I was a 16 year old pot head. I needed help and my parents decided I should be put in a program. When I mentioned this to a friend he said, "Don't go Marcus, they'll brainwash you in there!" I knew better though, there was no such thing as brainwashing. It only happened in cartoons, the cat would brainwash the mice, their eyes became turning spiral pinwheels and they held their little arms out in front of them like zombies. This was brainwashing, it was cartoon fiction and I wasn't scared. I knew what would happen in there, I'd get help. I was going for therapy.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), all ethical therapy consists of proven, safe and effective practices that a client or client guardian has consented to. This is one reason that the practice of coercive persuasion and thought reform is officially non-therapeutic. The methods used have not been proven to be safe or effective, so why are they legal?
Verbal attack, isolation and forced exercise; food, water and sleep deprivations; communication and toilet restrictions; humiliation rituals, emotional abuse and manipulation are all practices currently employed on a daily basis, as "therapy" for troubled teens. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has acknowledged thousands of reported claims of abuse in today's behavior modification programs, but no one has yet addressed the technology at work in these facilities. This technology is based on several forms of manipulation. These efforts to manipulate behavior through intentionally inducing stress, are inherently abusive, often violent and many teens have died while subjected to this type of "therapy."
The APA does not officially acknowledge the existence of brainwashing. There are legal questions and implications that would be very difficult to address. There are also many crimes that could potentially be defended with a plea of "I'm innocent, I was brainwashed!" It's a can of legal worms. But while focusing on brainwashing's potential effects on the judicial system, the damaging effects of the process itself have been ignored. There is an overwhelming amount of personal testimony about the negative long-term side-effects that brainwashing can inflict. I personally believe there are also long-lasting physiological changes in the brain that occur when adolescents are subjected to thought reform and behavior modification in an institutional setting.
I believe that the underlying reason for the perpetual abuses in the troubled-teen industry is that the "theory of brainwashing" has not yet been officially "proven." The technology cannot be banned until it is proven to exist. There is a system at work within the systematic abuses. Until the system itself is identified and dismantled, the tell-tale "symptoms" will persist.
Physical and psychological abuse is built into many of these programs by design. According to several different experts on the subject, the exhaustion and pressure that is induced by sleep deprivation, hunger, fatigue and emotional manipulation, "unfreezes" the psychological framework. Through this orchestrated crisis, a new identity is instilled by manipulating the environment and the emotions of the subject to an extreme degree until the "changed" mind of the subject has undergone "re-freezing." This process requires varied amounts of time according to the individual character of each client, which is why there is no fixed length of time to "complete" this type of treatment.
Much of the power of this process relies on the secretiveness surrounding it. The methods work best if the intention behind them is not revealed to the subject. Understanding the principles and dynamics involved in this behavioral technology, reduces their effectiveness. Could you give an informed consent to treatment if it were described like this?... " The process then is the abrupt dissolution of the structure of intentionality by an electrochemical discharge in the brain, leaving the brain in a state of malleability for the construction of a new belief structure by which to guide behavior." (Walter J. Freeman, Chaotic State Transitions in Brains As a Basis For the Formation of Social Groups, 1995) While these underlying principles and dynamics are not revealed to the client or the legal guardian, a consent to treatment is impossible.
The effectiveness of coercive thought reform upon teens has not been proven and the ethical questions have been quietly ignored. The debate within the APA has centered around various legal implications but questions about the potential for harm have been avoided. By ignoring the unproven "theory of brainwashing," the APA has been ignoring the damage done by the practice of brainwashing.
These practices have never been proven safe and as an unproven treatment, are technically experimental. Also, according to several prominent experts that I've spoken with, there has not been any research on the long-term side-effects of this type of treatment upon adolescents. Perhaps the most relevant research is a European study that was recently conducted, which showed that 80% of adult survivors of institutional child abuse in Ireland, still suffer from psychological damage.
Adolescents who have been subjected to "brainwashing" were often witness to a heartbreaking cruelty. These stories combined tell the larger story of an invisible monster, sold to parents and the public as therapeutic growth. "Brainwashing" is not therapy, it's refined torture. Merely addressing the symptoms of the process has enabled the abuses to continue.
(please write and call the APA if you have any questions or if you would like to share your brainwashing experiences with them.)
APA Main Telephone (800) 374-2721 or (202) 336-5500
APA Ethics (800) 374-2721 or (202) 336-5930
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-146T GAO Report on Deaths and Abuses in Troubled Youth Programs
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_control General information on "brainwashing"