There has never been a standard procedure among deprogrammers; descriptions in anecdotal reports, studies, and interviews with former deprogrammers vary greatly. Deprogrammers generally operate on the presumption that the people they are paid to extract from religious organizations are victims of mind control (or brainwashing). Books written by deprogrammers and exit counselors say that the most essential part of freeing the mind of a person is to convince the subject that he or she had been under the mental control of others.
Ted Patrick, one of the pioneers of deprogramming, used a confrontational method, enlisting psychiatrists and psychologists to assist him in the deprogramming process. Patrick was tried and convicted of multiple felonies related to kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment of deprogramming subjects.
Sylvia Buford, an associate of Ted Patrick who has assisted him on many deprogrammings, described five stages of deprogramming:
- Discredit the figure of authority: the cult leader
- Present contradictions (ideology versus reality): “How can he preach love when he exploits people?” is an example.
- The breaking point: When a subject begins to listen to the deprogrammer; when reality begins to take precedence over ideology.
- Self-expression: When the subject begins to open up and voice gripes against the cult.
- Identification and transference: when the subject begins to identify with the deprogrammers, starts to think as an opponent of the cult rather than as a member.