Why therapists weren’t allowed to join NXIVM, the alleged sex cult disguised as a self-help group

  • Former NXIVM member Sarah Edmondson told Insider that top-ranking members of the cult barred therapists from joining. They said this was because therapists would steal Raniere's teachings.
  • Since leaving NXIVM, Edmondson said, she believes this was because any therapist who attended trainings would "see through" the manipulation tactics (as her mother did).
  • NXIVM founder and leader Keith Raniere used bonafide psychology techniques to brainwash his followers.
  • He rebranded therapy methods as his own, calling them the "Executive Success Program."
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Leaders of NXIVM, the alleged sex cult covered up as a self-improvement multi-level marketing company, banned trained therapists from joining the group.

Former NXIVM member Sarah Edmondson, who was coerced into being branded with leader Keith Raniere's initials, told Insider that executives of the group wouldn't allow licensed psychologists to come to the group's trainings.

Leaders also barred life coaches or consultants, except for certain cases if top officials interviewed them and deemed them acceptable.

High-ranking NXIVM members told lower-ranking ones that therapists were barred because Raniere's self-improvement methods were so helpful and original, psychologists would steal them and use them as their own.

However, Edmondson, whose mother is a therapist, now believes that this rule (and the explanation for it) was a cover-up used to protect Raniere.

Raniere used science-backed psychology techniques, rebranding them as his own creation, with jargon he invented like "rational inquiry" and "exploration of meaning." He called his method "ESP," or Executive Success Program. Billing himself as a guru, he used the method to manipulate members into sharing personal information.

Raniere charged thousands of dollars for members to take these courses, which he claimed contained original and groundbreaking self-help methods. But if professionals caught wind of his teachings, they'd realize the lessons were rehashed teachings a psychology master's degree student learned in class.

"Really, I think it was: Keith knew that if a therapist came, they'd be able to see through it," Edmondson told Insider.

Edmondson's therapist mother had to be screened before attending NXIVM events

Edmondson's parents both work in the counseling realm. Her mother is a licensed therapist, and her father is a counselor.

She said her mother always "saw through" NXIVM's guise of self-improvement. She would ask Edmondson "discerning questions" about the company's inner workings, though she still supported her daughter because she didn't want to push her away.

"She didn't know the extent of everything that we know now, but she certainly didn't buy Keith as a thought leader. She totally thought he was a megalomaniac," Edmondson, who was part of NXIVM for 15 years, said.

Since leaving the cult, Edmondson said she believes  leaders' demands to interview her mother before she attend NXIVM events in support of her daughter were a way to keep their methods under wraps.

Anyone who questioned whether Raniere's methods were original was billed a 'suppressive'

According to Edmondson, people who came to NXIVM after already dabbling in other self-improvement workshops would often say that Raniere's methods were nothing new.

The cult's leaders would have a rebuttal to those statements.

"We were taught to be like, 'Well, they're just being suppressive. They're not paying tribute to what Keith has built, or they're just not discerning enough to see how this is different.' You know, that s— like that," Edmondson said.

Now Edmondson sees how Raniere harnessed cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of talk therapy that helps patients change unhealthy thinking patterns, to use members' emotions and vulnerable moments against them.

The most common way NXIVM members would therapize their actions was through an EM, or "exploration of meaning" — a term Raniere created. 

During an EM, a member and a high-ranking NXIVM teacher would sit in chairs, facing each other, while a group of other members watched. The member would explain an area of their life they were having trouble in, like feeling anxious about a job interview, and the teacher would ask questions to see if the anxiety was rooted in a specific memory or pattern in their past.

This framework only turned vulnerability into a commodity or "highly valued currency," therapist Kelly Scott of Tribeca Therapy previously told Insider.

"I think there is a way that group absolutely fetishizes vulnerability. Actually, the more accurate way of saying that is they fetishize exploitation," Scott said, adding that the group mentality allowed more and more people to buy into that system.

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