|Common Programs Observed in Survivors of
Satanic Ritualistic Abuse
David W. Neswald, M.A. M.F.C.C. in collaboration with
Catherine Gould, Ph.D. and Vicki Graham-Costain, Ph.D. The
California Therapist, Sept./Oct. 1991, 47-50 Introduction
The following article is archived with
permission of the authors. It may be reproduced and distributed
as long as it is not abridged.
Increasingly, cases of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD)
and Satanic Ritualistic Abuse (SRA) are being reported in the
psychotherapeutic community. Though controversy concerning
authenticity remains, such cases are slowly gaining in
acceptability as a genuine social and psychopathological
phenomenon. Concurrently, the etiological underpinnings and
treatment demands of these special patients are being unraveled
and understood as never before. As a result, it is becoming
increasingly clear that perhaps the most demanding treatment
aspects of such cases concern the problems posed by what is
known as "cult programming."
So called cult "programs" are really no more than
conditioned stimulus-response sequences consistent with basic
learning theory. Such conditioning is achieved through a large
variety of sophisticated and sadistic mind control strategies
involving the combined application of physical pain, double-bind
coercion, psychological terror, and split brain stimulation. All
programs are stimulus-sensate triggered. Thus, programs may be
enacted (triggered) via auditory, visual, tactile, olfactory
and/or gustatory modalities. Classical, operant, and
observational/modeling paradigms all are utilized by the cults
and their "programmers." Finally, it is important to
note that virtually all cult programs will possess a variety of
secondary and tertiary back-ups -- perhaps several layers of
The following is a preliminary and evolving listing of the
different types of cult programming observed in my own brave
patients, as well as in those of my colleagues and consultees.
All such patients are survivors of Satanic Ritualistic Abuse
with a diagnosis of Multiple Personality Disorder.
The purpose of this compilation is to educate the therapist
treating MPD and SRA about commonly observed programs in similar
survivors. It is hoped that the following will aid in the
identification of cult mind control programming in therapists'
patients, as well as to generically disseminate important
information hitherto known to but a relatively few SRA
specialists. The more we know about cult techniques and
methodologies, the easier it becomes to effectively treat these
1). Cutting Programs
As children, patients have been "taught" by the
cult when and how to cut. These programs tend to be triggered
as a means of punishment, as well as to reinforce earlier
"compliance" or "shutdown" injunctions
(e.g., "Don't betray the coven.")
I recommend that the therapist pay specific attention to
the pattern, location and implement of the cutting -- each may
serve as a signature of the original program, involved alter
(alternate personality), and/or cult programmer. I further
recommend photographing and or diagramming the wounds from
each of the cutting episodes for later comparisons.
The cutting implements themselves may be special
"gifts" of the programmer (used during the original
programming session), which the patient may keep secretly
hidden for years and use only when the urge to cut is
specifically triggered. Finally, many cutting programs have
been conditioned in such a way as to "progress" to
suicide programs as "needed."
2). Burning Programs
As is the case with cutting programs, the location and
modality of the burn injuries are significant. The therapist
may also wish to map the burn wounds. Common modes of burning
include: cigarettes, lighters, hot metal implements (i.e.,
knives, rods, wands), and/or a variety of scalding (or
flammable) liquids and caustic chemicals.
3). Miscellaneous Self-Injury Programs
Types of specific self-injury programs are as numerous as
there are ways to injure oneself. Besides being conditioned to
cut and burn, we have also routinely seen programs designed to
create within the survivor: (1) "accident"
proneness, (2) failure to eat, (3) ingestion of injurious
materials and poisons, (4) failure to sleep, (5) failure to
take needed medication, and (6) the intentional breaking of
one's own bones -- particularly hands, fingers, arms and legs.
1). Suicide Programs
SRA survivors are routinely conditioned to attempt to kill
themselves when they and/or the therapist, are deemed to be
getting too close to material damaging to the cult, or when
the cult feels it has lost all other forms of control over the
Expect these to be present in virtually all SRA survivors.
