Therapist a mini-cult leader?
Posted by: RexTheRunt ()
Date: October 08, 2010 12:16AM

I've been struggling to recover from long term therapy with a psychotherapist who I believe was abusive. I've read a few definitions of cults, and although there were less than 100 people in her grip at any one time, the similarities with cults, their leaders and followers are many. There was no sexual abuse, no big money and no religion involved, but this forum seems to suggest there are more subtle destructive practices going on, and I feel like I was a victim.

Is anyone interested in hearing my experience and giving me feedback, so I know whether my judgement of this therapist is valid?


Re: Therapist a mini-cult leader?
Posted by: Lordship ()
Date: September 28, 2011 06:26PM

Psychotherapy is a well known breeding ground of cult leaders. A recently exposed example in the UK being Derek Gale [] who was recently struck off and exposed for activities very similar to those you describe. He has a very small group of "clients" whom he exploits emotionally for his own graification as much as for their money. He extracts just enough in fees to live a comfortable but not ostentatious lifestyle meanwhile he keeps them in therpay for 20-30 years.

Re: Therapist a mini-cult leader?
Posted by: RexTheRunt ()
Date: September 28, 2011 06:48PM

Thanks for taking the time to reply.
I appreciate it.

Re: Therapist a mini-cult leader?
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: September 28, 2011 11:46PM

Am sorry you had to go thorugh this. But you are not alone.

Here is one article to start with


Many years ago, Temerlin published some journal articles on features of psychotherapy cults. He and his co authors went undercover to observer various groups.

This article, published by Temerlin in 1982 is one of the earliest articles on psychotherapy cults and remains one of the best. It is all the more remarkable because here, Temerlin investigated situations in which practicing psychotherapists themselves became entangled in psychotherapeutic cults.



Psychotherapy cults: An iatrogenic perversion.
Temerlin, Maurice K.; Temerlin, Jane W. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, Vol 19(2), Sum 1982, 131-141. doi: 10.1037/h0088425


Conducted clinical observations of 5 teachers of psychotherapy and 26 of their patients, who themselves were practicing psychotherapists, which showed that psychotherapy may be misused to produce cults.

It is suggested that these psychotherapists produced cults by failing to maintain professional boundaries with their patients.

They treated their friends, students, lovers, relatives, employees, and colleagues and brought them together to form cohesive, psychologically incestuous groups of which they were the leader.

They did not consider their patients' idealization of them to be a transference, to be understood as part of the treatment, but used it to encourage submission, obedience, and adoration, as in religious cults.

Patients became "true believers," as described by E. Hoffer (1951), with totalistic patterns of thought, increased dependence, and paranoia. Both therapist and patients became trapped in a closed system that encouraged mutual exploitation and corruption. (48 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)

In short, the students or patients were shifted from democratic, evidence based thinking into True Believer thinking--to benefit a needy leader.

Temerlin noted also that none of the groups had a clean and clear fee for service arrangement.

Here are some posts up on the message board referring to Temerlin and other people's publications.


More recent material has been written on the subject of psychotherapy cults by Margaret Singer.

This entire message board has been up and running for 9 years and is searchable. The way to do it is to select the 'all dates' option so that all 9 years are covered in the search.

What is difficult is that one has to learn a lot about how ethical therapists maintain boundaries, and thats something a lot of us are not told. Its different with sports.

Many people watch baseball and know the rules, even if they have never been ball players themselves. That means even most spectators are well aware if someone is breaking the rules. If the umpire fails to function, you can bet that the people in the stands, the news commentators and journalists will all yell 'Foul!'

But because its done behind closed doors and because many counselees dont know the rules real therapists go by, they cant tell if someone is tossing foul balls.

Here is a full article describing one such psychotherapy cult in which theapists and clients were members.

An former member of a psychotherapy cult and an ttorney who later represented one of the clients is quoted as saying:


"One of the things you have to remember is that this is not just a random group of people,'' Diane points out. "Almost everyone got into it because they sought out counseling, and most of the people sought counseling because their families were dysfunctional. These were not people whose lives had been great and then suddenly they lost their job. The self-esteem has been eroded, belief systems were always a little bit shaky, norms are a little bit shaky. For me, I always had feelings of needing a family, wanting a family. So you find your way into counseling and what seems like a family, a wonderful family."

