Steven Hassan

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Steven Hassan
Hassan in 2023
Hassan in 2023
Born1954 (age 68–69)
Flushing, Queens, New York, USA
OccupationMental health counselor, author, lecturer
EducationPhD, M.A., M.Ed., LMHC[1][2]
Alma materQueens College, City University of New York
Cambridge College
Fielding Graduate University
SubjectPsychotherapy, mind control, cults
SpouseMisia Landau

Steven Alan Hassan (pronounced /hɑːsɪn/; born 1954) is an American author and mental health counselor who specializes in the area of cults and New Religious Movements. He worked as a deprogrammer in the late 1970s, but since then has advocated a non-coercive form of exit counseling.

Hassan has written several books on the subject of mind control and is sometimes described in the media as an expert on mind control and cults. Some researchers in the sociology of religion, however, are critical of his application of mind control theory to New Religious Movements.[3][4][5]: 43 

Hassan is a former member of the Unification Church, and founded Ex-Moon Inc. in 1979. In 1999 he founded the Freedom of Mind Resource Center.

Involvement with the Unification Church[edit]

Hassan was born in Queens, New York and raised as a Jew.[6]

At age 19, while pursuing a poetry degree at Queens College, Hassan was recruited into the Unification Church,[7] and spent 27 months as a member.[8][9] He was involved in recruiting, fundraising, and political campaigning for the Church. By his own account, he rose to the rank of assistant director, and personally met with Sun Myung Moon during numerous leadership sessions.[8][10] Hassan reported living in communal housing and sleeping less than four hours a night.[11] In an interview, he said that he believed Richard Nixon was an archangel and that, during the Watergate scandal, he and other members of the Church engaged in prayer and fasting to "prove their loyalty to the president".[7] He also reported surrendering his bank account to the Unification Church, and quitting college and his job to work for the church.[7] Hassan said that "he was ready to kill or die for" Sun Myung Moon.[11]

In 1976, after working for two full days without sleep, Hassan fell asleep while driving, resulting in a serious automobile accident that required medical care. Hassan's parents hired "deprogrammers" who seized him from his sister's home and took him to an apartment. After five days of isolation and intensive deprogramming, Hassan became convinced that he had been "brainwashed" by the church. Feeling shame at his gullibility and guilt for his recruitment of others, he decided to "dedicate his life to studying cults and developing strategies to help their members escape."[11]

Hassan returned to his Jewish faith after leaving the Unification Church.[6]



In 1979, Hassan founded a non-profit organization called "Ex-Moon Inc." The organization consisted of over four hundred former members of the Unification Church. The organization is now defunct.[10] In 1999, he founded the Freedom of Mind Resource Center.[12] The center is registered as a domestic profit corporation in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and Hassan is president and treasurer.[13] Hassan posts dossiers on the site about organizations he has investigated or received complaints about.[11]

Deprogramming and exit counseling[edit]

Hassan took part in a number of "deprogrammings" in the late 1970s, but has been critical of them since 1980 and has instead advocated "exit counseling".[14] Deprogramming was a controversial form of coercive intervention in which a number of self-styled "deprogrammers" were hired (usually by families or parents) to separate someone from a religious or other movement; after being abducted and/or confined, the individual was subjected to a sustained verbal attack, which might continue for days or weeks, on the group to which they were connected.[15] Hassan claims that he never abducted, restrained, threatened or disrespected anyone in any deprogrammings in which he participated, although this is contradicted by affidavits from victims, and also by Hassan's own written description of a deprogramming he conducted.[5]: 150-51  However, according to Shupe and Darnell, Hassan represents "a maturation of the anti-cult movement toward professionalisation and away from coercive vigilantism".[5]: 152  Hassan's preferred approach, exit counseling, is also a form of family-initiated intervention, but distinguishes itself by allowing the subject to leave at any time and by adopting a non-violent, persuasive approach.[16]: 166, 171–4  In Combatting Cult Mind Control (1988), Hassan stated that although "the non-coercive approach will not work in every case, it has proved to be the option most families prefer. Forcible intervention can be kept as a last resort if all other attempts fail."[17]

Education and writing[edit]

In 1985, Hassan completed a Master’s degree in counseling psychology at Cambridge College.[18] Hassan studied hypnosis and is a member of the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis[19] and the International Society of Hypnosis.[9] In Combatting Cult Mind Control he described his own recruitment as the result of the unethical use of powerful psychological influence techniques by members of the Church.[20]

Hassan studied the "thought reform" theories of Robert Jay Lifton, and concluded that the Moon organization used all eight characteristics of thought reform described by Lifton. He also studied the work of Richard Bandler and John Grinder (founders of neuro-linguistic programming), Milton Erickson, Virginia Satir, and Gregory Bateson, and wrote that their work was the basis for his own theories on mind control, counseling, and intervention.[21][22]

