Apologetics Index

Dr. Steven Hassan, America’s Leading Cult Expert

Steven Hassan: Cult Expert and Mental Health Counselor

Cult expert Steven Hassan
Cult expert Steven Hassan, PhD.

Dr. Steven Alan Hassan, PhD., M.Ed., LMHC, NCC, is America’s leading cult expert. He has more than 47 years of experience.

Correct Pronunciation of Steven Hassan, PhD

Hassan, a licensed mental health counselor (M.Ed. LMHC, NCC), is at the forefront of the cult education and recovery field, in which he has been involved since 1976.

A former cult member himself, Hassan (pronounced Has-sen) is an expert on the subject of mind control, brainwashing, thought reform, and undue influence — the coercive persuasion 1 methods used by manipulative people to recruit and hold on to followers.

Book: The Cult of Trump

October, 2019: Cult specialist Steven Hassan published a new book:

The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How The President Uses Mind Control

“A brilliant analysis of a unique modern phenomenon. Readers will nod their head in recognition as Hassan expertly takes them through a fascinating, engaging exploration of the coercive control techniques that President Donald Trump uses daily to influence his followers.” 
— Dr. Philip Zimbardo, author of The Lucifer Effect and emeritus professor of psychology, Stanford University

“Drawing on both his experiences as cult expert and ex-cult member, Hassan opens a wide-ranging, thoughtful and well-researched analysis of some of the most puzzling aspects of the current presidency, including the remarkable passivity of fellow Republicans, the gross pandering of many members of the press, the curious avoidance of clear labels that could and should be applied  by the media. Quibbles and speculations about diagnosis do not play central roles. Instead, the current administration is best understood through cult analogies, including factors such as total authoritarianism and intolerance of any questioning or deviation from the “playbook.” This is both a clarifying and a terrifying book. Highly recommended.”
— Thomas G. Gutheil, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

“The Cult of Trump, in step-by-step detail, examines the inner-workings of our current Presidential administration.  Hassan masterfully parallels the psychological manipulation employed by cults over its members with the current administration’s distortion of reality by its twisting narratives and use of systematic techniques to influence our view of the country. The picture is much darker than mere buffoonery.”
— Robin Boyle, JD,  lectures on topics concerning cults and the law. Her recent article, Employing Trafficking Laws to Capture Elusive Leaders of Destructive Cults, is published by the Oregon Review of International Law

Chapter Details About My New Book with Simon and Schuster Entitled The Cult of Trump
Steven Hassan introduces the chapters of his new book, The Cult of Trump

Steven Hassan: Professional Approach

Dr. Steven Alan Hassan holds a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from Cambridge College, is a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC) and also a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He is considered an expert on destructive mind control issues.

Ex-cult members and others seek him out for specialized counseling to help them recover from symptoms other mental health professionals are not trained to address.

Hassan’s professionalism sets him apart. His work is praised by other cult experts, cult counselors, mental health professionals, religious leaders, former cult members, family and friends of cult members, psychologists, law officials, and educators.

Steve Hassan is well-connected with peers in both the mental health and the cult education field. 

Doctorate: Undue Influence

Dr. Hassan earned a Doctorate in Organizational Development and Change from Fielding Graduate University School of Leadership Studies. At Fielding he performed quantitative research on the factors of control that characterize undue influence.

His first first peer-reviewed journal article was published in Ethics, Medicine and Public Health (Elsevier Masson France, Volume 8, January–March 2019, Pages 97-107): The anatomy of undue influence used by terrorist cults and traffickers to induce helplessness and trauma, so creating false identities. His faculty supervisor was Dr. Judy Stevens-Long.

See also his dissertation, The BITE Model of Authoritarian Control: Undue Influence, Thought Reform, Brainwashing, Mind Control, Trafficking and the Law submitted to Fielding Graduate University.

Dr. Steve Hassan is an active member of The Program in Psychiatry and the Law (PIPATL), a think tank at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Michael Commons, research director for the program, has invited Steven to create a DARE division, Freedom from Undue Influence, in order to help facilitate this research.  The Dare Institute conducts research on human decision-making development within such contexts as academia, economics, politics, institutions, businesses, medicine, and the law.

Books by Cult Expert Steven Hassan

Steven Hassan 2 has authored three critically acclaimed books:

Combating Cult Mind Control — Updated

In March 2015 Steven Hassan published an updated version of Combating Cult Mind Control [ Kindle edition] (Yes, Combating instead of Combatting).

