Psychological Manipulation and Society
Vol. 10, No. 3, 1993
Hearts, Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships
- Madeleine Landau Tobias
and Janja Lalich. Hunter House, Alameda, CA, 1994, 304 pages.
- Reviewer: Carol Giambalvo
The subtitle of this outstanding book says it all:
"Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships." The purpose of the
book is to aid the recovery process of former cult members. While doing so, the authors
inform and educate family and friends of former cult members and helping professionals.
For individuals who have been out of a cult for several years, this book is an affirmation
of their own experiences and a measuring stick to see how far they have progressed.
In a 1988 Cultic Studies Journal review of Ronald
Enroth's book The Lure of the Cults and New Religions, Fr. Walter Debold stated,
with much insight, that "it would seem that there is a great deal that could be
learned if we were able to monitor more effectively the recovery of ex-cultists. And we
might minimize their anguish if we had a better understanding of their sufferings." Captive
Hearts, Captive Minds goes a long way to help people to understand the suffering,
struggles, triumphs, and joys of the recovery process.
In the introduction to their book, Tobias and Lalich, both
former cult members themselves, clearly state their issue is with the methods and behavior
of cults, not with beliefs. They define thought reform as "a coordinated program of
coercive influence and behavior control" (citing the work of Singer and Ofshe, and
Lifton). Emphasis is placed on the deception employed by cults during recruitment. The
goals of the book, as stated by the authors, are twofold: to bring former cult members an
understanding of cultic techniques and their potential aftereffects, and to provide an
array of specific methods and aids that may help to restore lives. They have aptly met
Providing a well-rounded, professional approach to the
major issues confronting former cult members, the book allows former cult members to see
that their experience, and the trauma the reader may be experiencing, is shared by many.
It is comforting to realize that one is not alone, that others understand and have been
there. Also, it is important to note the similarity in the difficulties and emotions
experienced during the recovery of individuals who have emerged from diverse cults with
different ideologies or belief systems. Therefore, it cannot be the belief or ideology
that is the cause of those difficulties, but the mind control environment.
Captive Hearts, Captive Minds contains four major
Part I defines the workings of cults and cult recruitment,
provides an understanding of the thought-reform process, outlines a 15-point psychological
profile of the cult leader, and delineates the types of individual differences that may
affect a person's recovery from a cult experience.
Part II addresses the healing from the trauma of a cultic
involvement. Besides other accounts interspersed throught the book;
Part III offers 9 personal accounts of freedom and recovery
from a cult experience, written by former members of a variety of cults.
Part IV takes on the special issues of children in cults
and professional therapeutic considerations.
The appendices include a handy checklist of cult
characteristics, a listing of resource organizations, and recommended reading.
This book helps former cult members identify with the
experiences of others, label and understand the trauma, and, thereby, gain the tools to
begin the healing process. The emphasis on balance and moderation speaks to the tendency
that former cult members have to be impatient with their own recovery process and to
overreact to anything that is remotely similar to their cultic experience.
In chapter 1, "Cults and Cultic Relationships,"
the authors stress that the key to undoing the hold of mind control is understanding how
mind control is used in cults and, specifically, in the individual reader's experience.
Citing scholars in the field, they clearly define "cult," give a historical
perspective, outline the categories of cults, and address the question, what is mind
control? Dissociation is identified and defined as an altered state that may be
experienced both during cult affiliation and in the wake of leaving a cult. The authors
highlight the notion of "cultic relationships," giving powerful examples. They
provide checklists to enable the reader to sort through his or her experience and more
clearly understand what happened, including assessing the degree of destructive influence
that may still be operating.
Chapters 2 and 3 addresses the effects of thought reform
and cult conversion. The authors explore cult recruitment through
Robert Cialdini's six principles
of influence. They differentiate the recruitment process from the
indoctrination process by presenting Michael Langone's "deception, dependency, and
dread" syndrome. They discuss the commonly observed personality changes in cult
members, citing West and Singer's list of exploitative elements used in indoctrination and
their impact on developing the cult identity. The variables affecting damage to
individuals are explored. These answer the question, why do some persons emerge seemingly
unscathed, while others have major trauma and/or adjustment difficulties?
The authors place an emphasis on the fact that no one
knowingly joins a cult. It is music to most former cult members' ears to learn that in
joining the group they made the best decision possible, given the information the
recruiters provided at the time. The value of information as an opposing force to mind
control and undue influence techniques is that it presents an opportunity for the person
to make a fully informed decision. Chapter 4 explains the different ways people leave
groups and defines the differences between two modes of intervention: deprogramming and
By addressing the psychopathology of cult leaders and the
power dynamics they employ, the last chapter in Part I (Chapter 5) answers the question,
why would anyone do this to me? Besides providing an outline of specific characteristics
of manipulative cult leaders, based on the classic studies of the psychopath, the authors
give a timely case example of David Koresh. The chapter ends with a list of questions
readers can ask themselves about the characteristics of their former leader.
