Please see our new site, which has new material and a more helpful structure.


NEW! International Cultic Studies Association site has moved - click here

  Conferences | Donate  

ICSA resources about psychological manipulation, cultic groups, sects, and new religious movements.




Our E-Library contains full text articles and other resources related to the information below.  Click here.


Please note:

ICSA does NOT maintain a list of "bad" groups or "cults."  We nonjudgmentally list groups on which we have information.

Groups listed, described, or referred to on ICSA's Web sites may be mainstream or nonmainstream, controversial or noncontroversial, religious or nonreligious, cult or not cult, harmful or benign.

We encourage inquirers to consider a variety of opinions, negative and positive, so that inquirers can make independent and informed judgments pertinent to their particular concerns.

Views expressed on our Web sites are those of the document's author(s) and are not necessarily shared, endorsed, or recommended by ICSA or any of its directors, staff, or advisors.

See:  Definitional Issues Collection; Understanding Groups Collection

Views expressed on our Web sites are those of the document's author(s) and are not necessarily shared, endorsed, or recommended by ICSA or any of its directors, staff, or advisors


Vol.1, No. 2

From the Editor

Patrick Ryan

From the Editor

From the Editor of AFF News
I have just returned from the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) national conference in White Plains, NY. I remember my first CAN National Conference in Kansas City (1986). I was a hurting ten-year ex-member feeling confused and isolated. The experience, support, and strength I gained at my first FOCUS group have stayed with me. I finally had found people who understood what had happened to me, why it happened, how it happened. I was offered suggestions and support that helped me grow beyond my group experience. That was nine years ago and much has changed in my life.

I am often asked why do you keep working with former members. Interacting with the ex-members at this year's conference reminds my why. The support and experience that ex-members share is invaluable.

Over the years the resources available and the tools for recovery have developed, expanded, and evolved.

In this issue of AFF News we begin exploring some of the issues that ex-members face in leaving a cult and suggest some resources for recovery.

AFF offers many resources to assist the ex-member: AFF conferences, Post-Cult Recovery Workshops, support groups, books, videotapes, and referrals to knowledgeable professionals.

I also want to warmly welcome a new member to our AFF News advisory board, Pascal Zivi, who lives and works in Japan.
Patrick Ryan

Post-Cult Problems: An Exit Counselor's Perspective

Classification of Ex-Members
There are several classifications of ex-members, based on how they left the cult. Former members usually fit into one of the following:
1. Those who had interventions.
2. Those who left on their own, or walkaways
3. Those who were expelled, or castaways

Walkaways and castaways need the most help in understanding their recovery process. Former members who were cast out of a cult are especially vulnerable; often they feel inadequate, guilty, and angry. Most cults respond to any criticism of the cult itself by turning the criticism around on the individual member. Whenever something is wrong, it's not the leadership or the organization, it's the individual. Thus, when someone is told to leave a cult, that person carries a double load of guilt and shame. Sometimes walkaways also carry a sense of inadequacy. Often they can think through these feelings intellectually, but emotionally they are very difficult to handle.

Tools for Recovery
In my experience, the most helpful tool for recovering ex-cult members is learning what mind control is and how it was used by their specific cult. Understanding that there are residual effects from a mind control environment — and that these effects are often transitory in nature — helps diffuse the anxiety. Clients, especially walkaways and castaways, feel relieved when they learn that, given the situation, what they are experiencing is normal and that the effects will not last forever.

Also integral to the recovery process is developing an attitude that there are some positives to be gained from the cultic experience. When former members learn about mind control, they can use that understanding to sort through their cultic experience, to see how they came to change their behavior and beliefs as a result of mind control. They can then assess what out of that experience is good and valid for them to hold onto.

When former members live in an area where there is an active support group meeting, it is often helpful for them to participate. Support group meetings provide a safe place for ex-members to discuss concerns with others who are dealing with similar issues. In this environment, no one will look at them like they have two heads.

Common Issues in Post-Cult Recovery
Some of the recovery issues that keep recurring in my work with ex-cult members are:

1. Sense of purposelessness, of being disconnected. They left a group that had a powerful purpose and intense drive; they miss the peak experiences produced from the intensity and the group dynamics.

2. Depression.

3. Grieving for other group members, for a sense of loss in their life.

4. Guilt. Former members will feel guilt for having gotten involved in the first place, for the people they recruited into the group, and for the things they did while in the group.

