Do we need a lawyer or a deprogrammer?
March 21, 2007 3:05 PM   Subscribe

Some family members have gotten involved with a cult/pyramid scheme called Psi Seminars. They've been spending money they don't have (up to $4000/seminar, for which they travel to another state and have to stay in hotels) and it's wreaking havoc on their lives. One has lost his home, two are threatening to end their marriages and are alienating their grown children. They are demanding that our relationships with them be within the context of us paying them to attend these seminars as well.

One of the family members is my godmother. One is recently detoxed from a heavy chemical addiction. All are vulnerable as hell and looking at this as the cure for sadness, loneliness, addiction, boredom and the heartbreak of psoriasis.
Now they are trying to start seminars here in our state and on top of their being taken advantage of, We're worried that by bringing a pyramid scheme accross state lines, they are opening themselves to criminal liability. How can we open their eyes to the danger that they are in, emotionally, legally and otherwise? Does anyone out there know a good deprogrammer?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

PSI Seminars is a terrible group. I have known former friends who got involved. They never saw what it was doing to them and one or two (I have chosen to stay the hell out of their lives) are still in it. I think you need to cut these people off. Tell them, if they love you, they won't let you get involved.

This is from Rick Ross:

What happens at PSI 7? You arrive and stay at a hotel the day prior to attending 7. They pick you up in a bus and drive to the ranch. You arrive at the ranch by bus; you’re not allowed to bring your own car, because they don’t want you to leave before the “program” is finished. You’re set up to sleep in a “bunk house” with 40 men, or if you’re a female, 40 women. You share living quarters, to include the showers. You sleep on bunk beds. You are told when to eat, when to sleep, when to go to the bathroom. You are instructed to write a journal and share your thoughts and feelings with the rest of the group.

They break you down, somewhat like basic training in the military. They do group exercises like climbing 40 foot phone poles, 14-15 foot walls, standing on the edge of a cliff, all the while your “team” is holding the ropes. This is to entrust you to the “group.” You walked across a set of ropes holding onto another person; this builds the group personality. Once a task in completed you do the group bonding, like love bombing, groups hugs. Team building.

Prior to going to the ranch you’re given a list of clothing you need to bring, this includes clothing you would not feel comfortable wearing in public. For the women it’s usually a bathing suit or bikini. Once you’re at the ranch there is one “exercise” where your PSI “Buddy” picks out your clothes for the “barn dance.” Clothing that makes you feel uncomfortable wearing in public. The barn dance included a DJ playing disco music, the mirror ball hanging from the ceiling. This is a breaking down of your defenses to critical thinking.

There is one “exercise” called “the sharing” where the men and women stare into one another’s eyes by candle light and share their feelings with the other person. The question asked in “the sharing” is would you like to have an intimated relationship with this person?

There is another exercise where you gather cow pies (yes cow pies) to symbolize life’s bullshit (sorry) and they place it on a plywood sheet and hang it up on a wall. This is to represent getting rid of the BS in their lives, you know “the BS that’s holding you back.”

Oh, and they have a “store” on the premises, where you can buy the PSI bible, a leather bound book with the “teachings” of Wilhite, Inspirational CD’s, and of course the PSI T-shirts. If you read the book or listen to the CD’s, you’ll find its nothing more than fancy BS with the bottom line: recruit your family and friends to get their MONEY.

And you get all this for $3000.00. And on the last day you’re told you are still not done, you’re told you have not obtained “all the tools” to live a better life and then it’s the hard sell for the “Leadership” course. “And if you sign up today it will only cost you $3600.00;” a discount, as the course is $4000.00. Nice discount, save $400.00 and continue to destroy your life.

They work to destroy relationships and they cause people to detach from family and friends. They encourage people to become emotionally dependent on them. Looking back, I see how my wife tried to recruited me and get me into this, but after seeing the change in her I decided not to go, and because she saw this as being unsupportive she left and we divorced. That was a year ago. I was betrayed by one of my most trusted friends.

I am trying my best to be compassionate and to forgive her with the understanding that she herself is trapped within the lies of PSI. Even from my friend, an intelligent, creative woman who I know to be capable of very subtle critical thinking, I never heard anything from her that ever questioned what PSI is and does. I showed her the research I have done on this group and she said the research was “bullshit.” PSI is her life and she has told me that she never going to give up the benefits of PSI. These benefits include leaving her relationships with her family and friends because she couldn’t recruit, oh, sorry, “enroll” them.

And if you’re thinking of going I have some questions for you; don’t think about the money. Think; “Is this going to be worth the loss of respect of your family and friends? Is it worth losing your own self respect? Is it worth the loss of your sanity? I would say no. But that is my opinion.

This reminds me. I saw a posting on one of the yahoo groups that hit this nail on the head. The posting said

“Never Underestimate the Power of Stupid People in Large Groups.”
posted by parmanparman at 3:26 PM on March 21, 2007 [24 favorites]

There has been at least one previous AskMe thread about how to deal with friends/relatives who are involved with cults or MLM schemes. Clicking on the "cult" keyword above can give you links to some of them. This thread about an MLM-addicted brother is the one that I thought might be helpful for you to read as it deals with some similar issues about talking to family members.
posted by matildaben at 3:30 PM on March 21, 2007

You cannot open their eyes because they don't want them opened. Anything you say will be framed in ways that reinforce their dependence on the group.

