Vol. 13 No. 1 1996
The Cult Observer -- On-line
A Review of Press Reports on Cultism and Unethical Social Influence
Solar Temple Murder/Suicides Repeated
Investigators in France opened a murder investigation in late December after discovering, in a remote Alpine forest 20 miles southwest of Grenoble, the bodies of 16 members of the Swiss-based Order of the Solar Temple. Authorities believe that the dead were shot, drugged, or asphyxiated before they were burned. Each body had one or several bullet wounds according to authorities, who suspect that the killers are among the dead.
The terrible event appears to mirror, in revealing detail, an earlier death ritual carried out by the cult in Switzerland, in late 1994, which involved 48 apparent murder/suicides (as well as the deaths of five more associated with the group at the cult leader's home in Qubec). Among the newly dead were Edith Vuarnet, the wife of French sunglasses manufacturer Jean Vuarnet, and their son Patrick, as well as a French police officer, his two daughters, and a 6-year-old girl.
A Swiss investigator said the Order of the Solar
Temple may be outlawed. But French authorities said they
can do little to stop cults. (From Murder inquiry opens
into cult fire in France, Associated Press in the Philadelphia
Inquirer, 12/25/95, 3)
Jo di Mambro, the Canadian businessman who was one of
the leaders of the Order of the Solar Temple, actually
filmed the bodies of his dead wife and 12-year-old
daughter before the ritual disaster ended in the firing
of the group's Swiss chalet, and di Mambro's own death,
in 1994. While investigating the scene in the wake of the
disaster, Swiss police discovered several video cassettes
beside the bodies. Earlier on the tape one sees a moving sequence
of his daughter playing and dancing with other children, also
soon to die. (From Le gourou di Mambro a film les
dernieres heurs des members de "OTS," by Andre'
No'l, La Presse (Montrell), 9/27/95)
AFF committee members and others who are vital to AFF's research, information, and education functions, will learn of one another's recent activities in this column. Of course, much more work occurs than is reported to us. We'll try to relate the news in the order we receive it.
Sandy Andron, of the Central Agency for Jewish Education in Miami, and Carol Giambalvo, cult-education specialist from Flagler Beach, Florida, are AFF associates who presented a workshop last October at Florida International University, North, sponsored by the Catholic Archdiocesan Campus Ministry Office. The students and campus administrators who attended were treated to a "thought-reading" illlusion by Sandy, who is also a skilled occasionally-practicing magician. "That's how [cults] control you," he said of his demonstration, "by giving the impression that they have something special that you lack, such as 'the way to peace, or to heaven, guaranteed.'" Carol explained manipulation and control by the narrowing of a recruit's options, guilt induction, and thought reform. In a particularly vivid display of one cult's spectacular success, she held up a computer printout of "thirty-one pages of names for Moonie front groups" and let the folded pages fan out onto the floor like an endless according to The Florida Catholic Archdiocesan magazine. She also said that the Unification Church has so much money from its many businesses and front organizations that their "conservative" Washington Times, ostensibly an alternative to The Washington Post, has no ads, the revenue not being needed. Another fact she revealed that is not generally known is that "Moonies even make the drive trains for Hyundai automobiles."
For International Students
Marcia Rudin recently prepared a special newsletter insert for international students: Eye on Ethics Extra, titled "Making Choices: How to Respond to High Pressure Groups." Her introduction states: "This special insert will help you become aware of certain groups on or around your campus that may try to pressure you to participate in their programs. It is not designed to create fears and/or reluctance on your part to participate in voluntary groups. Many such groups can provide helpful and desirable contacts, relationships, and opportunities." The warning signs listed, it is hoped, will forewarn and inoculate the naive and unwary, and the manuscript as a whole offers help for those who may be on the brink, already involved, or thinking of leaving such groups. The International Cult Education Program (ICEP)
Cults on the Internet
And a further brief note about Margaret Singer: in
November she was given the Roy M. Dorcus Award for the
best clinical hypnosis paper of 1994 by The Society for
Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.
