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[This excerpt is from Survivor Psychology: The Dark Side of a Mental Health Mission by Susan Smith, pp. 113-116. Upton Books and SIRS Mandarin, Boca Raton, FL. Copyright (c) 1995. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. Read our review or order it from]

Soft Sell Tactics: Exploiting Neurosis--Constructing "Evidence"

The principles of exploitive sales psychology are based on a formula that is apparent in satanic ritual abuse books, "case studies," and various survivor manifestoes. The formula is a combination of the criteria that identify factoid manifestoes and the elements of the propaganda model of persuasion. These have already appeared earlier, but will be repeated in the section to follow for easy reference.

The formula for factoid manifestoes tells how factoid manifestoes manipulate information in order to influence. The propaganda model of persuasion goes into greater detail, pointing out more specific techniques used to influence. The single most important thing to consider when evaluating a message or an author's work and intentions is this: Is the material designed to influence by persuasive tactics, or by solid information? All authors and individuals are biased in some manner and hope to influence readers. Imparting information should be a primary goal, and influencing others secondary for an ethical professional. An exploitive sales psychologist will aim to influence at the expense of the truth.

The points that identify factoid manifestoes and the elements of the learning model of propaganda are shown below.

Characteristics of factoid manifestoes

1. References, studies, and sources are not used at all, or if references are listed, they are rarely cited. Factoids and fabricated statistics given by other undocumented sources are quoted liberally. When undocumented sources are quoted second-hand, they are often reframed as "facts," not opinions or theories.

2. The writer takes advantage of basic human psychology, appealing to our deepest fears and most irrational hopes. The language is florid and manipulative, but the concepts simplistic.

3. The messages must be simple and repetitive so they are easily learned and more likely to be accepted as true.

4. Incentives must be built into the messages to motivate action and attitude change.

The Propaganda Model of Persuasion

1. The use of factoid statements. Factoid statements often begin with tentative statements or questions, then conclusions are generalized from limited evidence. Complicated arguments follow, so that the person loses track of the original question or tentative statement. All this is followed by a statement of certainty, as if the point has been proven by convoluted arguments.

2. Feigned skepticism or a "conversion" story in which the social proof became overwhelming. The author or therapist became a "believer" in the prevalence of dysfunctionality, repressed memories or satanic ritual abuse, and the pressing need for techniques to help the masses "get in touch" with their traumas.

3. Missing information. What is not said is often far more essential than what is said.

4. Manipulation of facts and fallacies into propaganda whereby the false becomes true by association with facts.

5. Manufactured statistics, the power of social proof and implied authority.

6. Emotional and personal testimonials that cannot be refuted or argued without attacking another's subjective assertions or feelings.

If mental health professionals cannot understand or see through the manipulation inherent in these tactics, we are faced with a pandemic problem: lack of reasoning skills and severely stunted intellectual capacities. It is hard enough to accept that a fearful and needy public is being taken in by exploitive charlatans cranking out what one astute observer of the phenomenon calls "crypto-pedophilic pornography." Therapists themselves feign skepticism in tortured accounts of their early struggles to "believe," as their own lives begin decomposing from the emotional crisis caused by the therapeutic drama. The suggestibility of these therapists is frightening, their sales tactics are doggedly persistent, and their casual and continuous admissions of ethically reprehensible behaviors are shocking.

The logic and the patter of survivor manifestoes explains away why "survivors" often have no memories, why they will doubt what they have constructed in the process of therapy, and why it is all true just because they say so. The logic and patter are also a relentless con job to sell therapy, Satanism and severe dissociative disorders to the public.

It is almost as if some factions of the therapeutic population are so bored and jaded, their professionalism has been reduced to lurid satanic and sexual abuse fiction-sort of a therapeutic "virtual reality" that becomes indistinguishable from real life. The advancements in their therapy are enhancements in the technology of creating moods and eliciting psychodramas, supported as authentic by all of the available logical props and narratives.

In some cases, the therapeutic journey is a process of simple neurotic transference. The therapist seizes on a benign neurosis and encourages, reinforces, affirms, validates, suggests, sells and even insists, that the client must have repressed memories and must dig them up in order to be free, healthy, happy, successful, creative and productive.

In other cases, therapists are presented with a dilemma. Clients come into therapy full of preconceived notions and pathological labels from their involvement with the recovery culture. The therapist must struggle with the conflict between letting the client "have their own reality," even if it's unhealthy, and helping the client find reality through therapeutic confrontation.

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