“Richard Noll PhD, a clinical psychologist, is Associate Professor of psychology at DeSales University. He is best known for his research and scholarship in anthropology and the history of medicine and psychiatry on topics such as shamanism, spirit possession, mental imagery and visions, vampirism, Carl Gustav Jung, and dementia praecox/schizophrenia”. – DeSales faculty directory
Quest for a ‘holy grail’ -
I was working on an essay about psychiatrists and psychologists who, during the Satanic Panic years, apparently invested a lot of time & energy playing amatuer forensic detective – formulating their own theories about hypothetical satanic ritual abuse & mind control cults and how such cults might operate, then covertly soliciting statements that could be taken as validation for one or another aspect of their theories, from their patients, under the guise of collecting “life history”, or ordinary talk therapy sessions. I was googling various combinations of “psychiatrist”, “satanic cult”, “ritual abuse” and “roleplay detective”.
And there it was…the title of an article, seemingly promising something I had fervently longed for over several decades, but never believed would actually be written in my lifetime: “When Psychiatry Battled The Devil”, by Richard Noll, Ph.D ! But could/would this article really be what I wanted & needed it to be – an insider’s accounting of the history of satanic panic within the psychiatric profession? The link was to historypsychiatry.com, a blog about the history of psychiatry – excellent! Clicked on it and read the summary; “Psychologist Richard Noll has just published an article in Psychiatric Times on the Satanic ritual abuse panic of the 1980s” – BINGO! and then; “Noll chronicles how major figures in American psychiatry and clinical psychology played a role in what today is acknowledged to have been a moral panic that damaged the reputations and led to the imprisonment of a number of innocent individuals”. Fantastic! Written by a Psychologist who was literally “in the midst of things” as they went down, and published in Psychiatric Times, even. Perfect!
So I clicked the link to Noll’s article on Psychiatric Times, and…got nothing. Noll’s article wasn’t on the Psychiatric Times site, nor was it to be found on any other site, as my frantic googling revealed. It was gone, perhaps locked behind a ‘subscribers only’ wall on the Psych Times site, and I would never get to read it. Glimpsed one of my holy grails, only to have it vanish out of my grasp. Aargh!
But then, before very long, I stumbled upon another reference to Noll’s article – in an article titled: “Sex and satanic abuse: a fad revisited” by Allen Frances, on Huffington post. And there, to my great relief, I found links to a blogsite where Noll’s “When Psychiatry Battled The Devil” could be downloaded in pdf, and an explanation for it’s ‘disappearance’. Psychiatric Times had pulled Noll’s article after 10 days, presumably under pressure from persons that Noll had “outed” as satanic panic promoters within the psychiatric profession. There had been an effort to silence Richard Noll, to suppress the information in his article and prevent that info getting out to the public – but persons with a heroic committment to Reason & Truth, to preserving an honest record of historic reality, and of course to free speech on the internet, would not allow Noll’s groundbreaking article to be quashed. Good for them! – They have my gratitude and, herein, my thanks.
The site where I found Noll’s article is here:
and you can still download the article in its original form, here:
The exile reborn, under a new name –
Noll’s article is back on Psychiatric Times site, now, as of March 19, 2014:
although “modified”, with a new title, and with rebuttals from some persons named by Noll as principal promoters of satanic panic in their profession.
Noll’s article is more of a concise overview than a detailed analysis. For those of us already familiar with the tragic facts of the Satanic Panic circa 1980-1996, and the historic lawsuits against Psychiatrists and other “therapists” which exposed the lunatic beliefs & practices of Psychiatric specialists in the ‘treatment’ of, (actually, in the production of), supposed Satanic Ritual Abuse-Multiple Personality Disorder victims, there isn’t a lot of new or surprising revelations. Nevertheless, this article is an invaluable history and teaching tool for persons who know little or nothing about this subject, or who were born in the last 20-25 years and fortunate to have missed out on all the furor and the tragedies.
Noll’s article fills a narrative void that has existed for decades, a particularly insidious void which has enabled certain persons to construct and disseminate self-serving fictions – that there were no evangelists of satanic panic within the mental health professions, that everyone maintained strict scientific objectivity, and that no practitioner’s perception that their patients had multiple personality disorder as a result of satanic ritual abuse was unduly influenced by their personal beliefs, popular myths & legends or peer pressure – unchallenged by frank and objective accounts from genuinely level-headed participants in those events.
