Deprogramming has been attacked, by cultists and others, on the basis that it is dangerous and illegal to kidnap someone from any organization in which they voluntarily participate. Deprogrammers claim that the voluntary participation is due to "mind control," a controversial theory that a person's thought processes can be changed by outside forces. The existence of mind control is widely disputed, though generally dismissed as pseudoscience by the psychiatric establishment. Even if mind control is possible, it is, of course, virtually impossible to prove that any individual person's mind has been controlled.
During the 1990s, Rick Ross, a noted cult intervention expert who allegedly took part in a number of deprogramming sessions, was sued by a former member of a group called the Life Tabernacle Church after an attempt at intervention was unsuccessful. He was ordered to pay damages of about $5 million, though this amount was later rescinded. This legal case was expanded to include a prominent anti-cult group called the Cult Awareness Network (CAN). The judgement was used to force CAN into bankruptcy, and its name and assets were purchased by a representative of Scientology shortly afterwards. This case was seen as effectively closing the door on the practice of deprogramming.
Deprogramming has fallen into disfavor because of its controversial aspects. As a result of the CAN judgement, a number of prominent anti-cult groupss and persons have distanced themselves from the practice, noting that a less intrusive form of intervention called exit counseling has been shown to be more effective, less harmful, and less likely to lead to legal action. Organizations often referred to as cults, such as Scientology, insist that the practice is still commonplace, and they often make statements that their critics and opponents are "deprogrammers."
Ted Patrick, a pioneer of deprogramming in America, said,
See also Totalitarian religious group.