Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Steve Hassan's Upper Levels

This is a comment I posted on Lema Nal blog, as he clarifies Steve Hassan's theory about the supposed "cult identities" people under "mind-control" are supposed to develop in "cults".

Hassan's theory is similar to that the OT III Upper Level in Scientology and, IMO, is about as ridiculous.

Blog of Lema Nal: Post-Cult After Effects: Floating:
"Quote: 'However, he writes that his approach is that the 'cult identity' should be split into 'sub identities.' Then, some of these identities should be integrated into the real identity, and some put away. The result of this process is 'post-cult identity' which is, according to Hassan, is different from 'pre-cult identity.''

LOL - this sounds like Scientology, a 'thetan' with many 'body thetans', and one needs to get rid of his body thetans who influence the main thetan unconsciously...

Now, presumably, being part of a jogging club, would also create a 'jogging club identity' and, who knows, maybe 'jogging club sub-identities'... Not speaking of a 'pre-jogging club identity' and, if I ever decided to quit, a 'post-jogging club identity'...

God knows how many of these identities, sub-, pre- and post- identities we carry around.

I think I'll go to a Church of Scientology to get rid of them. May even cost me less than $100 per 30 minutes... ;-)"


M Pignotti said...

Actually, I've discussed this very relationship between OT III and these different "personalities" with Steve when I was working with him. The idea of "subpersonalities" comes from other forms of psychotherapy and has gotten pretty popular in some circles, such as Gestalt Therapy, Transactional Analysis, Neurolinguistic Programming and other approaches that do what they call "parts work".
I've discussed with him how this has some similarities to OT III which really amounts to "parts work" with the difference that in OT III one gets rid of the "parts" whereas with this kind of "therapy" people supposedly integrate the different parts.
Extreme cases of this are known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) but parts work focuses more on people who are not that extreme and do not have memory blackouts for the different identities as with DID, but have various aspects to their personality that they choose to label as "parts". Steve sees this as fitting in with dissociative disorders other than DID.
However, like Scientology, there is no good research evidence that this kind of therapy actually helps people or whether it just keeps them in endless therapy, over complicating things.
In my own current view, a much more elegant theory to explain all this is social psychology's role identity theory. Without needing to put any diagnostic labels on someone or pathologize, role identity simply points out that we play different "roles" in our lives and the personality traits brought out in the various roles can vary widely. For instance an a man who is an executive and a father would likely behave very differently in the two roles. No need to invoke any kind of exotic theory to explain that, nor, in my opinion, is there a need to invoke exotic "parts" or "dissociative" theories to explain why a person behaves differently in a group such as Scientology than they would in other roles.

Bernie said...

Yes - I think the main criticism in that approach is the pathologicalizing of it, rather than viewing it as just something relatively normal. That's why I took the example of the jogging club. The anti-cult theory of mind-control has also been blamed before for "medicalizing" what is basically relatively normal trial-and-error spiritual pathways. That's the reason I don't like terms like "recovery". It's also the reason I prefer to use "indoctrination" rather than "mind-control" to point to the cultic mindset. Of course, the fact that these have more life-changing consequences then just jogging may make it more dramatic, but on the whole there are much simpler and down-to-earth explanations, especially when the more far-fetched theories lead to forceful intervention such as deprogramming, or getting dependent on one therapist that mostly does little else than deal with the effect of his own suggestions.

El Diablo said...

"...this sounds like Scientology, a 'thetan' with many 'body thetans', and one needs to get rid of his body thetans who influence the main thetan unconsciously..."

Hmm, I'm not sure I agree with that entirely. I mean, maybe his way of conceptualizing identity in terms of a hierarchy (hence, the "sub identities") is not the best, but there are some obvious differences there.

First, the B.T. is characterized in the Hubbardarian cosmology as originating from OUTSIDE of immediate experience (i.e. past lives, illusions induced in incident II), while a "cult sub/identity" does not.

E-meter use and auditing in general (only from what I've read/watched thus far, as I was never actually IN - so forgive me if I'm way off), seems to involve using repetition and/or biofeedback, within the 'tech' (which I'm guessing, in regards to auditing could be seen as a type of 'program' or 'training session'), designed to extinguish the auditee's emotional response to a particular cognition. I'm reluctant to say learn, not because it's isn't analogous, but the CoS cosmology, coupled with the tone of absolute certainty conveyed in pretty much all of L.Ron's writings, would seem to dictate one ascribes the cause of their initial emotional reaction to external causes, and thus see the extinguishing of that emotional response, to the purging of the 'black-box'-like thetan, where as Hassan would have someone from the frame of reference of 'out of CoS', integrate (aspects of?) their 'in the CoS' identity so that rather than being like it never happened (i.e. 'pre-cult' identity), give aspects of that 'identity' a place within the current identity. i.e. NOT PURGING THEM...but giving them new meaning from within the current perception of self.

Now, I think his model is gonna have some probs...but this could go on a while, so I'm gonna think about this some more before I go on. Anyhow, please lemmie know if my current understanding of auditing/study of CoS is inaccurate.

M Pignotti said...

Yes, you're correct that Steve Hassan is coming from a frame of reference other than Scientology. Since Steve studied NLP in the early 80s with Bandler & Grinder, who also did this kind of work with subpersonalities, he likely got it initially from them. NLP took many of their things from Gestalt Therapy. Interestingly, L. Ron Hubbard and Fritz Perls, the Founder of Gestalt Therapy knew one another and there are some similarities between Scientology and Gestalt Therapy. Of course, Perls didn't have anything like an OT III story, but the idea of different parts may have come from him.
Actually, several of the techniques Steve Hassan describes in his books come from NLP. NLP and Scientology have some common influences and thus some similarities, although there are also differences.

