Teal Swan is a
cult leader “spiritual guru” with some dangerous ideas about mental health. She claims to be part alien and to have extrasensory abilities which she uses to “heal” others’ psychological ailments, communicating with her large following via YouTube videos, speaking tours, and at her “spiritual retreat” in Costa Rica. She has made some troubling comments about suicide, and at least one of her followers committed suicide shortly after a conversation with Teal about it.
In 2018, Gizmodo released a six-part podcast — called ‘The Gateway’ — all about Swan, her upbringing, her pseudoscientific methods, her supernatural beliefs, and her followers. In June 2022, the creators of the podcast released a docuseries on the subject, called The Deep End.
Among the many troubling aspects of Swan’s “teachings” covered in the podcast and docuseries is the concept that symptoms of mental illness are rooted in repressed memories of childhood abuse. The traumatic events were so horrendous, the narrative goes, that the brain must prevent the conscious recollection of them — a debunked concept of memory that runs contrary to the state of cognitive science today. While traumatic events undoubtedly contribute to and cause mental illness, the idea that someone who, for example, suffers from depression but remembers a normal childhood must have repressed memories of traumatic events is extraordinarily harmful.
This is the same pseudoscience that drove the “Satanic Panic” — the period during the 80s and 90s when many believed, based on “repressed memories” of abuse “recovered” by mental health practitioners using hypnotherapy and other dubious methods, that Satanic cults were kidnapping and abusing children in complete secrecy. This moral panic ruined lives, destroyed families, and upended communities. And the harmful therapies that enabled it continue to be practiced today, used not only by unqualified quacks like Swan but also by licensed mental health professionals within the United States. In fact, Swan likely learned these methods for “recovering” memories from them.
Swan claims to be a victim of Satanic ritual abuse — memories of which she claims she repressed and later recovered with the help of a therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah, who encouraged her to go to the police to open an investigation in 2005. Swan’s claims include that she was once sewn into a corpse by a Mormon satanic cult.
However, that investigation came to a halt when it was discovered that Swan’s therapist was at the center of several nearly identical — and similarly questionable — allegations of Satanic ritual abuse in Utah during the throes of the Satanic Panic. Diana Hansen Ribera, who grew up with Swan, says that Swan was abused by her therapist, not some secretive Satanic cult.
That therapist is named Dr. Barbara Snow, and she continues to practice today. She is also a member of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation, an organization that has openly promoted Satanic Panic conspiracy theories for decades.
To summarize a rather comprehensive write-up of one of the cases: Snow, in 1985, was contacted by a mother of three who felt her children talked “too freely about sex.” After interviewing the children, Snow came to believe they had been sexually abused, and identified the perpetrator as the daughter of a Bishop. Snow asked to interview other children who had the same babysitter, and came to believe that not only the babysitter but her parents, too, had abused many of the children. The Bishop and his wife were also accused of abusing their own younger children, who were taken away and placed in foster homes before being returned after no evidence corroborated Snow’s claims.
Two supporters of Snow — Alan B. Hadfield and Rex Bowers — encouraged the Utah County Sheriff’s Office and the Utah Attorney General Office to open an investigation. However, further interviews with children conducted by Snow led to accusations against both of these men. Snow claimed that children were speaking with her about being initiated into Satanic cults and participating in rituals. By 1987, Snow had lodged accusations against 40 adults, nearly all of them Mormons.
But prosecutors only filed charges against Hadfield, and he was likely innocent. A colleague of Snow’s at the Intermountain Sexual Abuse Treatment Center, and Chief Deputy Utah County Attorney Wayne Watson, witnessed one of Snow’s interviews and felt that she was pressuring children into disclosing abuse that they originally denied. One girl testified that she felt that Snow would not let her end the interview unless she lodged an accusation of ritual abuse.