All of which makes people in therapeutic communities like this one particularly vulnerable to what the cult literature calls "thought reform" -- the subtle and gradual remaking of a group's understanding of the world. John Winer, a lawyer who specializes in psychological malpractice, puts it this way: "If the patient is being encouraged to act like a child, they really are like a child -- a child with an abusive parent. Most of the patients that have been abused by therapists had been abused as children. They've lost the ability to recognize abusive situations. They're sitting ducks."

THe above is a tiny quote from a much longer and quite excellent article, which can be read here. Had that article not been published in a small circulation, local newspaper in the pre-Internet age, no one would ever have known about this.


Corboy note: A sitting duck is a mother duck who is, by instinct, unable to leave her nest because she is sitting upon eggs or young nestlings. She feels fear when aware of the hunter, but is kept there by maternal instinct. She is glued to the spot.

The ancient rules of sportsmanship forbid killing a nesting/sitting bird for that reason--their instinct keeps them from being able to make a quick and free decision to flee.

Human beings, in transferance to a therapist or guru are similarly chained. Their agency is hampered, in this case by the crisis that led them to seek counseling and by the transferance trust placed in the therapist or guru. .

Re: Therapist a mini-cult leader?
Posted by: RexTheRunt ()
Date: September 29, 2011 05:58PM

Thanks - that's very helpful. Especially the duck analogy!

Re: Therapist a mini-cult leader?
Posted by: spiritedangel ()
Date: April 02, 2012 09:44PM

you're not alone. I sought a hypnotherapist, found a man in Charleston, Sc who claimed to have a PhD in counseling, was a certified hypnotherapist and "spiritual teacher." Over the period I saw him he started out as a kind and loving person, insisting I hug him following all our sessions and slowly he became more and more abusive using NLP and other hypnotic tactics to try to "subdue my will so God's will could take over." He also used a tactic known as "throwing negative chi." It is used by martial arts to subdue an opponent and involves exteme staring with complete hatred. He turned out to be some kind of rip-off "God Nazi" who ended up calling me late one evening and threatening me. He had advertised on his web site that he had memberships in about 14 porfessional organizations from IACT to international hypnotherapist organizations. I contacted everyone of them, only IACT had heard of him (he had been a member but no longer was one...they refused to say why). We met for almost a year, seeing him 2X a month for 2 hour sessions at $150.00 a crack that we audio taped. In his call to me he claimed I had threatened to kill him on one of our taped sessions which was a lie. I filed charges against him for blackmail with our local sheriff's office and wrote him a scathing email. He removed all the info about having a PhD as well as the full page of supposed memberships, replacing that page with directions on how to locate his office. He then was going to sue me for defamation of character. Not having proof of what he said in the phone call, I ended up dropping the charges. He was a complete lunatic, and if satan is real, HE IS SATAN. He's still out there doing this to others under the pretext that he is "saving the universe. " Other things he told me were: "Once I admitted I was a liar, I was no longer a liar. I have temporary special privledge from God to do whatever is necessary to save the universe. The Holy Spirit speaks through me. ,etc, etc." All kinds of crazy _hit. After doing a lot of investigatiion on my own, I suspect he trained with Charles Buehl Anderson of the Endeavor Academy, a cult responsible for several suicides. I found a book written by a former member, Ian Blair Hamilton that has given me some relief but if murder weren't a crime, you can bet he would no longer be on the planet. Good luck to you and I would suggest you avoid anyone on the internet advertising themselves as hypnotherapists, life coaches or spiritual teachers.

Re: Therapist a mini-cult leader?
Posted by: Blaster ()
Date: March 19, 2013 04:39PM

My ex wife got involved with a "therapist" who at first kept her in counselling for four years before getting her to join the cult she was running. One has to remember that self-disclosure to a counsellor places them in a position of trust and untrained, unregulated and scrupulous counsellors can use this to their own benefit. It's easy for the victim to become highly dependant on the counsellor and for the counsellor to manipulate, control and influence the victim into doing things that are against their best interest. At the lowest level this might just be paying for more and more counselling, but at a higher level this can be influencing the break up of relationships or a host of other unpleasant actions the person wouldn't contemplate if not subjected to undue influence.

Re: Therapist a mini-cult leader?
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: March 19, 2013 09:17PM

In some states, one can have just a few hours of training and then advertise as a 'certified hypnotherapist."