5. Anger. This will be felt toward the group and/or the leaders. At times this anger is misdirected toward themselves.

6. Alienation. They will feel alienation from the group, often from old friends (that is, those who were friends prior to their cult involvement), and sometimes from family.

7. Isolation. To ex-cult members, no one "out there" seems to understand what they're going through, especially their families.

8. Distrust. This extends to group situations, and often to organized religion (if they were in a religious cult) or organizations in general (depending on the type of cult they were in). There is also a general distrust of their own ability to discern when or if they are being manipulated again. This dissipates after they learn more about mind control and begin to listen to their own inner voice again.

9. Fear of going crazy. This is especially common after "floating" experiences (see point 18 below for explanation of floating).

10. Fear that what the cult said would happen to them if they left actually might happen.

11. Tendency to think in terms of black and white, as conditioned by the cult. They need to practice looking for the gray areas.

12. Spiritualizing everything. This residual sometimes lasts for quite a while. Former members need to be encouraged to look for logical reasons why things happen and to deal with reality, to let go of their magical thinking.

13. Inability to make decisions. This characteristic reflects the dependency that was fostered by the cult.

14. Low self-esteem. This generally comes from those experiences common to most cults, where time and again members are told that they are worthless.

15. Embarrassment. This is an expression of the inability to talk about their experience, to explain how or why they got involved or what they had done during that time. It is often manifested by an intense feeling of being ill-at-ease in both social and work situations. Also, often there is a feeling of being out of synch with everyone else, of going through culture shock, from having lived in a closed environment and having been deprived of participating in everyday culture.

16. Employment and/or career problems. Former members face the dilemma of what to put on a resume to cover the blank years of cult membership.

17. Dissociation. This also has been fostered by the cult. Either active or passive, it is a period of not being in touch with reality or those around them, an inability to communicate.

18. Floating. These are flashbacks into the cult mind-set. It can also take on the effect of an intense emotional reaction that is inappropriate to the particular stimuli.

19. Nightmares. Some people also experience hallucinations or hearing voices. A small percentage of former members need hospitalization due to this type of residual.

20. Family issues.

21. Dependency issues.

22. Sexuality issues.

23. Spiritual (or philosophical) issues. Former members often face difficult questions: Where can I go to have my spiritual (or belief) needs met? What do I believe in now? What is there to believe in, trust in?

24. Inability to concentrate, short-term memory loss.

25. Re-emergence of pre-cult emotional or psychological issues

26. Impatience with the recovery process.

In my experience, there is no difference in the aftereffects experienced by those people who had family interventions or those who walked away or were expelled from a cult. Most ex-cult members — no matter the method of leaving the cult — had some or all of these residuals. The difference is that the individuals who had interventions are more prepared to deal with them, and especially those who went to a rehab facility.

It is important to note and to bring to the attention of the ex-cult member that each individual's recovery process is different and there is no "How To Recover from a Cultic Experience." In fact, the desire for a quick and easy recovery may be in itself a residual effect of the cult.

Excerpted from "Post-cult Problems: An Exit Counselor's Perspective" by Carol Giambalvo, in Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse, edited by Michael D. Langone (1993. W.W. Norton & Company.) Reprinted with permission. Also available from AFF Electronic Bookstore, or ask for it at your local bookstore.

[ top ]

AFF's research indicates that

  1. at least two million Americans are members of cultic or other psychologically abusive groups;
  2. tens of thousands of people leave such groups every year;
  3. a majority of these persons experience some level of psychological distress after leaving their groups;
  4. the distress is often directly related to their abusive experiences in the group; and
  5. only a tiny percentage of former group members seek help from experts knowledgeable about cults and psychological abuse, primarily because they don't know these resources exist.

Through AFF's Project Recovery, AFF staff and associates put out five books, dozens of articles, and four videotapes. AFF also conducted two recovery conferences and five recovery workshops, and continues to develop a variety of resources.

Project Outreach seeks to make former members aware of current and future resources that might help or interest them, their friends, and their families.

Help AFF assist these former members by increasing awareness of AFF's resources. We offer former cult members a complimentary, one-year subscription to AFF News Briefs, while funds are available. Please send us the names of any former members that may be interested in receiving AFF News Briefs, or tell them to write us for a free subscription.