There is one incident related by Richard Noll that is of special importance, and very few persons outside of Psychiatrist-Psychologist professional circles are likely to have known the full facts prior to reading Noll’s account in this article. At the 7th annual ISSMP&D conference in Chicago, 1990, there was a special plenary session panel consisting of 4 of the more openly skeptical practitioners and researchers of that time;
“The 4 members of the plenary session panel were Putnam, George Ganaway, anthropologist Sherrill Mulhern, and me [Richard Noll]”.
“Putnam and Ganaway presented carefully balanced arguments that did not directly reject the reality of SRA. Instead they expressed concerns about the linkage of MPD to such controversial claims, noting it would hurt future research on child abuse and trauma.
Mulhern and I were strident in our outright rejection of the veracity of SRA claims. She cited anthropological and sociological research while I hammered home the view of historians that ancient accounts of bizarre cult practices had to be read in context. Along with my fellow panelists, I too mentioned the October 1989 preliminary report of an investigation by Supervisory Special Agent Ken Lanning from the FBI Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico which found no corroborating evidence of the existence of Satanic cults engaged in any criminal activity, let alone kidnapping and ritually sacrificing thousands of American babies. Lanning’s findings had emboldened Putnam to organize the special plenary session and go public with his private skepticism. The full FBI report appeared 3 years later.
Gloria Steinem approached me after my talk and suggested materials to read which she felt would help me change my opinion of SRA accounts. During the conference I attended one of Bennett Braun’s legendary SRA workshops (“See the Satanism!” he screamed [Noll has retracted this characterization – “screamed”] as he pointed to a patient’s red crayon scratching on a sketch pad. “There it is!”). Several persons—all licensed mental health professionals—approached me and let me know I wasn’t fooling them. They knew I was a witch or a member of a Satanic cult who was there to spread disinformation. But apparently the panel presentations had a different effect on others. As one conference attendee, an SRA believer, later wrote, “Mulhern and Noll cut a line through the therapeutic community. A minority joined them in refusing to believe sacrificial murder was going on; the majority still believed their patients’ accounts.”
I’ll repeat that unbelievable outrage, for the benefit of the ‘hard of comprehending’ : “Several persons—all licensed mental health professionals—approached me and let me know I wasn’t fooling them. They knew I was a witch or a member of a Satanic cult who was there to spread disinformation”.
Absolutely outrageous! These persons, whom Noll regretably yet understandably does not name, who responded to skeptical analysis of their SRA-MPD delusions being presented at a conference for profesionals by accusing the skeptic of being a secret Satanic cultist himself, are witchhunters. I don’t mean that they “behaved like” witchhunters, I mean they are literally witchhunters - because that is how classic witchhunters responded to criticism of their beliefs, their methods and their ‘evidence’ for the guilt of those they accused – they accused their critics of being satanic witches too! These persons, who made those accusations to Noll at that conference, have no place in any pursuit that is scientific in nature. They should be stripped of any academic or professional standing they might have acheived, and be booted off their faculties or out of their professional associations. They are a disgrace, and a vile blotch upon the history of science & medicine. Richard Noll was heroic to face them at the time, (1990), and is heroic to recount his encounter with them, at this time. He has certainly earned my respect and admiration.
Responses/Rebuttals – Several persons have been permitted to append their personal “response”, or rebuttal, of Richard Noll’s article – now titled “Speak – Memory” – to the end of that article on the Psychiatric Times website. There are some thoughtful comments in these responses by David Speigel MD, Richard Kluft PhD, and Bennett Braun MD – but there are some disturbing aspects to them as well. One commonality between them all – there is not the slightest suggestion of them taking ownership of mistaken beliefs, disproven allegations, factual errors or falsified claims that they may have played a role in disseminating to their colleagues, to the media or to the public – nor is there even a hint of an apology for any harm that may have come to patients, patient’s family members or other persons in our society, as either a direct or indirect result of their actions, practices or public/professional pronouncements. They apparently lack the graciousness and moral conscience of an Allen Frances, (“Righting Wrongs, Setting The Record Straight, Making Amends”), who has bravely expressed regret and contrition for his own failings and any harm that might have come to anyone as a consequence – or that of a Richard Noll, whose article discussed in this essay could be taken as an apology to the whole of society on behalf of all conscientious mental health care providers.
David Speigel – comes across as fairly rational, capable of laughing at his own pretentions to importance, and not reluctant to acknowledge the harm that false accusations of abuse can cause.
Then, there is this; “It is very clear that dissociative disorders are associated with traumatic experience, and child abuse is, sadly, common, not rare. Who would have thought twenty-five years ago that we would learn of widespread abuse of children by clergy, along with institutional cover-ups and failures to report criminal activity to the police and social welfare agencies?” and this; “The False Memory Syndrome Foundation, presented in Noll’s article as the ‘answer,’ was highly critical of the diagnosis of DID, those who treated people with the disorder, and vigorously cast doubt upon reports of childhood sexual abuse (not just Satanic Ritual Abuse)”.