Before you let anyone into your head, do as 'spiritedangel; did and fact check them--and their alleged credentials.

For some persons, hynotherapy is counter indicated. Anyone who claims that 'everyone benefits' or 'everyone can benefit' from hypnotherapy--be concerned.

Persons who already have a lot of spontaneous dissociation episodes should probably avoid anything that induces trance.

Anything powerful enough to heal is powerful enough to produce complications.

Thats why a therapeutic approach cannot be applied to everyone, but must be adjusted to fit the individual.

Re: Therapist a mini-cult leader?
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: July 05, 2013 10:23PM

Psyborgue posted valuable reminders of how licensed therapists are supposed to behave.


I will add a few items.

Be aware of boundary shift. This is not an actual boundary violation. But if a therapist begins to shift away from the boundary rules he or she stated as being important, watch out.

You, the client, may have signs that something is not right.

You may feel glad you are ill, because that means you dont have to go to a session.

You may become more and more resentful of the money you are spending.

You may find you are referring to your therapist with a derogatory nickname, such as 'shrinkie'.

You may find yourself feeling more and more angry bark at your therapist and not know why.

You may have dreams about weapons or suddenly find you want to own a weapon and you never, before had such a desire in your life. This last can signal an unconscious sense that your boundary is being pushed and you feel unsafe.

If your therapist refuses to respect and listen when you try to discuss any of this--insist on taking a break of at least two weeks. And if your therapist refuses to respect this, something is indeed off.

Therapy isnt jail. And should not feel like it, either.

A therapist must never divulge his or her belief system, not even in the form of coy hints. And should not recommend new age or inspirational reading material or even mention workshops or belief systems.

It is possible to maintain privacy for ones belief system yet without generating an air of mystique.

**If a therapist just cannot refrain from discussing spiritual stuff he or she should get licensed as a pastoral counselor or chaplain and use those terms on the business card.

A therapist may start out well. The two of you may do excellent work together for a long time.

But over time he or she may lose touch.

Even a quite good therapist and client relationship may progress and then reach a point of impasse.

Sometimes an impasse can be worked through.

But there are times when an intractable impasse is a signal that you've done all the work you can do with a particular therapist. A good therapist should recognize this and not try to deny it and hang onto a client.

Many therapists start out well, but might be enticed into joining a cult.

Some may be cult members and then become therapists, even getting good degrees from excellent clinical programs. This latter is quite a difficult matter because commitment to a guru and especially to a secretive and elitist belief system entails a degree of unconsciousness on the part of the therapist and it is rare for this material to be divulged to one's clinical supervisor. Thus a person may go through a good clinical program with distinction, pass the tests, get licensed, and yet have large areas of unconsciousness in his or her psyche that are condensed around the guru and group.

(Though there are remarakable exceptions. Dan Shaw was in a guru led group. He studied to become a social worker and realized that the ethics of social work contradicted the behavior of his guru. This, along with other matters, opened his eyes and he left the guru)

It can be very, very tempting for a therapist in such a predicament to have a preponderance of clients who either are in the same cult or later join it.

***If you are working with a therapist and find that at least 3 or more clients happen to share the same guru as the therapist, or in the course of time you notice more and more clients converting to this group, take this as a signal to consider working with a another therapist after you resolve your current issues.

If a therapist is preserving boundaries this should not be happening. Set a deadline and mark it on your calendar. Keep quiet. Do some research on the group your therapist belongs to. If this scares the living shit out of you, thats a signal something is up.
Therapists are high value recruits.

Student therapists are especially high value recruits to cults. They will rarely be shown the bad side of a cult--or may only be in on it after they're so far gone that they cannot leave. They may not be put through the oppressive shit that lower ranking members endure. Secrets may be kept from the therapist and they may be shown only the best side of a cult.

So if you have had a good relationship with a therapist and then he or she starts recommending inspirational new age literature, starts bugging you to go do a Large group Awareness Training (one of those workshoips where they never tell you what will happen), or the therapist lets slip what his or her belief system is, and it has an air of mystique--the anonymity boundary is being violated and you need to watch out. This is wrong.

Be alert. This can happen gradually, ever so gradually, in the form of subliminal hints.

