Mercy Ministries and destructive mind contol: The Questionnaire

Consider this the official launch of the Mercy Survivors questionnaire on dynamics of destructive mind control at Mercy Ministries!

The questionnaire is intended for former residents of Mercy Ministries, and is designed to gather data which will help assess the level of correlation between the Mercy Ministries experience and Steven Hassan’s BITE model of destructive mind control.

If you are a former resident of Mercy Ministries, please consider having your say by completing this questionnaire.

If you are not a former resident, please forward this link to any former residents of Mercy Ministries in your network who may be interested.

Finally, if you are on Facebook, Twitter or email, please help us spread the word so we can gather as much data as possible.

PLEASE CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE QUESTIONNAIRE

"Will Mercy Ministries change therapy?"

This article originally appeared in the Lincoln News Messenger as a letter to the editor in response to the recent series of articles they published on Mercy Ministries.  It can be viewed here.

How will we know for sure if Mercy Ministries is who they say they are?  How will we know for sure if they are a cult? 

If Mercy Ministries responds to these and future allegations (there are more coming in the future, I firmly believe, and ones potentially even more damaging and heartbreaking) by making wholesale, transparent changes to their methods of treatment and therapy (not just minor tweaks but significant changes), then that is the sign of a healthy organization capable of making changes to better treat their patients. 

If, on the other hand, they continue with the status quo, we will know that Mercy is a cult and a destructive one at that.  A cult, by its very nature, does not change its methods in a meaningful way, no matter how damaging the allegations, how strong the evidence their wrongdoing is, no matter how much changing would benefit themselves and everyone else. 

A cult is incapable of meaningful change.  A cult will keep repeating the same lies, maintaining the status quo and this was Mercy’s undoing in Australia. 

The status quo is unacceptable, due to their use of poor therapy methods and mind control.  This is how Mercy reacted in Australia, and if Mercy continues to react the same way, the U.S. homes will ultimately meet the same fate and rightly so.

Russ Judson, Minneapolis

"Mercy Ministries needs more than the Bible for its treatment methods"

The following article by the editor of Lincoln News Messenger, Carol Feineman, was published on 14 March 2012 and can be viewed here.

Mercy Ministries needs more than the Bible for its treatment methods

Our front-page story on Mercy Ministries points out serious health risks.

It wasn’t easy to report.

We don’t want to negatively portray a faith-based organization and possibly hurt its reputation.

The international nonprofit organization helps females with life-threatening situations.

Its facilities are in Lincoln; Monroe, La.; Nashville, Tenn.; St. Louis, Mo., Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Mercy Ministries opened a 23,000-square-foot residential facility in October 2009 at 1896 McLain Drive in Lincoln.

Mercy Ministries helps females between the ages of 13 and 28 who “face a combination of life-controlling issues such as eating disorders, self-harm, drug and alcohol addictions, depression and unplanned pregnancy,” according to its website (mercyministries.org).

On its website, Mercy Ministries gives scores of stories of females turning their lives around via a spiritual focus.

For instance, 2011 graduate Heather said, “ … The Lord showed me that my body is beautifully and carefully designed by Him and that nothing can change my value to Him. I met Jesus at Mercy, and I see myself as beautiful through His eyes…”

And 2012 graduate Nicole said, “While at Mercy, the staff showed me love that I had never experienced before. I realized that I needed to fully surrender to God and let go of control. I learned that God has a plan for my life and that I am forgiven, pure and accepted… ”

In addition, The News Messenger talked to two women who said they overcame their problems at Mercy Ministries. One woman was at the Lincoln facility and the other at the St. Louis facility. They were enthusiastic about the faith-based organization.

However, The News Messenger also heard from two concerned fathers.

One father said his anorexic daughter did not receive the right treatment in Lincoln. The other said his drug/alcohol-using daughter did not receive the right treatment in Monroe.

