expresses my (Monica Pignotti) opinions and analysis based upon evidence and facts, as I understand them. See my other blog, Monica Pignotti: The Truth for rebuttals to the internet smear and disinformation campaign about me initiated by people who are obviously upset by my evaluation of certain mental health practices. Go here to read a Statement of Support  from social work, psychology and other mental health professionals.

Monica Feb 2014

The intent and purpose of this blog is to provide the readers with information and points of view that they might not otherwise be provided with by proponents of the therapies I am discussing who may sincerely believe they are helping people. It is not the purpose of this blog to give any specific advice on specific professionals and it is not the purpose of this blog to dissuade anyone from seeing any particular professional or to recommend any particular professional and my positive or negative views ought not to be interpreted in that manner. My purpose is to provide the reader with accurate information so that the reader can make more informed choices, should they or anyone in their family need help from a mental health professional, but the choices are yours and yours alone to make. The opinions I express on this blog are solely my own and ought not to be interpreted as advice. I would urge people to consult a wide variety of sources of information before consulting any mental health professional. The decision you make is yours and yours alone.

Additionally, nothing in this blog is intended to be legal advice in any way, shape or form.  I am simply expressing my opinions on certain cases. As a human being, I make no claims of being infallible. If any reader believes that I have made any factually incorrect statements, I welcome feedback and correction, as long as adequate evidence is provided.

Response to Steve Hassan: When it Comes to Harmful Unethical Practices Indeed I Will Not Be Silenced

Steve Hassan’s recent blog article dated March 31, 2016 states that:

The ‘refusal to be silenced’ often causes issues. When disagreements arise between activists, the resulting fallout can have damaging consequences. Public infighting and social media attacks dilute the core message and alienate the many who are looking for real help. Divisions and mudslinging sessions between former members serve as leverage for the very groups activists claim they are combating.

He then goes on to say we need to focus on the “greater cause regarding activism and undue influence.” That focus is all well and good, but should it be at the expense of turning a blind eye when we see harm being done? That is the question I would like to explore here.

First, I need to point out that he is handing us a type of “package deal” by conflating “mudslinging” and any kind of disagreement or criticism, referred to as “divisions.” When it comes to mudslinging and petty bickering I couldn’t agree more that it should be off limits. There is a major difference, however, between petty bickering and “mudslinging” vs. legitimate criticism and exposure of practices that could be harming consumers. And yes, believe it or not, ex-cult members who become counselors are not immune, if anything they are even more vulnerable to taking on such behaviors, given what was learned in the cult. I offer just a few examples (there are general categories, not accusations of anyone in particular):

  • If a practitioner is charging very high fees, much higher than their colleagues, that consumers need to go into debt to afford unless they are very wealthy, yet there is no research evidence that their approach is superior to any of their lesser charging colleagues, this needs to be exposed. This is particularly egregious if the person is using their knowledge of undue influence to manipulate a person into paying high fees (for example, guilt and fear induction by asking the person if they would hesitate in paying a high fee if their loved one had cancer or saying that horrible things will happen to their cult involved loved one if they don’t do the practitioners particular highly priced brand of intervention – when in fact, the family does have options for how/whether to intervene).
  • If a practitioner is abusing others, such as taking advantage of the person sexually (which has been alleged regarding some high profile “deprogrammers” from the 1970s. In 2008 in Philadelphia, there was even a presentation on this topic at an International Cultic Studies Association called “The Anti-Cult-Cult”.
  • If the practitioner is engaging in other unethical behavior such as violating client confidentiality, misrepresenting their credentials, engaging in dual relationships as I blogged about previous was the case with a licensed social worker who counseled ex-cultists and eventually lost his license due to his unethical behavior documented by his State Board.
  • Making unsubstantiated claims about their intervention (e.g. that it is superior to all others, that it is the only way to save their loved one, that it has been shown to be effective when only very preliminary pilot studies have been done).
  • Engaging in mental health practices that have been shown to be potentially harmful
  • Practicing beyond the scope of their licensure or education (for example, someone without a mental health degree engaging in mental health practice or someone with a license making diagnoses in areas that are outside their area of expertise or diagnosing someone they have not personally met with)

People can feel free to comment and add to my list, which I in no way intend to be exhaustive.

The fact is that like any human beings in any profession, there are bound to be ones who behave unethically and harm others. This is particularly true of people coming out of destructive cults who may still be acting out some of the behaviors they learned in the cult or perhaps were people who were inherently narcissistic or psychopathic to begin with and are now acting out what was done to them in the cult.

To say we must not speak publicly about this because it is bad for the “cause” is very cult-like and seems to be just the opposite of what Hassan is alleging when he implies people who do this, who blow the whistle on their own or speak out, need to heal themselves. I would contend that people who remain silent and do not speak out against abuses, whether they are comrades in the cause or not, shows that the person might have some healing to do. When we consent to a code of silence against harm that is being done, we create a very unhealthy group dynamic and that applies to people fighting cults as much as it does to people who are members of such groups.

