Understanding Cults: A Foundational Course for Clinicians


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.

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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
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  • Legal professionals
  • Financial advisors
  • Law enforcement and military
  • Legislators
  • Government and non-governmental organizations
  • Media
  • Other people who want to help
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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.


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