While their daughters had different issues, treatment and outcomes were similar for both, according to the fathers. Through Mercy Ministries’ recovered memory therapy, the daughters remembered being sexually abused by them, their fathers told The News Messenger in separate conversations. The fathers said those claims were false.

While it would be so much easier to take the 29-year-old organization at its word, we have to listen to what the fathers are saying.

Because eating disorders are deadly.

They have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. A National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders study found that five to 10 percent of those with anorexia die within 10 years after the disease’s onset; 18 to 20 percent die after 20 years. Only 30 to 40 percent fully recover.

That doesn’t include mortality statistics for those with bulimia or those who binge eat.

“It’s a mental disorder but it affects the physical systems,” said Susie Roman, the National Eating Disorders Association’s program director. “It increases the rate of heart attacks, heart failure; the suicide rate is elevated for those who suffer. All your organ systems are affected.”

Someone with an eating disorder might die without the appropriate medical treatment.

Eight to 10 million girls and women and one million boys and men struggle today with this disease in the United States, according to Jennifer Lombardi, MFT, Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program’s chief admissions officer.

Headquartered in Sacramento, Summit treats those with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders in a medically supervised program. Summit is recognized by the national Joint Commission on Health Care Accreditation. The commission’s mission

is ”to continuously improve health care for the public … by evaluating health care organizations and inspiring them to excel in providing safe and effective care of the highest quality and value.”

Mercy Ministries is not accredited with the commission.

Christy Singleton, the Mercy Ministries executive director in Nashville, Tenn., told The News Messenger that her organization’s treatment does not involve doctors. The Lincoln facility has a registered nurse on site, according to Singleton.

Mercy Ministries “includes biblically-based counseling and teaching, life skills training and transitional care services,” according to its website. It provides a “Christian residential program for young women who want help.” Its mission is “to provide opportunities for young women to experience God’s unconditional love, forgiveness, and life-transforming power.”

For individuals with eating disorders, though, the Bible as doctor is not a viable treatment option. Medical hands-on treatment is imperative.

“Treatment guidelines from the American Psychiatric Association recommend a medical component (a physician monitors the patient’s vital signs very closely because clients are high risk), a nutritional component (seeing a dietician at least once or twice weekly) and a therapeutic component (individual, couple and group therapy),” Lombardi said.

Even health-related professionals don’t always know about the disease’s potentially fatal consequences.

“We get referrals from professionals who don’t understand the risks involved because of the high mortality rate,” Lombardi said. “There are both short- and long-term consequences with cardiac issues, osteoporosis, tears in their esophagus. Professionals across the board don’t necessarily receive extensive training on eating disorders. For example, in my graduate program, the training on eating disorders was a 10-minute discussion. Just like any other area of specialization, it’s critical to obtain special training and continuing education.”

Lombardi was referring to doctors and therapists.

In Lincoln, Mercy Ministries employs a registered nurse, according to Singleton.

However, the community relations manager in Lincoln refused to tell The News Messenger Tuesday if a nurse is on staff.

Mercy Ministries has been in controversy before.

In October 2009, Mercy Ministries Australia closed after ministry officials agreed to pay damages to residents. The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia ran an article Oct. 28, 2009 that said Mercy Ministries “prevented the residents gaining access to psychiatric care, choosing to focus on prayer, Christian counseling and exorcisms to “expel demons” from the young women, many of whom had serious psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, anxiety and anorexia.”

Sounds like déjà vu, just in Lincoln.

For the sake of the residents, I hope Mercy Ministries’ leaders will incorporate medical treatment in their care. The residents’ lives depend on it.

"Mercy Ministries responds to its critics"

This article by Stephanie Dumm was originally published in the Lincoln News Messenger on 14 March 2012 in response to the article “Mercy Ministries: Two fathers views“, and can be viewed here.

Mercy Ministries responds to its critics

Handling of eating disorders questioned by fathers

Photo by Michael Kirby The outside of the Mercy Ministries facility in Lincoln is near the airport. Although a photo shoot was promised by Mercy Ministries, staff told The News Messenger Tuesday to photograph only the outside of the building.

