Exit counseling

From Academic Kids

Exit counseling, like deprogramming, is an intervention designed to make a recruit leave a cult. People who call them themselves exit counsellors adamantly declare that this is voluntary act. There is some terminological controversy over the degree of force, stealth or deception involved in the process. The practice itself is controversial (see below).


Attempts have been made to distinguish between "involuntary deprogramming" and "voluntary exit counseling", although the terms deprogramming and exit counseling are frequently used interchangeably.

Controversy over terminology

Some critics of the practice(es) assert that the confusion is deliberate and is exploited to conceal the unethical or illegal tactics of deprogrammers, particularly their reliance on coercive persuasion.

Controversy over the practice

Opponents assert that "exit counseling" is merely "mind control" in reverse, a case of "fighting fire with fire". They argue that even if some degree of coercive persuasion was used to recruit a member into an unpopular new religious movement, coercing him out of the movement is a clear case of "two wrongs don't make a right".

Proponents assert that exit counseling is not a form of mind control, but frees the recruit from "cult mind control". While often conceding that their methods involve emotional coercion and/or intellectual bullying, they justify these things on the grounds that they "only want the recruit to think for himself."

The usual rebuttal to the think for himself argument, which critics make, is that the success of exit counseling is predicated upon convincing the recruit to accept the assertion that he had been a victim of cult mind control. The critics contend that the counselor's aim is not to get the recruit to think for himself but to adopt either or both of two contrasting views of the counselor: that his new religion is a "cult" and/or that it engages in "mind control".

Exit counseling is a term introduced by the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) in a pursuit to improve its image and distance itself from crimes and violence associated with deprogramming. Following the indictments of "exit counsellors" and associated civil lawsuits, many of them supported by the Church of Scientology, CAN declared bankruptcy. The CAN name became the property of a Scientology-related organization during the bankruptcy. Anti-cult activists sometimes substitute "exit counseling" with other terms, as Hassan does. Rick Ross, another notorious anti-cult activist and deprogrammer, call himself an "intervention specialist".

According to self-declared experts in this field, exit counseling is a persuasive technique aimed at getting followers of an unorthodox or "spurious" religious group give up their commitment to it. These experts see it as providing followers of a cultic group with additional information, so that they can make an informed decision about whether to stay or leave the group. Like deprogramming, exit counseling usually takes as its premise that the recruit has been been misled into joining the cult. Exit counselors accordingly press counselees to accept this premise as a prerequisite for successful counseling.

  • Unlike deprogramming, which is coercive, exit counseling involves a voluntary agreement between a follower and a "cult specialist" to talk about the follower's involvement with the group. The cult specialist is usually hired by concerned relatives of the follower.
  • The same verbal and emotional tactics used during deprogramming are used in exit counseling, such as presenting negative information about the leadership of the group and presenting an unflattering picture of the group's teachings and practices.
  • As in deprogramming, the most successful strategy in exit counseling is to persuade counselees that the group they were in had subjected them to "mind control". Once they accept this premise, it becomes much easier to persuade them to cut ties with the group.

Self-declared experts who practice forms of exit counseling as a business are the Americans Steve Hassan and Rick Ross.

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Mind control | Exit counseling | Deprogramming

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