How Does A Conspiracy Therapist Practice?

Are you wondering if your therapy constitutes “conspiracy therapy”? Concerned about a family member undergoing therapy with mixed results?

Conspiracy therapists frequently use these methods, most of them unsubstantiated or widely considered harmful. Often victims of conspiracy therapy do not realize what is happening to them and how much they have declined in mental and physical well-being since beginning treatment, under the guise that they will “eventually heal” or “must get worse before they get better.” Unfortunately, many of these victims remain lost in conspiracy therapy, often financially indebted to their therapists under the promise of an eventual full recovery.

Indeed, one must be a careful consumer when therapists claim ‘‘clients must get worse before they can get better,” as this claim has sometimes been advanced by proponents of conspiracy therapy as a rationalization for failing treatments.

There are many ways a conspiracy therapist will practice. Not all of these methods are used in each practice, however all conspiracy therapists use one or more of them.

Below, you will read about the most common methods practitioners use on patients during conspiracy therapy. Many are combined with each other when put into use, forming each conspiracy practitioner’s therapeutic style.

These methods are the hallmarks and mainstay of their practice.

“Therapy with her made me feel worse. Always. It made the bad much, much worse, and it made the neutral traumatic. There was the constant chipping away of my boundaries in the deepest core of self. She violated me. If someone had asked me about therapy back then, I would have claimed it was helping me. If they’d asked me how it helped, I would not have been able to tell them.”

– Casey

Recovered-memory techniques

Related terms and other names: past lives therapy, regression therapy, alien abduction memory recovery, relaxation therapy, meditation for memory recovery, praying for the recovery of memories, “trans-logic” techniques.

Recovered memory techniques do not refer to a specific, recognized treatment method, but to several controversial interviewing techniques such as hypnosis, guided imagery, and the use of sedative-hypnotic drugs. It includes free association, inner-child exercises, ego-state therapy, age regression, body memory interpretation, body massage, dream interpretation, and the use of projective techniques like Rorschach inkblot interpretation. 

These highly controversial methods are predicated on the belief that patients themselves can’t remember their traumatic experiences that are the root cause of their symptoms. The therapist may ask the client about a history of trauma involving abuse. If the client denies the presence of abuse in their past, the therapist may suggest that this denial in and of itself is proof of a repressed memory of abuse, leading the therapy to take the course of “recovering” this abuse. 

Common applications

These techniques are numerous and their application varied. They almost always involve various forms of hypnosis or hypnotic technique. 

It should be noted that the conspiracy therapist may employ these methods without disclosing to the client that they are essentially hypnotic and thus associated with increased suggestibility. 

Why this method is harmful

The claim of whether suggestive techniques can ever uncover accurate memories of abuse remains highly controversial. Laboratory research leaves little doubt that these techniques can lead to false memories in a substantial percentage of participants (Lynn, Lock, Loftus, Krackow & Lilienfeld, 2003). Moreover, findings that these techniques can induce memories of alien abductions, past lives, and infantile memories offer proof that these techniques can produce false or otherwise improbable memories (Clancy, 2005).

There is also strong reason to suspect that false memories can lead to significant harmful effects in both clients and their family members. For example, data from recovered memory legal claims in Washington State indicate that suicidal ideation increased nearly sevenfold and that psychiatric hospitalizations increased nearly fivefold over the course of recovered memory treatment (Dineen, 2001). This raises serious concerns about the potential negative effects of such treatment. Moreover, many families have been torn apart by uncorroborated accusations of sexual abuse by children against family members regarding memories “recovered” using these hypnotic techniques.

“… she insisted that I had some deep trauma around being drugged and abused and that it had to go way back into my childhood. Or maybe it was one of the cults. It made me feel sick. Had I been drugged? Maybe that’s why I had no memories of the type she said I had?”

– Casey

“She gave me work to do in [the book] ‘Courage to Heal’ and every week I’d walk in, nothing done. I told her nothing happened [in terms of sexual abuse], … But I was told I was defending my abusers and suffering a sort of gross desire to continue a sexual relationship with my dad. It wasn’t true. None of it.”

