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Re: Option Institute
Posted by: retting ()
Date: October 03, 2013 07:27PM

I believe they are an extremely destructive cult. I would not recommend that your friend/family member get involved. There is more information about OI if you "search" Steve Hassan's website "Freedom of Mind".

They are a nasty bunch.

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Re: Option Institute
Posted by: huntingtonj ()
Date: October 03, 2013 07:46PM

Thanks for the response, unfortunately my spouse who had been suffering from depression for the past couple of years ( and other health issues) found this place and believed it could help heal her mind and body as part of the volunteer program. On the 12th day communication stopped and it took me 3 days to get a response, I now was the root of all the 'only ifs' and that they has encouraged her to leave all that caused her pain, friends, family, enviroment etc. They claim that she can continue as a volunteer for years when the reality is she will need constant medical care as her condition progresses. Claims that possesions are no longer important and that happiness is, while I don't disagree, the bubble they have created is not reality. Not sure what will happen when she has to return to the real world.

Again - thanks for the response, all the medical proffesionals I have spoken to agree that this type of place is not the solution for deep rooted issues.


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Re: Option Institute
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: October 03, 2013 10:10PM

Your stepping forward to describe what happened to you and your spouse will be valuable for others.

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Re: Option Institute
Posted by: retting ()
Date: October 04, 2013 12:56PM

I'm truly sorry that your wife is there.

If you threaten/suggest to O.I. (Option Institute) any type of legal action, I believe they will quickly "invite" your wife to leave; they hate "bad press". If your wife has any money at all, they will soon find a way to have her "donate" it to them. they also hate being called a "cult".

typical cult behavior is to isolate the participant from family/friends and anyone else who disagrees with their philosophy.

if you can get a medical professional to put their recommendations and concerns in writing, send a copy to the Kaufmans, and a copy to an attorney; it may very well scare them into sending your wife home immediately. I believe they will fold quite easily when confronted w/ any hint of a possible law suit.

the local State Police (CT?) are acutely aware of what is going on at OI. you could give them a call and express your concerns about your wife's medical and mental condition. one visit from the State Police and I'm confident your wife will be placed on the next bus/plane home. I suspect that the Ct State Police stationed nearby, would be extremely eager to assist you. If you send the State Police there for a "safety check" of your wife, I highly doubt she will be a welcomed guest much longer.

because OI is a religious organization with a non profit status, they are under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General of Mass. Contacting that agency with your concerns would not be a bad idea. you could also send copies of all of your correspondences with OI to the Mass State Attorney Gen.

there are many organizations that support families of cult victims. connecting with them might possibly result in being introduced to an attorney sympathetic to your cause and willing to advise pro-bono. cults have affected many families and you will find a network of support once you begin to contact them.

Steve Hassan, "Freedom of Mind" has exit counseled several ppl from OI. He may be able to give you more assistance in this matter.

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Re: Option Institute
Posted by: lechat ()
Date: March 28, 2018 10:52PM

It is now my belief that whoever is posting these bizarre claims is trolling. Most of the allegations made here are false. This is not based on my personal opinion, but facts. The only situation in which I could imagine someone volunteering at Option choosing to stop contacting a loved one is if there was serious abuse happening at home. And if she has a documented psychiatric condition, it’s not likely they would accept the liability of having her there unless it was being treated, based on my observations. They explicitly don’t allow people with active substance abuse issues, suicidal ideation, etc. to be there (in the terms of agreement), and insist people remain following medical advice while there. Option doesn’t isolate people the way cults do, and they absolutely 100% don’t coerce or encourage people to cut off contact from their loved ones. The entire point is to *leave there* and have better communication with friends, partners, and family. In fact, I have been in courses where they give participants homework to work out their differences with loved ones or contact estranged loved ones to heal former conflicts that caused them to stop speaking. The very opposite of what is alleged here is true, so this account is laughable and suggests to me it was likely written by an abusive or controlling spouse that is angry that his partner has chosen not to take the abuse anymore.

