DR. JOHN G. CLARK
Dr. John G. Clark, Jr. is a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School. The following is a statement which he presented to a committee of the Vermont State Senate. At the time the committee was working on a legislative proposal which foresaw the possibility of temporary guardianship or conservatorship for members of destructive cults. Since 1976, Dr. Clark has repeatedly appeared as an expert witness in American courts as well as before congressional and executive committee. There have probably not been any significant new findings since this was written. In 1978, Dr. Clark presented this for the first time in the Federal Republic of Germany. That occurred at the technical convention on "Problems in connection with so-called Youth Religions" in Hannover on February 23/24, 1978, which was arranged by the Federal Conference for Education Counselling along with the German Association for Youth Psychiatry. Dr. Clark's lecture on "The Artfully Directed Delusion" has been published in the convention report by Manfred Mueller-Kueppers and Friedrich Specht (see "Neue Jugendreligionen," Verlag für Medizinische Psychologie im Verlag Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht in Goettingen, 1979, p. 85 ff.). In his presentation Clark developed a hypothesis about the physiological processes which take place in the brain of a person when he is subjected to "coercive persuasion" or brainwashing. Since those details are directed at scientists on the subject, they will be summarized in this rendition of Dr. Clark's statement of 1976 so that they may be understood by the non-technical person. This statement, seen for the first time in the Federal Republic in 1977, has been an important step in understanding the phenomenon of destructive cults. Publication is possible with special permission from Dr. Clark.
John G. CLARK
Investigation into the effects of several religious sects on the health and welfare of their adherents
[From here until page 23 is a slightly edited, original English version taken from http://www.lermanet.com/house/destructive.htm]
In this statement to the committee established by the Vermont Legislature, I intend to present substantive conclusions drawn from 2 1/2 years of research on the effects of membership in some religious cults on personal health of their converts. My conclusions are rather grim: The health hazards are extreme. Though I will talk primarily of the absolute dangers to mental health and personal development, I must also, as a physician, draw attention to equally serious, often life-threatening, dangers to physical health.
I will state that "coercive persuasion" and "thought reform techniques" are effectively practiced on naive, uninformed subjects with disastrous health consequences. I will try to give enough information to indicate my reasons for further inquiries as well as review of applicable legal processes.
From the specific data gathered during the time of my investigations, a rather accurate history of involvement in the cults can be now adequately described. In doing this I believe I can adequately demonstrate why I think there are major health hazards as well as many other social concerns directly caused by activities of the particular cults which we try to define as destructive. The destructive cults are numerous and
include the very well-known ones such as Hare Krishna, the Unification Church, the Scientologists, and the Divine Light Mission, all of whom are utilizing the same basic techniques. The fact that I use the word techniques indicates that these investigations have delineated a series of technical aspects to these questions which need to be understood and can be explained.
All of the groups that we are talking about have living leaders who are demonstrably wealthy. The beliefs of all these cults are absolutist and non-tolerant of other systems of beliefs. Their systems of governance are totalitarian. A requirement of membership is to obey absolutely without questioning. Bare interest in the individual's development within the cult toward some kind of satisfactory individual adult personality is by their doctrines, very low or nonexistent. It is clear that almost all of them emphasize money making in one form or another, although a few seem to be very much involved in demeaning or self denigrating activities and rituals. Most of them that I have studied possess a good deal of property and money which is under the discretionary control of the individual leaders.
Most of the cults of concern consider themselves purely religious, some others appear to be more political. One of the most important of the common properties of such cults is the presence of a leader who, in one way or another, claims special powers or may even allow himself to be thought of as the Messiah. Such leaders do have special personal qualities including a unique world view and special willingness to effect drastic changes in the thinking and behavior of followers.
It appears that the techniques utilized by these cults are very similar overall, although each one uses its own peculiar style. It would appear obvious that all of these cults have worked out ways of gaining access to susceptible individuals in order to have served to any degree. Those who succumb to the enlisting efforts seem to be divided into two rather distinct groups. The first is composed of the "seekers" , of whom we all know, popularly incorrectly thought to constitute the entire population of susceptible people. They are *schizophrenic, chronically so, or border-line personalities. It is quite clear that the existence of emotional or personality problems is a reason for becoming involved in the cults and that most mental health professionals consider only this reason at present. These inductees involve themselves in order to feel better because they are excessively uncomfortable with the outside world and themselves. Such motivated versions are "restitutive," in that the "seekers" are trying to restore themselves to some balance of comfort in a fresh, though false reality. We also see this attempt at restitution in the development of the so-called secondary symptoms of schizophrenia and other forms of mental illness as the attempt of a troubled or damaged mind to put together a new, simplified mental world and style of reasoning in order to compensate for the terrible awareness (or near awareness) of personal vulnerability. Approximately 58% of inductees were found to be in this first group from my studies.
