RLST 132W

SATANISM AND PSYCHOTHERAPY

 

Today we are looking at a documentary that offers a classic case-study of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. The film was made during the skeptical reaction that followed the collapse of most of the allegations nationwide. There are a number of points I particularly want you to watch out for, and which we will be discussing next class.

The two women who were alleged victims of Satanic abuse clearly do not appear to have been involved with any genuine cult whatever, yet look carefully at the working of the psychotherapy group involved. In what ways does this unit, this anti-cult group, in effect function as a cult in its own right? Although the therapy group espouses no obviously religious theory or doctrine, notice how it fulfils all the classic definitions of a cult in terms of.

The film appears to raise the following questions and issues – though some may think it is unfair or biased in its presentation:

 

*It has a leader who is always right, and whose every error can be explained away; who controls every aspect of the everyday life of his followers. Does the psychiatrist emerge as a charismatic leader? How? Why do people believe him so unquestioningly?

*See how people are led to believe things utterly at odds with their own observed experience, or of the realities of society as a whole, partly because of the peer pressure exercised by other members of the group. (Remember Galanter’s book)

*Notice how people progress in this group by the extent to which they accept the amazing Ideas held out of them, and suppress their own natural doubts. Do explicitly religious groups do the same thing? (See Galanter again)

*Notice how the demands of the group become so extreme that people are willing to sacrifice family ties, and even their children. See how they build up to this by a kind of process of desensitization

*Very important - see how therapy sessions serve as rituals comparable to those of extremist religious groups, in which people have conversion experiences, moments of “salvation” and release, often in circumstances that are extremely emotional, hysterical, and perhaps erotic. Concentrate on what happens in these sessions. Can they be described as a form of mind-control?

*Notice the gender dynamics in the group, how a male “prophet” (the psychiatrist in question) leads a band of devoted women followers. Why does this happen so regularly?

*What do we learn from this example of the means by which cult-like groups recruit  and expand?

*Notice how the whole thing ultimately boils down to money. As in the most blatantly fraudulent fringe religious and mystical movements, the crucial goal is how much insurance money can be squeezed out of the patients and their benefit plans.

 

Above all, see this as a case-study of how people become conditioned to accept the unbelievable. The psychotherapy group is thus presented, not just as a cult, but as one of the most blatant and mercenary type. Why do the two women fall for all this? Why do they not simply reject the suggestions of abuse out of hand? Why don’t they demand corroboration? Factors to consider include, how the explanations they are offered are constantly reinforced in the popular media at this time; and how they accept the authority-figure presented by the psychiatrist. Notice, again, the role played by the support group: what would Galanter say about all this?

And a big question to finish: could something like this happen again, or have we now learned our lesson, and we won’t get fooled again? Was this just a fad of the nutty 1980s, the decade that brought us Michael Jackson, the drug war, and break-dancing.