I was a volunteer at the Option Institute for a year a little less than a decade ago (before their volunteer program was ended recently due to its cost to the organization.) We received three meals a day from the chef (all you can eat from a large buffet of warm food) and a weekly workshop, so this bizarre allegation that volunteers aren’t fed is absurd. I actually had to put myself on a diet there. It is true that the paid staff (different from the volunteers- they are hired from the local community) are not paid amazing wages (in my opinion), but all of them applied for the job from outside the organization and accepted those wages, and they certainly aren’t pushed into anything. To be honest, most of the paid staff aren’t even really involved with the workshops or philosophy and see this as a regular job that they leave behind at the end of the day. Volunteers (when they still had volunteers) came and went (including me), and not a single one of us was ever pressured not to leave or to come back after leaving. We were there because we wanted access to the workshops but couldn’t afford them, and the lodging (comfortable) and food was included. I was able to return to take week-long courses there twice, and haven’t heard a peep from them since, which would seem weird behavior for a so-called cult. It is entirely up to me to enroll in a course or not. Honestly, Option is no more a cult than the local church, synagogue, etc. In fact, those organizations preach that they know “the truth”, ask for financial contributions during their meetings, perform ritualistic behaviors, worship deities, and actively recruit members, much more cult-like than Option. Option has none of the markers of a cult, besides maybe the natural bonding that occurs in close-knit communities (but even then, we live far apart and keeping in touch is tough.) In fact, in every Option/Autism Treatment Center workshop, they repeatedly tell participants that this is only one approach/concept, and if it doesn’t work for you, don’t use it. That’s very much the opposite message to what most churches and religions teach. Why aren’t they accused of being cults (which I believe they are)? These hyperbolic statements about the police being "aware of what is going on" and them “finding a way” to have his wife donate her money to them is what convinced me that this person posting here knows he/she is lying. Most people attending Option or volunteering have a car, are out and about in Great Barrington and Sheffield, free to do whatever they want, encouraged to think whatever they want, and welcome to leave whenever they want. I even had a boyfriend who had nothing to do with Option when I was a volunteer (he thought it was nonsense), and I often stayed over at his place in a nearby town. Nobody stopped me or criticized that. What exactly are you alleging the police know is “going on”?

Anyway, I thought I should add my two cents as someone who has actually been there both as a long-term volunteer and for their workshops, which really helped me in times when I needed it. They are, for all intents and purposes, cognitive behavioral therapy sessions. I have seen many people helped by them, and have seen exactly zero people forced into anything or isolated from their loved ones (ludicrous). Also, regarding their autism programs at ATCA, they have never claimed they will cure every child’s autism. They have claimed that some children are so helped by the method that they sometimes are no longer diagnosed on the spectrum later in life. This is true for their success cases, which they, of course, highlight in their marketing for their programs. But for many more, this is a tool and very helpful in dealing with their kids on the spectrum. The playroom approach and positive treatment approach, radical acceptance of a child wherever they are at, seems to me like a very beneficial thing for parents to learn. But again, as they say themselves, *it’s only one approach* and if you don’t like it, don’t do it. I’m convinced that the people posting here have an ulterior motive in tearing down the Option Institute (disgruntled partners, competing autism organizations?) because none of this gels factually with my observations of them over the years. I don’t agree with everything they do (such as paying fairly low wages to their local staff, and how proprietary they are over their material, which is a version of many self-help philosophies and not exactly brand new), but this is absolutely not a cult, based on the identifying features of cults, and conflating it with one is actually harmful to the pursuit of stopping actual cults.

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Re: Option Institute
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: March 29, 2018 11:55AM

A review of Options Institute back in 2014 by a former worker and the reply from OI

Other reviews follow. Readers can form their own conclusions.



May 13, 2014

I worked at The Option Institute full-time


Beautiful location. International atmosphere with clients from all over the world. Some good food. Some nice, liberal, open-minded staff. Some of the teachings of the Son-Rise Program are helpful and sweet.


