Book Review: Combating Cult Mind Control

hassanIn 1990, Steven Hassan courageously published the book, Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best Selling Guide To Protection, Rescue, and Recovery from Destructive Cults. Now, 25 years later, Hassan has published an updated edition. Here is my book review, and brief introduction to Steven Hassan.

Who is Steven Hassan?

For anyone unfamiliar with Hassan or his work, here are some highlights.

Mr. Hassan was deceptively recruited into Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church at the age of 19, while a student at Queens College. He spent the next 27 months recruiting and indoctrinating new members, fundraising, and doing political campaigning. He personally met with Sun Myung Moon on many occasions in leadership sessions. Mr. Hassan ultimately rose to the rank of Assistant Director of the Unification Church at National Headquarters.

He is an accomplished author, counselor and respected expert in the field of undue influence and religious control. Here are his major accomplishments:

  • BITE model – determining and identifying cult control
  • Strategic Interactive Approach – addressing cult control
  • Ending the Game – program for educating sex trafficking victims
  • Lectures – given at Harvard University, U.C.L.A., Yale University, Stanford University, John Hopkins University, M.I.T, Hong Kong University, American Psychological Association Convention (2001), American Psychological Association Eastern Regional Convention (2001), The American Counseling Association National Convention, The American Bar Association’s Conference on Tort and Religion
  • Media coverage – With almost 40 years of cult awareness activism, Hassan’s insightful perspective and expert commentary have made him the definitive source for hundreds of national and international media outlets including: 60 Minutes, CNN, Fox News, Good Morning America, Larry King Live, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Newsweek, Night Line, NPR, Oprah Winfrey Show, The O’Reilly Factor, The Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Washington Post.
  • Freedom of Mind Resource Center Inc. – founded by Hassan, it is a consulting and publishing organization dedicated to helping people to become psychologically empowered, upholding human rights, promoting consumer awareness and exposing abuses of destructive cult groups.

Rooted in the Best

The praise for Hassan’s work is lengthy. Here is what the late Dr. Singer had to say about his book Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best Selling Guide To Protection, Rescue, and Recovery from Destructive Cults

“…A major contribution…For the first time, a skilled and ethical exit counselor has spelled out the details of the complicated yet understandable process of helping free a human being from the bondage of mental manipulation…..Steven Hassan has written a ‘how to do something about it’ book.”

–Margaret Singer, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley

Telling his own story

The book begins with a look into Hassan’s life as a college student being recruited into the Moonie organization. For me this was both difficult and fascinating to read. It was as if I was stepping back in time, back to 1987 in my own life and my own recruitment into a different Korean Bible organization. It was uncanny how much of what Hassan told of his own story mirrored my experience.

Affirming the current problem

Hassan does a really good job in this 25th anniversary edition of explaining how and why his work is so much needed. The number of cults in America has not dwindled, but in fact has exploded. The sad aspect, as Hassan recounts it, is that many do not know the Moonies or think they are no longer active. Most of the public does not remember Jonestown. This book was eye-opening.

Telling other’s stories

Hassan moves on to tell a few survivor stories. These also brought back memories for me, but not as much as Hassan’s own story. This is because there are many types of cults, and the Korean Bible groups like the Unification Church and UBF are unique in their undue influence. Hassan places a lot of weight on former member stories, especially those of longtime insiders.

Solutions, help and hope

Hassan spends at least half the book telling about how to find help, how to approach loved ones and giving solutions both practical and spiritual in nature. Hassan himself is Jewish, and regained his faith after leaving the Moon group. This was important to me, as I determined not to lose my Christian faith after leaving UBF.

In short, all UBF people really should read Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best Selling Guide To Protection, Rescue, and Recovery from Destructive Cults

As Hassan suggests, please read his book as if he is talking about a group you know is a cult, like ISIS. Then re-read it a second time, questioning whether you are in a cult or not. This second reading often tells people they are not in a cult.

Other ubfriends articles on Hassan’s work:

Book Review: Freedom of Mind

The BITE Model



  1. Hi Brian, I’m not sure what you mean by your last sentence: “This second reading often tells people they are not in a cult.”

    • That is something Steven writes about in his book. I don’t have any stats as to what “often” means. The point is that his books and his BITE model are means to objectively identify if a certain is a mind control cult, and to what extent the group controls its members.

      When I read the book, each time, I confirmed all my suspicions and realized UBF is essentially the same as the Moonies once you remove the covers.

    • Another point is that most groups are not mind control cults. Those groups who are cults however, are readily and consistently identifiable.

