Manipulation and Society
Book Review: Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of
Psychological and Spiritual Abuse
Studies Journal Book Review Index
Cultic Studies Journal
Psychological Manipulation and Society
Vol. 10, No. 2, 1993
Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of
Psychological and Spiritual Abuse.
- Edited by Michael D. Langone. W.
W. Norton, New York, 1993, 410 pages, hard cover.
A. Dole, Ph.D., ABBP
Langone, Executive Director of the American
Family Foundation (AFF) and editor of this journal, has done a skillful job
of organizing and editing contributions from 22 experts on cults.
Recovery from Cults
is packed with current wisdom about helping cult victims. The book includes informative
sections on understanding mind control, experiences of leaving cults, guidelines for
facilitating recovery, and special issues such as child abuse and teen Satanism. I
recommend it especially to researchers, mental health specialists, and clergy. Ex-cult
members and their families will find particularly helpful the chapters on mind control,
exit counseling, rehabilitation, psychotherapy, and guidelines for the postcult period.
from Cults, which originated from AFF study groups, is an
important and heartening milestone in the development of the anticult movement from its
infancy to maturity. Over the past 20 years this movement has gone beyond the rather
simplistic theory of "brainwashing" in explaining cult recruitment and
entrapment. As represented here by the contributions of Singer, Langone, and Zimbardo and
Andersen, cult behaviors can be better understood in terms of current theory and research
in social psychology, clinical psychology, and psychiatry. Thus destructive groups misuse
social persuasion and are often led by sociopaths.
Riveting, if grim, personal accounts and case examples of
how individuals are systematically cut off from outside influences, denigrated for
expressions of independent thinking, and reduced to psychological dependency are coupled
with detailed guidelines for helping professionals working with ex-cult members at various
stages of recovery and in a wide range of settings.
In contrast to the days when ex-cult members were dismissed
as late adolescent rebels or diagnosed as pathological by mental health specialists, now
there is a multidisciplinary core of professionals with expertise in helping former
members. Sharing their clinical experiences in the book are a diverse team of experts,
representatives of professional psychology (Singer, Langone, Martin), social work (Lorna
and William Goldberg, Markowitz), psychiatry (Halperin), nursing (Galanti, Kelley)
education (Eisenberg), and counseling (Dowhower, Tobias, Tucker). In short, as the cult
member leaves the group, information, rehabilitation, support, psychotherapy, and
hospitalization are available as needed. John Clark, the eminent psychiatrist to whom this
book is dedicated, is no longer almost alone in providing mental health services. And, in
sharp contrast to the days when lawyers tended to avoid cult-related litigation, a group
of lawyers with experience in cult cases is represented here by Herbert Rosedale.
With the sunshine of negative publicity, the loss of key
lawsuits, the conviction of cult leaders for criminal acts from murder to sexual abuse to
fraud, and the outrages of Waco and Jonestown,
cults too have changed. For instance, as described by Galanti, the Unification
Church no longer always hides its identity when recruiting in this country.
As noted by the Goldbergs, cult victims today tend to be older and from diverse groups. Satanism
(Tucker), ritual child abuse (Kelley), political cults
(Lalich), and New Age groups
(Garvey) have attracted attention while Bible-based (Trahan)
groups continue to exert mind control.
The approach to helping former members has also changed. As
described in chapters by former members and exit counselors, each group has a distinct
language and modus operandi to control its victims; and helpers need to know the specifics
about each group. For the most part, illegal kidnapping and confrontational deprogramming
have been replaced by voluntary exit counseling.
David Clark, Kevin Garvey, and Carol and Noel Giambalvo
stress the voluntary and ethical character of their work with cult members. Ex-members are
still an essential part of the helping team. Otherwise traditional mental health
interventions may be insufficient. Some exit counselors now have professional
qualifications in mental health.
The thorough index and comprehensive references for each
chapter will be helpful to scholars and those who want to do further reading or study.
Although case histories and personal reports give flesh to the terrible damage associated
with cult experiences, the tone of each chapter tends to be serious, and assertions of
opinion are documented with relevant research and theory. For the most part,
fair-mindedness and objectivity prevail over the temptation to sensationalize or to
express outrage. For example, in the chapters he authored, Langone is evenhanded but
critical in countering the arguments of cult apologists and procultists.
I have just a few criticisms. As mentioned by Giambalvo and
colleagues, consultation is a better term than exit counseling
to describe the interaction with a specialist when the member is still in the group and
has not requested help. I am uncomfortable when such consultants, associated with the
anticult movement and retained by concerned parents, present themselves as impartial
counselors. Once the cult member has left the group and has sought assistance about
personal issues, then the process becomes counseling. A second flaw: As is almost
unavoidable in edited books, the chapters vary somewhat in quality and occasionally
duplicate one another.
If I have a major discontent with
Recovery from Cults,
it is with what is not included here. I encourage Langone and his team to publish
another volume. Among appealing topics: successful prevention programs; case histories of
ex-cult members years after the experience; cults in courtwins and losses and their
consequences; how to respond to the violent and suicidal group; illustrations (from tape
recordings) of the distinctive processes of exit consultation;
rehabilitation and psychotherapy; how to choose an effective helper; how highly visible
destructive groups manipulate celebrities, academics, big business, the church, and the
military; and ethical principles for helpers.
In sum, this fascinating text at once replaces popular
myths about cults (and the types of people who become members) with hard facts, and
provides invaluable guidelines for clergy, therapists, support group leaders, and others
looking for ways to facilitate recovery from the effects of involvement with totalist
Congratulations to Langone and his coauthors on a major
contribution which belongs on the bookshelves of CSJ
readers and all those interested in cults.
A. Dole, Ph.D., ABBP
Emeritus Professor of Education
University of Pennsylvania