I would not recommend working for this company. Essentially, the founders and family are making out financially (and through people's misery) while everyone else is hardly paid (and continually made to feel bad that they are not working hard enough). Unless you agree with all the teachings, you are on the outside and will never be accepted. The teaching roster consists mainly of the Kaufman family without any outside sources coming in to teach. Because of this, they are considered a cult and I would agree with this statement. Barry Neil 'Bears' Kaufman wants to be venerated and worshipped - you practically have to eat out of his hand when he enters the room (or be treated cruelly by him for the rest of your time there). He uses his power to tear people down only to build people back up the way he wants to. He incarcerates and ensnares the weak with his manipulative tactics and narcissistic antics. His wife is not much better. They are sham artists who clearly don't care about people as they treat their employees horribly (hardly paying them, asking them to work continuously, making them feel bad about themselves by verbally attacking them), while by comparison the guests and participants are treated very well. These are not do-gooders, rather they are powermongers who just want to be idolized and venerated.
I have personally encountered Bears Kaufman calling people morbidly obese (fat-shaming is one of his favorites), stupid, and lazy, for all intensive purposes. He says it all under the guise of 'wanting to help them and love them by speaking from an authentic place.' I really do not know how this guy does not get sued every day.
They are constantly attempting to downplay their 'cult' reputation by spinning damage control. Even if you look at the reviews on this site, you will see that clearly that employees were told to write good reviews at a certain period in time. They were contracted in January of 2014. It is obvious. The reviews are mostly from current employees and are flowery in description. In my mind, this is not professional in the slightest. If you treat your employees well, clearly you would not have to do co-erce employees to show their respect for your company online and contract them to do so.
Not a place I recommend to work. I wish I could say the opposite was true.
Show Less

Advice to Management

Interdepartmental communication and ability to access feedback from employees. Departments do not communicate well and are fragmented.



he Option Institute Response May 21, 2014 – Chief Operating Officer
It would be challenging for OI to 'prove' that what this person is saying is blatantly false, but there is one place where I can easily show this person to be untruthful.

That area is regarding positive reviews on glassdoor. Below, is an excerpt from the Jan. email I personally sent to staff requesting they help us by writing glassdoor reviews (see below)

As you will see, no one was told to write 'good reviews'. Instead, I made it explicitly clear that I wanted real reviews, with real pros and cons.

I hope that you readers out there realize if an ex-employee would claim false things that are so easily fact checked, this person is clearly on a mission not to inform the public of the truth, but to villify our work, for another purpose.

On January 8th, Christie Ellis wrote:
Hello lovely managers!

.... As you may or may not know, is a site widely used by job seekers to evaluate what it’s like to work at various companies.

Currently, on our own glassdoor profile, only former employees who really did not enjoy their time here have written reviews. So here is what I would like to ask from you:

1) Would you please consider taking an anonymous survey of your own experience? Please speak from the heart and provide the pros and cons you see. It is completely anonymous – read through glass door’s info and you’ll see this.

2) After completing, would you please ask a few people in your department to also take the survey?

Everything we can do to show potential candidates why OI is the place they want to work will help me get your teams the people they need.

Finally – this really is just a request – not a requirement. But I am begging you, pretty please, with sugar on top. It will take you less than 10 minutes.

