Book Review - Born and Raised in a [SECT]: You are not Alone

Ashley Allen

ICSA Today Vol. 8 No. 3, 18 - 20

Review by Ashley Allen

2016. ISBN-10: 0995556202; ISBN-13: 978-0995556201 (paperback). $17.99 (Amazon.com). 472 pages.

I was first introduced to the work of Lois Kendall in the midst of coordinating the annual clinical lecture series for Monmouth University, which focused on children raised in cults. A mentor of mine showed me Dr. Kendall’s poem “Those Who Didn’t Make It.” This poem resonated deeply with me, both as someone who had spent 7 years in a cult as a child and as a social worker engaged in education, clinical intervention, and advocacy for this population. I have read the poem every so often over the years when I have felt weary with this difficult work and all the obstacles we encounter. The poem reminds me why this work is so important.

Because of the poem’s impact, I was excited to read Dr. Kendall’s book Born and Raised in a [SECT]: You Are Not Alone. This book is a large and comprehensive look at the experience, both in the sect and after leaving, of people born and/or raised in sects. Although the book is not set up with a Part 1 and a Part 2, the flow is such that it could be, with Part 1 focused on in-sect involvement and Part 2 on postsect and recovery topics.

Dr. Kendall explains in the Introduction that the basis of this book came from her PhD thesis, which included qualitative research on two sects. Her most important goal was to write a book that explores the experience of this population in a way that is relevant and helpful to them. More specifically, Kendall works to merge the objective and sometimes distanced research with the humanness of lived experience. She states in the first paragraph of her Introduction, “Real people are behind the research findings reported in this book, and the voice of real people is quoted in the form of both interview and autobiographical quotes” (Kendall, 2016, p. xxxiii). Second, she seeks to utilize the voices of this group to talk about their experiences rather than the voices of outside academics or first-generation former members. Finally, she writes this book for a wide audience, including people born or raised in sects and helping professionals. She meets these goals and also contributes some fascinating new areas for research and clinical intervention. In addition, the book offers this population the opportunity to understand their experiences, and avenues through which they can begin to process those experiences.

The first two goals of her book, to merge the distanced research style with the personal narratives, and telling the story in the voice of those born or raised in sects, are closely related and addressed with many of the same techniques. Dr. Kendall brings together an incredible amount of research in this area, including not only published research studies but also unpublished thesis reports. She then uses personal vignettes from her study participants and other personal accounts to augment her research findings. This approach connects the research findings to real people and the pain they have experienced. Her most effective strategy is the use of her own poetry throughout the book. As she tells the reader in the Preface, Dr. Kendall herself spent the first 17 years of her life in a sect. Therefore, two layers overlap throughout this book: There are the personal vignettes from the research reports of this population and the poetry Kendall has written based on the experiences of others among this group; then there is the added layer of the author being born and raised in a sect and using her own experiences through her poetry to tell this story.

Dr. Kendall’s final goal, to contribute a work for both this population and helping professionals, is met in varying degrees. Parts of the book are more heavily focused on research and definitional issues, and these parts may be difficult for people less interested or experienced in research to get through. For example, Chapter 2 focuses heavily on several research studies conducted to determine how/why people join sects. The findings of each study are reported, and although this information is immensely valuable to academics, it may be of less interest to other audiences in this expanded form. At the same time, others may feel validated in seeing that quality research exists to support their experience. These contrasts reflect the challenge of writing for a wide audience. The research-focused sections are certainly invaluable to researchers, educators, and helping professionals; and former members without a particular academic interest may find these sections to be valuable, as well. This book also is a must-read for any graduate student or other researcher looking to undertake a study of this population.

I found three sections in the book of particular interest: the application of Bandura’s social learning theory (in Chapter 6), the section on mentors (in Chapter 9), and the section on grandparents (also in Chapter 9). One of the theoretic orientations Dr. Kendall uses to discuss postsect concerns of this population is Bandura’s social learning theory. Bandura’s theory developed out of behaviorism but surpassed it in his examinations of more complex, multifaceted ways in which we learn (Bandura, 1974). Instead of viewing learning, personality development, and morality development under strictly conditioning influences, he looked at other mechanisms through which children learn, such as modeling and thoughtful reflection. Thoughtful reflection or decision making has to do with the ability of human beings to symbolize future events and reenact them in their minds in such a way that they are then able to make a decision about how their choices might impact the future (Bandura, 1974).

Newer advances in neuroscience seem to have affirmed much of Bandura’s research on learning. For example, modeling is supported by the discovery of mirror neurons in the brain. These mirror neurons were discovered first in experiments with monkeys, which indicated that the same areas of the brain were activated when a monkey was watching another perform a task as when that monkey was himself performing the tasking (di Pellegrino, Fadiga, Fogassi, Gallese, & Rizzolatti, 1992). These mirror neurons provide another powerful means through which we learn, particularly how we learn and develop such things as aggression and empathy (Iacoboni, 2009). The links between social learning theory and current advances in neuroscience are substantial. Dr. Kendall’s insight both in bringing these topics into the cultic-studies field and using them as a way to conceptualize areas of postsect distress for those born or raised in sects is fascinating. This approach opens up new areas of research with this group and new ways of understanding the postsect experience.

