The process of this mental reprogramming is described in various ways. Many of the concepts come from the USA and are hard to translate. The terms most used are brainwashing, mental programming, thought reform, conciousness control and coercive persuasion.
Brainwashing may be the most well-known of these. It was coined in 1951 by Edward Hunter. The journalist used the term to describe the process whereby American prisoners in the Korean War suddenly rearranged their value systems and confessed to fictitious war crimes. Under Mao Tse Tung, millions of people in China were made to accept new value systems and new behavior through re-education programs -- without the use of physical force. At that time the primary object of change was political conviction, but today the alteration of one's concept of self takes the forefront. The use of physical force has been abandoned a long time ago. 'All research that I and others have conducted clearly show that imprisonment and application of force are not prerequisites but just the opposite, they are counterproductive when it comes to altering the attitudes and the behavior of humans. If you really want to turn someone around, then the gentler methods are cheaper, less conspicuous and highly effective,' wrote Margaret Singer, one of the best psycho-cult experts. 'The old saying that you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar also applies today.'
Coercive Persuasion can be much more effective than pain, torture, drugs or the application of physical violence and threats, states a document published on this theme by the American Supreme Court. The application of violence is the old model of brainwashing. Non-violent brainwashing is essentially much more effective, it says. Using violence the behavior of the subject can be changed, but not his conviction. Using coercive persuasion, not only can the conviction of the person be altered, but this is done without him knowing or agreeing to it. The person acts as his manipulator wants him to.
The occasion for the above document from the highest court was the case of Wollersheim vs. Scientology. The former Scientologist sued the psycho-sect in 1989. Wollersheim had been audited by Scientologists and put under pressure and had to get psychiatric treatment after he left. Regardless of Scientology being a religion or not, the Court only investigated the conduct and the methods of the organization. It came to the conclusion that methods of "brainwashing" were used in auditing, and that this contributed to a significant degree to Wollersheim's mental maladies. Scientology was told to pay half a million in compensation and two million dollars for punitive damages."
This piece by Baerbel Schwertfeger gives a good reason why Scientology would deny the existence of brainwashing.
I was always curious why Scientology, whose belief system is based on mind implants and demon circuits, would publicly deny that its own beliefs are possible. If anybody else has a better explanation, I would be happy to hear it.
The only reason why brainwashing would work is that the subject can't fight what he doesn't see.