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 may 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 will 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 is often advanced by proponents of conspiracy therapy as a rationalization for failing or “stuck” 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.”
Related terms and other names: past lives therapy, regression therapy, alien abduction memory recovery, meditation for memory recovery, praying for the recovery of memories, “trans-logic” techniques, memory hypnosis.
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 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. Sometimes the conspiracy therapist goes as far as stating that the complete lack of a memory of abuse is proof that abuse occurred.
Proponents may also depend on catch-all “diagnostic” checklists, false interpretations (see above: projective methods), along with leading suggestions and supportive encouragement to convince their client that repressed memories of abuse are the cause of their current issues and that recovered-memory therapy is necessary to recover from their current issues.
These techniques are numerous and their application varied. They almost always involve various forms of hypnosis or regression 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.
This treatment can very well be but is not always blatantly coercive. Statements like “If you can’t remember what happened that summer, perhaps something happened that you don’t want to remember,” can lead credulous clients. Even clients who report absolutely no history of past abuse may begin to second guess themselves.
How this method can cause harm
The claim of whether suggestive techniques can ever uncover accurate memories of abuse remains unsubstantiated. 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 regression therapy and repressed memory therapy can lead to significant harmful effects in clients.
In 1990, Washington State permitted individuals to seek treatment under the Crime Victim Act if they claimed a repressed memory for childhood sexual abuse. From 1991 to 1995, 670 repressed memory claims were filed. Of these, 325 (49%) were allowed. In the study, a nurse consultant reviewed 183 of these claims. Of these, 30 were randomly analyzed.
Some of the findings of this analysis are reported here:
- The first memory surfaced during therapy in 26 (87%) of cases
- All 30 were still in therapy three years after their first memory surfaced. Over half were still in therapy five years after the first memory surfaced.
- Prior to recovering memories, only 3 (10%) exhibited suicidal ideation or attempts; after memories, 20 (67%) exhibited suicidal ideation or attempts.
- Prior to recovering memories, only 2 (7%) had been hospitalized; after recovering memories, 11 (37%) had been hospitalized.
- Prior to recovering memories, only 1 (3%) had engaged in self-mutilation; after recovering memories 8 (27%) had engaged in self-mutilation.
- The sample was fairly well educated, and 25 (83%) had been employed before entering therapy. Three years into therapy, only 3 of 30 (10%) were still employed.
- Of the 30, 23 (77%) were married before they entered therapy and got their first recovered memory; within three years of this time, 11/23 (48%) were separated or divorced. Seven (23%) lost custody of minor children; all 30 were estranged from their extended families. (Dineen)
These statistics raise serious concerns about the potential negative effects of such treatment.
Moreover, numerous families have been torn apart by uncorroborated accusations of sexual abuse by children against family members regarding memories “recovered” using these 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?”
“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.”
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 main premise of this treatment is that patients with DID harbor hidden identities that must be brought forth and integrated 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.
The therapist asks the client to “listen inside” for voices or feelings of supposed alter personalities.
The therapist encourages the client to “map their system,” a process that involves drawing an internal structure of supposed alter personalities and their individual roles with regards to functioning or holding supposed repressed memories.
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 use self hypnosis and guided imagery 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 or guided imagery, the client is encouraged to locate or create a “safe space” in their mind where they may find and communicate with supposed alter personalities and where they may be given supposed repressed 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.
The therapist makes use of suggestive questioning and probing for intrusive feelings and emotions and asks or suggests the patient assign them names.
The client is encouraged to verbally free associate (or journal) and look for influences of co-conscious alters –two separate alters, both present or “fronting.”
How this method can cause harm
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).
Additionally, the number of alters tends to increase over the course of DID-oriented therapy (Piper, 1997; Ross, Norton & Wozney, 1989). Although DID-oriented therapists will claim that this reflects the discovery rather than the creation of alters, evidence suggests that many and perhaps most alters are products of inadvertent or blatant therapist suggestion (see above common applications). For example, most diagnoses of DID derive from a very small collection of therapists, most of whom are self-reported DID “experts” (Mai, 1995).
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).
These iatrogenic effects and subsequent identity confusion can result in an unnecessarily long treatment time, often spanning years or decades for a supposed “integration” of personalities to happen.
“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.”
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 in order to heal. The client is encouraged to act out these emotions externally or internally.
In the context of recovering memories (see above: Recovered-memory techniques), the therapist encourages screaming, shouting, and physical violence towards the image(s) of the alleged abuser(s). In some cases, they encourage real violence.
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.
The therapist encourages play fighting, real fighting, violence or yelling in the therapy session.
How this method can cause harm
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.”
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 and vulnerable 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 restrain children (sometimes while yelling and spitting on them) until they look into the adult’s eyes. Another shocking 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.
How this method can cause harm
During rebirthing sessions, therapists may wrap children in blankets, sit on them, and squeeze them repeatedly in an effort to simulate the birth process. Many children have been suffocated to death or been subjected to torturous abuse during rebirthing or attachment sessions.
No randomized controlled trials have been conducted to determine whether rebirthing, coercive restraint (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.”
Body/Somatic-based Trauma-focused Therapy Techniques
Other names and related terms: tapping, therapeutic touch, craniosacral therapy, body work, biogenetics, Neuro Emotional Technique, Rolfing therapy, Biodynamic psychology, Therapeutic Touch (TT), Emotional Freedom Techniques, 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.” This list is not exhaustive.
Body psychotherapy in this context refers to an approach which applies principles of somatic psychology in an alternative way. Skeptics argue these forms of body psychotherapy to be pseudoscience.
