Margaret Singer / Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D. Biography


Margaret Thaler Singer was an expert in cults and sects, brainwashing, and coercive persuasion or coercive mind control (see the page on Coercive Mind Control). She documented the experiences of North Korean POWs, was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize, and received several other awards.


Margaret Singer / Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D. (FACTNet) Margaret Singer

Psychologist Margaret Singer, an expert on brainwashing and cults, died Sunday 23rd November 2003 after a long illness at Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley. She was 82.

A funeral will be held at 1 p.m. on Monday at the McNary-Morgan, Engle and Jackson funeral home, 3630 Telegraph Ave, Oakland. Memorial donations may be sent to the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), P.O. Box 2265, Bonita Springs, FL 34133.

In Memorium:

The "Samurai Grandmother" Margaret Singer has passed away…

I have known Margaret Singer for 23 years. First as a victim of Scientology where Margaret personally counseled me back to sanity. Second as my mentor where I studied everything she would give me to read on cults and mind control and thirdly as a co-creator of FACTNet where Margaret was always on our advisory board assisting and guiding us to wise, rational decisions and actions.

I can truthfully say I have not met another person so gifted in intelligence and strength and so guided by integrity and courage. Though her courageous educational work Margaret reflected the justice of the Divine at archetypal levels. She truly was her nickname in the movement of the Samurai Grandmother.

I could not have gotten my life back if was not for Margaret's wisdom. FACTNet would not exist now nor, would the good FACTNet has done have ever happened --- had it not been for Margaret.

I as an individual and FACTNet as an organization will honor her memory by doing the best we can to spread her wisdom and balance and, by continuing to help the victims of cults and mind control all over the world.

I was privileged to have had many meetings on her kitchen table and many meals with her. I fell in love with who Margaret was as a person. I will miss those conversations and meetings dearly.

Lawrence Wollersheim as an individual and as a Director for FACTNet

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Born in Denver, where her father was the chief engineer at the U.S. Mint, Singer received her degrees from the University of Denver.

She began studying brainwashing in the 1950s at Walter Reed Institute of Research in Washington, D. C., where she interviewed U.S. soldiers taken prisoner during the Korean War.

Singer testified in the 1976 bank robbery trial of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst, who was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. She interviewed more than 3,000 cult members, assisted in more than 200 court cases and was a leading authority on schizophrenia and family therapy.

"My mom spent her whole life assisting other people - victims, parents or lawyers - and often for free," said Sam Singer, a San Francisco public relations consultant.

Occasionally threatened, Singer refused to back down. In a 2002 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, she told how, at 80, she had frightened off someone who'd been leaving menacing notes in her mailbox.

"I've got a 12-gauge shotgun up here with a spray pattern that'll put a three-foot hole in you, sonny, and you'd better get off my porch, or you'll be sorry!" she shouted out the window.

Singer was the author of "Cults in Our Midst," a 1995 study on cults that she revised earlier this year with analysis of the connection between cults and terrorism.

She won the Hofheimer Prize and the Dean Award from the American College of Psychiatrists, among other honors.

Dr. Margaret Singer was a professor of psychiatry at the University of California in San Francisco and in the school of psychology at the University of California in Berkeley. She often appeared as an expert on issues of sects. She was generally concerned with the problems which are caused by "coercive persuasion" and collected experiences of American soldiers who returned home after being held as POWs in North Korea, and recently, of the survivors of the Peoples Temple sect in Guyana in November 1978.

She held a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Award and numerous other scientific awards. She also served as president of the American Psychosomatic Society, as a senior psychologist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and as an advisory editor for professional journals.

"She was a remarkable person — the only genius I ever met in our business," said Daniel Goldstine, chief psychologist of the Berkeley Therapy Institute. "There are simply very few people anywhere who had the clinical skills that she had — period. In addition, she was a world-class researcher.

"She was twice nominated for a Nobel Prize for her work in schizophrenia. That work revealed that the best indicator of the disordered mind was the schizophrenic's odd and peculiar use of language."

She is survived by her husband of 48 years, Jerome, and by her children, Sam and Martha, all of Berkeley.