      Steven encouraged me to compare UBF to other mind control cults. Doing that would make my new book, Identity Snatchers, a widely appealing and important contribution to this field. I don’t have the capacity to do that right now, but the similarities between UBF and many cult groups are striking (again, you see these common traits very easily after you look under the unique holy paint each group has)

  2. “Ending the Game – program for educating sex trafficking victims.”

    I see many similarities between UBF and other cults, especially sex trafficking victims. I volunteer at Rose of Sharon in Chicago for sex trafficking victims and many of the women are under cult mind control. Many don’t even know that they are trafficked and think that their pimps love them. It’s necessary to be aware of the fear tactics that people use. It’s not just in church, it’s in abusive relationships, it’s in schools, it’s anywhere where fear is used to coerce and manipulate. I don’t know how Hassan defines cult, but my definition would be very broad. I would define it as anywhere fear is used as leverage, whether from a Pastor, parent, friend, teacher, family member, etc. But I haven’t read Hassan’s book so I don’t know his definition of cult. Maybe I have to coin a new word for it.

    • MJ, those are just the kinds of observations Steven makes. Here is a short quote from “Combating Cult Mind Control” that might answer your questions:

      “While most people usually think of cults as religious—the first definition of cult in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary is “religious practice: worship”—they are often completely secular. Webster’s also defines cult as “a usually small or narrow circle of persons united by devotion or allegiance to some artistic or intellectual program, tendency, or figure (as one of limited popular appeal).” That second definition comes closer to the meaning of a modern cult, but still falls a bit short. Modern cults have virtually unlimited popular appeal. For the sake of brevity, from here on I will refer to any group in which mind control is used in destructive ways as simply a cult.” loc. 1543

      Steven mentions business cults, sex cults, political cults, marketing cults and of course religious cults. The similarities are uncanny. Steven is gifted with an ability to discern the basic principles applying broadly to all kinds of undue influence.

      BTW, I’ll be speaking with Steven soon :)

  3. Steven points out that most people think of “saffron-robed men on street corners, dancing and chanting with cymbals and drums” People associate cults with “young people running from car to car, selling flowers in the pouring rain” or “glassy-eyed men and women confronting people behind folding tables near busy intersections, asking for money to quarantine AIDS victims and build particle-beam weapons.”

    Steven’s book points out that such people represent only a small fraction of cult phenomena. He asks us to imagine a different set of images about cults.

    He writes that we should see:

    “Business executives in three-piece suits sitting in hotel ballrooms for company-sponsored ‘awareness’ training, not permitted to stand up or leave, even to go to the bathroom. Housewives attending ‘psych-up rallies’ so they can recruit friends and neighbors into a multi-level marketing organization. Hundreds of students gathering at an accredited university, being told they can levitate and fly through the air if only they meditate hard enough. High-school students practicing satanic rituals involving blood and urine, being directed by an older leader who claims he will help them develop their personal power. ‘Troubled’ teens being sent off to boot camps by their deceived parents, unregulated by the government, some run by religious groups who seek to convert them.” loc 1491

  4. And ubfers will be really interested in Steven’s descriptions of the Moon organizations (yes there are hundreds)– especially the parts about the 1976 “Koreagate” and the ties between North Korea and Moon, and other countries.

  5. This is scary! “I see many similarities between UBF and other cults, especially sex trafficking victims.” – See more at:

    I can immediately “hear” UBFers dismissing this outrageous similarity. The most obvious objection is “the pimps are trafficking sex, but we shepherds are discipling students and teaching them the Bible.”

    The “problem” I see is that many in the church are unable to “see” or acknowledge that they are using guilt tripping and fear tactics to “shepherd” their Bible students.

    Just today I heard that a missionary had threatened his native student leader saying, “If you don’t attend the Friday fellowship meeting, you are not a Christian!”

    The missionary completely ignored and disregarded the fact that the student leader was suffering from grief and sorrow from the recent death of a dear loved one.

    It’s almost surreal and unbelievable hearing such accounts happening in 2015 in the U.S. after UBF missionaries have been here for three decades!

    The sadder and more painful reality is that when such accounts are shared, they might be dismissed, disregarded, hushed up, excused, minimized or ignored.

    In sad fact, when such stories are shared, the one who shared the story is often treated like the offensive culprit, because “how dare you complain about missionaries who have sacrified sooo much for you and for selfish American students!”

    I’m sorry for sharing this painful account. But when can and will such stories be seriously addressed and discussed so that it does not ever happen again?

    • As long as the SAME people keep doing the SAME things swearing on oath to protect the SAME ideology with the SAME blind ambition, nothing will change.

      This week’s self-glory celebrations confirm that the leadership (who are the SAME leaders for 50+ years) will not listen or address or process ANY of what we’ve discussed in just under 20,000 comments here on this blog.

      Time to wake up and smell the cult coffee people.