New Year's Eve Coup
Boston Movement Still Harming Students
At the University of Pennsylvania Council's public forum session late last fall, Acting Chaplain Fred Guyott rose to introduce the issue, about which religious organizations on campus were expected to deliberate and advise the Provost. The Rev. Guyott called for an investigation of reports of what he described as "behavioral problems in the activities" of the Philadelphia Church of Christ (GPCC). He said that consultations with campus religious leaders, including CA, Hillel, and the Newman Center, and with counterparts at other campuses with branches of the Boston movement (Brown, BU, Columbia, Harvard, and Yale), showed a pattern he characterized as harassment, but which the elders of the GPCC attributed to zeal.
As a number of Council members sought clarification on the relationship between this issue and any incursion on freedom of speech, the Rev. Guyott said that an educational approach could concentrate on specific behaviors that students and parents have reported as harmful (harassment, persistent phone calls, and visits within dorms), and that he would observe the line between behavioral and theological issues in taking this to the advisory bodies. (From the summary of the Public Forum Session of the University of Pennsylvania Council, ALMANAC, 12/12/95. 5)
The Post story begins by recounting the tale of Miguel Antonio Longo, a devout Catholic fresh out of Cornell University, who several years ago visited his parents' home country, Puerto Rico, where he met a friendly Christian at an art gallery, and readily accepted an invitation to a Bible study. Two years later, he hanged himself back in D.C., and his parents blame the International Churches of Christ.
The parents' explanation of this tragedy repeats what ex-members, parents and other observers have said, and continue to say, about the typical effects albeit not fatal of membership on all-too-many who become involved. "When they kill the mind, kill the soul, it's impossible to prove. But if you are a parent, you know what he was like before he went in and what he was like after he came out," said Antonio Longo, Miguel's father. His mother Teresa remembers how much her son, who had suffered bouts of depression during his senior year in college, had changed as a result of his sojourn in Puerto Rico. Gone was his sense of humor, his joking demeanor. He only wanted to talk about Scriptures and his new "family." When she asked him if he thought fellow church members could love him more than his parents, he said, "Yes."
But the Post is even-handed. It reports the story of Joi Buckner, a 22-year-old graduate of American University. After two years of repelling the advances of local ICC recruiters she was a very good student, deeply involved in student activities, and a former Miss Washington, D.C. I decided that despite all this, and close, loving parents, "deep in my heart, I am unhappy . . . Well Joi, you can give this God thing a try, or you can choose death." She chose the D.C. Church of Christ, and she says it changed her life giving it meaning and happiness.
Stories like these, of satisfaction with life in the church, like Joi's, on the one hand, and accounts of alienation from family and friends, guilt, loss of control of one's life, on the other, are both common. They agree that members become totally devoted to the life and growth of the church involving an average of 30 hours a week, and significant tithing which exercises great control over their lives through Bible-based, small-group study, separation from other, contaminating influences even as they attend school and are involved in school activities, a system of discipleship whereby older members closely monitor and guide the activities of their juniors, long hours of proselytizing, and a puritanical sexual ethic. Current members seem pleased with the arrangement, spiritually and psychologically secure and happy to be living what they believe to be a real Christian life. (Many former members two out of three recruits eventually leave) I believe their personal development was hindered and sidetracked, their independent spirits broken, and their spiritual needs exploited in the group's milieu. One may conjecture after reading the Post article, which includes much commentary from administrators at colleges that have banned the ICC proselytizing, that both views are correct. (From "Campus Crusaders," by Stephanie Griest, The Washington Post, 9/3/95, F1, F4, F5)
Motzko, who filed the suit on her own behalf, claims that when her son got involved with the CUT, the group promised him that "if he would sell all of his worldly belongings and follow (leader) Elizabeth Clare Prophet, then she would help him escape misery on earth and become an ascended master. "She alleges that CUT gained control of her son through "dishonest and fraudulent methods" including peer pressure, psychological extortion, sleep deprivation, diet changes and hypnotic chanting.
