Recovery From Spiritual Abuse

Readings, Videos, and Book List

On this Page

  • Articles

  • Book Reviews

  • Videos

  • Book List

  • SAR Welcome Form - speak to a volunteer

Identifying and Understanding Abusive Groups

Churches that Abuse. Ronald Enroth

Dysfunctional Churches. Ronald Enroth

Religion Versus Cult. Rev. Richard Dowhower


Vulnerable Characteristics. From Easily Fooled, copyright © 2000 by Robert Fellows

Psychological Perspectives on Abusive Groups and Cults

Cult Formation. Robert Lifton

Clinical Update on Cults. Michael D. Langone

Psychological Abuse. Michael Langone


Post Cult Spirituality: Toxic vs. Healthy. Doug Duncan, MS, LPC; Wendy Duncan, MA, LBSW

Getting Therapy After a Group Involvement. Rosanne Henry, MA, LPC

Books of Note

Born and raised in a sect: You are not alone. Lois Kendall.

Charleston, SC: Progression Publishing. What is it like to grow up in a strict religion or sect? Why did my parents become involved in this group? Why do people stare at me? Born and Raised in a Sect answers many, often unspoken, questions and enables the reader to better grasp what the experience of a sect upbringing and recovery from it may be like. Dr. Kendall is a leading researcher and a passionate advocate of those born and raised in sects. Her book enables the reader to grasp the enormity of the challenges facing this diverse group of people, including the risks and vulnerabilities associated with maltreatment and abuse, the potential impact on child and adolescent development, socialization and whether or not the child received state schooling, how children and young people come to leave sects and what happens to them afterwards.

Churches that Abuse. Ronald M. Enroth.

“Not only of value to the religious community, it will be of great use to psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, physicians, and academicians. This is a book for those helping and those needing help. Timely, authoritative, and valuable. Gripping reading!” – Margaret Thaler Singer. (Available online)

Damaged Disciples. Casualties of Authoritarian Churches and the Shepherding Movement. Ron & Vicki Burks.

This book is an account of the years the authors spent in the shepherding movement and their struggle to break free and rebuild their lives.

Heresy of Mind Control. Stephen Martin.

This book, according to James Bjornstad, PhD, Professor of Philosophy, retired, “discusses and illustrates the dynamics of mind control found in totalitarian groups, including cults, religion, terrorists, etc.”

I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult. Wendy J. Duncan.

This book “is an extremely well-written, sensitive and insightful accounting of the author’s experience in an abusive religious group…Her courageous journey through understanding thought reform techniques and the recovery process serves as an encouragement to ex-members who are struggling to get their identity and life back.” Carol Giambalvo, Director of Recovery Programs, ICSA.

In the House of Friends: Understanding and Healing From Spiritual Abuse in Christian Churches. Kenneth J. Garrett.

This book is written for survivors of abusive churches, their families and friends, and all who want to understand spiritual abuse and help the abused. Dr. Garrett is a long-term pastor of a diverse, urban congregation and combines personal experience, sound academic research, and pastoral theology to address a poorly understood, rarely admitted problem today—spiritual abuse in Christian churches.

Recovering from Churches that Abuse. Ronald Enroth.

From a book review by Frank MacHovec. “This is a short book, but the material is concise, readable, useful, and well referenced. There is an appendix of checklists of factors and forces in ‘abusive groups’ and in recovery from them. Six pages of footnotes further document and clarify the book's content. Enroth is a sociologist who has written other books on cults and new religions and this book's format and content attest to his expertise. His writing style is clear and the development of the subject logical and well documented. The material reflects a knowledge of the subject and insight into the cognitive, affective, and spiritual factors involved in spiritual abuse.” (Available online)

Recovery From Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse. Edited by Michael Langone.