Combating Cult Mind Control book trailer
Steve Hassan introduces the 25th anniversary edition of his bestselling book.

Those who own a copy of the older version will definitely want to ‘upgrade’ to this new edition.

In her review of the book for the International Journal of Cultic Studies, Marcia Rudin [profile] wrote,

cult expert advice
The #1 Best-selling Guide to Protection, Rescue, and Recovery from Destructive Cults, by Steven Hassan
Paperback | Kindle

Thirty-five years have passed since we met Steve and since our seminal book was published, and 27 since Steve first published Combating Mind Control.

Since then, numerous books have been written by former members, families, and loved ones of present and past cultists, and by psychologists and other academicians. But Hassan’s book has been extremely influential because of its wide popular exposure and circulation.

Over the years, I have heard former cult members talk about standing in the aisle of Barnes and Noble reading Hassan’s book and saying to themselves, “So that’s what happened to me! I was in a cult!”

Because so many years have passed and so many changes have occurred, Hassan revised and updated his book in 1990 and now again in 2015.

This latest edition summarizes and explains the many changes throughout these years in cultic groups, members, and former members, and in the countercult movement itself.

These important changes include the diversity of cult members, the presence of small children and the elderly in cults, members who were born into and raised in groups, varieties of cultic groups, different locations and methods of recruitment, internal changes in major cultic groups such as the Unification Church, progress in academicians’ and helping professionals’ understanding of what Hassan prefers to term “undue influence,” and the transformation of both cult recruitment and access to available assistance because of the growth of the Internet.

– Source: Marcia Rudin 3, Book Review – Combating Cult Mind Control (25th Anniversary Revised Edition), International Journal of Cultic Studies, Vol. 7, 2016, 55-56. 4

Steven Alan Hassan: From the Moonies to Freedom of Mind

Steven Alan Hasssan

Deceptively recruited into the Moon organization at the age of nineteen while a student at Queens College, Steven spent twenty-seven months recruiting and indoctrinating new members, fundraising, political campaigning and personally meeting with Sun Myung Moon during numerous leadership sessions.

Steven ultimately rose to the rank of Assistant Director of the Unification Church at National Headquarters.

Following a serious automobile accident, several former members at his parents request deprogrammed him. Once he realized the insidious nature of the organization, he authorized police officials to take possession of his personal belongings, which included a massive set of private speeches documenting Moon’s secret plan to take over the world.

During the 1977-78 Congressional Subcommittee Investigation into South Korean CIA activities in the United States, he consulted as an expert on the Moon organization and provided information and internal documents regarding Moon’s desire to influence politics in his bid to “take over the world.”

In 1979, following the Jonestown tragedy, Steven founded EX-MOON Inc., a non-profit educational organization composed of over four hundred former members of the Moon group. Although now defunct, it was the first and largest ex-member organization in the world.

Following a serious automobile accident, several former members at his parents request deprogrammed him. Once he realized the insidious nature of the organization, he authorized police officials to take possession of his personal belongings, which included a massive set of private speeches documenting Moon’s secret plan to take over the world.

During the 1977-78 Congressional Subcommittee Investigation into South Korean CIA activities in the United States, he consulted as an expert on the Moon organization and provided information and internal documents regarding Moon’s desire to influence politics in his bid to “take over the world.”

In 1979, following the Jonestown tragedy, Steven founded EX-MOON Inc., a non-profit educational organization composed of over four hundred former members of the Moon group. Although now defunct, it was the first and largest ex-member organization in the world.

Steve Allan Hassan, Biography [older version | Up-to-date edition

Steven went on to created the Freedom of Mind Resource Center Inc., a counseling and publishing organization dedicated to helping people to become psychologically empowered, upholding human rights, promoting consumer awareness and exposing abuses of destructive cult groups.

In his commitment to fight against destructive cults, Steven Hassan devotes a major portion of his time and energy to preventive education. In this function he has addressed hundreds of campus, religious and professional organizations throughout the world.

Steven Hassan’s Theological Perspective

Involvement with cults usually — though not always — includes religious aspects. Cults are defined sociologically or theologically, and generally include elements of both:

  • Sociological definitions of the term ‘cult’ …

    …include consideration of such factors as authoritarian leadership patterns, loyalty and commitment mechanisms, lifestyle characteristics, [and] conformity patterns (including the use of various sanctions in connection with those members who deviate).