* H. Lang, Psychiatric Clinic of the Univ. Heidelberg, indicated in his research "Zur Frage der Attraktivitaet und Pathogenitaet von Jugendsekten," published in "Der Nervenarzt" 51, 183-187 (1980) that Clark, in his very widely interpreted American spectrum of schizophrenia, included serious character neuroses, schizoid and paranoid personality as well as the so-called "borderline" cases.
The remaining 42% of the examined sample, however, were not ill or damaged in the sense I have mentioned before. That is, they were found to be apparently normal, developing, young people who were going through the usual crises of development on the way to becoming adults, who, for any number of reasons, had fallen into the trap laid by the cults and had been taken in. On examination they were strong, growing students on the average who were facing the normal pains of separation from their families, the normal depressions therefrom, the new, clear, slightly feverish view of the complexity of outer reality which is a part of early college life. I think of their joining the cult as being "adaptive"; that is, they are presented with certain problems by the cult and adapt themselves to it by psychic, social and physiological processes which are not in themselves as pathological as those involved in the "restitutive" conversions. In some ways it is this more healthy, "adaptive" group that is most alarming to the observer.
From a clinician's point of view the first or restitutive group under the influence of cult indoctrination and practices is very much at risk. In many ways it can be very easily shown from long experience within the mental health field how very much more damaged they may become by being given a thought disorder by a group that conforms to a prior tendency to this sort of thinking disability. Their chances of ever developing a good relationship to outer reality and becoming autonomous individuals must, perforce, diminish with the passage of time. I am reminded of the chronic schizophrenics of some years ago whose psychotic style of thinking became totally institutionalized when placed in the back wards of hospitals for such a long enough time that they ultimately could no longer think at all effectively. The healthier second group, though theoretically less totally vulnerable, is more easy to identify with; their problems may be especially revealing as I will try to explain.
These people tend to be from intact, idealistic, believing families with some religious background. Often they had not truly made any of the major shifts toward independence and, so, left home at the appropriate time believing they were ready for freedom. When this belief was seriously challenged in this brave new world by their first real setbacks or by any real crisis they became covertly depressed , thus enhancing their susceptibility to the processes of conversion.
For individuals in this state of vulnerability to be converted, a series of circumstances, techniques and events must occur to bring about the complete subjugation of the mind and person which I am attempting to describe. The first event is the gaining of access to these potential converts which is raised to a high art by all of the successful cults. Some even have printed manuals describing where to approach prospects, exactly what types of initial pressure to put on each of them and what the odds are that they will acquire a certain number of converts from a given amount of pressure well applied. The general openness of manners of this group adds to the ease of access. Once such a prospect has agreed to investigate the rather simple propositions expressed by the representatives of the cult, he or she is brought into the next and highly sophisticated activities of the conversion process. From the first, intense group pressure, lectures, lies, false use of facilities and other inter-personal pressures, unexpected by the individual, are brought to bear. Singing, chanting and a constant barrage of the kinds of rhetoric which catch the young, idealistic minds are constantly in play. So intense is this that individuals who are under such pressure and are susceptible tend to enter a state of narrowed attention, especially as they are more and more deprived of their ordinary frames of reference and of sleep. This state must be described as a trance. From that time there is a relative or complete loss of control of one's own mind and actions, which is then placed into the hands of the group or of individuals who have been the direct contact with the individual inductee. This induction
period has also been described as "coercive persuasion".
Once this state of passive, narrowed attention and willingness to be influenced is achieved, the true work of conversion, (or of thought reform) begins in earnest. This is always a program of unbelievable intensity! During this, all of the cults step up their ideological reform pressures by increased group pressure, change of diet, and introduction of elements of guilt and terror. The question of supernatural pressures that one must face in the future are brought out more and more explicitly and concretely. Many promises are made of redemption or safety, in the certainty that the world will soon end at which time there will be enormous rewards or terrible punishments to believers or non-believers. The threats may be implicit but are sometimes increasingly physical and explicit physical threats. Preaching is constant from all sides: supervision is absolute and privacy of body or of mind may not be allowed for days or weeks into the future, even to use the bathroom. All relationships to other people are organized and stereotyped and no chances given for idiosyncratic expression. The victims are induced rapidly to give up all familiar and loved past objects -- parents, siblings, home, city. etc -- and they are physically and emotionally moved to as foreign an environment as is possible to imagine. Thus, it becomes increasingly hard for them to reconstruct in imagination what one has once experienced sometime in the past. Reality becomes the present and includes in it elements of the supernatural, magical, terrifying thought which has been expressed constantly all around. There is no base left for reality testing.