Body and energy therapy studies are often akin to worthless studies designed to generate false positives—the kind of in-house studies that numerous alternative health companies employ so that they can claim their products are “clinically proven.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, a review of the available literature on the subject was written by several people that are financially tied to the companies endorsing these practices.
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.
The therapist may claim to provide “whole body healing.”
The therapist may claim to have unseen, unproven, spiritual or magical healing abilities.
How this method can cause harm
Numerous issues in body psychotherapy have been highlighted on account of the intimacy of the techniques used. There is much doubt among skeptics that these methods provide anything other than temporary placebo.
Pseudoscientific body or energy therapy can lure a vulnerable client’s resources, time and effort away from evidence-based modalities, trading practical treatment for lengthy and expensive body or energy sessions that may offer nothing more than a placebo at best.
Moreover, there is considerable concern that certain methods of pseudoscientific body or energy therapy may contribute to the development of false memories or obsessive rumination as some conspiracy therapists encourage an association between bodily sensations and supposed repressed trauma.
“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!’”
“…I was dragged to a woman who said my autoimmune disease, lupus was a symptom of trauma my body stored.”
“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.”
Other names and related terms: supported typing, progressive kinesthetic feedback, written output communication enhancement
Facilitated communication is promoted as a means to assist people with severe communication disabilities in pointing to letters on an alphabet board, keyboard or other device so that they can communicate. The facilitator guides the disabled person’s arm or hand and attempts to help them type on a keyboard or other device.
There is widespread agreement within the scientific community and among disability advocacy organizations that facilitated communication is a pseudoscience. The practice is often likened to the ideomotor effect one may observe when using a Ouija board.
How this method causes harm
Belief in facilitated communication is promoted by its status as a claimed “miracle cure” presented to parents of children with disabilities when they are undergoing stress or grief. This thoroughly debunked and unsubstantiated method uselessly redirects parents’ time and financial resources.
Facilitated communication has also produced unsubstantiated allegations of abuse, often sexual, containing “extensive, explicit, pornographic details.” (Green) These false allegations, supposedly uncovered by the practitioner via facilitated communication, have led to children being ripped out of their homes.
There have also been instances of sexual abuse, wherein the therapist, having performed facilitated communication techniques, believed the non-verbal, non-responsive client was sexually or romantically interested in them.
Mismanagement of Therapy: Allowing Conspiratorial Beliefs to Usurp Ethical Standards
The transference of the conspiracy therapist’s odd personal beliefs in combination with the above techniques can result in additional recommendations that isolate clients from their existing support systems, including friends, family, and other medical professionals.
This is done under the guise of keeping them safe from imaginary “perpetrator groups” such as the Illuminati, Satanic cults, and CIA mind control handlers. People who believe they are victims of sophisticated, high-tech forms of mind control often call themselves “targeted individuals.”
Examples of conspiratorial transference include:
- Telling the patients that family members are involved in the conspiracy and either committed the abuse or turned them over to the abusers.
- Warning that anyone among their friends and family might be an undercover member of the group intent on harming them now that they’ve recovered their memories.
- Advising patients either to be constantly alert for signs someone close will betray them, or to detach entirely from friends and family, especially those who don’t believe the recovered memories are based in reality.
- Encouraging survivors to read confirming materials written by other believers.
- Cautioning that the perpetrators have thoroughly infiltrated other authority groups, such as the police, media, government, and especially organizations devoted to challenging conspiracy narratives. These “perpetrators in high places” are often invoked to explain away the lack of physical evidence for alleged crimes.
- Organizing group therapy sessions populated by fellow survivors that serve to further reinforce the validity of the new memories.
- Advising the patient to be mistrustful of other medical practitioners who do not share the same beliefs.
These “therapeutic” practices are disorienting, isolating and coercive. The devastation that these practices can leave on victims and their families can be long-lasting and complex.
Meanwhile, the conspiracy therapist may write books and deliver presentations to other mental health professionals and patients wherein the narratives of these Satanic cult abuse “survivors” are awarded a veneer of academic legitimacy by virtue of being accepted by the presenter — a licensed practitioner.
Meanwhile, victims lose their families, friends, livelihoods, and sometimes their lives while the practitioner profits from this (ironically) cultic practice.
For first-hand accounts of what it’s like to experience this, please see our interviews with Jeannette Bartha and Roma Hart.
What’s the bottom line?
Greater attention needs to be directed to understand the harmful effects of these therapies. We must find better means of detecting and preventing these effects, and we must educate clinicians and mental health consumers alike.
Bad therapy has been carried out by credentialed and licensed practitioners as well as quacks, charlatans and various traveling peddlers of miracle cures for eras. Because not all therapists receive thorough training and vetting and because of a lack of professional critique and disregard for criticism — these individuals often can and do harm.
We believe patients deserve to be treated using methods based on the best available science, and with a spirit of compassion. Debunked ideas, techniques with a long record of inducing harm, and treatment unsupported by evidence, have no place in therapy.
Not all conspiracy therapy looks alike and not all conspiracy therapists practice every single type of therapy. It is an ongoing mission of Grey Faction to call attention to all harmful practices and all conspiracy practitioners, with an emphasis on debunking the ongoing Satanic Panic and its association with conspiracists in the mental health community.
Some names have been changed by request.
The quotes were obtained by reaching out to individuals who indicated to Grey Faction that they had been harmed by conspiracy therapy and wished to express some of their experiences alongside the article.
We wish to encourage critical thinking as anecdotal evidence is not scientific fact and is subject to bias. However, we believe that impactful statements provide a reminder that conspiracy therapy is in absolutely no way a victimless act.
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