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Re: Option Institute
Posted by: lechat ()
Date: March 29, 2018 10:37PM

You may not like Bears or how they run their business, and maybe what they teach there is not your cup of tea, which is your prerogative, of course, but nothing written in that review is indicative of it being a cult. Treating employees horribly or a boss having a big ego are not criteria by which to label something a cult. Are you alleging that they coerce people into staying there? Are you alleging that they isolate participants from their loved ones? Are you alleging that they are controlling their staff and workshop participants and preventing them from choosing how to respond or to leave? If so, I think you need to provide evidence that this is their direct m.o. I was there for a long time, saw the day-to-day operations as well as experienced it from the workshop side, and while it would be accurate to say that Bears is a big personality and can be provocative in his "radical authenticity", I have never once seen him or anyone else working there exercise any kind of coercive behavior or encourage anyone to cut off contact with anyone or take away anyone's freedom either physically or mentally, and I have only ever seen him do this playfully and lovingly, encouraging people to challenge their beliefs around some issue they have. He does it with a smile, and always prefaces it with a request for permission to explore, e.g., "Can I make a suggestion?" "Would you like to try something?" "Do you want to consider something?" Unlike cults like Landmark Forum, where I have heard they use coercive tools like sleep deprivation and preventing people from going to the bathroom during the workshops, everything at Option Institute is *optional* for the participant, and this is always made clear. Everyone gets to sleep and pee when they want. And people are always given an opportunity to opt out if they want. They are very careful to make that clear, especially in the intensive workshops. So if you disagree with Bears' ideology or the pay or how he asks his staff to be accountable, that's fine. But you haven't shown how that constitutes the Option Institute being a cult, which is what this website is for. I mean, I find it interesting that people would try to label this place that encourages everyone to make up their own reality and choose their own path as a cult, while Christian churches, which are much much more dogmatic and coercive, are seen as normal. Says a lot about our culture.

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Re: Option Institute
Posted by: batyalevy ()
Date: April 30, 2018 07:40AM

I worked for a Son-Rise family for almost two years. There are definitely cultish elements about the philosophy, for sure. The language is an argot unique to them and is extremely controlled; if you are deemed to have said something "negative" or pessimistic you will be reprimanded, and made to feel that the autistic child will pick up on your negativity and be dragged down as a result (even if you are not saying something in front of the child). This fosters an atmosphere of repression among employees: of course no one would ever want to hurt a child, but at the same time, then, employees don't feel free to bring up legitimate concerns about the job or the child's progress.

The most unsettling thing that I experienced during my time with this family was something with a former employee of the Institute––I forget the exact name of the procedure, but it was a back-and-forth "dialogue" (word in quotes for a reason, which I will explain) designed to help you, the employee, dig deeper and uncover any blocks you might have to truly joining (aka mimicking) the child during sessions and doing so with joy. The dialogue is really just the person in charge––aka the Son-Rise operative––asking you increasingly personal questions that you answer without being able to respond in kind. It's similar in structure to exercises in Transactional Analysis and Scientology's auditing, and it leaves you feeling very upset and vulnerable, or at least it did for me, because I felt backed into a corner, and like I had to reveal private information in order to help the child and keep my job and satisfy this interrogator. I remember being very embarrassed afterward, and I went to the bathroom to cry for a moment. Perhaps had I been older––I was only twenty-three at the time––I would have put my foot down, but I just didn't feel confident enough to do that.

I find much of Kaufman's theories puerile (generally I think radical authenticity is a cover for someone just wanting to be a douche bag in public) and his persona is definitely the same scent as many male spiritual gurus (overly confident and authoritative w/r/t his intelligence, smarmy, Mafia-esque w/r/t his family as "best" employees, self-mythologizing, etc.) Mostly I just felt bad for the family I worked for, because their child was severely autistic and seemed very unlikely to ever be able to live independently (which I think has ultimately proved to be the case) but they were never allowed to grapple with that idea verbally because it was giving in to the negative. They had an enormous amount of money though, so I guess they could just pay to keep a full-time staff to do Son-Rise with their child for the rest of his life, if they wanted to.

To respond directly to LeChat, I think there are some valid points here. There *is* a difference between a simplistic self-help thought process and a cult. With the former, you can just say, "Nope, not for me!" and walk away. I did hear plenty of stories about the Institute in Massachusetts that made it sound shady and unpleasant, but none that sounded outright coercive or aggressive or, like, disdainful of basic human rights. I didn't spend time there so I can't speak to it further. In my circumstances, I was a paid employee for a family who was heavily involved but did not live near the Institute, and while I felt the doctrine was definitely something I had to pretend to totally approve of, at the end of the day, I went home and did and believed what I wanted to.

