Mental Health Professionals

Mental Health Issues in Cult-Related Interventions. Steve Eichel, PhD; William Goldberg, PsyA, MSW; Arnold Markowitz, CSW; Daniel Shaw, MSW


An Investigation into Cult Pseudo-Personality: What is It and How Does It Form? Gillie Jenkinson

Are Cultic Environments Psychologically Harmful? Jodi Aronoff McKibben et al.

Born or Raised in Closed, High-Demand Groups: Developmental Considerations. Leona Furnari

Clinical Update on Cults. Michael Langone

Cult Formation. Robert Lifton

Family Responses to a Young Adult's Cult Membership and Return. Lorna Goldberg and William Goldberg

Inner Experience and Conversion. Michael D. Langone

Leaving and Recovering From Cultic Groups and Relationships: Overview (Power Point). Michael Langone

Lessons Learned from SGAs About Recovery and Resiliency. Leona Furnari and Rosanne Henry

Physical Child Abuse in Sects. Lois Kendall

Post-Cult After Effects. Margaret Thaler Singer

Prevalence. Michael Langone

Psychotherapy with Ex-Cultists: Four Case Studies and Commentary. Lorna Goldberg, and William Goldberg

Raised in Cultic Groups: The Impact on the Development of Certain Aspects of Character. Lorna Goldberg

Research on Destructive Cults. Michael Langone

Sex, Lies, and Grand Schemes of Thought in Closed Groups. A Collective of Women

Sex Therapy with Former Cult Members. Steve Eichel.

Six Conditions for Thought Reform. Margaret Singer

Spiritual Harm in New Religions: Reflections on Interviews with Former Members of NRMs. Phillip Charles Lucas

Stairway to Heaven: Treating Children in the Crosshairs of Trauma. Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz

The Theory That Won’t Go Away: An Updated Review of the Role Hypnosis Plays in Mind Control . Steve Eichel

Traumatic Narcissism (special issue of International Journal of Cultic Studies)

Treatment of Satanism. Michael Langone and Herbert Nieburg

Overview: Mental Health Professionals

Michael D. Langone, PhD

Mental health professionals are prone to make a number of errors in cases involving spiritual abuse or cultic involvements.

First, they may assume that a group involvement is merely a sign of normal adolescent rebellion and identity searching, and that "this too will pass." Although this point of view is sometimes true, it is false often enough to make the assumption unwise. Don't dismiss families who may seek your help. Their concerns may indeed be warranted. And don't overlook the possible deleterious role of spiritual abuse or cult involvement in patients who seek your help for depression or other psychological disorders.

The second common error mental health professionals make is to assume that clients' symptoms necessarily reflect unconscious individual psychopathology and/or a dysfunctional family system. There is no doubt that many who experience spiritual abuse or who join cultic groups have pre-existing psychological problems and/or come from highly dysfunctional families. But many have normal psychological and family backgrounds. Those who were troubled and those who were not troubled may both be affected—though perhaps in different ways—by a highly manipulative and exploitative environment or relationship. So don't focus on the person's or family's past to such a high degree that you overlook possibly traumatic effects of an abusive experience. Victims, who may initially come under the influence of an abuser to satisfy normal human needs or participate in what appears to be a good cause, do not automatically realize that they fell prey to a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Hence, they may not report an abusive experience because their abusers often employed bait-and-switch and other deceptively manipulative tactics. One function of counseling with such persons is to teach them about manipulative tactics so that they can reevaluate their experience in light of this knowledge.

A third common error is to succumb to confirmatory bias, that is, the common human tendency to notice, seek, and/or be alert to information that supports our initial impressions or formal assessment. Professionals should, to the contrary, notice, seek, and/or be alert to information or behavior that is inconsistent with the professional’s initial assessment. The findings of an assessment are more akin to a scientific theory to be tested rigorously than to a “fact” upon which to build future investigations. This is especially true in cases that involve spiritual or psychological abuse. The reality often isn’t what it at first appears to be.

Finally, don’t approach such cases as a strange, deeply mysterious phenomenon requiring esoteric expertise. Problems related to spiritual abuse or cults are, at their heart, consequences of unusually powerful social influences interacting with the spectrum of human personalities, needs, and goals. They are similar to other situations where social influence adversely affects a person’s or a family’s functioning. Some have pointed out similarities between these cases and certain instances of spouse abuse, hostage experiences, and abuse within dysfunctional families. Professionals with knowledge and experience dealing with these kinds of problems may frequently apply what they know to cult situations. We advise these professionals, however, to supplement their expertise through readings available on this site and contact with professionals who specialize in treating spiritual or cultic abuse problems. See ICSA's Counseling Resources page, which lists experts around the world, to locate colleagues with expertise in this area. ICSA also offers training for mental health professionals at many of its conferences.