This hardcover, Behavioral Science Book Service selection contains a preface by Margaret Singer and an introduction and historical background chapter by the editor. Section I: Mind Control A Little Carrot and a Lot of Stick: A Case Example Reflections on "Brainwashing" Understanding Mind Control: Exotic and Mundane Mental Manipulations. Section II: Leaving Cults Personal Accounts: Eastern Meditation Group & Bible-based Group Post-cult Problems: An Exit Counselor's Perspective Exit Counseling: A Practical Overview The Importance of Information in Preparing for Exit Counseling. Section III: Facilitating Recovery Post-cult Recovery: Assessment and Rehabilitation Guidelines for: Therapists, Clergy, Support Groups, Families, Ex-members, and Psychiatric Hospitalization of Ex-cultists. Section IV: Special Issues Children and Cults (excerpt) Ritualistic Abuse of Children in Daycare Centers Teen Satanism Legal Considerations. Purchase from ICSA bookstore ($20 - USA only, includes shipping). Book Review.

Spiritual Abuse Recovery: Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness. Barbara Orlowski.

"What factors contribute to active Christians in ministry leaving their church and becoming exiting statistics? Every year dedicated Christian people leave churches because of spiritual abuse. The stories of people who left their home church because of a negative and hurtful experience paint a picture of a widespread occurrence which beckons consideration by church leaders and church congregants alike. Spiritual abuse, the misuse of spiritual authority to maltreat followers in the Christian Church, is a complex issue. This book shows how people processed their grief after experiencing spiritual abuse in their local church and how they rediscovered spiritual harmony. Their spiritual journey shows how one may grow through this devastating experience. This book offers a thoughtful look at the topic of spiritual recovery from clergy abuse through the eyes of those who have experienced it. It invites church leaders to consider this very real dysfunction in the Church today and aims to demonstrate a path forward to greater freedom in Christ after a season of disillusionment with church leadership."

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping From Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority. David Johnson & Jeff vanVonderen.

From the Publisher: “Breaking the Silence on an Abuse Within the Church That Leaves Christians Feeling "Used," Manipulated and Shamed. Churches are meant to be safe places where spiritual leaders help and equip the members for the work of service. There are some churches, however, where leaders use their spiritual authority to control and dominate others, attempting to meet their own needs for importance, power, intimacy or spiritual gratification. Through the subtle use of the right "spiritual" words, church members are manipulated or shamed into certain behaviors or performance that ensnares in legalism, guilt and begrudging service. This is spiritual abuse, and the results can be shattering. Deeply ingrained spiritual codes of written and unwritten rules control and condemn, wounding believers’ spirits and keeping them from the grace and joy of God’s kingdom. Believers find themselves enslaved to a system, a leader, a standard of performance that saps true spiritual life. This is a message for Christians who feel they are spiritually abused and for those who might be causing it. Authors VanVonderen and Johnson address these important themes and point the way toward freedom: What are the abusive spiritual dynamics that can develop in a church? How do people get hooked into these abusive systems? What are the marks of false spiritual leadership and their impact on a congregation?”

Understanding Religious Abuse and Recovery: Discovering Essential Principles for Hope and Healing. Patrick J. Knapp.

Currently there are at least four major, identifiable perspectives on how people best understand and recover from religious abuse. Both secular and faith-based (Christian) adherents can be variously identified in each of these approaches. This book examines these viewpoints and evaluates their various strengths and limitations. It concludes that each perspective is helpful to the extent possible, given the limitations of its respective philosophic or theological assumptions. This book summarizes each viewpoint and suggests a larger contextual perspective, helpful to better understand involvement in and recovery from religiously abusive environments. The conclusion is an integration of the various conceptual frameworks, and a different model (SECURE) is described that includes essential principles and practical strategies necessary for recovery from religious abuse. Suggestions are made for future research and study both for academics with interest in the cultic studies and counseling fields, and for various people negatively affected by religious abuse and in need of recovery.

Spiritual abuse survivors with financial need, e.g., unemployment, disability, may obtain financial help for membership and/or events through the Joan Capellini Scholarship Fund. If you believe that you may qualify, contact us: