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


Resource Guide

Suggestions for Ex-Members


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


Suggestions for Ex-Members

Before we list resources that may help you, we want first to give you a few words of advice. The most important principle to keep in mind when trying to evaluate helping resources is that different people will respond differently to different environments, because environments and individuals are complex and interact in complex ways. This seems like common sense, but it is important not to ignore individual differences and overgeneralize: "If Joe and Mary had bad experiences in the Holy Enlightenment Crusade for Oneness, then Harry too must have had the same kind of experiences." The notion of individual differences implies that, although Harry may very well also have been harmed, he may not have been, or may have been harmed in a different way. Thus, if you are Harry, you don't want your experiences defined by Joe and Mary. Nevertheless, you may learn something useful by finding out about Joe and Mary. This is part of AFF's role: helping you learn about the experiences and views of other people, while at the same time encouraging you to think carefully about the degree to which this information may or may not be relevant to your unique situation.

In other words, pay respectful attention to the resources in this guide, but don't do what you might have been encouraged to do in your group, that is, treat this information as holy writ that cannot be questioned.

Question! Question! Question!

If you were really in a destructive group, your capacity for independent critical thinking was probably assaulted and diminished. We cannot help you regain that capacity if we don't encourage you to critically examine what we say, as well as what others say.

An excellent way to enhance your capacity for critical thinking is to talk to former members from diverse groups, such as in one of AFF's "After the Cult" workshops . The diversity of participants' backgrounds is one of the factors that make these workshops so effective. Participants begin to see the psychologically manipulative practices of groups in bold relief when they hear the accounts of people from groups that on the surface are completely different from their own group. If you do not have information on forthcoming workshops, contact AFF.

Clinical and research evidence suggests that many former members of abusive groups tend to inappropriately blame themselves for their problems, much as the group blamed them. Former members also tend to be depressed and anxious, and often experience what has been called "floating" (i.e., a sense of slipping from normal to cult states of consciousness). Many also feel overt or suppressed anger toward the group's leader(s). An AFF survey found that ex-members related to the terms "psychological trauma" and "psychological abuse" as descriptors of their experience. A large percentage, probably a majority, appears to need counseling when they leave their groups. But many psychologically needy individuals do not seek counseling, or receive counseling that isn't as effective as it could be because cult-related issues are not addressed.

Surveys indicate that over 90% of ex-members have found reading materials and talking to other ex-members to be helpful. The resources described elsewhere may, therefore, prove useful to you.

If you are experiencing psychological distress, it might be advisable to seek professional help, if you have not already done so. If you do, do not be intimidated by credentials. And don't be afraid to "shop around" for a therapist with whom you feel comfortable. Psychotherapeutic effectiveness depends upon many interacting variables, and a sense of rapport between therapist and client is certainly very desirable. Captive Hearts, Captive Minds   has a useful section on selecting a psychotherapist.

AFF can sometimes give you the names of mental health professionals in various parts of the country who have experience working with former cult members. However, many therapists without such experience can also be effective helpers, especially if they are willing to learn about cultic groups and psychological manipulation. Many former members have been able to teach their therapists (e.g., through reading materials and discussion) about the cult phenomenon and its clinical implications.

AFF's Ex-Member Library is a special collection (costing less than the individual items) of resources that we believe have been especially useful to many ex-members. The library includes the following:

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Discounted Price: $190 (Outside USA: $245). ID: LIBEX

A less expensive alternative is to purchase individual items. We suggest that you consider the following as a minimum:

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).

AFF now sells more book titles not included in our special libraries. The following may especially interest you:

If you have questions about legal issues, probably the best introductory resource for former members is a chapter by Herbert Rosedale, Esq., President of AFF: "Legal Considerations," in Recovery From Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse.  Also consult the Suggestions for Legal Professionals.

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