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Re: Option Institute
Posted by: retting ()
Date: April 30, 2018 11:26PM

OI is a destructive cult. Investigate and learn more about cults. Read negative "Glass Door" reviews for OI. Many people leave OI mentally and financially broken. Brain washing and mind control is far more complex than restricting bathroom use. Physical, mental and verbal abuse does occur at OI. If 50 women speak out against Bill Cosby to bring justice, how many have to speak out against OI?

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Re: Option Institute
Posted by: lechat ()
Date: December 09, 2018 08:53AM

batyalevy Wrote:
> The most unsettling thing that I experienced
> during my time with this family was something with
> a former employee of the Institute––I forget the
> exact name of the procedure, but it was a
> back-and-forth "dialogue" (word in quotes for a
> reason, which I will explain) designed to help
> you, the employee, dig deeper and uncover any
> blocks you might have to truly joining (aka
> mimicking) the child during sessions and doing so
> with joy. The dialogue is really just the person
> in charge––aka the Son-Rise operative––asking you
> increasingly personal questions that you answer
> without being able to respond in kind.

I can appreciate that you would have felt uncomfortable in doing a dialogue, when you were neither versed in the technique nor requested it. I am certain that your employers believed they were helping you, when in fact they were projecting their own wants and needs and norms on you. Dialogues should only be done when someone *wants* to get at deeper beliefs, and not be forced on unwilling people. It's also not actually a woo-woo technique like Scientology's auditing stuff, where I think you hold metal things attached to a machine or some crazy shit. It's a commonly used method in cognitive behavioral therapy based on the Socratic method, or Socratic questioning: [] . Funny, you are right that it's odd they call it a dialogue when only one person asks the questions and doesn't weigh in, and the other responds. They do that because they don't want to lead you or project on you in your answers, so you really are saying what you believe or feel. In any case, dialogues can expose really intense emotions and beliefs you didn't realize you held underneath everything, and if a person wasn't actually actively wanting to examine those feelings or beliefs, it could feel very vulnerable and invasive to go through that. Your employers should have asked you if you wanted to explore anything, and if not, respected your feelings. At the Option Institute itself, they always ask for permission. It's kind of a rule about dialogues or interactions in classes, where they make clear that nobody is obligated to share, and almost always ask, "Is it OK if I ask you a few questions?" even when we are all there specifically because we want to work on issues.

Anyway, end story is that in my experience, Option Institute is like a week long cognitive behavioral therapy session. Yes, some people leave there a little too gung ho to "share" their new techniques with family and friends because it really can cause very positive attitude shifts, and that feels great to those who experience it, but those who scold people for being negative around them, people monitoring others (which is actually very UN-Option, given that they are taught to strive for non-judgment of others) aren't actually practicing what the place teaches them. That's on them and not the institute.

I get that people might wonder about it, but still don't understand why on earth a place like that is suspect, but society accepts millions of people going into a building every week on the same day, listening to a preacher tell them about a supposed person who turned water into wine, walked on water, died for their sins, then resurrected and was actually the son of an invisible deity. They then put money in a collection basket, clap and sing in unison about the invisible deity, and THAT isn't a cult while a few people sitting on a mountain talking about their feelings is? I mean, the former sounds completely cultish and bonkers to me, and the latter makes rational sense to me as someone who wants to break bad habits and learn to feel happier. And the "destructive cult" claim by 'retting' here is actually hilarious to me. I feel almost certain this is someone whose partner realized at Option that they weren't going to put up with whatever abuse this person was dishing, and since then he or she has had it out for Option as the "cause" of the "brainwashing". People don't like it when those they have established unhealthy, codependent patterns with change, and they want everything to stay the same. So they look for an external place to lay the blame.

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