The chapters in Part II concern the healing process.
Chapter 6, "Taking Back Your Mind," addresses the process of leaving the group
and taking back possession of the self, and the body. Leaving the cult bodily is not all
there is to it: One still needs to leave the cult cognitively. The next chapter explores
in detail the cognitive postcult difficulties experienced by many former cult members.
These include indecisiveness, unloading the language, dissociative states (including
techniques for beginning to control the same), triggers (with a worksheet designed to help
disarm triggers), memory loss, obsessional thoughts, and black-and-white thinking.
Once we've gotten the body back and have begun to get the
mind to use its critical thinking skills again, we then must deal with the subject of
Chapter 8: coping with emotional issues. The authors explore the role of emotions in life
in contrast to the role of emotions in cults. Then, the emotions experienced by emerging
former cult members are discussed in detail. With illustrative case examples, they address
denial, grief, a sense of loss of time, loss of innocence, loss of idealism, loss of
spirituality, loss of meaning in life, loss of family and/or loved ones, loss of pride and
self-esteem. The chapter also details important issues (such as depression, feeling used,
feeling like a failure, and feelings of guilt and shame), giving helpful suggestions,
guidelines, and questions for protecting oneself, testing reality, dealing with anger
appropriately, and working through self-blame and shame.
In chapters 9 and 10, "Rebuilding a Life" and
"Facing the Challenges of the Future," the authors examine issues related to
health, interpersonal relationships, belief, and career, giving suggestions to help deal
with each. Many former cult members experience "the fishbowl effect," feeling
that the uninformed "world out there" is looking askance at them, including
family members. The authors address this feeling and offer guidelines on how to reconnect
with estranged friends and family and restructure relationships with those left behind in
the cult, should that be desirable or necessary.
The aftereffects of extreme abuse, both sexual and
physical, is the topic of chapter 11. Suggestions are given for healing the pain, with
references to books and seeking professional help. Chapter 12 discusses actions that help
In the area of self-help, one needs to educate oneself, begin to express oneself (via a
journal, art, music, movement, speaking, and so forth), and find a personal support
system. In the area of professional help, the authors suggest the reader consider
individual exit counseling, pastoral counseling, and psychological counseling. One of
these options does not necessarily eliminate the desire or need for the others, but all
can work in conjunction to address the needs of former cult members. Taking action
includes exploring options that may help to turn a negative and destructive experience
into a positive and strengthening one (for example, legal remedies, possible proactive
anti-cult work, or simply "getting on with your life").
A highlight of the book is Part III, which consists of an
extremely helpful resource: well-written personal accounts by former cult members
reflecting on their recovery process. If there is a weakness in this powerful section, it
is that it lacks an account by a former member of a Bible-based or discipling/shepherding
group. However, the diversity of the accounts here and elsewhere in the book overshadows
this weakness, giving readers a strong point of identification and the hope (based on
reality) that one day they will write their own account of their recovery.
Part IV deals with special concerns. Chapter 22 on children
in cults explores the effects of repeated trauma and abuse of the young. Chapter 23 is
aimed at the helping professional, although is useful also for the lay reader. It
clarifies treatment issues, assessment, potential therapeutic errors, and common postcult
psychiatric disorders. It also includes a discussion of treatment of a client currently
involved in a cult or cultic relationship, a suggested framework for therapy, case
studies, and issues of posttraumatic stress disorder. It concludes with a list of
resources available to professionals. This chapter offers a professional approach to
educate and inform therapists and counselors to better help clients with a cultic
As for the authors,
is a psychotherapist and exit counselor in private practice on the East Coast since 1979.
She is a former member of an Eastern meditation cult and a psychotherapy cult.
a former member of a political cult, is associate editor of the
Studies Journal and coordinator of a support group for ex-cult
members in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Generally, this is an extremely helpful book, both in its
educational approach to understanding postcult difficulties in the recovery process, and
in its emotional impact, lending positive identification and hope to former cult members.
Tobias and Lalich have approached this sensitive subject with a great amount of loving
concern, while arming former members with the tools for their recovery: information,
guidelines, suggestions, resources, and understanding. I highly recommend the book to all:
former cultists, family, friends, clergy and other professionals.
Author of Exit Counseling, A Family