It would be very unfortunate if these statements are intended to be what they sound like to me – references to the fraudulent, revisionist “history” about belief in, awareness of and prosecutions for Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) among Western nations – a history which has been constructed and aggressively disseminated over the past 40 years by a small set of self-professed “feminist” researcher-advocates.
An example of the false history promulgated by these researcher-advocates, is the currently widespread perception that no one knew about or cared about CSA prior to the 1980’s. “Who would have thought twenty-five years ago that we would learn of widespread abuse of children by clergy, along with institutional cover-ups and failures to report criminal activity to the police and social welfare agencies?” asks Speigel, as though such scenarios were inconceivable to everyone in our society just 25 years ago. Well, that’s not true. Historic victims of clergy abuse in orphanages, in juvenile reformatories, in Canada’s residential schools for First Nations children, in other church run schools, as well as innumerable men who served as altar boys in local churches throughout the Western world, would not have found these scenarios inconceivable – having lived them – nor would many of the friends & family members these victims may have confided their victimization to. 25 years ago? In 1989-1990? There were many highly publicized CSA scandals involving clergy and various Religious Orders, prior to 1989, and several exposes of related “institutional cover-ups and failures to report criminal activity”, prior to that date. The question ought to be: “WHO COULD NOT have imagined, 25 years ago, that there could be widespread abuse of children by clergy along with institutional cover-ups and failures to report criminal activity to the police and social welfare agencies, and WHY would those persons have been incapable of imagining that such scenarios could be taking place in their communities?” And, why does Speigel want us to think that no one would have believed such scenarios were possible, 25 years ago?
Speigel said: “The False Memory Syndrome Foundation, presented in Noll’s article as the ‘answer,’… vigorously cast doubt upon reports of childhood sexual abuse (not just Satanic Ritual Abuse)”. No doubt, FMSF would have vigorously cast doubt upon specific, individual, reports of childhood sexual abuse not involving SRA, if they had reason to believe those reports were a construct of the same improper, illegitimate “therapy” practices/techniques that had produced false SRA victim claimants. But, did FMSF ever issue statements to the effect that ALL reports of childhood sexual abuse false, or that ALL childhood sexual abuse claimants are liars, or that no one should ever believe ANY reports of childhood sexual abuse? Why are certain persons so determined to equate and conflate skeptical analysis of specific claims about childhood sexual abuse with total denial that child sexual abuse exists at all, in the minds of the public?
Richard Kluft – I can respect the honesty he has demonstated at times, exemplified by his chapter in “The Dilemma of Ritual Abuse: Cautions and Guides for Therapists”. Kluft refers to statements he made in that book chapter, several times in this rebuttal to Noll; his rational calculation that – if all the claims about alleged satanic cult murders and human sacrifices described by his patients were actually true – then every person living in the patient’s area ought to be dead in under a decade, his frank assertion that some SRA patient’s victim narratives “simply could not be true”, his assessment and denunciation of leaderless or peer-led SRA-MPD support networks, his evaluation that many of his patients who obsessed over their SRA narratives were hiding behind fantasy motivations for the abuse/neglect they allegedly experienced in childhood, so they wouldn’t have to confront and deal with a more painful truth – that their parents simply did not love them or care about what happened to them. It is admirable of Kluft, to have published such frank and realistic assessments.
On the other hand…Kluft has also published some pretty heinous statements, opinions and speculations. In this rebuttal, Kluft chides Noll : “In my response I will not counter-attack Dr. Noll for his egregious and regrettable ad hominem remarks. Here I will simply state my aversion to attacks against individuals, and my conviction that they distract from rather than enhance one’s argument. Dr. Noll seems oblivious to the fact that he is talking about real people. His remarks may cause pain and hurt, and his inaccurate allegations are potentially harmful to the professional reputations of several individuals”.
Kluft’s professed concern here over “real people” experiencing “pain and hurt” and possibly damage to their reputations, seems a bit disingenuous in light of a widely quoted speculation he once made in print about the motivations of people who have been involved in debunking SRA claimants and SRA mythology. I won’t repeat it in full, here – basically Kluft speculated that debunking SRA was likely the first step of an agenda intended ultimately to discredit all sex crime claimants. Well, Dr Kluft, SRA debunkers are real people too – and that seemingly calculated, unsubstantiatable slander has certainly caused pain, hurt and damage to people’s reputations and public esteem. Granted, you didn’t attack individuals by name, but that hardly mitigates the wrong that you did there to persons you couldn’t possibly know anything about. You couldn’t possibly know, for example, how deeply devoted to issues of child protection, child physical & sexual abuse prevention, child-friendly witness and victim’s rights legislation, etc., some of those you have slandered really are.