    – Source: Ronald Enroth, “What Is a Cult?” in A Guide to Cults and New Religions, e.d. Ronald Enroth (Downers Grove, Ill,: InterVarsity 1983), p14
  • Theological definitions of the term ‘cult’ make note of the reasons why a particular group’s beliefs and/or practices are considered unorthodox – that is, in conflict with the body of essential teachings of the movement the group compares itself to.

Not surprisingly, cult specialist operate from a variety of perspectives and motivations. By way of example:

  • Some Christian cult experts deal primarily with theological aspects (i.e. cults of Christianity), and may be interested only in helping someone move from Mormonism to mainstream Christianity, or from an abusive church into a healthy fellowship. Other Christian cult counselors — including the publishers of Apologetics Index — will help anyone regardless of what type of cult is involved, and regardless of whether or not the person in question is interested in Christianity.
  • Likewise, some Jewish anticult organizations and individuals have a rather hostile approach toward Christian organizations and missionaries (example), while others — including Steve Hassan — make an effort to understand, work with, and respect people of different faiths.
  • Some so-called ‘cult experts’ aren’t involved in counseling at all. Rather, they publish research findings that often read like PR materials for the ‘New Religious Movements’ they supposedly studied. They tend to dismiss the testimonies of ex-members. Those experts are often referred to as cult apologists.

Note: The Term ‘cult expert’ is not protected. Anyone can use it regardless of ability, approach, or level of acceptance by recognized authorities in the field.

Apologetics Index recommends a number of organizations and inviduals involved in cult counseling. We have also published guidelines for selecting a cult expert/counselor.

See CultExperts.org for details.

Steve Hassan, a cult expert recommended by Apologetics Index, describes his theological perspective as follows:

With both deprogramming and exit-counseling, content reigns supreme. This approach can have hidden dangers. The ideological or spiritual perspective of the deprogrammer or exit-counselor could be anything from atheist, to agnostic, to orthodox Christian or Jew. I urge you to scrutinize the beliefs and affiliations of people who offer to rescue your loved one from a destructive cult. Many of these people will seek to impose their own ideological perspective. The ethical approach is to avoid imposing any ideological or theological viewpoint on a mind control subject.

The SIA allows for a spiritual orientation, but does not promote a rigid ideological viewpoint. I personally am Jewish and belong to Temple Beth Zion led by Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, co-author with William Novak, of The Big Book of Jewish Humor (Harper Collins, 1981 which promotes an inclusive approach to spirituality. The Temple’s web site is www.templebethzion.org.

My starting point with a client is always the individual’s and family’s spiritual “roots”, if any. If the person is Catholic, I encourage them to rediscover their roots at the appropriate time. Likewise, if they are Protestant, Buddhist, or anything else, I would do the same.

At the beginning of every Strategic Interaction, I have family members and friends fill out Background Information Forms. Often, I find that the cult member had a strong spiritual orientation before they were recruited into a religious cult. I encourage family and friends to support their loved one’s full recovery — spiritual as well as psychological.

Steven Hassan, Strategic Interaction Approach FAQ

BITE Model of Mind Control

Steven Hassan: The BITE model
Steven Hassan, PhD. on his BITE Model

Steven Hassan developed the so-called BITE model to help people understand mind control.

Hassan says that one of the things that helped him get out of the Moon cult (the Unification Church) in 1976 was the work of Robert Jay Lifton.

Lifton, a military intelligence psychiatrist in the 1950s, studied Chinese communist brainwashing techniques. He wrote a landmark book titled, “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of ‘brainwashing’ in China” in which he outlines eight methods used to change people’s minds without their agreement.

Hassan says Lifton’s book was critical to helping understand what had happened to him in terms of his recruitment into the Moonies [as members of the Unification Church were commonly known] and their indoctrination methods.

Based on Lifton’s model of thought control, Hassan developed his BITE model:

Destructive mind control can be understood in terms of four basic components, which form the acronym BITE:

  • Behavior Control
  • Information Control
  • Thought Control
  • Emotional Control

It is important to understand that destructive mind control can be determined when the overall effect of these four components promotes dependency and obedience to some leader or cause.

It is not necessary for every single item on the list to be present. Mind controlled cult members can live in their own apartments, have nine-to-five jobs, be married with children, and still be unable to think for themselves and act independently.

