The Scientology Idea That Found Its Way Into Court-Ordered Addiction Programs

Photo: Ullstein Bild

America has a huge problem with pseudoscience in its addiction-treatment programs, especially when those programs are court-mandated for folks trying to avoid jail time as a result of drug charges. To take one example I noted recently — drawn from Maia Szalavitz’s excellent new book Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction — many such programs rely on the harmful, thoroughly outdated notion that folks struggling with addiction need to “hit rock bottom” before they can get better.

For another recent example — a bizarre one involving Scientology — read this article at the drug- and addiction-oriented publication The Influence by associate editor Sarah Beller. Beller’s article helpfully traces the origins of “Moral Reconation Therapy,” which she describes as the “primary drug treatment [program] used in the US criminal justice system.” And yet MRT is a program, Beller explains, that basically no bona fide addiction experts have heard of or view as empirically supported (even though it’s listed, as she notes, on the U.S. government’s registry of “evidence-based” addiction-treatment programs).

Beller’s article is one of those thorough investigative pieces that is hard to sum up, but one part jumps out as particularly bizarre and is worth highlighting. Beller discovered that MRT’s primary text given to every participant in the program, How To Escape Your Prison, relies in part on the idea of a “freedom ladder.” “Immediately upon your birth, you ‘fell from grace’ and began your descent down the freedom ladder,” explains the text, according to Beller. Presumably, those suffering from addiction must climb up the freedom ladder to escape their condition.

Where did this idea come from? I’ll let Beller take it from here:

When the word “Scientology” began cropping up in my searches in connection with Smothermon, I delved deeper, and suddenly noticed a shocking similarity, one that was clearly not coincidental: MRT’s Freedom Ladder is an almost direct replica of Scientology’s “Life Conditions.”

Both include the stages, in the same descending order, of: “Normal,” “Emergency,” “Danger,” and “Non-Existence.” Then, Scientology has “Liability, while MRT has “Injury;” Scientology has “Doubt” while MRT has “Uncertainty;” and last, Scientology has “Treason” where MRT has “Disloyalty.”

The Scientology Handbook says that the “conditions” are “states of existence.” There is something called the “ethics conditions” which “identify these states and provide formulas—exact steps which one can use to move from one condition to another higher and more survival condition.”

“Ethics is the means by which he can raise himself to a higher condition and improve his survival.”

Beller is measured in her argument — she notes that MRT “seems to have left behind” various excesses of Scientology. “And overall,” she writes, “MRT seems less like a part of some nefarious Scientology plot to infiltrate the prison system, more a mish-mash of psychobabble picked haphazardly from 1970s self-actualization talk, Christianity, AA and yes, Scientology.” Still: It’s mind-boggling to think that this is the foundation for treatment of countless Americans struggling with addiction, that they’re being ordered by the court system to “climb” a “freedom ladder” ensconced in Scientological eschatology.

If you want to learn more about this “treatment” “program” from How To Escape Your Prison — well, you can’t. “When I tried to order some books from [the company that administers MRT to prisoner’s] website, I was informed that only people who have undergone the patented MRT training can even order the book,” said Beller. “Basic trainings cost around $600 to attend.” Oh well — I’m sure it works great.

Court-Ordered Drug Treatment Draws on Scientology