Hassan spent several years developing and promoting a model to evaluate what he calls "cult" and "cult-like" groups. In his third book, Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs (2012), Hassan presents Lifton's and Margaret Singer's models of evaluation alongside his own model represented by the acronym "BITE": control of Behavior, Information, Thought and Emotion.[23]

In 2019, Hassan published The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control. The book represents a broadening of his focus from new religious movements into political culture.[24] The author compares Trump's behaviour to that of Jim Jones, L. Ron Hubbard and Sun Myung Moon, and expresses the hope that the book will lessen political division.[25]

Hassan received his doctorate from Fielding Graduate University[2] and published a dissertation in January 2021. His dissertation was titled "The BITE Model of Authoritarian Control: Undue Influence, Thought Reform, Brainwashing, Mind Control, Trafficking and the Law". Hassan describes his model as an effort to measure degrees of exploitative control or undue influence and as an attempt to evaluate behavior, information, thought and emotional controls.[26]

In the media[edit]

Hassan is often described in the media as a "cult" and "mind control" expert.[27][25][7] After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, he was interviewed by some reporters to explain his view of the bombers' state of mind and how he believed mind control was involved.[28][29][30]


Social scientists Anson D. Shupe and David G. Bromley wrote in 2007 that Hassan's work lacks academic rigor and is used to fuel hysteria. They argued that the word 'cult' itself has become loaded and derogatory, capable of being applied to any New Religious Movement in a prejudicial way. They criticize anti-cultists for promoting a moral panic, from which they benefit financially. Shupe and Bromley are skeptical of the use of hazy concepts like brainwashing and mind control, and of the notion of intervention as a form of therapy. According to Bromley:

You get people who are caught up in trying to change themselves, become a new person or build a new world and they lose touch with who they are. It isn't to say some groups don’t take advantage of that process. But I don't think it's necessarily the case that they need someone like Hassan to come in with predetermined answers to their life problems.[11]

Religious Studies Professor Eugene V. Gallagher argued in 2006 that theorists like Hassan take well-founded suspicion of some manipulative religious leaders and generalize it into a mind control ideology applicable to all "cult" leaders and "cult" members:

Their explicit and implicit generalizations tend to foster, whether they intend it or not, a generalized suspicion of all leaders who stand outside of an implied "mainstream". Such generalized suspicion is a major analytical principle for anti-cult activists like Hassan and Singer. When raised to its highest level of generality, well founded criticism of a few leaders is extended to all leaders, with a corresponding loss of specificity, accuracy, and persuasiveness. Such overgeneralisation ignores the abundant diversity of leadership forms in new religions on the assumption that all "cults" must be the same.[3]: 37 

In the book Misunderstanding Cults (2001, edited by Benjamin Zablocki and Thomas Robbins), forensic psychologist Dick Anthony called brainwashing a pseudoscientific concept that has been disconfirmed by scientific research. He argues that "the term brainwashing has such sensationalist connotations that its use prejudices any scientific discussion of patterns of commitment in religious movements."[31]

Michael Langone, an advocate for exit counseling, questioned Hassan's humanistic counseling approach in 1995. According to Langone, Hassan's "Strategic Intervention Therapy" operates on the assumption that, deep down, all members of "mind control groups" want to get out of the group. In the context of family intervention, the "counselor knows best what the cultist really wants" approach contains the risk of the counselor "manipulating the cultist from point A ("I'll talk to you because my family requested it") to point B ("I want to leave the cult") while mistakenly believing that he is helping the cultist "grow"." For Langone, the fact that the counselor's assistance has in no way been sought by the subject casts further doubt on the ethical propriety of such manipulation.[16]: 175 

Although exit counseling models like Hassan's emphasise the voluntary nature of the procedure, Shupe questioned in 2011 how willing the NRM member can be when: (i) they are not actually the client of the counselor (who has been hired by others), and (ii) they are not aware that the counselor's primary, preconceived purpose is to convince them to abandon their faith.[32]