During the fatal dispute, when Mandell was trying literally to retake possession of his house from a woman to whom he had rented it, waved a sword, allegedly in obedience to CUT teachings which say that he would be invincible as long as he was holding onto the Archangel Michael's sword." (From "Mother sues CUT, sheriff's officers," by Karin Ronnow, Livingston [MT] Enterprise, 12/20/95)
Ex-members of Tilton's Word of Faith Outreach Center Church contend that he fraudulently solicited donations. (An expose' of Tilton's ministry carried on ABC's "Prime Time Live" in 1991 charged that Tilton threw supporters' prayer cards into a trash bin.) The court also ruled that Tilton can be required to turn over his tithing records to state authorities because they "appear relevant to a crucial issue in this case."
The 7-2 majority opinion held that constitutional religious liberty protections "do not necessarily bar all claims which may touch on religious conduct." The dissenters on the court said Tilton's claims to engage in religious activity on behalf of followers cannot be tested through secular law. "[As] important as the state's interest is in protecting its citizens from fraud, its interest in preserving religious freedom is far more important." (From "Religious Freedom No Cover For Fraud, Texas Court Says." Church & State, October 1995, 3)
"It began with strip poker to break down our sub-cons," one girl said. Later, she said, they had intercourse so that he could inject the Earth girls with "IRFs," immunities to ward off space diseases. "He's a classic pedophile," said one detective, spinning "a magical tale of seduction." Conceded one of the victims, a former child actress who is now 18: "He led me to believe many, many things. I wanted to believe them. It's mental rape," she told the judge. "He manipulated us. He brainwashed us. He started out gradually, and it just kept going and going . . . I didn't know I was going to have sex with him when I started. It was a team, and we were going to be best friends." One victim, sobbing, told the court: "He's a hairy, gross, perverted old man, and he just makes me so sick. I never had a father in my life. I trusted him as a father figure, and he betrayed that trust." (From " 'Space alien' lands in jail for sex abuse," by Ann W. O'Neill, Los Angeles Times, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/17/95)
Cults in American Society: A Legal Analysis of Undue Influence, Fraud and Misrepresentation, is a 50-page presentation of what state and federal case law has to say about some of the harmful things cults do. As such, it will be useful to persons prosecuting civil actions to redress such harms.
Prepared by the American Bar Association's Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law for Cult Observer publisher AFF (which provided a grant for the study) and the Cult Awareness Network, the study opens with a discussion of the legal principles involved in findings of "undue influence" illustrated by a hypothetical case study and followed by a discussion of undue influence case law developments in the cult contact. Here, one can find an analysis of the noted Dovydenas case, in which preacher Carl Stevens was found to have unduly influenced heiress Elizabeth Dovydenas to give him and his organization millions of dollars.
The study moves next to consider the legal principles of "fraud" and "misrepresentation," followed, as before, by case law developments in the cult context. Among the notable cases presented to illustrate the points are Van Schaick v. Church of Scientology, Molko v. Holy Spirit Association (Unification Church), Christofferson v. Church of Scientology, and the celebrated United States v. LaRouche, which affirmed sending the perennial Presidential candidate to jail.
The report includes citations from cases mentioned in the text, citations of texts suggested for further reading, citations of literature in the field, a bibliography of books and articles, and a listing of "Significant Decisions by Jurisdiction on Expert Testimony Standards." This last supports a brief but useful discussion of the changing standards for the admission of psychiatric, psychological, and other evidence from experts, which has been an important part of cult-related litigation. (Cult Observer Report)
Cult Groups Working the Internet
"They are looking for people who they think are potential recruits," says Janja Lalich, who runs support groups for former cult members. "They're reaching millions of people this way." Lalich is a former cult member and author of Captive Hearts, Captive Minds, about how to recover from coercive experiences.
Ray Kubiniak, a member of the Cult Awareness Network, agreed with Lalich's concerns. It's the cutting edge of where mind-control groups are active," he said.
Lalich said cult recruiters are lurking in many Usenet news groups dedicated to self-help methods, such as meditation, herbal medicine, yoga, religion, and New Age thinking. "Anywhere that people who are curious may be looking for new things," she added.
Recruiters' called "trolls and "harkers" by cult watchers have adapted their traditional techniques to the Internet world. They might respond to a posting by someone who appears open to new ideas, and the response could include a compliment. "We call it love-bombing," says Lalich. "Someone might say they so loved what you wrote in a posting, or that they feel exactly the same way about something as you do. It feels good to have a new friend who is praising you and then slowly they reveal their path to a solution.