Perhaps as important a factor as any is that the base of each individual's language, which has been part of the mind and the body function from the very early stages, is slowly and deliberately changed. All words of any emotional importance have had some shifting of their meaning to an over-simplified, special sort of related definition. Each person is given more and more tasks to learn, to study, to grasp, and has less time to believe that the past ever existed. By this time, the indoctrination has defined parents as being infected by Satan's influence and parenthood is reinvested in the leaders of the cults. The urge to go home has been replaced by the need for absolute authority of the cult and its leaders, and at the same time the value of education and need to go to school has disappeared from the consciousness. This much radical change of attitudes, loyalties and thinking style occurs and regularly does occur within a few days to a few weeks.
From this time forward, the problem of maintenance of the state of mind is apparently rather simple. Leaving the old, familiar life setting and renouncing it for a new, communal theology, the accepting of a new family with new definitions of love and denouncing of natural parents leads an individual to think all bridges to the past are closed and that a very brave move into a new world has indeed been made. In some cults, members are taught intensive chanting and meditating procedures which, in case of any attack on their beliefs, can cover up all possible thoughts and doubts. Others can apparently reenter a trance state with a narrowed consciousness of reality the first moment that somebody questions or challenges their beliefs. They are then promoted to the next steps or stages in their cults, usually as proselytizers, money raisers or in some cases garbage collectors.
In my opinion, the last stage of this process in both adaptive and restitutive groups probably may evolve after four to seven years. This would be "acculturation" and would be irreversible. This stage may be compared to that of the untreated person with a schizophrenic illness who slides without proper help into a kind of personal degradation which, if unchallenged or untreated in time finally becomes acculturated and permanent. Anyone trying to nudge a person from this acquired style of thinking and behavior, as we in mental health field know very well, is going to feel that he is the natural enemy of his own patient. In my opinion, I repeat, by acculturation this new style of thinking may become irreversible.
Before this final state, cult members seem to experience two forms of personality, the original and the imposed. The original is complex, full of love relationships, expectations, and hopes and, especially, rich language. This richness of language is that which parents suddenly miss when they first see their thought-reformed children. Their reaction is appropriately panic! They recognize and correctly identify terrifying, sudden, unacceptable changes in the style of language and the style of relating as well as a narrowing and thinning down of the thought processes. Formally bright, fluent and creative individuals are rendered incapable [of ] the use of irony or a metaphor and they speak with a smaller, carefully constricted vocabulary with cliches and stereotyped ideas. They also appear to have great difficulty using abstractions in their speech or arguments. They do not love except in cliches and established forms. Almost all of the charged, the emotion-laden language symbols are shifted to new meanings. Parents notice this long before professionals because they do not need cumbersome and elaborate tools to analyze language patterns. Their memories and intuition are sufficient.
The evidence for what I call a shift in personality, which may be what we call in psychiatry "depersonalization", comes from several kinds of observation. The first is that, despite the appearance to very experienced clinicians of flagrant and classical schizophrenia in many converts, the induced mental state being discussed does not respond to the most effective antipsychotic drugs or any of the methods of treatment customarily applied by the mental health professionals to restore effective thinking.
Thus, we are relatively helpless to restore thinking processes because, under the current interpretations of the laws, we cannot maintain physical control for long enough to bring about the confrontation therapies which might be effective in reestablishing the original personality style in the way it was done with the Korean war prisoners. On the other hand antipsychotic medicines are still effective in treating acute psychosis in these same people though not affecting the state of conversion.
The second and rather compelling piece of evidence is that the thought-reformed state is dramatically altered by the process of deprogramming about which, though I cannot legally advise it as a therapy under most circumstances, a great deal is known. The deprogramming process, as it is now practiced, effects, in a large number of cases, a fairly rapid return to the old organization of the mind, a repersonalization, and brings back with it the old language skills and memories, original personal relationship patterns and of course the old problems. Furthermore it is regularly observed that for some time after the deprogramming the affected individuals are very vulnerable for about a year, and, especially during the first few weeks to two months, they feel themselves aware of and close to two different mental worlds. Their strong impulses to return to the cult are altered by logical reasoning processes and the great fear of someone taking control of their minds from the outside once again. During this time a former convert can quickly be recaptured either by fleeting impulse, by entering a trance state through a key word or piece of music or by chanting or by a team from the cult.
