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Cultic Studies Journal

Video Review

 

Psychological Manipulation and Society

Cultic Studies Journal
Psychological Manipulation and Society
Vol. 11, No. 2, 1994

What Is a Cult? And How Does It Work?
Margaret Singer. 1994, 58 minutes;
After the Cult: Recovering Together
AFF Project Recovery & the International Cult Education Project.
1994, 25 minutes.

Reviewer: Janja Lalich

1/2

I can’t think of anything I would have wanted more when I got out of my cult nine years ago than some expert videos to look at that would have helped me understand my experience and tackle the agony and ecstasy of putting my life back together. Today, we can add two new videos to the increasing number of excellent resources available in our field.

Aside from their instructive and insightful content, these videos are especially useful for a variety of reasons. In our fast-paced, highly technological world, watching videos has become an easy way to learn. It’s something a family can do together. It’s something a busy professional can find time for. And, perhaps most important, for former cult members who may be having difficulty reading or concentrating, watching a video can be less stressful and allow information to be more accessible.

What Is a Cult? And How Does It Work?

What Is a Cult? And How Does It Work?
is a basic educational video that has the capacity to speak to and reach a vast audience. It’s practically impossible to list all the contributions clinical psychologist and world-renowned cult expert Margaret Singer has made to our understanding of cults and their methods of influence and control. Having put together this video is simply one more way in which she is making widely available her vast knowledge of the subject. The 58 minutes whiz by as Singer explains with clarity, wit, and down-to-earth descriptions some of the fundamentals about cults and how they operate.

Singer begins by discussing definitions and qualities of cults and cult leaders. She presents a picture of what’s wrong with cults, how many there are, and how many people are currently involved or have been involved over the past decades. From the beginning, she makes it clear that anyone may become susceptible to a cult recruiter’s pitch, and that contrary to popular belief, there are more cults and more types of cults than ever before.

Particularly useful is her explanation of thought reform (sometimes called brainwashing). She does an excellent job of demystifying a concept that has been misconstrued and misunderstood. She uses everyday language to describe thought reform, not as a rigid, one-time zap to the brain with a gun at your head to get you to comply, but as a subtle set of coercive influence techniques that are used over time in a coordinated way to get you to change your thinking, your attitudes, and your behavior. The smiling, soft-sell technique has always been more effective, Singer tells us, than the menacing Big Brother approach.

In the remainder of the video, Singer describes the cults’ strategies, tactics, and techniques to recruit, control, and keep their followers. This information is presented in concise blocks formulated around her analysis of the six conditions for a thought-reform environment: (1) deception, (2) destabilization, (3) dependency and dread, (4) disconnection, (5) development of the cult pseudopersonality, and (6) denial and dedication. Each of these is explained in detail, with flash cards, vivid examples, and thorough explorations of how each stage is set up and exploited by the cult leader and group members. How cult leaders use trance techniques, spy networks, guilt induction, peer pressure, induced anxiety and fear states, denigration and humiliation, reframing of experiences, revision of members’ personal history, and a vast array of thought-stopping techniques becomes much more understandable after we’ve listened to Singer’s new video. (By the way, her second video on cult aftereffects and recovery is now also available.)

The video ends with some practical suggestions for how we as a society can deal with cults. And despite the rather grim nature of this topic, thanks to the wealth of information that is imparted so clearly and so succinctly, the viewer is left with a more positive spirit. After all, in knowledge there is power. Buy this video and give it to your school, your library, your lawyer, your pastor, your professional club, your therapist or counselor.

Order: Video - What Is a Cult? And How Does It Work?

Continued > 2/2

 

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