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Have You Had a Bad Experience with a “Cult Expert”?

November 11, 2012

There are a number of individuals, some mental health professionals, some not, who offer services to families who have loved ones in groups that are considered to be destructive cults who identify themselves by a variety of titles, the most common ones being exit counseling, thought reform consultant, deprogrammer (a term usually reserved for forcible abduction, which is illegal) or strategic interaction. For convenience, I will refer to this group as exit counselors, although that is not the title all use. There are some exit counselors who are honest, do not charge excessive fees for their services or make unrealistic claims. However, that is not the case for some. Because often, such families feel they are in desperate circumstances, some exit counselors take advantage of this and the result has been that some families have spent as much or more than they would have spent on a child’s college education (as Steve Hassan argues to justify the high cost in his recent book), yet have not achieved the results they hoped for. Families that spent tens of thousands of dollars, yet never got to the point of even doing an intervention are not typically counted when “success rates” are calculated. Some self proclaimed “cult experts” (a meaningless term since there are no real criteria for determining who is an expert unless someone has been an expert in court) have been known to charge up to $500 an hour or $5000 a day for their services to desperate families, but that does not stop cult watch organizations from welcoming them as conference speakers and allowing them to promote their books and services. This is a topic that deserves more discussion, as unsupported claims are being made in this area and families are sometimes being exploited, both financially and emotionally.

Have you had a bad experience with a “cult expert”? Have you hired someone who has charged excessive fees with all kinds of extra charges (e.g. hundreds of dollars per hour just to respond to emails or phone calls) that were not advertised on his or her website and ended up spending far more than you expected with no results?  If there was a failure, did you get blamed for it? If anyone reading this has had a negative experience with someone who they hired to get their loved one out of a cult, please let us know, either by responding to this blog or to me privately at . If you do not wish to go public, I will keep what you tell me in confidence or you can post here under a pseudonym.


  1. As you know Monica, I have had a bad experience with a professional who once called himself a “cult expert.” He later changed that description to something like “specialty in spiritual abuse.” The name of my ex-therapist is John Knapp. In 2008 I hired him for myself, not for a family member, after I’d experienced some harmful incidents within an anti-Way group. (I had previously been involved with The Way International for 28 years, 1977-2005.)

    I at one time thought he had provided good therapy, and some parts were good. Looking back though, I can see where I was too dependent (so to speak). Our relationship took on various dualities (none were romantic though). Boundaries became very blurred and the end result was verbal and emotional abuse, later followed by public attempts to assassinate my character.

    Another aspect, which I haven’t really been public about, is that while in therapy with Knapp I began to personify different parts of myself. I had personified one aspect of me (the issue of abandonment) prior to John, but I don’t think I named that part until after I began therapy with Knapp.

    The other personas appeared after I began therapy with Knapp. Here is a description of them which I have published on my blog:
    “[…] From the distance John the Gentle Giant Gardner continues to care for the harvest to come. The Tender, who is the elderly man that oils the gears, looks over our way and smiles. He’s busy at work all the time keeping the gears moving. He and John are so patient with us.
    Us. Ha! There is myself. There is Abe who looks similar to the Pillsbury Dough boy minus the hat; Abe is short for Abandonment. There is Nanna, the little girl in the tattered blue dress. She used to be the scapegoat. Sally is the horse, timid and fearful but yet has a gentle, calm side. We just have to remind her. And now there is the little yellow gremlin who sulks on the rock. […] ”

    I told Knapp about these and wrote about them in other pieces. He didn’t discourage or encourage (that I recall)…except there was one time in therapy where I felt and became a child. It scared me enough that I don’t ever experiencing that again. Perhaps my response (of being like 10-year old child) was simply an abreaction.

    Were these bad of good approaches to therapy? At the time I thought they were good. Now I’m not so sure about that. Now I wonder if I was just a fine line from being labeled as DID.

    Interestingly, Knapp himself revealed to me in my last couple months of therapy with him that he had been diagnosed with DID, complete with alters. He stated, “[…] They [doctor and therapist] believe my main diagnosis should have been PTSD way back when. And that I have a decent case of DID. Yes, complete with alters. Somehow I knew it. I think they are probably right. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of different things in my head. […]”

    I no longer call upon my ‘personas,’ but I remember them. Interesting…kind of like my old belief system – I remember it, but I seldom call upon it.

    PS: Knapp currently has stated he no longer provides therapy. I did file a complaint and there was a hearing before his licensing board for which he didn’t show. Any disciplinary action is still being determined. Also, he did not charge outrageous fees when he was in practice, and he stated he was not an exit-counselor.

    • Oops…I made a few typos in my afore comment, but hopefully any readers still get the gist.

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