The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice (SRMHP)

In Memoriam: Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer

November 23, 2003, witnessed the passing of Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer, editorial board member of The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, founding member of the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health, and Professor Emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley. Margaret, who died following a lengthy illness, was 82.

In this era of clichés, the word “giant” is bandied about all too frequently. But Margaret was a genuine giant. She made enormous contributions to the psychological understanding of cults, including the Unification Church, Heaven’s Gate, and the Branch Davidians; and cult therapies, including Synanon and Scientology. Her still-controversial writings on “brainwashing” (a phenomenon she first encountered in the 1950s while interviewing Korean War Veterans at Walter Reed Army Research Institute) helped to clarify the coercive processes that can lead psychologically normal individuals to embrace irrational belief systems.

Margaret was a familiar face in courts of law. She testified on behalf of the defense in 1974 in the Patty Hearst trial, maintaining that Hearst was coerced by her captors. She even interviewed Charles Manson. Margaret also played a prominent role in the trial of Hillside Strangler Kenneth Bianchi, whom she concluded had faked symptoms of multiple personality disorder to escape responsibility for the brutal murders of several women in Los Angeles. In a PBS Frontline documentary titled “The Mind of a Murderer,” Margaret argued that Bianchi was actually a psychopath and she concluded the documentary by suggesting famously, “He may simply be evil.”

Margaret also made important scientific contributions to our understanding of fringe psychotherapies. Her 1995 book Crazy Therapies (Jossey-Bass), coauthored with Janja Lalich, critically examined a broad spectrum of unsubstantiated and controversial treatments, including rebirthing, recovered memory methods, facilitated communication, thought field therapy, and neural organization technique. This book also offered valuable tips to mental health consumers for avoiding dangerous treatments. Singer and Abraham Nievod’s chapter, “New Age Therapies,” in our (Lilienfeld, Lynn, & Lohr) 2003 book, Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology (Guilford), provided a penetrating analysis of various strange therapies, including satanic ritual abuse therapy, rebirthing and reparenting therapy, and evil entities therapy, and traced their sociological and historical roots. This chapter should be mandatory reading for all mental health students and professionals.

I was fortunate to have met Margaret once (she appeared on a panel on pseudoscientific therapies I organized at the 2001 American Psychological Association conference in San Francisco) and to have corresponded with her on numerous occasions. Margaret was warm, generous, opinionated, spunky, brilliant, and wickedly funny. She was also exceptionally courageous and refused to be intimidated by recurring threats from leaders and members of cult groups. A year before her death, she told a reporter, “I might look like a little old grandma, but I’m no pushover.”

Margaret will be sorely missed by all of us at The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, but her remarkable intellectual influence will live on. We dedicate this issue of The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice in her honor.

Scott O. Lilienfeld
Emory University

Margaret Singer (Wikipedia)

Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer, (1921–2003) was a clinical psychologist and Professor Emeritus of the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, U.S.[1]

Singer's main areas of research included schizophrenia, family therapy, brainwashing and coercive persuasion. Singer performed research at the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine, Walter Reed Army Medical Center Institute of Research, the National Institute of Mental Health, the United States Air Force and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She received many awards for her work, including the Leo J. Ryan Memorial Award, the Research Scientist Award from the National Institute of Mental Health, and both the Hofheimer Prize and the Stanley R. Dean Award from the American College of Psychiatrists.

In the 1960s she began to study the nature of cults and mind control and served on the board of the American Family Foundation. She is the author of the book Cults in Our Midst. She gave expert testimony in several cult-related trials, including the 1976 trial of Patty Hearst, who had previously been kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the 1977 hearing for five members of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.

In 1987, as head of the APA taskforce on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control for the American Psychological Association, Singer oversaw the production of a report that was later rejected by the APA's Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology. Thereafter, Singer's expert testimony in four subsequent cases was not accepted. In 1992 she sued the APA for "defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy", but in 1994 she lost.[2]

Articles in The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times reported complaints by Singer and her family that she had been enduring harassment and death threats due to her "battles" with the cults.

Coercive Mind Control Tactics