Carol

Dissociative Identity Disorder Treatment

Dissociative identity disorder-oriented (DID-oriented) treatment is designed to elicit alter personalities in individuals suspected of having DID (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder). The core premise of this treatment is that patients with DID harbor hidden identities that must be brought forth for improvement to occur. DID-oriented treatment methods include a variety of suggestive treatment techniques, including contacting supposed alters through hypnosis, introducing alters to each other, and mapping out the relationships among supposed alters. 

Common applications

The client is encouraged to “listen inside” for voices or feelings of supposed alter personalities.

The client is encouraged to “map their system,” a process that involves drawing an internal structure of supposed alter personalities and their individual roles with regards to functioning.

The client is encouraged to look for changes in handwriting which supposedly represent the unconscious influence of alter personalities. 

The client is induced into hypnosis (or other techniques; see Recovered-Memory techniques above) for the purpose of interacting with supposed alter personalities.

The client is encouraged to make use of an internal “bulletin board” to allow alter personalities to post messages to each other or hold “inner board meetings” as a method of permitting alters to communicate with each other. 

Using hypnotic techniques, the client is encouraged to locate or create a “safe space” in their mind where they may locate and communicate with supposed alter personalities and where they may be given traumatic memories by alter personalities. 

The client is encouraged to write journal entries and draw pictures with their non-dominant hand to encourage supposed child alter personalities to come forward. 

Why this method is harmful

Evidence suggests that DID-oriented techniques more often create alters than uncover them, likely by treating poorly integrated aspects of patients’ personalities as though they were independent identities, or perhaps by treating the patient’s stream of inner monologues as proof of “hearing internal voices” (Lilienfeld & Lynn, 2003). The number of alters tends to increase over the course of DID-oriented therapy (Piper, 1997; Ross, Norton & Wozney, 1989) This finding is worrisome given that the number of alters in dissociative identity disorder patients is associated with a significantly longer time to “fusion” or “integration,” that is, the integration of alters into a single personality (Coons, 1984). This results in long treatment time, often spanning years or decades.

Although DID-oriented therapists typically claim that these findings reflect the discovery rather than the creation of alters, evidence suggests that many and perhaps most alters are products of inadvertent therapist suggestion. For example, most diagnoses of DID derive from a relatively small number of therapists, most of whom are self-reported DID specialists (Mai, 1995).

“She always told me that I was a blank slate, a shell, a sort of non-person and that all my emotions were the unconscious influence of other parts of myself. If I was feeling angry for example, that was another part of myself trying to communicate. She told me to name the part and we would try and communicate with it. I believe this is how she formed my ‘alters’. I started to believe it myself, and started hearing my internal monologue as different voices.”

“It leads you down a dark, dark path of wondering what horrible thing could have happened to you to cause this. Because you’re supposed to be amnesiac to the trauma. Your alters have it. So maybe you start researching your disorder a little, and you find all these survivor stories, horrible ones, torture cults, trafficking rings, baby torture, constant stories of violent rape. These are the stories that people tell when they have Dissociative Identity Disorder. So you start thinking, oh my god, did that happen to me? Did my parents really do that stuff to me? Because they tell you that you don’t remember the trauma. It begins to seriously mess with your mind.”

Rea

Rage Induction/Expressive-experiential therapies/Primal Scream therapy

Experiential therapy in the context of conspiracy therapy refers to the belief that the client must feel and express their anger and outrage and then “release” it.

The client is encouraged to act out these emotions externally or internally. The therapist encourages screaming, shouting, and physical violence towards the image(s) of the alleged abuser(s). In some cases, they encourage real violence.

Common applications

The therapist tells the client to tape a photo of their alleged abuser(s) to a magazine and then rip up the magazine. 

The therapist tells the client to imagine physically harming their alleged abuser(s) in detail and asks the client to explain how they would harm them given the chance.

The therapist directs the client to imagine the face of their alleged abuser(s) on a pillow and crush, smash, punch, and rip up the pillow.

The therapist encourages the client to scream until exhaustion or “catharsis” while picturing their memories of abuse, often accompanied by the therapist, practitioner, or other clients (if held in a group setting) also screaming at the client about how horrific their abuser is.