Hadfield was convicted of four first-degree counts of sodomy on a child and three second-degree counts of sexual abuse of a child in December 1987. He maintained his innocence, and after an attempt to provoke a new trial was quashed, appealed to the Utah Supreme Court, citing new evidence that further undermined Snow’s credibility. He was granted a new evidentiary hearing, with the majority opinion noting:
The trial court quashed an affidavit filed by defendant in support of his motion for a new trial and declined to permit defendant an opportunity to produce evidence relating to its allegations. The affidavit had been prepared by a “paralegal/investigator” who had investigated “four separate alleged child abuse cases in which Barbara Snow or an employee of ISAT [Intermountain Sexual Abuse Center] was or is a percipient witness.” The affidavit details the following bizarre factual correlations between those cases and the case resulting in defendant’s trial: (1) they all involve a neighborhood “sex ring” of from three to twenty families; (2) they all involve members of the same church, including a significant number of religious leaders; (3) they all involve satanic rituals and neighborhood “sex parties”; and (4) in all of the cases, children taken to Barbara Snow at ISAT for counselling have in turn identified other children and adults in the neighborhood. In addition, the affidavit claims that several nearly identical allegations exist in several of these cases. Three of the cases allegedly include prominent reference to playing with, consuming, and bathing in human excrement. Pictures drawn by some of the children in treatment with Barbara Snow in two of the cases are claimed to be identical. Men dressing in women’s clothing and the use of costumes and masks were described by children in two of the cases. In three cases, the children described large groups of adults congregating for the purpose of touching naked children and referred to the use of candles and pentagrams for satanic rituals. The affidavit further alleges that no known connection exists between any of the cases except for the involvement of Barbara Snow and ISAT in the investigations and the inability of law enforcement to discover any corroborating evidence of the group activities (such as photographs, paraphernalia, etc.).
A documentary on the Hadfield case is embedded below.
Another case instigated by Snow was that of Arden Brett Bullock, who was convicted in December 1986 of abusing three boys from 1983-1984. He insisted on his innocence, even refusing to likely shorten his prison sentence by undergoing sex offender treatment — which would have required he admit guilt.
In an interview with Deseret News, Bullock claimed a divorce and custody battle with his ex-wife prompted the accusations of sexual abuse. His ex-spouse took their children to Snow, and Snow soon told police that not only did Bullock abuse his children, but that such abuse was rampant in the neighborhood.
Without a shred of corroborating physical evidence, he was charged with sexual abuse of four children.
Bullock appealed in 2002 and his request for a new trial was denied. The judges, however, wrote a scathing opinion of Snow’s methods:
In making their case, Mr. Bullock’s defense attorneys relied, in part, on Dr. Snow’s own statements during trial. Dr. Snow testified, for example, that she was “very aggressive in [her] questioning of children,” that she was “relatively indifferent to what [would] happen to the [alleged] perpetrator,” that she did not approach interview sessions “with an open mind” but as an “ally for the child,” and that she did not see herself as a fact collector like the police. Dr. Snow also testified extensively about her interview techniques, and she acknowledged that she did not record her interviews with the children, take notes during the interviews, or write reports following the interviews. Indeed, Dr. Snow admitted that her “own integrity” was the only way of verifying what had occurred during the interview sessions. Similarly, the defense team emphasized contradictions and inconsistencies in the boys’ testimony, including the fact that one of the boys had retracted an allegation of abuse as being untrue.
Snow intentionally failed to preserve critical evidence of her initial and subsequent interviews in spite of the fact that she knew such interviews were critically important to both the prosecution and the defense in ascertaining the truth of the allegations she ascribed to the children. In addition, such failure was accomplished in complete bad faith since she had been requested numerous times to do so by the police and by other therapists. Finally, the loss of a record of these initial priceless interviews can never be replaced for Appellant’s defense.
Bullock remains a registered sex offender to this day.
During one of the numerous investigations involving Snow, “Utah police deliberately fed her false information to see if her suggestive interviewing techniques were influencing the children’s allegations. Soon enough this information appeared in the answers of the children she interviewed,” according to Chicago Reader.
Whatever Snow was up to between 1986 and 2005 — the year that Teal Swan, at the urging of Snow, went to police with her claims of suffering Satanic ritual abuse back in Idaho — is a mystery, but it appears that Snow has continued to dabble in repressed memories and ritual abuse allegations.
The investigation into Swan’s claims was never passed on to Idaho authorities after it was deemed unlikely to be fruitful. But her therapist continued believing in the myth of Satanic ritual abuse and, on February 11, 2006, something explosive happened, and it’s the last thing you’d expect a therapist to do.
According to documents obtained by Grey Faction from the Utah Department of Professional Licensing Social Work Board, Snow was providing services to two of her family members — a sister-in-law (initials SJ) and her daughter (initials JB) — and had been treating family members for at least 15 years. This treatment included hypnosis, which led to the supposed recovering of repressed memories of abuse by SJ’s husband (which would seem to be Snow’s own brother).
One of the complaints, filed by a family member Snow was treating, states:
I told Barbara that I would [redacted] when he got home, he was out of town at the time. She was furious that I would confront him and wanted me to leave him and never talk to him again. Needless to say I did confront him because I wanted answers and this was a horrible accusation. That was the night of Feb 8 and I did not talk to Barbara again until she showed up at my door on Feb 11 with a bat in her hands.
