A foundational course to understanding cults, brainwashing, thought reform, mind control, and undue influence

Instructor: Steven Hassan, PhD, MA, MEd, LMHC, NCC

Includes 9 sections & almost 10 hours of video instruction

No prerequisites

This course is for anyone who is concerned about harmful influence in cases of destructive religious and political cults, human trafficking, extremist and terrorist groups, one-on-one relationships, families, parental alienation, mini-cults, therapy and self-improvement groups, professional and institutional abuse, corporate and multi-level marketing programs, and harmful belief systems.


Those interested in understanding cults and other harmful undue influence situations. 

  • People in recovery
  • Concerned family and friends
  • Parents
  • Middle school, high school, college, and university communities (students, parents, educators, staff, student life, and counseling)
  • Community and advocacy organizations
  • Researchers & students writing papers and dissertations
  • Mental health and medical professionals (a separate CE course is in development)
  • Health and wellness professionals and coaches
  • Legal professionals
  • Financial advisors
  • Law enforcement and military
  • Legislators
  • Government and non-governmental organizations
  • Media
  • Other people who want to help


Module 1

  • Participants will discover the components of healthy social influence.
  • Participants will identify the elements of unhealthy social influence.
  • Participants will recognize The Influence Continuum
  • Participants will learn the BITE Model of Authoritarian Control.
  • Participants will provide examples of symptoms of Undue Influence
  • Participants will match symptoms of Undue Influence to a DSM 5 diagnosis
  • Participants will apply differential diagnostic skills to symptoms of Undue Influence and its corresponding DSM 5 diagnosis.

Module 2

  • Participants will list situational vulnerabilities that facilitate cult involvement.
  • Participants will describe individual vulnerabilities for and susceptibilities to cult involvement.
  • Participants will explain macro trends of the 21st Century that contribute to cult involvement.
  • Participants classify cult recruitment strategies.
  • Participants will understand how cult recruiters classify individuals into 4 types of people and develop tailored recruitment tactics for each.
  • Participants will define Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE) and how it pertains to cult involvement.

Module 3

  • Participants will define a cult.
  • Participants will describe as well as diagram the structure of a cult.
  • Participants will list and categorize types of cults.
  • Participants will identify and describe the traits, characteristics, and behavior of cult leaders.

Module 4

  • Participants will analyze The Influence Continuum.
  • Participants will compare and contrast Due Influence and Undue Influence.
  • Participants will distinguish between Brainwashing and Mind Control.
  • Participants will examine the processes of Undue Influence.

Module 5

  • Participants will identify several synonyms for Mind Control.
  • Participants will comprehend Leon Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance Theory and apply it to Mind Control.
  • Participants will delineate 8 criteria of Robert J. Lifton’s Thought Reform Model.
  • Participants will outline Margaret Singer’s 6 Conditions for Thought Reform.
  • Participants will analyze Steve Hassan’s BITE Model of Authoritarian Control.

Module 6

  • Participants will analyze the psychology of cults.
  • Participants will analyze how cults control individuals’ subjective experience.
  • Participants will explain how cults employ selective recruitment.

Module 7 

  • Participants will explain the identity changes that cult members experience.
  • Participants will describe Kurt Lewin’s 3-stage model of gaining control of the mind.
  • Participants will define the Dual Identity Model of cult members’ personality.

Module 8

  • Participants will list elements of Scheflin’s Model of Social Influence.
  • Participants will list key figures in social psychology and social influence.
  • Participants will name contributors to client-centered psychotherapy.
  • Participants will identify clinical considerations (including cautions) as well as qualities of effective clinicians.
  • Participants will describe symptoms of cult involvement.
  • Participants will identify goals of healing.

Module 9

  • Participants will acquire clinical tools and techniques for intervention.
  • Participants will articulate Steve Hassan’s Strategic Interactive Approach (SIA) to intervention.



“During this time of cultural instability and growing distrust of institutions, increasing numbers of people are coming under the influence of coercively controlling malignant narcissistic individuals and cultic groups, all too frequently at enormous emotional and financial cost. Dr. Steven Hassan’s excellent 9-module course, Understanding Cults: A Foundational Course for Concerned Public and Professionals, provides critical information for physicians, psychotherapists, attorneys, family members, and the loved ones of those individuals who have been or are in such relationships. Comprehensive and thorough, here is where you will receive critical information about how to recognize these relationships, what to do, how to help, and most importantly how to recover.  Often missed and not recognized by professionals, and a common reason why treatment fails or remains incomplete, this fills a huge gap in the training of professionals and the kind of assistance needed for those who are affected.” – Jeffrey D. Rediger, MD, MDiv, Harvard Medical School, Author of CURED

“Steven Hassan’s training for those interested in supporting people in recovery from cults or coercively controlling relationships is a must for any helping professional who wants to be a gentle, trustworthy off ramp for those who have had the most vulnerable parts of their good nature exploited and betrayed by those who do not wish them well. With the experience of his own cult recovery and four decades of activism under his belt, Dr. Hassan is the perfect guide through this delicate territory, delivering the material with empathy, compassion, and a fierce care for those who have been taught to blindly comply and bury their own fiery self-protective instincts. This comprehensive program includes not only the psychoeducation helping professionals must learn in order to understand the particular traumas endured by those in recovery from undue influence and mind control; it also offers a holistic path towards creating safety and supporting nervous system regulation, helping these individuals take back control of their own minds and make clear, autonomous decisions, reality checking and deprogramming the indoctrinated beliefs and behaviors, dealing with the dissociation and identity disturbances commonly experienced by victims of brainwashing, paving a path to rebuild trust in relationships after trust was abused and destroyed, and rebuilding life skills that may have been forgotten or never developed during the lost years and brain fog under the influence of coercive control. If we are to have the privilege of being the first person someone coming out of cultic groups or controlling personal relationships dares to trust, we must do our part to be worthy of that trust, holding the healing hearts of those who have been hurt with the utmost dignity, respect, and compassion, honoring, celebrating, mirroring, and fostering the resilience of the human spirit. When we make the mistake of trying to fix people we might judge as weak or broken, we may harm them in the name of helping. But when we can hold sacred space and trust the courage, strength, and inner divinity in those who have been betrayed in the most excruciating ways by people at the extremes of narcissism and sociopathy, we remind those we seek to serve of their wholeness in ways that can truly heal. Bravo, Dr. Hassan, for tackling a sensitive subject with mastery and heart. Highly recommended.” -Lissa Rankin, MD, New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine and teacher of Internal Family Systems 

“As a medical doctor with decades of experience, I wish to say that I very much enjoyed the content and I think it is incredibly well done. The course is highly comprehensive, and I do believe that anyone who takes all the modules will come out with a very good understanding of this topic. If everyone took this course and absorbed the messages, the world would be a much safer and more loving place for all.”  Richard Parker, MD

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