Why this method is harmful

The possibility of harm resulting from experiential-expressive therapies is consistent with results from studies suggesting that releasing pent-up anger often results in increased hostility and overwhelming and distressing emotion. More broadly, these results demonstrate that emotional catharsis, especially when not accompanied by a constructive cognitive restructuring of troubling situations, often backfires to produce heightened long-term negative emotions (Littrell, 1998).

Studies reveal that clients exposed to expressive-experiential therapies exhibited higher rates of deterioration than did those in either no treatment or alternative treatments (Lewis & Bucher, 1992).

“I told her [the therapist] that sometimes I felt so angry at my mom that I could just hit her, but never would do anything like that. Her reply was ‘Why don’t you?’ I was so confused, because I’m not a violent person or anything, and wouldn’t hurt a fly, it was just an errant thought because I was so mad at my mom. 

She encouraged me to imagine harming her, or even killing her in so many different ways. I never wanted to, and it just made me feel horrible, so guilty. At one point during the therapy, I was imagining pushing her down the stairs to my therapist’s utter delight, and I burst out crying. It made me feel so guilty.”

Rea

Attachment Therapy, Patterning, and Coercive Restraint Therapies

Other names and related terms: Reparenting, patterning, compression therapy, rebirthing

Attachment therapists maintain that separation from biological parents often produces enduring adverse effects, including intense anger, in children. They claim that this rage must be released for children to achieve adaptive functioning. Predatory “attachment centers” frequently recruit unwitting parents of foster and adopted children into these types of treatment under the supposed promise of eventually creating an “attachment” to the parent. 

The techniques used by these therapists are intrusive and aggressive and can include verbal abuse and dangerous physical restraints. One variant of attachment therapy, holding therapy, requires therapists or caregivers to physically hold children until they look into the adult’s eyes. Another worrisome version of attachment therapy, rebirthing, is based on the notion that the birth trauma can generate unprocessed rage that must be released by reenacting this trauma.

Why this method is harmful

During rebirthing sessions, therapists may wrap children in blankets, sit on them, and squeeze them repeatedly in an effort to simulate the birth process. Several children, including 10-year-old Candace Newmaker in Colorado in 2000, have been suffocated to death during rebirthing sessions. No randomized control trials have been conducted to determine whether rebirthing, holding, or other attachment therapies yield any positive effects for childhood behavioral problems, likely due to the ethical considerations of conducting such experiments due to past deaths at the hand of these “attachment centers.”

“I shaved my head to keep them from pulling me by my hair, the showers were freezing and [in] one open room. The toilets lined up in front of the men at their desks set to keep order. There was no [real] therapy, I was often restrained just from crying at night because there were 7-8 beds in a 3 bedroom sized room…”

“They told me I’d be there until 18 and then they’d laugh as I got transferred. I fought everyday. Suffered dislocated shoulders, a jaw, stitches in my head.”

Carol

Body/Somatic-based Trauma-focused Therapy Techniques

Other names and related terms: therapeutic touch, cranial sacral therapy, body work, biogenetics, Neuro Emotional Technique, Rolfing therapy, Biodynamic psychology, Rubenfeld Synergy, Thought Field Therapy, Tapas Acupressure Technique (TAT), Negative Affect Erasing Method (NAEM), Midline Energy Treatment (MET), Healing Energy Light Process (HELP), Energy Diagnostic and Treatment Methods (EDxTM), Getting Thru Techniques (GTT), Be Set Free Fast (BSFF), and Whole Life Healing (WLL), all of which are sometimes referred to as “emotional acupressure.”

Body psychotherapy in this context refers to an approach which applies principles of somatic psychology. Skeptics argue these forms of body psychotherapy to be pseudoscience. Numerous issues in body psychotherapy have been highlighted on account of the intimacy of the techniques used.

A review of the available literature on the subject was written by several people that are financially tied to the companies endorsing these practices.

Body therapy studies are often akin to worthless studies designed to generate false positives—the kind of in-house studies that numerous companies employ so that they can claim their products are clinically proven.

Common applications

The therapist directs the client to be aware of any bodily sensations during therapy, especially during guided imagery, and to report those sensations as they occur.

The therapist may place their hands on the client’s body in the location where the client reported sensation, applying firm pressure to the spot as the client focuses on the thought or memory that “triggered” the sensation.