Snow then entered the residence and asked if SJ’s husband was home. After finding out that he was not, she went into his office and “started swearing and smashing things, including a laptop computer and office equipment,” causing thousands of dollars worth of damage. There were numerous witnesses to these events, including both family members being treated by Snow. In fact, they attempted to stop Snow from causing more damage, but she began to hit them with the bat, too, and both reported they were bruised by Snow. “She smashed the laptop along with our home computer, printer, pictures and everything in the room including me,” one complainant stated. When they tried to stop her, Snow claimed that SJ knew about the abuse and let it happen. Snow left after the police were called, and a report along with photographs documented the incident. (According to the Provo, Utah police department, Snow had these records expunged in August of that same year.) Snow evaded police and hired an attorney, one of the complainants alleges.
The complainants did not pursue criminal charges against Snow, instead hoping that she would seek help. They urged the Board to permanently revoke Snow’s license, on the grounds that she is unfit to practice:
Barbara is unbalanced and does not have a grip on reality and should not be allowed to practice on the basis that she broke her oath as a professional. She can no longer be objective with information and the fact that she was treating her own [redacted] and has been for over 15 years is a slight breach of ethics.
I did not pursue this matter legally, which is something I could have done, because of the [redacted] but wanted Barbara to get help which she refused to do. She needs to be stopped and I hope with the terrible accusations she made but more importantly her actions speak volumes here, that she should not be able to renew a license that she has not honored but broken too many rules that govern the reason why we have them in the first place.
She is not a professional in any form of the word and in my opinion, should not be treating anyone, but should get help for herself.
They also pointed out that the supposed repressed memories that Snow uncovered were downright false.
According to a document posted online by the Board in January of 2007, Snow was also alleged to have suggested that SJ and JB were subjected to “military testing,” and alluded to previous allegations against Snow which were not disclosed in response to Grey Faction’s request.
Although Snow admitted the allegations are true and did not deny any aspect of them, the Board’s main concern in the investigation was that Snow was treating family members, not that she practiced the pseudoscience of recovered memory therapy, dabbled in harmful conspiracy theories, or, you know, smashed property and hit her own clients/family members with a baseball bat and then evaded police.
The Board suspended Snow’s license — but the suspension was immediately stayed, and her license was put on probation for 4 years, during which time she could only practice under a Board-approved supervisor and was barred from providing supervision to others. She was also required to inform any employer of her license restriction, was required to complete a 10-hour ethics course, and forced to undergo a psychological evaluation. (It appears that the evaluation found that she needed treatment, as June 5, 2008 meeting minutes state that she had identified a therapist.) In other words, Snow’s license wasn’t really suspended, and she didn’t have to inform her clients of any of the unethical and violent conduct she admitted to perpetrating.
Notably, the Board did call into question Snow’s treatment methods and use of leading questions. Snow stated to the Board that an individual approached her, alleging that SJ’s husband sexually abused SJ’s child. After interviewing him, and based on the fact that no criminal charges were filed, the Board believed the allegations to be false. The Board also found that Snow added “two “2006” dates to two undated 2004 psychotherapy notes which were late-date entries,” without identifying them as such, in order to justify her claims of Satanic ritual abuse and “military testing.”
Someone seeking therapy would want to know about these things — her habit of recovering memories of Satanic ritual abuse, of going to the police and testifying in court about such things, that she admitted to engaging in unethical behavior, and that she violently attacked her own clients — but the Board is of little help. Indeed, if you look up her license online, it comes back clean — not even the disciplinary order shows up — making Snow appear like a normal therapist who can help you learn basic coping skills or even help work through some of your problems, unless you file a public records request.
The purpose of licensing boards is to protect the public, not its licensees. The Board didn’t stop Snow when she was making dangerous and baseless accusations of Satanic ritual abuse in her community; if they did, she wouldn’t have ended up accusing a family member of sexual abuse, and she wouldn’t have ended up in that house with a baseball bat. And because they didn’t stop her after violently attacking her own clients, Snow is free to continue utilizing harmful pseudoscience to perpetuate the Satanic Panic which, according to her reviews on Google, she’s still doing.
Teal Swan’s dangerous ideas about mental health and her use of recovered memory therapy did not come from nowhere. These are practices and methods derived from unstable, yet licensed, mental health professionals, many of whom created and propagated the Satanic Panic of the 80s and 90s. Not only have these malpracticing therapists escaped accountability in part due to licensing boards unwilling to protect the public, they’ve also paved the way for dangerous quacks like Swan to learn their dubious methods and utilize them on unsuspecting, vulnerable people who are in desperate need of effective mental health services.