"Anytime someone tells you they've got the one answer, the one path, there's something suspect there," Lalich said.
"Eventually they would hook you up with somethings more tangible than the computer maybe their local center," Lalich said. "They'll try to get you to spend money, sign up for something."
John Knapp, a former Cult member tells how he has been the subject of attempted on-line recruitment throughout the decade he has used the Internet. Once it started with a friendly message, "but within seven days it was about how I should fly to Southern California for some workshops and buy some tantric scriptures," he said. (From "Internet Provides recruiting fodder for cults," by Marlene Gyudal, Hayward Daily Review, Cal-State University, Hayward, 11/13/95)
The Journal of Traumatic Stress devotes its October 1995 issue to research on traumatic memory, a difficult and highly controversial field these days; some say most, if not all, recovered memories of this kind are false, and others are just as adamant that they usually refer to real events. Articles include "Say It Once Again: Effects of Repeated Questions on Children's Event Recall," Functional Neuroanatomical Correlates of the Effects of Stress on Memory, "Children's Long-term Retention of Salient Personal Experiences," "Posttraumatic Stress Associated with Delayed Recall of Sexual Abuse: A General Population Study," and "Trauma, Traumatic Memory, and Research: Where Do We Go from Here?" (Cult Observer Report)
In the wake of recent legal decisions punishing therapists found guilty of implanting false memories of traumatic events in patients, the Psychiatric Times published in its October 1995 issue (p. 22) "Guidelines Recommended" for mental health professionals. The guidelines, suggested by psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, an expert witness for plaintiffs claiming that false memories were implanted, include advice to be very wary of suggesting the possibility of false memories and to "Familiarize yourself with your professional liability policies and your obligations under it [sic]."
The Church of Scientology, as part of a wide ranging program to influence the community in its international headquarters city of Clearwater, FL , gives an example of its modus operandi in a recent newsletter, taken from the writing of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
"A housewife, already successfully employing Scientology in her own home, trained to professional level, takes over a woman's [sic] club as secretary or some key position. She straightens up the club affairs by applying comm [sic] practice and making peace, and then, incidental to the club's main function, pushes Scientology into a zone of special interest in the club-children, straightening up marriages, whatever comes to hand, and even taking fees for it meanwhile, of course, going on being a successful and contributing wife.
The cue in all this is don't seek the cooperation of groups. Don't ask permission. Just enter them and start functioning to make the group win through effectiveness and sanity." (From "Spinoffs spread group's message," by Bob Henderson, St. Petersburg Times, 8/7/95. 2)
The IRS in July was planning another auction of designer clothing and associated items seized from businesses run by [jailed cult leader] Tony Alamo. The government hopes to recoup some of the $2.2 million Alamo owes in taxes. Thus far, the IRS has made nearly $84,000 from previous auctions of his merchandise. (The Virginian-Pilot & The Ledger-Star, 7/18/95, B6)
Quadrennial presidential candidate and political cult leader Lyndon LaRouche has filed for federal matching funds with the Federal Election Commission, in September, according to the September 25 edition of his organization's newspaper, EIR News for Loudoun County, Virginia)
The Tokyo High Court in December dismissed Aum Shinrikyo's appeal against a lower court dissolution order, paving the way for legal procedures to strip the cult, accused of the subway gassing of thousands last year, of its status as a religious corporation, and to liquidate its assets. This is the first time the government has ever ordered the disbandment of a religious group for criminal acts. Despite the order, Aum could continue its religious activities, although without official status.