Therapy sessions should not degenerate into spiritual discussions. If a therapist is into Theosophy or UFOs, he or she should keep this OUT of your therapy. You (or your insurance company) are not paying boucoup bucks for that sort of thing.

A therapist should beware of recommending inspirational or spiritual books or materials. Instead, a therapist must respect client autonomy and let clients feel free to select their own material.

Why? Because a therapist must maintain anonymity about his or her personal life and belief system. Recommendations of inspirational literature, spiritual literature, a guru's picture on the wall divulge information to clients about a therapists preferences and biases.

**A therapist who considers this sort of boundary keeping 'oppressive' is being self indulgent.'

In such a situation where a therapist violates anonymity by subtly leaking this kind of information, it can be tempting for a client to convert to the belief system held by the therapist. As little kids many of us give our true selves away to earn parental approval. So a therapist is under special obligation to keep the therapeutic relationship clean so that a clients true colors can, shyly, slowly, carefully emerge.

A therapist should beware of recommending inspirational material of any kind to clients. Dont recommend books or tapes. Inspirational stuff is written or produced to influence moods. After years spent reading material on this message board, Corboy is sorry to report that nspirational authors and speakers too often are guru types and profiteers -- or they start out well and then too often sucumb and become guru types and profiteers.

Perhaps, very cautiously, a therapist can offer advice on how to select good quality information and which material to beware of.

A therapist should beware of having clients from his or her church, sangha or spiritual group--these are dual relationships.

A therapist's consultancy group should not have other members who share the therapists affiliation with the same church, sangha or spiritual center.

Therapy discussions should not degenerate into spiritual discussions. If a therapist reveres a guru as the highest level of human development, it can be fun and tempting for that therapist to play guru or apprentice guru.

But that should not happen.

That is why we pay them by the hour--to exercise this kind of restraint.

Therapists must maintain records according to legal standards. But they must keep this information confidential unless certain very rare situations come up where a client may be a danger to self or other. A therapists guru should never be told the contents of counseling sessions, not ever.

It is becoming fashionable for many therapists to recommend meditation or mindfulness meditation.

**If so, that therapist must never recommend a particular group or guru. And should frankly educate patients how to tell whether a meditation group is OK or dodgy.

Psyborgue wrote


Therapists do not: (Corboy note: I would say should not)

1. imply a client will fail, or implode without their therapy.

2. disclose private details of client's lives to others, even if their clients talk about them in public first.

3. act like they have the one true solution.

4. tell people not to read books, lest it be bad for them. (Corboy:a therapist should beware of recommending books, especially inspirational or spiritual material, as this stuff is often written for profit and violates confidentiality by revealing the therapists own spiritual biases--a client may be tempted to buy into it to get therapist approval, re-enacting dysfunctional family dynamics)5. take advantage of client's weaknesses - instead they build healthy boundaries.

6. encourage dependence on the therapist. (A few therapists undercharge. Dont get sucked into this.)

7. accept lavish gifts, much less encourage them.

8. encourage people to stop thinking for themselves.

... at least not without risk of losing their license. By what I've read here, I can say that it appears Guru Swami G has done all theses things. You're right that legally, she probably can get away with a lot of these things as religious figures (and peer-to-peer groups) are exempt from regulations and oversight concerning therapists, but that's hardly saying much. It's the same excuse countless gurus, cults, and cult-like groups have used in the past to take advantage of people. It speaks more to an unhealthy over-abundance of religious tolerance than anything else.

Re: Therapist a mini-cult leader?
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: July 06, 2013 04:39AM

Finally, if things just are not working right with your therapist, you can quit by sending a letter.

As long as you are paid up in full and owe no bills, you have no further obligation.

If you do feel you need to discuss matters to see if an impasse can be resolved, and you feel scared, thats worth noticing.

If you really and truly feel scared remember this. You are FREE to end the session early if it turns out to be as bad as you fear it to be.

Repeat. If things land in the shit, you can walk out in the middle of a session. Just make sure your check is on the table when you leave.

The shrink should not follow you out to the parking lot or do any other unwanted contact. That is creepy and a boundary violation in and of itself.

(This has not happened to Corboy, but am listing it just in case others have been through it)

And remember, "No" is a complete sentence.

If any of your friends share this therapist and dump you after you have left the therapist, you are out of a truly toxic situation.

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