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Home arrow Psychotherapy Cults arrow Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT) arrow Thought Reform Programs and the Production of Psychiatric Casualties

Thought Reform Programs and the Production of Psychiatric Casualties

Article Index
Thought Reform Programs and the Production of Psychiatric Casualties
History of Thought Reform Programs
What Is a Thought Reform Program?
Types of Psychological Responses
The Majority Reaction
Induced Psychopathologies
Case Examples

by Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph. D., and Richard Ofshe, Ph. D.

Psychiatric Annals 20:4

April, 1990

The term "thought reform" was introduced into the psychiatric literature by Lifton and the term "coercive persuasion" by Schein.  Both described the organized "ideological remolding" programs introduced by the Chinese Communists after their 1949 takeover.  Thought reform programs were used in the "revolutionary universities", other educational settings, and prison environments.  Lifton, Schein, and other authors wrote about psychological effects in military and civilian prisoners,  as well as in individuals exposed to thought reform programs in non-prison settings.  These authors called attention to the manipulation processes that had been organized into effective psychological and social influence programs aimed at changing the political beliefs of individuals.

As early as 1929, Mao Tse-tung was waging a "thought struggle" to achieve unity and discipline in the Chinese Communist Party.  Following the proclamation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, hundreds or thousands were exposed to thought reform programs to achieve "ideological remolding".  "Group struggle sessions" convinced individuals to denounce their past political views and to adopt the new state-approved political outlook.

Neither mysterious methods nor arcane new techniques were involved; the effectiveness of thought reform programs did not depend on prison settings, physical abuse, or death threats.  Programs used the organization and application of intense guilt/shame/anxiety manipulation, combined with the production of strong emotional arousal in settings where people did not leave because of social and psychological pressures or because of enforced confinement.  The pressures could be reduced only by participants' accepting the belief system or adopting behaviors promulgated by the purveyors of the thought reform programs.