Now it should go without saying that I agree that petty personal attacks and mudslinging are not helpful. However, where I part ways with Hassan is his inference that somehow unintentionally reinforcing the erroneous belief system of cult members that if we challenge and expose someone, we are somehow “unhappy” is more important and takes priority over exposing harm being done to consumers.

Sometimes things can get said in the heat of a spirited discussion that would be better left unsaid and we’re all guilty of lashing out like this at times and again, I wholeheartedly agree, abstaining from that kind of behavior would be a good idea, but I don’t see Steve Hassan making any such distinction, so I would have to ask him the following. Are there any circumstances where you would deem it appropriate to speak out against a colleague who was on “your side” who may have made valid contributions to the movement, but is in some way is harming others? If so, what would those circumstances be? When, if ever, do you think it would be unethical to remain silent and courageous to refused to be silenced? Readers can also feel free to comment on this as well.

Science and Pseudoscience in Social Work Practice: Sample Chapter Now Available

At long last, the book I have co-authored with Bruce Thyer, Science and Pseudoscience in Social Work Practice, published by Springer, is due to be released by the end of the month. In the meantime, the Foreword by Eileen Gambrill, the Preface and Chapter 1 are all available free online. Click here to read.


Steve Hassan’s Latest: You too can be a “Hero” for only $399 a month or $5,588 a year (plus $1,199 setup fee)!

Self-proclaimed “cult expert” Steve Hassan appears to be cashing in on people who work with human trafficking victims, a much more popular and potentially lucrative cause than cult victims whose popularity have declined since their heyday in the 1970s-80s. His latest is that he has incorporated his BITE model (which is based on other people’s ideas cobbled together and lacks evidence even for cults, let alone human trafficking) and developed with Sowers Education a copyrighted proprietary system called Ending the Game (C) (don’t forget that copyright symbol!) claimed to be of help to people who work with human trafficking. What evidence is there for the efficacy of this program? None! (other than perhaps testimonials). They seem to think this is okay since there are no evidence-based approaches yet for working with human trafficking victims. Apparently they think this lack of evidence means they can jump the gun and market an expensive, proprietary copyrighted program when really the ethical thing would have been to offer it at no cost as an experimental program and test it with full informed consent.

The program has three levels of licensure. According to this website of Sowers Education accessed on October 18, 2014, for $399 a month or $5588 a year (plus $1199 setup fee), you can license ETG (C) and be a “Hero”. Apparently he got the “Hero” idea from psychologist Phil Zimbardo, but Zimbardo doesn’t charge people to license some proprietary system – such systems are hallmark indicators for pseudoscience and not something Zimbardo would be involved in. He just used the term in a project he has to study why some people speak out where others remain silent. What Hassan is doing with this is something very different, he and his colleagues are selling a system for $5588 a year or $399 a month. Can’t afford this? No problem! For only $229.00 a month or $3118 (plus $599 setup fee) a year you can step down a level and become a “Lifesaver.” Still too expensive? No problem! You can step down yet another level and for $99 a month or $1588 a year (plus $499 setup fee), you can become a “Abolitionist” It’s good, better, best!

But wait, there’s more! If you sign up through December 31, 2014 you can get 20% off the setup fee and first month subscription. It’s all good! But wait, let’s take a step back and think about this. Is it? We don’t know because there have been no properly conducted studies to test the efficacy of this program, so we have no way of knowing whether it helps, does nothing, or makes people worse. Is the public really this gullible?

No specifics of what the proprietary curriculum consists of. Just hype. Who’s playing games here?

Was H.L. Meinken correct when he said “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American Public”? Stay tuned. Honestly, we couldn’t make these things up. This sounds like satire but it’s for real.

I’d like to know when the “game” of mental health professionals engaging in these kinds of marketing tactics of proprietary non evidence based programs is going to end? Probably not in the near future, I am sorry to have to say.

And since I’ve already had two commenters (at least one known to be a follower of Hassan) insisting that testimonials are evidence, go here to read all about why they’re not. But hey, when I first began to criticize John Knapp, he and his followers also attacked me, but now, after a client filed a complaint with his state licensing board, Knapp’s license, after a process that took years, was finally revoked but before that, his devotes tried to make me the “hater” for being concerned and expressing it..

Update: I have been posting my criticisms of Steve Hassan under my own name. However, the same cannot be said for Hassan’s supporters/defenders who apparently lack the courage to use their real names and attack me personally under pseudonyms, failing to address the SUBSTANCE of the issues I raised. Enough is enough. My new policy will be to only approve comments from Hassan supporters/defenders if they use their real names with verifiable information that at least I can see – your email address will not be published but I must be able to know who you are and that you are not a pseudonymous troll or shill for the one I am criticizing. Note that this is not hypocritical because I have always used my real name when criticizing Hassan and others and I expect others to do the same. Same standards I hold myself to, no hypocrisy, just the expectation of full transparency. I will, however, make an exception to this rule in the case of victims, since I know how frightened victims are to come forward. Hassan defenders, however, will need to play by the same rules I play by. Use your name of no approval.

Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology: Second Edition

Guilford Press has just announced the Second Edition of Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology which can be ordered in hard back or a less expensive paperback and available October 2014.

I am honored to be the author, with Bruce Thyer of Chapter 7: New Age and Related Novel Unsupported Therapies in Mental Health Practice (Scott O. Lilienfeld, Jeffrey Lohr and Steven Jay Lynn, editors). This was the chapter that was authored by Margaret Singer in the first edition, so I am especially honored to have been asked to author this. The First Edition from 2003 was a major influence on my professional life and was very instrumental in the epiphany I had about Thought Field Therapy and also what is wrong with some of the “parts” therapies and other questionable spin-offs of the highly discredited therapies of the 90s that have morphed into other things – and a great deal more. Although not discussed specifically in the chapter, some of these same techniques have been used by self-proclaimed “cult experts”.

There are also updated chapters on the DID controversy, recovered memories, child and adolescent disorders including a chapter authored by Jean Mercer on “attachment therapy” as well as controversial treatments for autism and ADHD. This book will be well worth the read.

Presentation at Upcoming 26th Annual APS Convention on New Developments in Science and Pseudoscience in Psychology

Update: The conference is this weekend.

I ended 2013 and am beginning 2014 with some good news received the day before Christmas when our proposal was accepted. I will be presenting at the upcoming Annual APS Convention in a symposium in May 2014 in San Francisco on New Developments in Science and Pseudoscience with Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven J. Lynn, Carol Tavris and Lawrence Patihis. I am honored to be part of this organization’s conference.

The Association for Psychological Science (formerly known as American Psychological Society) was started as a more science-based alternative to the American Psychological Association.

Scott LIlienfeld will be presenting on The Comeback of Facilitated Communication: Lessons for Psychological Science.

Steven Lynn will be presenting on Does Trauma Produce Dissociative Identity Disorder? Case Not Closed.

Lawrence Patihis will be presenting on A Scientist-Practitioner Gap in Beliefs about Repressed Memory and will present his latest research findings.

Social Psychologist Carol Tavris will be the discussant.


My presentation will be on Pseudo-Evidence Based Practice: Thought Field Therapy and Other Energy Meridian Tapping Therapies as Exemplars. Go here for details about the presentation and symposium.

I am also very much looking forward to the conference, which offers the very best the field of psychology has to offer.

Update: John Knapp’s NYS Social Work License Revoked

As an update to postings from 2011 about this matter, after a very lengthy process which began in October, 2010, as of January 14, 2014, thanks to the persistence and courage of a former client, John Knapp’s New York State Social Work license has been revoked. Click here to read the Board’s decision. As indicated on the Board’s website, Knapp has been found guilty of professional misconduct, negligence, incompetence and unprofessional conduct. This is a very serious action and it is rare that State Boards, who will, based on other cases I have been privy to, give the practitioner every benefit of the doubt and chance to improve, would take such an action.

Go here to read the client’s complaint, which she chose to post to her blog with names redacted, which gives more detail regarding this social worker’s behavior towards his client, including engaging in dual relationships, negligence and professional misconduct.

Although it is not ever a pleasant matter to see a mental health professional who has gone so far that remedial action is not possible and the license needs to be revoked, what this shows is that although there are never any guarantees, it is possible, with persistence to stop a licensed mental health professional from doing further harm, at least as a mental health professional. He can operate under another job description, such as “coach” or thought reform consultant, but when it comes to dealing with unlicensed people, it’s buyer beware. That said, recent reports indicate that at least for the time being, he has given up the practice of therapy altogether at least for the time being, and has become a singer in a duo with his wife.

Another point for mental health consumers to be aware of is that the complaint was originally filed in October 2010. This process took over three years and these long, drawn out processes are not uncommon, during which time the disciplinary action does not appear on the person’s record until the final decision is made and published. The moral of this story is don’t assume that just because you do a search on a licensed professional’s record and it comes up clean, that there have been no complaints. There could be complaints in the process of being heard or what is very common is that the Board chooses to issue a warning or reprimand to the professional and nothing appears on his or her record. This particular case involved a clinical social worker practicing psychotherapy, but can also apply to psychologists, marriage and family therapists, licensed mental health counselors and other mental health professionals.

Another common tactic is for the person to claim an “expertise” that makes them above the rules mental health professionals are required to follow. So-called “cult experts” may try to claim this, but this case demonstrates that in reality, they must follow the same rules as everyone else in their profession.

Again, I applaud the courage and persistence of this former client in coming forward and seeing this through. She has done a great service to many future clients seeking help.

Thought Field Therapy: A Former Insider’s Experience

For those who haven’t read it, thanks to a Psychology Professor at the University of Wyoming, my article, Thought Field Therapy: A Former Insiders Experience published in Research on Social Work Practice in 2007 is now available. Click here to read it. This is a full account of my experiences in the TFT community, for those who are wondering what led me to get involved and what led me to change my mind about it.

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