The therapist may discuss the client’s physical ailments, assigning significance to illnesses or conditions that reinforce the abuse narrative.

The therapist may engage in massage or prolonged touching with the client.

“I have scoliosis (which she informed me was a metaphor for how much my family, especially my mother, tried to push me down and contain me), which has led to some nerve damage and intermittent pain in my lower back. Aha! A symptom! I had blocked and repressed memory stored in my… back. Her technique of addressing this was to place her hand on where I was having pain and apply some pressure (she was a big fan of Rolfing therapy), and she wanted me to tell her what memories were surfacing.”

“The other thing that would happen is that I would start to doze off. Aha! Another symptom. ‘You’ve been drugged and abused! That’s why this grogginess and tiredness is surfacing now!’”

Casey

“…I was dragged to a woman who said my autoimmune disease, lupus was a symptom of trauma my body stored.”

Carol

“I was told that my seizures, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and pretty much any other symptom were due to repressed childhood trauma, or anxiety, or because another memory or flashback was about to surface. It made me really anxious because I started to associate those symptoms with these supposed traumatic memories that they represented. She also told me that those symptoms were from switching alternate personalities.”

Rea

What’s the bottom line?

Grey Faction advocates for consumer protection, accountability on behalf of the practitioner, and inquiries into the harmful effects of these “therapeutic” techniques.

Greater attention needs to be directed to understand the effects of these harmful therapies. We must find better means of detecting and preventing these effects, and educate psychotherapists and mental health consumers.

Some names have been changed by request.

References:

Be Wary of Attachment Therapy. (2003, July 24). Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://quackwatch.org/related/at/

Beyerstein, B.L. (2001). Fringe psychotherapies: The public at risk. Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, 5, 70–79

Clancy, S. (2005). Abducted: How people come to believe they were kidnapped by aliens. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Dineen, T. (2001). Manufacturing victims: What the psychotherapy industry is doing to people (3rd ed.). Montreal, ON, Canada: Robert Davies.

Eisner, D.A. (2000).The death of psychotherapy: From Freud to alien abductions. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Lewis, W.A., & Bucher, A.M. (1992). Anger, catharsis, the reformulated frustration-aggression hypothesis, and health consequences. Psychotherapy, 29, 385–392.

Lilienfeld, S. O. (2007). Psychological Treatments That Cause Harm. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2(1), 53-70. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00029.x

Lilienfeld, S.O., Fowler, K.A., Lohr, J.M., & Lynn, S.J. (2005). Pseudoscience, nonscience, and nonsense in clinical psychology: Dangers and remedies. In R.H. Wright & N.A. Cummings (Eds.), Destructive trends in mental health: The well-intentioned path to harm (pp. 187–218). New York: Routledge

Lilienfeld, S.O., Lynn, S.J., & Lohr, J.M. (Eds.). (2003). Science and pseudoscience in clinical psychology. New York: Guilford

Lilienfeld, S.O., Lynn, S.J., Kirsch, I., Chaves, J., Sarbin, T., Ganaway, G., & Powell, R. (1999). Dissociative identity disorder and the sociocognitive model: Recalling the lessons of the past. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 507–523.

Littrell, J. (1998). Is the experience of painful emotion therapeutic? Clinical Psychology Review, 18, 71–102

Mercer, J. (2002). Attachment therapy: A treatment without empirical support. Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 1, 105–112.

Mercer, J., Sarner, L., & Rosa, L. (2003). Attachment therapy on trial. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Morrock, Richard (2010-12-29). “Pseudo-Psychotherapy: UFOs, Cloudbusters, Conspiracies, and Paranoia in Wilhelm Reich’s Psychotherapy.” Skeptic.com. Retrieved 4 May 2018.

Novella, S. (May 2012). “Earthing.” theness.com. Retrieved 4 May 2018.

Sharf, R.S. (2011) Theories of Psychotherapy and Counselling. p. 600.

Shipley, R.H., & Boudewyns, P.A. (1980). Flooding and implosive therapy: Are they harmful? Behavior Therapy, 11, 503–508

Spanos, N.P. (1994). Multiple identity enactments and multiple personality disorder: A sociocognitive perspective. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 143–165.

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