But the Justice Ministry also wants to invoke a 1952 law which would prevent Aum from even engaging in religious activity. A hearing as to whether to apply this law was to have been held in January. The law, originally aimed at radical leftist groups, would not only force Aum to disband but also ban followers from any sect activities. No group has ever been banned under the law, which has been criticized as enabling the government to stifle dissent. [Indeed, according to the Unification Church-owned Washington Times, 10/9/95, A9, politically oriented religious groups in Japan fear that the government's moves are directed against them, as well. (From "High Court rejects AUM appeal over disbandment," Mainichi Daily News, 12/20/95, 1)
Convicted Members Return
Nine of the 45 convicted Aum Shinrikyo followers who received suspended sentences have returned to the cult, according to a survey by Kyodo News Service. Six among the more than 300 arrested were given prison terms, while 46 received suspended sentences and two were fined. Most of those who returned to the group joined five to seven years ago and held supervisory positions in science and technology, and welfare. (Mainichi Daily News, 12/18/95)
Why They Did It
Aum leader Shoko Asahara, through his lawyer, confessed in October, on the eve of his trial, that he was responsible for the string of crimes committed by the cult. But the attorney added that Asahara made the confession (to unspecified crimes) simply to thwart moves to disband Aum. (Japan Times, 10/6/95). Meanwhile, in December, two senior Aum members pleaded guilty to murder charges in connection with the nerve gas attack. Toru Toyoda, 27, and Kenichi Hirose, 31, admitted they spread the sarin gas in the subway. Said Toyoda: "I feel the gravity of the crime. I have nothing to say to defend my conduct." The getaway car driver reportedly said he was innocent because he was brainwashed at the time into thinking that nothing Shoko Asahara ordered could be wrong. (From "Members of cult admit role in attack," AP Toronto Globe and Mail, 12/12/95)
Another Aum follower, Hideaki Yasuda, 28, said in court that he strangled a fellow member, the former cult pharmacist, because Asahara threatened to kill him if of he did not commit the act. Yasuda claims he was under duress when he strangled the pharmacist, that he had no choice. (From "Killing Friend was only way to stay alive, ex-cultist says," Japan Timers, 11/9/95)
Senate Scolds CIA on Aum
The CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies came under fire from senators who convened a hearing on Aum in November for failing to take note of the group before the subway disaster. [The Atlanta Constitution ran a feature on 11/5/95 about the worldwide reach of Aum membership and sources of technology, including the U.S.) Senior intelligence officials acknowledged that they were unaware of Aum's existence. Said a CIA official: "I really don't see any inclination, here or abroad, to have the CIA running around peering into religious groups around the world, to see who's naughty and nice." Sen. Sam Nunn --who noted that Aum allegedly preached Armageddon between the United States and Japan, predicted war, assassinated its opponents, advertised for members on Russian television, and penetrated Japanese police organizations responded: " I understand what you are saying about religion, but it just seems to me the massive scope of this operation should have come to the attention of somebody in the CIA or FBI in America." A Pentagon representative said: "There are a lot of cults out there, and we don't normally scan all of those. But . . . we're learning more and more about this phenomenon, and I think we've got to do better." (From "Senators Scold Spy Agencies Over Cult," by R. Jeffrey Smith, The Washington Post, 11/2/95, A15; Japanese Cult Had Network of Front Companies, Investigators Say," by R. Jeffrey Smith, The Washington Post, 11/1/95, A8)
Lord Justice Ward in November ruled in a 314-page decision that a 27-year-old mother could raise her three-year-old son in The Family, a religious cult, formerly called The Children of God, with a history of child abuse. A condition is that the child, who will remain a ward of the court, must have regular contact with his grandmother in case he wants to leave when he grows up. The judge decided that The Family was no longer responsible for the sexual and physical abuse of children. But he insisted that the mother, and The Family's leaders must renounce the preachings of their late leader, David Berg, who promoted incest, prostitution, and sex with children. The judge, whose decision reviewed the history of The Family and evaluated the expert testimony about its practices, said that The Family must face up to the shameful period in the 1970s and 80s when child sex abuse was commonplace. The ruling came at the end of the longest wardship hearing ever heard in the High Court in London.
The grandmother, who successfully applied to have the child made a ward of the court when he was eight days old, said: "I am glad that the court has recognized my concerns for my grandchild and that the wardship will continue. I never wanted and do not want to separate my grandchild from his mother." "This grandmother," said the judge, "has done a public service by exposing their pernicious practices at that time."