[ top ]

Introducing reFOCUS

reFOCUS is a network of referral and support for former members of closed, high-demand groups, relationships, or cults. We offer referrals to other former members of similar or the same groups, to other former members in your local area, to support groups, to appropriate professionals, to resources for recovery, to recovery workshops, and to support organizations. We also offer support over the Internet through our World Wide Web site:

Our newsletter, the reFOCUS Forum, is published quarterly (yearly subscriptions are $10). In order to set up a base of information and referral, we ask subscribers to fill out a questionnaire. We welcome personal accounts and articles submitted for our newsletter. You can obtain a questionnaire and reach reFOCUS at P.O. Box 2180, Flagler Beach, FL 32136; Tel: (904) 439-7541; e-mail:

[ top ]

Suggested Reading

Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse Edited by Michael D. Langone, Ph.D., this book includes a diverse group of contributors from the fields of psychotherapy, nursing, exit counseling, pastoral counseling, and the law, as well as personal accounts by former cult members.

Recovery from Cults examines the history of the cult phenomenon, the nature of thought reform and psychological influence, the psychological literature on post-cult distress, why people leave cults, exit counseling and deprogramming, and how to facilitate recovery.

Recovery from Cults provides necessary background information and practical guidelines that can help former cult members effectively manage the problems they encounter when leaving cults.

Published by W.W. Norton & Company

This 432-page landmark book is a must-read for ex-members, their families, and helping professionals.
Order from AFF.

[ top ]

Send for

Cultic Studies Journal A semiannual, multidisciplinary journal that seeks to advance the understanding of cultic processes.

Cult Observer Reviews media investigations and reports on cultic groups and psychological manipulation.

After the Cult: Recovering Together A 25-minute videotape developed by AFF's Project Recovery. Ten ex-cult members share their moving and dramatic personal stories, tell how they have moved on with their lives, and suggest strategies for facing the future realistically.

AFF also has Information Packets on more than 30 groups. Request AFF's complete catalog of books, periodicals, and videos.




+ AFF News, 01.02: Giambalvo, Carol: "Post-Cult Problems: An Exit Counselor's Perspective"
+ AFF News, 02.01: Martin, Paul, Ph.D.: "Pitfalls To Recovery"
+ AFF News, 02.02: Ford, Wendy: "The Role of the Family"
+ AFF News, 02.05: Lifton, Robert J., M.D.: "Cult Formation"
+ AFF News, 02.06: Rosedale, Herb: "Annual Report From the President"
+ AFF News, 03.01: Lalich, Janja Ph.D.: "Crazy" Therapies: What are They? Do They Work? - The Therapeutic Relationship
+ AFF News, 03.03: Lalich, Janja Ph.D.: "We Own Her Now"
+ AFF News, 03.05: Rosedale, Herb: "Conference Report"
+ AFF News, 03.06: Rosedale, Herb: "Annual Report: Letter From the President"
+ AFF News, 04.02: Stein, Alexandra: "Recovering From a Political Cult"
+ AFF News, 04.03: Henry, Roseanne: "Why We Need To Become Spiritual Consumers"
+! AFF News - College Outreach - Cult Observer 14(3) 97
+! AFF News - Cult Observer 13(1) 1996
+! AFF News - Cult Observer 14(3) 1997
+! AFF News - International Students - Cult Observer 13(1) 1996
+! AFF News - Program In Poland - Cult Observer 14(3) 1997
Lalich, Janja, Ph.D.: "Individual Differences Affecting Recovery"

________________________________________________________ ^ 





� Academic Disputes and Dialogue
� children
� clergy
� conversion
� cults101
� Custody/Forensic
� dissociation
� educators
� false memory
� family
� former member
� free info
� intervention
� large group awareness trainings
� legal
� mental health
� press
� pseudoscience
� research
� students
� thought reform
� understanding groups

_________________________________________________________ ^


Our E-Library contains full text articles and other resources related to the information below.  Click here.

Bad groups


ICSA/AFF - about

ICSA - contact


 article abstract

Ξ book/video review



? help

* index


> profiles

resource org

study resources

topic ●▫∞▪Θ

_________________________________________________________ ^

About ICSA | Contact US  | Profiles | links

   | webmaster | search

Copyright �1997-2008 ICSA, Inc.