Source: [An older version of] Mind Control – The BITE Model, Steve Hassan, Freedom of Mind

For the complete model, see this article on the Freedom of Mind web site.

The model is further explained and placed in context in Steven Hassan’s book, “Releasing The Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves.”

Video: Dr. Robert Jay Lifton and Steven Hassan

Dr. Robert Jay Lifton and Steven Hassan: August 2012
Dr. Robert Jay Lifton and Steven Hassan, August 2012
Steven Hassan interviews Robert Jay Lifton, MD 9-17-16 (Part 1/3)
Steven Hassan interviews Robert Jay Lifton, September 2016, Part 1/2
Steven Hassan interviews Robert Jay Lifton, MD 9-17-16 (Part 2/3)
Steven Hassan interviews Robert Jay Lifton, September 2016, Part 2/2

Strategic Interaction Approach to cult involvement

The Evolution from Deprogramming to Exit-counseling to the Strategic Interactive Approach?
Steven Hassan, on The Evolution from Deprogramming to Exit-counseling to the Strategic Interactive Approach

Cult expert Steven Hassan has pioneered an approach to helping victims of mind control (sometimes referred to as brainwashing or undue influence) called the Strategic Interaction Approach (SIA).

Unlike the stressful and sensationalized “deprogramming“, this non-coercive approach is an effective and legal alternative for families to help cult members. This approach utilizes family and friends and teaches them how to strategically influence the individual involved in the group.

  • What is the goal?

    The goal of the SIA is to help the loved one recover his full faculties; to restore the creative, interdependent adult who fully understands what has happened to him; who has digested and integrated the experience and is better and stronger from the experience.

  • Who is in control?

    You are! In all ethical counseling, the locus of control remains within the client. Strategic Interaction models a non-authoritarian, flexible, and open process. When you engage a therapist, he is there to help as the expert on family systems. He is not there to assume control and make all the decisions. Likewise, a cult expert may provide information and advice, but will not give orders. Family and friends are empowered to understand the issues clearly. In this way, Strategic Interaction can be considered self-help. Each person contributes as best he can, creating a synergy that ensures the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.

The Strategic Interaction Approach to Helping Cult Members by Steve Hassan
The Strategic Interaction Approach to Helping Cult Members, by cult expert Steve Hassan (83 minutes)

Freedom of Mind – FreedomOfMind.com

The strongest defense against Cults and Undue Influence is through awareness and education.

Steven Hassan is the Founding Director of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center, a coaching, consulting, and training organization dedicated to supporting individuals to have the freedom to think clearly and to freely consider how they want to live their lives.

The website, FreedomOfMind.com, is a clearinghouse of information about cults, sects, undue influence (mind control), and related issues.

It provides a wealth of information about undue influence, how to recover from it, and how to help other people.

Steven Hassan on Social Media

Cult expert Steven Hassan is active on social media:

Here is his Twitter stream:

Freedom of Mind on YouTube

The Recovery Playlist from the Freedom of Mind Resource Center on YouTube

Freedom of Mind Resource Center Newsletter

The weekly Freedom of Mind Resource Center Newsletter keeps you informed about events, new content, book releases, important updates that offer further insight.

See a example of the free newsletter, and subscribe here.

Podcast: The Influence Continuum with Dr. Steven Hassan

On his Podcast: The Influence Continuum, Hassan explains how mind-control works, and how to protect yourself from its grips. He also addresses ethical influence as the podcast covers the entire Influence Continuum.

You can listen via your favorite podcast service, or right here:


  1. “Coercive persuasion” is also referred to as “psychological manipulation,” “coercive control,” “mind control,” “brainwashing,” or — less frequently — “undue influence.”
  2. Though he prefers ‘Steven Hassan’, Steven Alan Hassan is also known as Steve Hassan, Steve A. Hassan, or Steven A. Hassan.
  3. Ms Rudin is a cult expert. She has written widely about cults and psychological manipulation, appeared at conferences and panel discussions, and lectured on these topics throughout the U.S. and in Canada and Poland. In her work with the International Cultic Studies Association between 1987 and 1997, she directed the International Cult Education Program. Profile
  4. Published by the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA)

Article details

Category: Cult Experts, Steve Hassan
Related topic(s): ,

First published (or major update) on Friday, March 8, 2019.
Last updated on July 07, 2024.

Original content is © Copyright Apologetics Index. All Rights Reserved. For usage guidelines see link at the bottom.

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