Recent clinical experience has raised serious questions
concerning the once widely held "one true suicide
program" concept. Indeed, while many patients do have but
one or two such programs, many more often exist. Additionally,
there may be more than one suicide program per alter, and more
than one trigger per program.
Identified suicide methodologies have included: shooting,
hanging, cutting, stabbing, poisoning, overdosing, auto
"accidents," leaping from buildings, starvation,
It has been my experience that the original cult suicide
programming sessions will often NOT involve the use of
dissociation enhancing medication, apparently so as to keep
the memory as clear and distinct as possible.
2). Assassination Programs
When someone in the survivor's environment is deemed by the
cult to have become too much of a liability, the patient may
in some cases by triggered to attempt to kill that person.
Most likely such programming will be set in against a
supportive significant-other (e.g., husband, boyfriend), or
against the therapist.
As is the case in self-injury programs, the special
means/implements (e.g., guns, knives, poison, etc.) of the
assassination program are often "given" to the
patient by the cult.
The primary intent of the cult may not be the actual death
of the assassination target, so much as the discrediting of
the patient as a "murderer" or "attempted
Cult Control Programming
1). Reporting Programs
Patients are conditioned to routinely contact and report
back to the cult. These programs may be time-triggered (every
month, full moon, etc.), date-triggered (i.e., corresponding
to cult "holidays", etc.), or situationally
triggered (i.e., host personality enters therapy, reveals cult
"secrets," etc.). Such programs keep the cult
updated on the patient's daily life, as well as with the
ongoing work in therapy. Further, specific intelligence
information may be gathered about the therapist and treatment
facility, and reported back to the cult.
Particularly prevalent with such conditioning are several
layers of back-up reporting programs. Of course, along with
back-up programs will come a large contingent of back-up
reporting alters. Never assume you've found all the reporting
alters in the patient's system. Always assume that reporting
2). Access Programs
This refers to cult access into the survivors' personality
system. These programs allow the cults to access the patient's
personality system through specific (usually cult-created)
alters. This access is achieved through a large variety of
triggers, including whistles, electronic tones, spoken
phrases, touch, etc. Once accessed, a myriad of other programs
may be triggered and/or reinforced by the cult.
3). Return Programs (Call Backs)
Such programs are designed to manipulate patients to return
to the cult for rituals and/or further programming or to
"escape" from therapy. The patient may be
conditioned to respond to phone cues, to follow a specific
contact cult member upon sight, and/or to meet a cult
"contact" at a predetermined location (i.e.,
4). Reminder-Reinforcement Programs
May be used as a "reminder" of the patient's
"vows" to the larger cult or subordinate coven.
These are programs often enacted via phone or touch triggers
(e.g., three series of three taps on shoulder or knee, a rapid
series of six electronic tones, spoken phrases, etc.). Program
triggers frequently include "gifts" from the cult
given during childhood (e.g., stuffed animals, music boxes,
etc.). Visually, certain colors may also serve the same
purpose. Cult-related colors (particularly red, purple and
black) are commonly presented to the survivor in the form(s)
of a cult-contact's apparel, a letter or envelope, etc. These
programs appear to be primarily designed to re-install fear
and cult compliance.
Not uncommonly, a survivor may be triggered to compulsively
engage in degrading or self-injurious activities so as to
reinforce a variety of other "in place" cult
Therapy Interference Programming
1). Scrambling Programs
These are programs intended to confuse, disorganize and/or
block the patient's alter system, emerging memories, thought
processes, and/or incoming information. Often, there are
specific alters designated by the cult programmer to perform
this function (e.g., "The Scrambler"). Reduced
ability to "switch," speak, write, draw, read,
and/or remember previous sessions/work are potential tip-offs
to the enactment of a scrambling program.