Closely tying into Dr. Kendall’s application of social learning theory is her section on mentors. To my knowledge, mentoring has not explicitly been written about in the cultic-studies literature before. It is a fascinating topic, especially in light of Bandura’s social learning theory and theories of attachment, limbic resonance, trauma, and the therapeutic relationship (van der Kolk, 2014). If, as Dr. Kendall suggests, people born or raised in sects must learn many social conventions/cues and, as Dr. Kendall and other literature suggests, there are recovery concerns around relational functioning (Bardin, 2010; Furnari, 2005; Goldberg, 2006a, April; Goldberg 2006b; Lalich & Tobias, 2006; Landa 1990–1991; Langone & Eisenberg, 1993), mentoring is an exciting area to explore. Mentoring could provide a means through which this population can learn a great many skills related to relationships, boundaries, social conventions, and culture. This is another possible area for exploration and further research.

The final section of Dr. Kendall’s book that I found particularly powerful was her section for grandparents in Chapter 9. Both personally and professionally, I have known families who have lost loved ones to cultic groups; I so often hear helplessness in their words, and I too feel powerless to help. These families frequently express not knowing what they can do to effect change. In addition, they often express concerns about their grandchildren who were born into the group. They worry about the lack of choice, control, agency, childhood, play, and so on that their grandchildren are growing up with. Dr. Kendall writes this section with warmth, encouragement, and practical advice about what families can do.

This book is quite a contribution to the cultic-studies field. It brings together an exhaustive review of the research that has been done with this population to date. The personal stories and poetry add richness to the research base. I would highly recommend this book to all four of ICSA’s major constituencies: former members, helping professionals, researchers/academics, and families.

References

Bandura, A. (1974). Behavior theory and the models of man. American Psychologist, 29, 859–869. Available online at https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/Bandura1974AP.pdf

Bardin, Livia (2010). Starting out in mainstream America. Retrieved from startingout.icsa.name

di Pellegrino, G., Fadiga L., Fogassi, L., Gallese, V., & Rizzolatti, G. (1992). Understanding motor events: A neurophysiological study. Experimental Brain Research, 91(1), 176–180. Available online at https://www.uni-muenster.de/imperia/md/content/psyifp/aeechterhoff/wintersemester2011-12/vorlesungkommperskonflikt/dipellegrino_etal_understmotorevents_ebr1992.pdf

Furnari, L. (2005). Born or raised in high-demand groups: Developmental considerations. ICSA E-Newsletter, 4(3). Retrieved from http://www.icsahome.com/articles/born-or-raised-furnari-en4-3

Iacoboni, M. (2009). Imitation, empathy, and mirror neurons. Annual Review of Psychology, 60(1), 653–670. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.60.110707.163604

Kendall, L. (2016). Born and raised in a [sect]: You are not alone. Progression Publishing.

Lalich, J., & Tobias, M. (2006). Take back your life: Recovering from cults and abusive relationships (2nd ed.). Berkley, CA: Bay Tree Publishing.

Landa, S. (1990–1991). Children and cults: A practical guide. Journal of Family Law, 29(3). Retrieved from http://www.icsahome.com/articles/children-and-cults-landa

Langone, M. D., & Eisenberg, G. (1993). Children and cults. Recovery from cults: Help for victims of psychological and spiritual abuse. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

Goldberg, L. (2006a, April). The harsh conscience of second-generation former cultists. Workshop session presented at the International Cultic Studies Association SGA Workshop, Cornwall, Connecticut.

Goldberg, L. (2006b). Raised in cultic groups: The impact on the development of certain aspects of character. Cultic Studies Review, 5(1), 1–27. Retrieved from http://www.icsahome.com/articles/raised-in-cultic-groups-goldberg

van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

About the Reviewer

Ashley Allen, MSW, LMSW, completed her Master’s in Social Work at Monmouth University, where she also was selected to coordinate and present the School of Social Work’s Annual Clinical Lecture Series. Her lecture series focused on children born and/or raised in cultic groups, with a special focus on issues of human rights. She has presented on cults, with a particular focus on those born or raised in them, at various mental-health agencies, at universities, and at the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) annual conference in New Jersey. Ms. Allen gained a breadth of experience volunteering at the Cult Clinic of JBFCS (Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services) in New York City for 3 years and has gone on to work as a therapist with former cult members in community mental health. She is currently serving as Outreach Coordinator for ICSA, is on the Board of Directors for reFOCUS, and is an adjunct instructor at Middle Tennessee State University