The judge rejected the suggestion that "the plaintiff is a mere tool and dupe of the anti-cult movement. I reject that submission. She is a remarkably strong and determined lady who, having embarked on this campaign, has carried it through when many lesser individuals would have folded under the strain.
Ian Haworth, of the Cult Information Service, condemned the decision. "I am extremely worried that the judge seems to believe there has been a major change in the group's behavior. I am not aware of any change, except the change in their name."
Lord Justice Ward said the most difficult condition would be the denunciation of Berg. (A spokesperson for The Family in Britain said that the group had renounced Berg's sexual teachings.) "They must acknowledge that through his writings he was personally responsible for children in The Family having been subjected to sexually inappropriate behavior. The Family must be encouraged honestly to face up to this shameful period in their history so that those harmed by it, victims and perpetrators alike, can seek to come to terms with it. For an honest memorial to be given to David Berg, this dark side to his character must be revealed. By all means, let thanks be given also for the good he did as I accept he did for many and for the inspiration he has been to those who through him have devoted their lives to the service of the Lord."
He said that five or ten years ago he would not have allowed a child to remain in The Family, which has about 15,000 members, including 100 adults and 194 children in Britain. But now, he said, The Family "have come in from the cold. They can carry some mud form the past on their coat, but if they choose, they can wash it off. Then they can sit at society's supper table, eccentric guests perhaps, but welcome for all that."
In considering the case, the judge heard evidence from seven expert witnesses and sought assistance from social services staff, who made surprise visits to the boy and his mother at the commune. Social workers found that the group's 20 children were happy and well adjusted. From "Boy, 3, to stay with mother in free-love cult," "Judge condemns cult's founder as perverted and malign influence, both by Emma Wilkins, and "Communities live on love and donations," by Kathryn Knight,The Times, 11/25/95)
Some nine months before a British judge stated in a decision that he thought The Family had reformed itself (see article on page 8, opposite), the Edmonton, Alberta social services community was thrown into an uproar by the high profile taken by members of the group who have been coming home to North America in the 1990s, following many years overseas.
The concern was so great that Michael Farris, the head Edmonton's youth emergency shelter had to limit enrolment in a workshop it ran on The Family (formerly called The Children of God), following a statement by Michael Farris, the shelter director, that The Family "presented a clear and present danger to vulnerable youth. The workshop was aimed to educate those who work with the homeless, lonely, or troubled on the group's history and recruiting practices."
For its part, The Family responded to media attention by hiring Toronto criminal lawyer Melvyn Green, who complained to a senior Alberta Social Services official about the warning issued by the Edmonton shelter, which gets over a third of its funding from the agency.
University of Alberta sociologist Steve Kent, an expert in alternative religions, who was scheduled to conduct the workshop, said that The Family may have returned to Alberta because "It was receiving so much criticism around the world that it was becoming difficult to live in other countries."
Although The Family has never been convicted of a crime, former members continue to level allegations of sex abuse and mind control, charges which the group has vigorously denied.
Farris sounded the alarm about The Family after learning it had donated food to the shelter six times over a five-week period. The group had also requested, but was denied permission to distribute its literature and perform Christian music at the shelter. The Family has also contacted two women's shelters in the city and has performed in the atrium of the University of Alberta Hospitals. Although police are gathering information on the sect's activities, they stressed that there was no suggestion the group had done anything illegal. (From "Seminar on The Family is swamped," by Charles Rusnell, The Edmonton Journal, 4.25.95, B3
Accused of Bias
During the seminar, three members of the Family stood outside accusing sociologist Kent of academic bias. They said he had interviewed only detractors and not Family members, and that they would file a complaint of "unethical" research with the U of A president. Kent refuted these claims, saying he had interviewed more than two dozen current and former members of the group and spent more than 40 hours in two Family homes. He said his work had also been reviewed by other professionals and met all ethical and methodological standards. The quality of his work was attested by the head of the university's sociology department. (From "Sect members confront meeting," by Charles Rusnell and Bill Rankin, The Edmonton Journal, 4/27/95, B3)
Family members who live communally in a middle class neighborhood in Edmonton say that the group's notorious sexual practices are long in the past. They say there is no more "flirty fishing" when female members were sent out to gain money and converts through sexual favors, or sexual relations among children, and between children and adults in the group as advected in vivid publications by group founder Moses David Berg and recounted by many former followers. The latter believe that The family's assertion that it is reformed cannot be trusted." What they want is to be absolved, to have us say they've changed," says a former senior member. "But until they reject Moses David and his doctrines and confess to their past, I'm not going to believe they've changed." (From "Fearing The Family," by Charles Rusnell, The Edmonton Journal, 4/29/95, C1, C2)
The following is based on a presentation made at the 8th Annual U.S. Psychiatric & Mental Health Congress in New York City, November 16-19, 1995. The author is Executive Director of AFF, publisher of The Cult Observer, and Editor of AFF's Cultic Studies Journal.