Such programs may specifically target the therapist. For
example, the incoming words and/or visual images of the
therapist may be scrambled or garbled. The effect will often
be that the survivor experiences the therapist as looking
and/or sounding threatening, abandoning, or incompetent.
2). Flooding Programs
Such programs are enacted by the cult in order to interfere
with therapeutic progress/process by overwhelming the patient.
This is achieved by triggering the patient to have a flood of
painful and frightening cognitive and/or somatic memories
enter consciousness simultaneously, thereby significantly
increasing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
symptomotology and suppressing the functionality of the
patient. A wide variety of triggers may be utilized.
3). Recycle Programs -- (Ray & Reagor, 1991)
These are programs which act to quickly re-dissociate
memories which the therapist has worked to abreact and
re-associate. The therapist may return the next day to find
he/she must redo the work from the previous therapy session.
Such programs must be neutralized before the re-dissociated
material may be effectively re-associated.
4). Cover Programs -- (Ray & Reagor, 1991)
Similar to "screen memories;" these are
programmed memories laid in by the cult to distract from, or
distort, the true ritual abuse memory. A secondary purpose of
these programs is to discredit the survivor's memories with
"unbelievable" content. For example, a ritual
involving pain and "medical" paraphernalia might be
"covered" with a memory of UFO abduction and
5). Verbal Response Programs
These are programs designed to provide
"acceptable" answers to cult-related, system-related
or alter-related inquiries which may be posed by the therapist
or other non-cult supportive persons. Such responses will have
been extensively (and painfully) "rehearsed" by the
patient and cult programmer.
6). Silence-Shutdown Programs
When enacted, such programs will cause the patient to
"stop talking" -- to cease revealing information to
the therapist or non-cult supportive other. Though such
programs may be triggered through a wide variety of
modalities, enactment via self-touch triggers are particularly
common. Some shutdown programs will be directed toward
specific alters, while others are meant for the system in
7). Nightmare-Night Terror Programs
Similar to flooding programs, patients are conditioned to
become overwhelmed with terrifying images/memories while
asleep. Such programs are deeply ingrained and appear to be
primarily used for punishment. They serve to keep the patient
run-down and fatigued. Often, nightmare programs are triggered
or tripped automatically when processing "forbidden"
material in therapy.
8). Isolation Programs
Isolation programs may have intra-system or extra-system
applications. Within the system, alters may be walled-off (via
amnestic barriers) from cooperative alters by cult-loyal
alters. Beyond the system, patients may be conditioned to
withdraw socially, isolating themselves from helpful
9). Pain Programs
As the name implies, patients may be conditioned to
re-experience the physical pain portion of their abuse
memories. Generally used as punishment, pain programs may also
be enacted to "motivate" the survivor to carry out
other programmed injunctions. Such conditioning may be
specifically/intentionally triggered by cult, or automatically
tripped when processing "forbidden" material in
therapy. Electroshock pain appears to be a favorite of the
cult-programmers for this particular conditioning paradigm.
10). Rapid Switching Programs
Once enacted, a patient may not be able to finish a
sentence without switching three to four times between alters.
The problems this creates for the patient's optimal
functionality are obvious. This type of conditioning appears
to have been programmed via the rapid presentation of
preconditioned alter-triggers during the original programming
session. The entire original programming experience is then
paired with a neutral trigger.
11). Miscellaneous Therapy Interference Programs
Other types of programs observed in SRA survivors designed
to interfere with the therapeutic process include those which
condition the patient to: (1) not see, (2) not think for self,
(3) stay distracted, and (4) become resistant, mistrustful,
and/or obnoxious toward the therapist.
you are going to work with ritual abuse survivors, you
must also get educated if you want to be effective. And
you must learn to be humble. Trauma survivors do not need
to be around ignorant, modern-day Pharisees. Survivors in
pain need people who will connect with them on an
emotional level, get right down in there where they are,
and listen. --Kathleen Sullivan