A Death Cult and the process of brain washing – Thoughts from a Therapist

As we look on in despair for the young people who are seeking something more meaningful than our rather apparently dissolute society, I have not been alone in wondering why such extremes are sought and how often apparently intelligent young people can be so easily fooled….

There are of course many underlying religious, social (internet information), cultural and economical reasons and pressures that we all know about. For the purposes of this blog however I wanted to consider the ‘process’ of individual radicalisation.

The Process – altered states

As a psycho/hypnotherapist and meditator for well over 30 years now I have often shown people how to use altered states (any of various states of awareness (as dreaming sleep, a drug-induced hallucinogenic state, or a trance) that deviate from and are usually clearly demarcated from ordinary waking consciousness) to help them manage and indeed change in their behaviours. This in turn allows them to become empowered and develop more successful communication skills thus living their lives more successfully in order to become the best they can be. However when this knowledge is not shared these powerful techniques can be used to manipulate others to their will.

Since the beginning of time it has been instinctively known that there are key ways to influence people in order to control them. Controlling the general populations behaviour by various individuals or institutions for example all religions, governments, advertising agencies and at a smaller level cults and families means maintaining power over them. It stops ‘critical thinking’ by using the emotions in a variety of ways. Civilised society likes to think it can avoid physical violence but then may use psychological tools to control a more ‘desirable’ compliant and indeed a more civilised community.

Religions of every shade and hue i.e. belief systems, utilise these same methods appealing to the greater good in order to get people to follow their rules for example missionaries who use various methods of persuasion from kindness and forgiveness to threats of hell and damnation. The use of fear, the strongest emotional charge of all or ‘mystery’ with various enticements to heaven or hell is common and can include more subtle methods for example singing or chanting, flickering candle light, unusual fragrances which can be very comforting offering a safe structure which defines right and wrong.

During times of war in order to get people to march into battle or at the very least to stand with trembling patriotic attention, governments will engage in a variety of emotionally charged communications sprinkled with patriotic duty, marching music and off we go into the breach dear friends…

In modern times the same methods are used by advertising companies with various psychological techniques, chirpy little tunes and repetitive phrases to persuade people to spend money.

With regard to radicalisation the process itself is likely to soften vulnerable or susceptible people placing them in a heightened state of suggestibility and when all the other factors are right, there is the perfect storm for recruiting and radicalisation to the ‘cause’.


The 3 main ways to achieving an altered state (sometimes called trance or hypnosis) are

  1. Canalisation of attention

Focusing the attention down one particular track and thereby becoming blinded by other external factors all energy is gathered to one end, whatever that may be.

In fact when anyone has an ‘interest’ in something they tend to do this naturally, research, read, explore whatever is needed to find out about this ‘thing’; for example a passionate (emotional charge) chef will notice food first, a bereaved person will notice those similar to the person they have lost.

If an individual’s culture is intertwined with a specific belief system it is inevitable that their perception of the world will be through that particular lens. All else outside will be pale or should they take the opposite view, brighter, depending on how this early family culture has been enforced as well as the developmental age of the individual and their likelihood of adolescent rebellion.

  1. Rhythm and repetition

Constant repetition of phrases and specially when affirmed at different times of the day will eventually become automatic. This is basic behaviourism as demonstrated by Pavlov and his salivating dogs but focused on more subtle things than food. If this is repeated with a chant or musically and affirmed with physical posturing, rocking, specific gestures then responses, it will eventually become almost part of muscle memory slipping out of the general notice of the conscious mind. In other words behavioural responses will therefore become automatic and instinctual, familiar and safe thereby passing any rational thought processes. Thus strengthening the focus of attention, belief systems and increasing suggestibility.

  1. Breathing and the emotional charge

Breath and emotions are inextricably linked. We can learn to control the emotions by controlling our breathing.

  • Hyper /Hypo ventilating can occur when the body is under stress, which means there will not be enough oxygen for the body or mind to function properly
  • Fear factor, use of shocking violent images, screaming and ranting will heighten the emotional charge and therefore make an individual more susceptible to suggestion.
  • This may be enhanced by the internet which can be accessed 24 hours a day and is both a blessing and a plague on society.
    ‘Respiratory feedback in the generation of emotion; DOI: 10.1080/02699930143000392 Pierre Philippot, Gaëtane Chapelle & Sylvie Blairy pages 605-627 Publishing models and article dates explained Published online: 09 Sep 2010′


Linking this together with the specific case relevant to this moment in history, a mediaeval Islamist cult, you have the perfect storm. Installation of beliefs in a positive form initially canalises the attention from early childhood, learning by rote, chanting, rocking and 5 times a day practice may affirm some individuals as an easy target. Add to this those beliefs of victimisation from peer group with a natural rebelliousness, unfocused testosterone in a relatively peaceful society and emotional loyalty with older generations will bring confusion and angle the thinking thus emphasising and distorting the thought processes even more.

Whilst the West has tended to put aside its unquestioning deferential approach to authority with the inevitable consequence for the short term, many societies have not and still rule by fear and violence. In the long term and within the theory of democracy it is expected that people should deserve respect rather than have it by dint of power or position. In the West we can challenge authority and enjoy freedom to express our opinions.

This deep investment of attention heightens our vulnerability making us more susceptible to suggestion and the consequent control and abuse by others.

Shock (violence), ranting (authority), screaming (fear) all serve to heighten the emotional charge causing ‘confusion’ in the mind (confusion technique is a well known hypnotic induction) drawing the susceptible individual to powerful propaganda as they tighten the blinkers and lose sight of a broader more tolerant view of the world.

We in the West were doing much the same in mediaeval times but one of the myths (stories) which in the end have got to be the main part of the answer was the Arthurian myth and the rules of chivalry…not very different from the honourable and tolerant Islam of those times. Perhaps we could consider stories as a value shared beginning and develop such a myth (probably not the reality) for present day. Honour, respect and tolerance, protection of the weak and innocent, support for the vulnerable, is it too much to ask?

Our knightly shield according to Gawain includes: Loving kindness, courage, courtesy, generosity of heart and compassion. That will do me!