In general, however, after a return to an original state of mind, the individual's problems begin to seem like ordinary health problems. Most of them are depressed, depleted people reminding one very much of that status of patients who have recently recovered from acute psychosis, who are able to feel that for the first time in their lives they had lost a clear sense of reality and of control. They feel ashamed of what they have done and the pain they have inflicted, are very scared and, for a while, are unable to manage their lives effectively. To remain within the strict mental and social confines of the cult experience for even a short time is disastrous for some, who have become psychotic or have committed suicide. Continuing membership appears to invite a deeper acceptance of the controlled state of mind and, in my opinion, leads to the gradual degradation of ordinary thought processes necessary to cope with highly differentiated and ambiguous eternal life problems of the future. In this state, after some time, the intellect appears to lose a great many IQ points; the capacity to form flexible human relationships or real intimacy is impaired and all reality testing functions are difficult to mobilize so that judgment is poor. An individual with even moderate prior psychological disability is likely to be set back considerably and permanently in his or her maturation to adulthood and will certainly be impaired in the ability and capacity to deal with the real world opportunities and dangers. The loss of educational and occupational experiences will confirm these losses beyond any doubts.
This is the rough picture of the phenomenon of thought reform as practiced by present-day cults and the natural history of this process and its effects on the involved individuals. Though incomplete it is based on examination of 27 subjects* at all stages of involvement in six different cults as well as interviews with many more interested and informed observers. I believe the overall outline is sound, though, of course, incomplete. The fact of a personality shift, in my opinion, is established. The fact that this is a phenomenon basically unfamiliar to the mental health professional I am certain of. The fact that our ordinary methods of treatment don't work is also clear, as are the frightening hazards to the process of personal growth and mental health.
In this paper I have tried to describe the phenomenon of involvement of young people in destructive cults. The problems of special vulnerability to conversion were described and two major groups of susceptibles were identified. A natural history of access, induction by coercive persuasion, the processes of thought and attitude reform and the maintenance of conversion were described. An opinion that a permanent state of acculturation was likely to occur after a number of years was expressed. The rapidity of these catastrophic changes were emphasized, as well as many of their qualities, and these were related to mental health and maturational concerns.
* That was in 1976. Since then Dr. Clark has been able to widen his experience by many times that number of people.
Specific and important problems such as suicide, depression, psychotic reactions and psychosomatic disorders are most serious and deserve another discussion and much more study. It is also clear that the multiple, serious and often bizarre problems of physical illness need careful and official attention. Both the mental health and physical health problems presented by the activities of the cults should be investigated in much greater detail by official agencies. I believe that they merit active interest of such constitutive authorities as this Legislative body who I trust can see some of the greater implications of all that has been discussed and will be further revealed in these hearings.
[End of original English as taken from http://www.lermanet.com/house/destructive.htm. The rest of this section is translated from English into German back into English.]
From my psychiatric practice, after many consultations with others and after perusing the appropriate literature, I have come to the opinion that certain new, religious sects are very harmful to the psychic and physical health of those concerned and therefore should be seen as potential dangers for the society and state in which they practice their mischief. As examples for such sects, I could mention the Children of God, Hare Krishna, the Mun sect and Scientology.
Emotional damage of sensitive converts results from the intensive use of known mind control techniques to get them involved as help-seeking believers who are not capable of deciding their own fate and to keep them passive. These techniques consist of intensive and adulterated use of:
- absolute isolation from family,
- very strong group pressure,
- isolation from familiar environment, connections and ideas,
- deprivation of sleep,
- stringent fasting rules,
- on-going, peculiar sing-song rituals,
- plenty of force and terrorism,
- excessive regulation about chastity, poverty and obedience,
- other means meant to maintain the totalization of the sect.
All members who are successfully indoctrinated into the sect immediately give up their right to private life, free determination, as well as their individual probing of reality (tendency to orient oneself to reality) and are subjugated to the absolute authority of the sect. Individual thought or independent action is in no case permitted.
People who feel themselves attracted to sects often are going through difficult periods in their own personality development or have serious, somehow crippling, personality derangements. Usually they suddenly decide that a sect will solve their problems and they will - like magic - be immediately relieved of the fear of growing up.
As long as they are in the sect, many members create an unreal effect by putting on a cheerful face; all thought processes are uniformly directed and stereotyped.
When they leave the sect for one reason or another, a relatively large number of adherents experience psychotic symptoms or
bodily illness, followed by six to twelve months of depression or relative passivity. During this time, however, the emotional reactions seem normal and the inclination to orient oneself with reality begins anew. Nevertheless, long, strong and irrational impulses to go back the sect have been detected.
It is not difficult to tell the difference between the dangerous sects and existing religious orders which have not enslaved the minds of their members with such refined techniques or with deliberate isolation and alienation from family, law, country and reality.
Such tactics are direct attacks on health and can seriously limit the future development of the personality. Any organization which employs such methods can be seen as destructive not just by psychiatrists and other doctors, but also by state and social agencies.
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