Mercy Multiplied, formerly Mercy Ministries, is a network of mental health facilities that treat young women, ages 13-28, with prayer, Bible verses and Christian counseling.
According to its website, Mercy "is a nonprofit Christian organization dedicated to helping young women break free from life-controlling behaviors and situations, including eating disorders, self-harm, drug and alcohol addictions, unplanned pregnancy, depression, sexual abuse, and sex trafficking. We hope to help every woman we serve experience God’s unconditional love, forgiveness, and life-transforming power."
Mercy has reportedly treated nearly 3,000 women in its religiously-oriented centers, which take in young women for free; an appealing prospect in the underfunded U.S. mental heath system that often serves only those who can afford care.
A group called "Mercy Survivors" - past patients the patients' families and ex-employees - recently told Slate that Mercy advertises scientific treatments, but uses faith healing, guilt and spiritual manipulation to treat every mental health issue.
Members of the group say Mercy has withheld their prescription medication and used controversial memory therapy with patients.
The group added that mentally ill or traumatized patients are actually at risk because Mercy's employees don't have formal clinical training.
Christian counseling often goes unregulated because of gaps in the U.S. mental health care system. But the therapy still appeals to Christian families because they may have skepticism or prejudice against what they see as godless secular health care.
Mercy was founded by Nancy Alcorn, who used to work at the Tennessee Department of Corrections and in the Nashville Department of Children’s Services.
In 1983, she reportedly believed that God was calling her to set up free mental health services for at-risk girls; the first facility opened in Monroe, Louisiana, in 1983.
Mercy currently has an $8.5 million budget that is funded by churches around the U.S., as well as Christian finance author/speaker Dave Ramsey, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee, gospel singer CeCe Winans, Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher and evangelist/author Joyce Meyer, notes Slate.
"In secular treatment, the focus is on changing behavior, which is temporary and gives surface results," the 61-year-old Alcorn wrote in her book "Ditch the Baggage, Change Your Life."
"Behavior modification is not the answer," Alcorn added. "It offers no heart change."
Alcorn also believes that young women can overcome deceptions of the "enemy" via Jesus Christ.
Christy Singleton, Mercy’s executive director, confirmed to Slate in an email that Mercy doesn't require counselors to be licensed mental health practitioners.
"They say they do clinical interventions, but I wasn’t allowed to use my clinical experience," one ex-counselor said.
According to the ex-counselor, she was instructed to walk patients through the same seven-step program, which included readings, papers and sermons on audio; all of which was required for one-on-one counseling.
Several former Mercy patients told Slate that Mercy employees yelled at demons to leave the bodies of patients.
Mercy's website says: "As a Christian organization, Mercy believes that spiritual warfare is real and that prayer plays an important role in healing and spiritual growth. We do not perform or endorse exorcisms as part of our program. Our emphasis is on the power of God’s grace and unconditional love to help hurting young women overcome addictions and past hurts."
Singleton told Slate that the enemy is not an evil force, "but the lies we tell ourselves."
Slate notes that Alcorn said in a 2008 speech that Mercy "deals with areas of demonic oppression," and added:
"If there’s demonic activity, like if somebody has opened themselves up to the spirit of lust or pornography or lots of promiscuous sexual activity, then we’ve opened the door for demonic powers. And secular psychiatrists want to medicate things like that, but Jesus did not say to medicate a demon. He said to cast them out. And that’s supposed to be a part of normal Christianity."
Mercy's seven-step counseling model includes a step called "Freedom From Oppression," but prior to 2009 it was entitled "Demonic Oppression," according to three former patients.
"We’re [working] with women who need help from self-reported destructive patterns," Singleton told Slate. "They are going to be unhappy with us, if they don’t get to the place they want."