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


Resource Guide

Suggestions for Families


Psychological Manipulation, cult groups, sects, and new religious movements

Suggestions for Families with a group-involved loved one

Before pointing you to resources, we want to emphasize a number of points that we believe families should keep in mind. First, don't jump to conclusions and don't succumb to the allure of simple answers. Do not rely upon popular accounts of "cults," although these can sometimes provide useful background information. If you want to be informed, you must read a lot more than a handful of newspaper or magazine articles. You should talk to a variety of people with relevant knowledge. And you must think things through carefully.

Second, when you talk to other families who have had a cult involvement, learn from them, but do not overlook the uniqueness of your own situation and don't let their fervor cause you to overgeneralize from their cases to yours.

Third, ask yourself this central question: "Let's assume that your loved one was not in a cult; what if any behaviors would trouble you?" If nothing troubles you, then you might consider reexamining your assumption that the group is or might be a cultic group and take a closer look at your own motivation (maybe you merely disapprove of your loved one's leaving the family's religion). If you do identify troubling behaviors, then try to determine if these behaviors are at least in part a function of what goes on in the group. This approach enables you to focus on destructive psychological influences without getting bogged down in a debate about whether the group is or is not a cult. Groups are very different; most large groups exhibit differences among their various local organizations; and people respond differently to similar environments. Tagging a label on the group is secondary to determining whether or not psychologically abusive practices are harming your loved one.

Fourth, keep in mind that a cult member's behavior is a function of his/her unique personality and identity and what goes on in the group. Do not make the mistake of assuming that your loved one is a helpless pawn. Cultic environments are powerful, but they are not all-powerful.

Fifth, we advise that you not let other people talk you into believing that cultic groups are so powerful that your loved one will only leave if he/she is deprogrammed, with "deprogramming" referring to a process involving physical restraint or coercion (distinguished from "exit counseling" in which the cult member is always free to leave). Twenty years ago, when information in this field was very limited, deprogramming may have seemed to be a reasonable option to many families. Indeed, the New York State legislature passed a conservatorship bill (twice vetoed by the governor) that essentially would have legalized deprogramming. Today, deprogramming is fortunately quite rare, in part because of the legal risks it entails, but mainly because helping resources are much better informed and able to help families investigate other options. Moreover, the evidence suggests that deprogramming, even disregarding the compelling ethical and legal arguments against the process, is less effective than exit counseling. Exit counseling, however, demands much more preparation on the part of the family. So some families today may be tempted to try to find a "deprogrammer" because they mistakenly think it is the easy way out. We advise against this course of action. You may find yourself alienated from your loved one and involved in a costly lawsuit.

Sixth, because the majority of cult members eventually leave their groups, a concerned family's primary role is often to facilitate a departure that may eventually happen anyway. In many cases families seeking expert consultation may be able to help their loved one a great deal without attempting a formal exit counseling. Since there is no way of reliably predicting who will eventually leave a destructive group and who won't, we always respect a family's fear that their loved one either may never come out or may be gravely damaged if the family does nothing.

Lastly, even though there may be times when families may feel justifiably helpless, their situation is rarely hopeless. So many factors influence a cult member's relationship to a group that even those of us who have worked in this field for years regularly encounter pleasant surprises. So don't give up hope. Beneficial changes in your loved one may occur because of events that have nothing to do with your actions (e.g., a growing disillusionment with the group; an accumulation of small grievances against leaders; dissension within the group). Some group members achieve enough independence from their group to maintain or reestablish a respectful and loving relationship with their family, even though they may remain group members. Remember, people are different and will respond in different ways to the same group environment. Now onto the resources.

For information on AFF’s Family Education Service. AFF also conducts workshops for families . Please contact us if you are interested in attending one.

AFF's Family Library is a special collection (costing less than the individual items) of resources that we believe have been especially useful to many families. The library, which has a special line on the order form, includes the following :


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Discounted Price: $163 (outside USA: $223). ID: LIBFA

If you want a less expensive alternative, we suggest that you consider the following individual items as a minimum educational package:

Although we emphasize that understanding the processes of psychological manipulation is probably more important than collecting details about the group's beliefs and practices, information about the group, when available, is also helpful. This resource guide contains information on groups that have generated press coverage and on certain general topics and categories of groups. For suggestions on finding information on groups (see description).

Our advice and suggestions about resources to families with a loved one involved in a group apply as well to those whose loved one is now out of the group (see also ex-member suggestions). However, for families of former group members we offer one other important piece of advice: Do not assume that because your loved one has left an abusive group everything will quickly return to normal. In some cases, readjustment may indeed be easy. But our research suggests that most former members of abusive groups have a difficult time adjusting. Frequently one to three years may pass before they return to a prior level of functioning and are "on track." Their families, if they are informed and supportive, can often lighten the ex-member's burden considerably.

See the special offer on the order form for Recovery From Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse

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