  • Combatting Cult Mind Control, 1988. ISBN 0-89281-243-5 — reissued 1990 (ISBN 978-0-89281-311-7) and 2015 (Combating…, ISBN 978-0967068824).
  • Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, 2000. ISBN 0-9670688-0-0.
  • Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs, 2012. ISBN 978-0-9670688-1-7.
  • The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control, October 2019. ISBN 9781982127336.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Montell, Amanda (June 11, 2021). "Is The Royal Family A Cult? This Expert Thinks So". Bustle. Retrieved August 23, 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Steven A Hassan PhD: About". Psychology Today. Retrieved January 6, 2022.
  3. ^ a b Gallagher, Eugene V. (2006). "Leadership in New Religious Movements". In Gallagher, Eugene V.; Ashcroft, W. Michael (eds.). Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America. Greenwood Press. pp. 36–37. OCLC 70668683.
  4. ^ Bromley, David G. (2006). "Affiliation and Disaffiliation Careers in New Religious Movements". In Gallagher, Eugene V.; Ashcroft, W. Michael (eds.). Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America. Greenwood Press. p. 56. OCLC 70668683.
  5. ^ a b c Shupe, Anson; Darnell, Susan (2006). Agents of Discord: Deprogramming, Pseudo-science, and the American Anti-cult Movement. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. ISBN 0765803232. OL 3430653M.
  6. ^ a b "The Truth About Steven Hassan". Freedom of Mind Resource Center. Freedom of Mind Resource Center, Inc.
  7. ^ a b c d Allen, Rachel (June 1, 2021). "The Man Who Wants to Free Trump Supporters From "Mind Control"". Slate. Retrieved August 23, 2021.
  8. ^ a b "Steven Hassan, M.Ed., LMHC, NCC, Cult Expert". Apologetics Index. March 8, 2019. Archived from the original on August 12, 2021. Retrieved August 12, 2021.
  9. ^ a b "The International Society of Hypnosis". World News. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
  10. ^ a b "Steven Hassan, PhD". Freedom of Mind Resource Center. Freedom of Mind Resource Center, Inc. Archived from the original on March 31, 2019. Retrieved August 1, 2022.
  11. ^ a b c d e Elton, Catherine (September 1, 2007). "The Other Side of Enlightenment". Boston. Archived from the original on August 23, 2021. Retrieved August 23, 2021.
  12. ^ Lamoureux, Mack (August 11, 2017). "How Cults Use YouTube for Recruitment".
  13. ^ "Business Entity Summary for Freedom of Mind Resource Center, Inc". Retrieved February 5, 2016.
  14. ^ Hassan, Steven Alan. "Refuting the Disinformation Attacks Put Forth by Destructive Cults and their Agents". Freedom of Mind Center. Archived from the original on December 12, 2006. Retrieved September 5, 2022.
  15. ^ Laycock, Douglas (2011). Religious Liberty, Volume 2: The Free Exercise Clause. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 746. ISBN 978-0-8028-6522-9.
  16. ^ a b Langone, Michael D. (1995). Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse. New York: W. W. Norton. pp. 166, 171–5. ISBN 9780393313215. OL 26296576M.
  17. ^ Hassan, Steven (1988). Combatting Cult Mind Control. p. 114. ISBN 0-89281-243-5.
  18. ^ "Steven Hassan". Retrieved August 12, 2021.
  19. ^ "Member Referral Search". Retrieved February 5, 2016.
  20. ^ Hassan, Steven (1998). "Ch. 1". Combatting Cult Mind Control. Park Street Press. ISBN 0-89281-243-5.[non-primary source needed]
  21. ^ Hassan, Steven (1998). "Ch. 2". Combatting Cult Mind Control. Park Street Press. ISBN 0-89281-243-5.
  22. ^ Hassan, Steven (2000). "Ch. 2". Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves. FOM Press. ISBN 978-0967068800.
  23. ^ Hassan, S. A.; Shah, M. J. (January 1, 2019). "The anatomy of undue influence used by terrorist cults and traffickers to induce helplessness and trauma, so creating false identities". Ethics, Medicine and Public Health. 8: 97–107. doi:10.1016/j.jemep.2019.03.002.
  24. ^ Fisher, Marc. "Review | The Republican Party is in thrall to Trump. Does that make him a cult leader?". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
  25. ^ a b Pennington, Juliet (December 17, 2020). "Author and cult expert talks Fiji, diving, and future grand plans". The Boston Globe. Retrieved August 22, 2021.
  26. ^ Hassan, Steven Alan (2020). The BITE Model of Authoritarian Control: Undue Influence, Thought Reform, Brainwashing, Mind Control, Trafficking and the Law (Thesis). ProQuest 2476570146.[non-primary source needed]
  27. ^ Devenga, Chauncey (March 25, 2021). "QAnon and the Trump cult: Expert Steven Hassan on whether they can be saved". Salon.
  28. ^ Was Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Brainwashed? Wall Street Journal Live Interview
  29. ^ Radicalism and mind control NECN Interview
  30. ^ Officials: Suspect claims they were self-radicalized on Internet CNN Erin Burnett OutFront Interview
  31. ^ Anthony, Dick (2001). Zablocki, Benjamin; Robbins, Thomas (eds.). Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field. Canada: University of Toronto Press. pp. 21, 217. ISBN 978-0-8020-8188-9.
  32. ^ Shupe, Anson (2011). "Deprogramming Violence: The Logic, Perpetration, and Outcomes of Coercive Intervention". In Lewis, James R. (ed.). Violence and new religious movements. Oxford University Press. p. 401. ISBN 9780199735631.

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