Two groups of former cultists were administered the MCMI and other psychological tests in order to assess the nature and magnitude of post-cult psychological problems. One group consisted of 13 former cultists who attended an educational conference on cults. The other group was made up of Ill former cultists who attended a
Study Indicates Rehab’s Benefits
Because cults can be oppressive environments, and because people who leave cults are frequently disillusioned and overwhelmed by the challenge of adjusting to mainstream society, former cult members experience a high level of distress. Research studies suggest that more than one-third and possibly more than one-half of those who have left cultic groups have been detrimentally affected by their cultic experience. One researcher has written: “Members may be harmed in that they lose their psychological autonomy and, frequently, their financial assets. Furthermore, the group’s partial-to-total disconnection from mainline society deprives members of the opportunity to learn from the varied experiences that a normal life provides. Members may lose irretrievable years in a state of ‘maturational arrest.’ In some cases they undergo psychiatric breakdowns and/or suffer from physical disease and injury.” A survey of 350 ex-cultists from 48 different groups found that former members suffered from residual effects of their cult experience lasting from 43.8 months to 139 months, with an average duration of 81.5 months. These effects included such things as depression, loneliness, guilt, anger, fear, humiliation, disorientation, “floating” in and out of altered states, nightmares, and an inability to break mental rhythms of chanting, meditation, or speaking in tongues. Deprogrammed subjects appeared to recover more quickly. Clinicians who have worked extensively with former cultists say that most require six months to two years to adjust adequately. Some require much more time.
Ex-cultists often need so much time to readjust because so many areas of their lives are adversely affected simultaneously. Most cultists are implicitly, if not explicitly, encouraged to burn all interpersonal bridges to the mainstream world. When they leave the cult, they are usually shunned by their cult “friends” and met with puzzlement, hurt, and anger by the old friends and relatives they had ignored for so long. Because of their devotion to the cult’s “cause,” many cultists abandon
Although it can certainly be helpful, weekly psychotherapy may be insufficient for many former cultists. That is why many have attended special residential
The term “rehabilitation” has been applied to this process because, like persons recovering from physical injuries, ex-cultists require an intensive program in order to bring them back at least to the level at which they once functioned. Also, as with the physically injured, most ex-cultists were relatively normal before they were seduced into a destructive group.
Wellspring has conducted the only formal outcome evaluation study with the ex-cult rehabilitation population. The results are encouraging. Wellspring clients are routinely administered the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI) at intake and, in most cases, at a six-month follow-up. The improvement in all clinical sub-scales, including
To conclude, an intensive postcult rehabilitation program may be a cost-effective treatment for former cult members. By clarifying the cult-related issues troubling the client, it can lay the groundwork for a more productive psychotherapeutic relationship.
Langone, M.D., Destructive Cultism: Questions and Answers. Bonita Springs, FL: American Family Foundation, 1982, 7.
Conway, F. et al. Information Disease: Effects of Covert Induction and Deprogramming. Update 10 (3) 1986, 63-65 and Update, 10 (3). 45-57
This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1992, Volume 9, Number 2, pages 219-250. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.