Counseling techniques performed by Mercy Ministries have been called into question lately by at least two fathers.

Mercy Ministries is a faith-based nonprofit organization that helps females between the ages of 13 and 28 work through their major issues at residential facilities, according to its website, mercyministries.

org. It is headquartered in Nashville, Tenn.

Mercy Ministries facilities are in Lincoln; Nashville; Monroe, La.; St. Louis, Mo.; and in Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The two fathers told The News Messenger that Mercy’s use of recovered memory therapy caused their daughters to sever ties with family.

Recovered memory therapy is not a form of treatment performed by Mercy Ministries, according to Mercy Ministries headquarters spokeswoman Eve Annunziato in Nashville, Tenn.

The News Messenger summarized the complaints made by both fathers for Annunziato. (See the fathers’ stories on page A18.)

Annunziato did not directly address the specific complaints but gave the following statement: “As would be expected in a program that deals with women who have suffered abuse and other trauma during their lives, there are often family dynamics, which are communicated by the women to us in confidentiality. Mercy Ministries follows standard confidentiality regulations and recognizes that the women we serve are adults making their own decisions. Thus, outside family members and/or persons involved in their lives would not be privy to conversations or discussions within the Mercy program unless the woman herself decides to communicate externally.”

Photo by Michael Kirby Mercy Ministries van is in its parking lot, one of the few allowable photographs The News Messenger was allowed to take Tuesday during its previously-agreed-upon photo shoot.

The News Messenger visited the Lincoln facility at 1896 McClain Drive Tuesday to take photos and ask about staffing there. Mercy Ministries’ California community relations manager Stephanie Vierstra said on Tuesday, however, that the newspaper couldn’t take pictures inside as planned. She also refused to say what the staffing is there and whether nurses and doctors work there. Vierstra said to contact Annunziato.

On March 5, Mercy Ministries executive director Christy Singleton, who is based in Nashville, told The News Messenger that there were no doctors at the facility.

“The Mercy Ministries counseling curriculum combines biblical principles of healing and unconditional love with best-practice clinical interventions and has been developed over nearly three decades of experience,” Annunziato said. “Mercy Ministries is a free-of-charge Christian residential program for women ages 18 to 28 who choose to come into our program of their own volition to receive help and assistance and recovery from past issues such as abuse, trauma, eating disorders, self-harm, depression and other life-controlling issues.

There are “40 beds available for 40 girls” at the Lincoln home, according to Annunziato.

Annunziato said that Mercy Ministries counselors have degrees in counseling or psychology.

“Many have master’s degrees and meet or exceed state licensing requirements,” Annunziato said.

There are five counselors at the Lincoln home, according to Annunziato, and one nurse.

She said the counselors “identify root causes for destructive behavior” and “equip residents with life skills and the ability to permanently avoid destructive behaviors.”

Annunziato said that “this can be frustrating to persons unfamiliar with confidential rules and standard counseling practices.”

Since Mercy Ministries is not considered a medical facility, executive director Singleton said, “none of our homes have doctors on staff.”

“We do have an RN (registered nurse),” Singleton said.

As far as treating eating disorders goes, Singleton said, a girl would have a “certain BMI (body mass index) to meet prior to attending the program.

“They have to be considered medically stable by a doctor before they come to us,” Singleton said. “We have to rely on a doctor’s release for someone to be there. We rely on that third-party assessment.”

Mercy Ministries’ Lincoln home is licensed with the state of California under the California Department of Social Services Community Care Licensing Division, according to Annunziato.

Michael Weston, the Department of Social Services spokesman, said Tuesday that Mercy “has a good compliance history with us.”

When asked if his department would investigate Mercy Ministries due to the fathers’ claims of their daughters’ experience at Mercy, Weston said it’s “not an area we have the authority to regulate.”

“Really, you are talking about an issue involving two adults and those aren’t things we have the authority to regulate,” Weston said. “We have regulations regarding health and safety of clients, but when you are talking about somebody receiving treatment, that’s not an area where we have jurisdictional authority.”

How an eating disorder treatment center treats the disease

The News Messenger talked to Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program staff in Sacramento, a medically-supervised treatment center.

Nurses “are always on hand” at Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program, according to Summit’s director of admissions, Jennifer Lombardi.

“Because eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder, there is a high degree of medical risk that people are not aware of and that’s why we have nurses,” Lombardi said. “Ten percent of people with eating disorders die and the No. 1 cause of death is cardiac arrest and then suicide.”

Lombardi said Summit does not use recovered memory therapy.

“Certainly, we are not going to dismiss if a patient brings an issue up. We might gently explore it but we also (say to them), ‘Lets get your behaviors in check,’” Lombardi said. “Sometimes, throughout the course of treatment, patients may have memories they may not have realized or acknowledged.”

Summit provides three levels of care for eating disorders, Lombardi said.

One is partial hospitalization in an outpatient center, Lombardi said, and patients are there a minimum of six hours a day, five days a week.

“This is for patients who need a lot of structure and supervision but are not medically compromised to the point where they need 24/7 supervision,” Lombardi said.

Summit also provides intensive outpatient, which is three to four days a week for three hours a day.

“That’s primarily groups and individual therapy,” Lombardi said.

The last level is outpatient therapy, which she said could be once or twice weekly therapy involving a dietician and/or a support group.

“We have a medical doctor, two full-time psychiatrists, three full-time dieticians, two nurses, a medical assistant and then 12 licensed therapists,” Lombardi said. “With our partial program, they are with us seven days a week, 11 hours a day when they first start. We do meals and snacks with them, do individual or couples counseling, daily medical monitoring and then weekly labs.”

Lombardi said treatment of eating disorders is first focused on getting the patient medically stable. Then therapy is done.

“We’ll start looking at underlying issues, such as if they had trauma or triggers that can fuel the fire or are perpetuating the need for the illness,” Lombardi said. “We do work with patients in terms of identifying triggering factors and working with a support system so they have good communication.”

How Mercy Ministries provides treatment for various problems

At Mercy Ministries, Singleton describes the faith-based facility as being a “discipleship program.”

“They are learning to make choices on their own, which is why they need to be medically stable,” Singleton said. “Obviously, we are very much wanting to make sure a girl is medically stable, and if that doesn’t seem to be the case, we utilize the medical system.”

Singleton stressed that Mercy is a “voluntary program.”

“The girls come and tell us their story and what they want to work on as far as getting counseling and getting past their issues. It’s generated by them, not us,” Singleton said. “On our end, the goal is getting them wholeness and fullness of life and getting them to a place of not harboring bitterness or feeling like they’re not able to forgive.”

Singleton said that the girls who seek treatment from Mercy “are choosing to come.”

The News Messenger asked Singleton what she had to say regarding Miller claiming his daughter was threatened with being kicked out for not learning fast enough.

“It’s an individualized program and there are certainly benchmarks for the program,” Singleton said. “I’ve never heard of anyone being kicked out.”

Annunziato said Mercy does not take funding from the government.

“One hundred percent of all our money comes in through private donations from churches and businesses. You can see where every penny comes in and is spent if you go on our website,” Annunziato said.

Mercy also does not charge girls for attending the program.

“We don’t want them to think we are making money off of their pain,” Annunziato said.

Mercy Ministries has received negative press before

The Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian newspaper, reported in October 2009 that Mercy Ministries closed its Australia home because of financial challenges.

The Herald reported that the “program prevented the residents gaining access to psychiatric care, choosing to focus on prayer, Christian counseling and exorcisms to ‘expel demons’ from the young women.”

Annunziato told The News Messenger Tuesday that “Mercy Australia closed, due to losing its funding source.”

“One very important note, the Mercy Australian home was independent of the U.S. homes. They were a completely separate entity, had a separate board, separate funding and separate staff,” Annunziato said. “Mercy Ministries of America (MMOA) did not have oversight over the Australian operation. It would be a false statement to imply that MMOA had responsibility for MMAU (Mercy Australia).”

But The Tennessean, a newspaper based out of Nashville, reported in December 2009 that Mercy Ministries was affiliated with the Australian home.

The founder of Mercy Australia was reported as being friends with Mercy Ministries of America founder Nancy Alcorn in The Tennessean article.

The 2009 article also said, “Mercy Australia was an independent charity, with no oversight from Nashville, said Christy Singleton, spokesperson for Mercy Ministries of Australia.

The Tennessean reported that “Mercy now has stricter controls for overseas programs,” and that “all homes now have to sign a ministry collaboration agreement.”

"Mercy Ministries: Two fathers views"

This article by Stephanie Dumm originally appeared in the Lincoln News Messenger on 14 March 2012, and can be viewed here.

Mercy Ministries: Two fathers views

Photo by Michael Kirby
Girls staying at Mercy Ministries in Jan. 2010 relax after a morning class and before lunch. Mercy Ministries of America’s executive director Cissy Etheridge led the morning class. The News Messenger was not able to get new photos for this story because Mercy would not allow photos to be taken inside the building.

A Mercy Ministries spokeswoman said the following fathers’ claims are false.

When James Smith’s* 18-year-old daughter went to Lincoln’s Mercy Ministries in 2010, he didn’t know she would later sever ties with the family.

Smith’s daughter attended Mercy Ministries to get help with an eating disorder, which he said she’d “struggled with” since the age of 11.

“She had actually been through a couple of treatment centers before,” said Smith, a Minnesota resident. “She had noticed Mercy online and they have a really good website. They boast a 93 percent success rate and have all of these success stories.”

Prior to his daughter leaving for Mercy, Smith said he researched the organization and didn’t like what he saw.

“I found a couple of websites I was concerned about, with people who had problems,” Smith said. “We talked about it and she passed them off as atheists who don’t understand Christianity and Christian-based healing.”

Smith found online articles and blogs ranging from calling Mercy a cult to stories about girls having trouble after leaving Mercy or being kicked out of the program.

“Since then, I’ve found a lot more and I wish I would have known these things before she went,” Smith said.

Nevertheless, Smith’s daughter was 18 at the time so his permission to attend was not needed. She entered Mercy in March 2010 and graduated in March 2011.

In June, Smith said, he received a phone call from a Mercy’s counselor.

“She made it a point to say, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not about you guys but she’s having recovered memories of sexual abuse,’” Smith said. “It wasn’t about us; it was about school mates.”

Smith said Mercy had done what’s called “recovered memory therapy” on his daughter, and she said the sexual abuse occurred when she was in third-grade.

“I remember just recalling that it was a controversial subject but we didn’t voice concerns about that at the time,” Smith said. “After that, we stayed in regular communications. We were allowed to talk once a week on the phone for 15 minutes.”

A few months later, Smith said, he and his wife received a letter from their daughter saying she didn’t wish to be contacted by them any longer.

“We wondered why and she said she had her boundaries and that was very concerning,” Smith said.

What was more concerning to Smith and his wife was when they received an emergency room bill in the mail two months later.

“My wife called Mercy and they said she had attempted suicide,” Smith said. “We had not been notified.”

In February 2011, Smith and his wife received a letter from their daughter, saying she was graduating from the program but they were not welcome there.

After graduation, which the Smiths didn’t attend, they received a letter from their daughter “out of the blue, saying I want to come home.”

“She made plans to come back home. She came back and everything seemed OK,” Smith said. “It seemed like we had a good relationship.”

Her visit was short-lived.

“Three days after she got home, she said she was here for a visit and she said we had misunderstood,” Smith said.

Either that day or the next day, Smith said, his wife discovered their daughter’s graduation testimony.

“In her testimony, she said I had molested her from 4 to 17,” Smith said.