Research indicates that although a large majority of cult members eventually leave their groups, many, perhaps most, experience high levels of psychological distress after leaving and frequently seek mental health counseling.
A factor analytic study of former cult members' experiences has led to the development of a "Group Psychological Abuse Scale," which in turn has found four factors which characterize cultic environments of all types compliance, expolitation, mind control, and anxious dependency which determine whether and to what extent an individual may be harmed by the experience.
Theories of Involvement
Why people join cults, why they leave, why they often experience distress upon leaving, how they can be helped are questions that have not been extensively researched, although three general models of cult conversion and departure can be identified, with the answers to these questions varying among the models.
First is the psychodynamic model, which presumes that cultic groups fulfill unconscious needs of its members. Second is the deliberative model (popular among theologians and sociologists), which presumes that people join and leave cultic groups because of their cognitive evaluations, however faulty, of the group. Third is the thought reform model, which presumes that cultic environments lure and hold on to members through high levels of psychological manipulation. An integrative model proposes that the degree of deliberation in a group involvement is a function of the psychological neediness of the individual and manipulativeness of the environment. When neediness and manipulativeness are low, deliberation will be highest. Those harmed by a cultic involvement are most likely to come from highly manipulative groups. About one-third appear to have had psychological disorders before joining the cult, but most appear to have been relatively normal psycholigically.
Treatment of former cult members should include a cult-sensitive assessment. The clinician should appreciate the degree to which negative emotional reactions can be a function psychological trauma experienced in the cult, and should not rush to a psychodynamic interpretation that focuses on preexisting disorders. However, even though the cult environment is potent, the psychological, family, and social/vocational history of the individual should be investigated thoroughly. It is also important to assess the psycho-educational needs of patients, that is, the degree to which they understand cultic manipulations, as well as academic and vocational skills (cultic isolation can put many ex-members years behind their peers in educational and vocational development.)
Elements of treatment
Family members who consult mental health professionals because of a loved one's cult involvement should not be dismissed as overprotective, enmeshed, or otherwise dysfunctional. Most family members seeking help are relatively normal, although many experience considerable anxiety and anguish in response to the cult involvement. Family members typically need information about cults, communication skills training, add assistance in dividing a strategy to help their loved one make an informed reevaluation of the cult involvement. Such persons should be referred to cult experts.
Treatment of youth involved in Satanism, or ritual abuse survivors, though similar in some ways to the treatment of cult victims, is different in others. Satanically involved youth tend to be disturbed psycholigically and often are solitary in their satanic dabbling. These youth appear to gain a compensatory, though illusory, feeling of power through Satanism. Treatment should focus on helping them build a more reality-based self-esteem. The treatment of ritualistic abuse survivors (children and adults) is fraught with controversy, especially where recovered memories are involved. Based on current lack of research data, the recommendations of the American Psychiatric Association's Statement on Memories of Sexual Abuse appears to be the most balanced approach to dealing with ritual abuse cases.
AFF is a secular, not-for-profit research center and educational organization founded in 1979.
AFF's purpose is to study psychological manipulation and high-control and cultic groups, to educate the public, and to provide recovery assistance to those who have been affected by a cultic experience.
AFF's growing network of more than 100 volunteer professionals includes educators, psychologists, social workers, sociologists, attorneys, clergy, business executives, physicians, including psychiatrists, law enforcement specialists, college administrators, and others.
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