Bernie said...

Hi El Diablo,

In Scientology you need to distinguish between auditing engrams and entities.

One of the misconceptions from critics about auditing engrams is that it is designed to "dumb" the emotional experience.

Theoretically it's not what happens. When the "basic-basic" is reached, the whole chain "blows". There is no more trace of it.It is completely as-ised and does not exist anymore. That is, all the "charge" on that incident does not exist anymore and so does not influence the person anymore. The previous "repetition" down the chain are only to discharge the incidents enough so that the previous similar can be located. It could be said that this "dumbs" the emotional impact but it really is not the end purpose.

You are right to say it comes down to a cognition because when the chain finally blows, the person realizes the false conclusion at the basis of the incident and which was in fact holding the whole chain in place.

Auditing entities, such as body thetans is not the same. The purpose of that is to make them realize the incident that brought them there and eventually to make them thus go away. When they are gone they don't influence the main thetan, obviously.

In the case of entities, it is correct to say that an external factor is brought in. In the case of engrams, not, as this is just part of the person's history, unless one wants to nitpick on the fact that the incidents were created by external factors.

Between the two are "implants". Now these are engrams, internal factors, but willfully created by others (external factor), rather than something that just happens to the person.

Hope this helps. Of course it's all "verbal tech" :-)

Bernie said...

Of course you are right to say that there are obvious differences.

BTs indeed come from outside whereas the "cult personality" is a sort of internalization of the cult influence.

As you say also Scn seeks for people to "get rid" of things, engrams or BTs while Hassan wants to "integrate" sub-identities in the main identity.

However, the common thing is that there is something in the mind, a separate identity, that influences the main identity, and these need to be gotten rid of, whether blown away or disintegrated/integrated.

In both cases, we deal with "entities" or "identities" that are supposedly there but which can't see. We just assume they are there based on their respective theory, which already is a suggestion. While I don't exclude the fact that we may have "multiple personalities", for example we may not react the same way to a beggar as we do to our boss, it is dangerous, in a way, to bring that concept too far.

As always with cults the mistake both LRH and Hassan do here are

1. to bring things too far
2. to take them literally
3. to make of it a pathology
4. to turn a partial view into the whole view

There may be a core of truth in both theories, but bringing these too far is what makes it cultish/exploitative.


Bernie said...

I may add that in both case it ends up making the person dependents on a particular therapy, group, person for its ultimate well-being or salvation. A construct that makes someone dependent in this respect would be a good definition of somethings that would be cultish, especially when it involves personal benefit and money.

I have not agreed with Singer in the past but from the comparison Lema Nal is making on his blog, it sounds less cultish than Hassan's approach in that respect.

El Diablo said...

Thanks heaps for explaining more about the Hubbard-verse. Step one was knowing to what all the abbreviations stood for. Step two - actually making sense of what I'm reading - is gonna be a long work-in-progress methinks and I definitely appreciate any help on offer :)

Oh...I tend to like the characterization given by Singer, especially in relating dissociative episodes against the non-pathological continuem of normal experience (so a difference in degree, rather than kind).

If Hassan's theory too readily pathologize, then it's uncritical acceptance into clinical practice could be a serious issue and I'm tending towards the social psychological framework M Pignotti articulated.

Whether it has the same potential for destruction/abuse (whether as a money-making scam or fostering dependency) as Hubbardarian cosmology and 'tech' is something I don't know enough about yet to comment on. I'll need to read more into Hasson's theory and it's implications for clinical practice.

Oh and sorry...this is a bit off topic:

I might need more clarification on this, but I'm currently tending towards the phrase "progressively thought limiting", in relation to an individuals experience of progressing through Scientology, moderated by the extent to which their personal construction of the world coheres with the Hubbard-verse (and diverges from that of their out-group cohort), over the term "mind control".

I'm thinking that ontological frames of reference - and how to communicate across them - may come up as something to watch. Like the whole anti-CoS movement not just gaining legitimacy for their cause from the testimony of emerging ex-sci's...but that in the process, it becomes more difficult dismiss those currently in the CoS as just "stupid" or "crazy" or "gullible" ...as it doesn't mesh with the ex-sci testimony that is increasingly informing and directing their specific complaints against the CoS.

Anyhow, sorry for getting off topic. Somewhere in my head this is all loosely connected to group-identities and points at which divergent constructions of reality might be meaningfully traversed....but yeah, I'm thinking aloud here, so you might wanna ignore me.

M Pignotti said...

I wouldn't dream of ignoring you, El Diablo. You have many perceptive, helpful insights to share and I hope you keep it up because we all need to understand these issues better.
Re Margaret Singer, yes, I would agree that the way she understood dissociation was much more grounded in evidence and balanced. Whatever people might think of her position on cults and mind control, she came from a background of solid scientific grounding and was highly critical of therapists who used questionable theories and practiced what she called in her book by that title, "Crazy Therapies".
Hassan has also acknowledged that dissociation is a process that we all experience. However in recent years he seems to have increasingly over-pathologized this. He has been increasingly labeling this as a widespread disorder in people who have been in cults when there is no good evidence it is so widespread. The phrase qui bono (who benefits?) comes to mind, as the more ex-cultists who have this disorder, the better business will be.
There are a number of assumptions that need to be challenged that are too numerous to go into in a comment, but suffice it to say for now that I have looked at literature on dissociative disorders that demonstrates that it is not as necessarily related to trauma as has been believed. And then there is also the presumption that all "cult" experience is traumatic and that is also highly debatable. I would venture to say that only a small percentage of people who have been in cults, have had experiences that would be classifiable as a "trauma" by the DSM definition of PTSD (another "disorder) that cult members are frequently diagnosed with that is connected with dissociation.