Kluft makes some good points in his rebuttal; the fact that Kluft also experienced unprofessional ‘attacks’ from his supposed colleagues when his “agnostic”, positions on issues failed to satisfy partisan zealots, the reality of exorcism obsessed fundamentalists in America and the need to bring “candidates for exorcism” into the medical system and away from the potentially fatal abuse they would suffer at the hands of Exorcist ‘witch-doctors’..
Kluft offers this explanation for having declared The Lanning Report “a damned cover-up”:
“My generation watched the estimated frequency of father-daughter incestuous events soar from one case per million in 1975 to one out of twenty biological father-daughter relationships in 1986, and the estimated incidence of therapist-patient sexual exploitation from rare to embarrassingly common. In addition, my generation witnessed the revelation that prestigious mental health professionals had participated in unethical research on human subjects for covert agencies, research that was very destructive to many subjects. Further, as the findings of the Lanning report were becoming known, I was in contact with FBI agents in connection with another matter. I learned that many agents in the field did not believe that the official reports denying many aspects of SRA were honest or accurate“.
“Faced with these repetitive betrayals of trust and contradictory perspectives from our federal law enforcement agencies, I like many others, could not be comfortable with “authoritative” statements that denied the reality of many aspects of SRA. Strong statements from sources that had undermined their own credibility simply were not convincing — they were just more information to consider. Those who remembered the many dishonesties and betrayals of trust listed above were less likely to accord immediate credibility to a governmental agency’s reporting that organized SRA does not exist. For those who had become aware of the numerous instances of mistreatment that had been denied, rationalized, minimized and otherwise kept secret, it was very difficult to believe that something evil and covert was a priori preposterous“.
A very nice summary of the underlying rationalization for subscribing to and disseminating all manner of conspiracy theories! I’m from Kluft’s generation and I certainly share his skepticism regarding governmental pronouncements, but I don’t have a paranoid compulsion to construct ‘evidence’ that every such pronouncement is a lie.
I’ve got my own tale about “betrayal of trust” to relate. Let me tell you about betrayal of trust, Dr Kluft.
I come from a long line of academics and scientists, and was raised with a healthy respect for the importance of basing my beliefs about The World & the nature of reality from reason, verifiable evidence, and the scientific method – and a healthy respect for the danger of beliefs based solely on untested ‘insight’, dogma, propaganda or hearsay. I never have taken pronouncements from self-professed authorities for unquestionable “holy writ”.
I have however placed my trust in academia and in Men & Women of Science, my trust that they would – as the educated ‘voice of reason’ – safeguard our society against mass outbreaks of ignorant predjudice, irrational beliefs or emotional hysterias. Imagine my dismay and feelings of betrayal, as I watched mental health professionals – the very epitomy of Men & Women of Science to my mind – proclaiming that their patients had dozens of separate and unique personalities, resulting from a childhood of physical and sexual torment at the hands of secret satanic cults, and endorsing the evangelical testimonialist freakshow of lying frauds, (Mike Warnke, Rebecca Brown, Lauren Stratford) – on tv talkshows! Congratulations, Dr Kluft! You are your colleagues have caused millions of people to lose all trust and faith in YOU and your professions.
Bennett Braun – what can I say about ol’ Bennett Braun. I’ll let him speak for himself;
“Labeling things with a catch-phrase may provide attractive and compelling shortcuts, but they often take on a life of their own that has a questionable connection to reality. Using a term like “Braun’s international conspiracy fantasies” is an attractive catch-phrase which can easily evoke strong emotion and take on a life of its own. Once such things are said, they join the ranks of “things that never were true, but always will be.” I never referred to any international conspiracy, so how can such a notion be labeled as “Braun’s international conspiracy fantasy”? The answer is simple – say it loud enough and long enough and it will be remembered, and what never was true will be regarded as the truth by many”.
A genuinely insightful observation, this one: “Once such things are said, they join the ranks of “things that never were true, but always will be.”…say it loud enough and long enough and it will be remembered, and what never was true will be regarded as the truth by many”. What a shame that Braun apparently lacks the objectivity to comprehend that his observation applies equally well to everything he ever claimed to ‘know’ or communicated in any way to others, on the subject of Satanic Ritual Abuse.