He said her memories of sexual abuse by him are “false” and that he never sexually abused his daughter.

His daughter returned to California to live with a Mercy host family, and while Smith hasn’t been able to talk to his daughter, he has spoken with the host family.

“They are not adversarial and they say, when she’s ready, they are encouraging her (to contact her family),” Smith said.

David Miller* had a similar story to tell The News Messenger.

Miller, who is from Illinois, said his daughter attended Mercy’s Monroe, La., facility seven years ago, for help with drug and alcohol abuse.

“My daughter had made some poor decisions while going to college on her own and that brought up drinking and led to drugs. She got kicked out of school at the end of her third year,” Miller said. “She had been raised in a Christian home and her goal was to find a Christian-fix for why she was making these choices.”

His daughter chose Mercy Ministries. While there, Miller said, “mind-regression therapy” was performed.

“In the mind-regression therapy, they try to go back and find something in your past and childhood that triggers you to do this (behavior),” Miller said.

Prior to that, Miller said, the director at the home called to say his daughter would be “kicked out” of the program after eight months of treatment.

“They said, ‘She is too rebellious and can’t have a breakthrough,” Miller said. “I pleaded with them. I said, if she doesn’t find a solution, how is she supposed to move forward with life? They agreed to try for another 30 days.”

One month later, Miller’s daughter wouldn’t return his phone calls, according to Miller. Two months later, he said, his daughter called to say she was graduating but her family couldn’t be there.

“She now tells us what happened after we pleaded. They went through two to three nights of sexual abuse films and talks with regards to young ladies sexually abused,” Miller said.

A counselor sat down with Miller’s daughter and said “I wonder if it could have been something regarding that,” according to Miller.

“The counselor said there’s a breakthrough. They said we’ll have to deliver you from those demons,” Miller said. “After being brainwashed for nine months, these people had convinced her that their word was the word of God and she had to accept their word as authority, as if it was a message from God.”

Miller’s daughter severed ties with the family upon returning back to Illinois, saying she had been sexually abused at the hands of her father.

Miller said he never sexually abused his daughter.

“After 20 months, now she is married and very unsettled and extremely depressed. She said (to her now ex-husband) I miss my mom and dad, and he said that doesn’t sound like someone who was abused,” Miller said. “We met for dinner one night and she broke down crying and asked for forgiveness. She said, ‘I never had any memories of being abused, I don’t know why I said those things.’”

After taking his daughter to the doctor after their reunion, Miller said she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which is being treated with medication.

“She is extremely productive and just got an increase in her job,” Miller said. Names have been changed to protect privacy.

The language of Mercy

This piece by Mercy Survivor Sarah is a precursor to a series of three pieces on abusive dynamics at Mercy Ministries, particularly the use of loaded language, and how the bible is distorted and bent into a weapon of mind control.  This piece was originally published on her personal blog and can be viewed at Sarah’s Collage.

http://i1.wp.com/www.pittsburghurbanmedia.com/clientfiles/image/chain%20brain%202.jpg?resize=239%2C203I have a few pieces in the pipeline about the words used at Mercy Ministries.

I was inspired by a recent blog post of a fellow Mercy survivor friend called “Loading the Language“.  Loaded language can be found in cults and destructive groups.  As I read it this piece, I began to recall many words used at Mercy – their ambiguity, the unspoken messages they carried and the sometimes changing meanings.

For the disclaimer, I feel it pertinent to mention that these pieces are not intended as a critique of the beliefs or methods behind the Mercy Ministries program, as much as I may have to say about certain things.  Rather, my goal in these particular pieces is to explore how the loaded language used by Mercy Ministries contributes to and maintains the two contrasting images – that which is conveyed to the general public and hopeful applicants, and the wicca (“witchcraft”, literally “to bend” or “to twist”) that I and others experienced behind closed doors.

Part I:   “Mercy appropriate

Part II:  “You are unwilling to change

Part III: “Touch not the Lord’s anointed -The doctrine of immunity

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