The best thing to do IMHO is tell them you care about them, tell them you are not going to join their group, and then go about your life. If they cut you off, then you know where you stand in their eyes.
posted by aramaic at 3:37 PM on March 21, 2007

All are vulnerable as hell and looking at this as the cure for sadness, loneliness, addiction, boredom and the heartbreak of psoriasis.

Jesus, that's heartbreaking. But I think some of the other posters are right, there's not much you can do but protect yourself from any liability and try to keep your other siblings out of the group. Good luck.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:52 PM on March 21, 2007

Maybe you could see what the attorney general of your state has to say about such schemes? Attys General usually have info like this on their websites, or may have a phone number you could call to ask if such businesses are illegal in your state (and then let the family members know if so), and also if there's any legal recourse that family members can take against them in another state.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:01 PM on March 21, 2007

I don't know whether you have done this, but since you are obviously very concerned, maybe go see your godmother, and hear her out.

Tell her you're worried about her, but that you know she is an intelligent woman, and if she thinks Psi is great, there must be something in it. (There must be, right?) You want to hear from her mouth what it is -- what it takes from her, and what it gives her. Maybe you'll see that it is worth it to her -- that she knows what it costs, but it is worth it to her. If so -- what can you say? Maybe as she is telling you, you'll see, or better yet, she'll see what she is really buying, and think of less destructive ways to get that. After all, if it is love -- she's already got that: she's got you, right there with her.

I've seen it with religion or political views -- you come at someone dismissively, and they just keep smiling, "you wouldn't understand." You ask them with an open mind to make you understand, and in the course of telling you, they unravel their argument themselves.
posted by Methylviolet at 4:21 PM on March 21, 2007 [9 favorites]

I looked at the website, and it sounded strangely like Landmark Forum, and other Landmark programs.
posted by jayder at 5:20 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

ditto that jayder, this sounds like Landmark forum under a different name.
posted by cosmicbandito at 10:13 PM on March 21, 2007

jayder/cosmicbandito: Landmark and PSI are both spawned from Mind/Leadership Dynamics, which crashed and burned in the early 70s.

OP: The site I've linked to could be useful in understanding the organisation your family members are involved with.
posted by zamboni at 10:38 PM on March 21, 2007

Oh god. I could write volumes on this shit. It smells like Landmark Forum because they're all of a piece. There will always be groups like these. Thieves of more than money. I'd rather be robbed at gunpoint. (no offense to anyone who's actually been robbed at gunpoint).

20 some-odd years agoI had a girlfriend join a cult (NYC, Direct Centering, 1986 if you must know) like this, and, in the course of dealing with that, I did a bunch of research with a deprogrammer and others during that time.

The salient points are these (IMHO) these groups are incredibly seductive: they construct a secure and closed logic loop that we on the outside find crazy, but those on the inside find very comforting, because everything is answered. They're full of (I swear) loving, caring, and gullible people who, individually, have the best of intentions (their well-being, your well-being).
The logic loop conveniently states 2 things that a real guru never would: enlightenment costs money (to release yourself from the bonds of... wait for it... money! How conveniently recursive) , and: get rid of friends/family who are unwilling to spend their money to join you on this "journey".

In order to see what my girlfriend was talking about, I even did the "course" she asked me to. I've been to the belly of the beast. I've seen the seductive power of the simple existence (of servitude) they offered. I also felt the emptyness at the core of it.

Every crowd (an actor or performer will tell you) has a unique and specific personality. These groups are no different.
Something happens to large numbers of earnest people when they get together in groups like these: they form something that only wants more people to join them.

Everybody wants answers. These groups offer it.
In the course of my research, I even went to see Werner Erhard speak at the Felt Forum in NYC in 1986. All I have to say about that is WOW. Towers of shaky and outright false conclusions built on foundations of faulty metaphors, double-speak that would make Orwell blush. And really impressive charisma. True Charisma. Capitol C.

Everyone always talks about Tom Cruise's turn as Frank Blackie in Magnolia, and (while I love the film) I was alway lukewarm about his portrayal of that kind of charismatic leader. As far as I'm concerned- I've seen the real thing, a couple of times, and nobody's nailed it yet.

Whoops, sorry to get autobiographical on yo' ass... simply hoping that a little more insight from someone who's been there will help.
I'm sorry for the pain this is causing. The addiction metaphor really applies AFAIC. That's exactly what it is.
Best of luck!
posted by asavage at 10:43 PM on March 21, 2007 [25 favorites]

There are several previous threads here on Landmark, which you can look at to get a sense of how similar it is, and how other people have reacted to their friends' and families' involvement in it:
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:53 PM on March 21, 2007

To Methylviolet: I can't tell you how many times I discussed a complicated CS problem w/a coworker and described the exact problem to myself in the process.
posted by prodevel at 1:14 AM on March 22, 2007

If you want to explore the exit counselor route ("deprogrammer" is no longer used because it refers to discredited forcible, non consensual techniques), Steve Hassan is among the best there is.
posted by scalefree at 5:41 PM on March 22, 2007

Anon: if you'd like an introduction to either Steve Hassan or Rick Ross or if you just want to continue the discussion offline, drop me a line & I'd be glad to help. I'm not a professional but I do know quite a lot about the subject of cults. Confidentiality assured.
posted by scalefree at 11:04 AM on March 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

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