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Paul R Martin Memorial Lecture

ICSA Today, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2011, 14-17

Paul R Martin Memorial Lecture

Rod Dubrow-Marshall, PhD

In so many ways I am so very sorry to be delivering this memorial lecture—a memorial lecture—in tribute to our dear colleague and friend Dr. Paul Martin, who so very sadly, and so very prematurely, passed away in August of last year. Paul Martin was so much loved and respected—by his family, including Barb, Tim, and his brother Steve, who are here today; by his many friends and colleagues in the field; but also by many, many people whose lives he touched and helped the world over. Late last fall I suggested to Michael Langone that ICSA should consider an annual lecture to honour Paul’s memory, his work, and to burn a torch for continuing his legacy, as I know he would so definitely want us to do. So I am also truly honoured and humbled to be paying this inaugural tribute today—as best I can—to one of the real pioneers and giants in the cultic-studies and cult-recovery field, and a dedicated champion of the protection of human rights from abuse.

I want to say first of all that Paul was a dedicated weaver of a tapestry he threaded together—the personal and professional; individual, family, and community; physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of existence; clinical work and research—all as they related to the complex and, at least early on, much misunderstood and emerging field of research on cultic influence, and the recovery of individuals and families from cultic abuse.

Paul’s professional background as a psychologist was in experimental psychology, and I remember him telling Linda and me about the subjects of some his experiments, which were white rats. It was during this time, I think, that Paul and Barb met; and they had their own experience in a religious cult. I often wondered and was struck by—and I have often wondered if Paul was, too—how much of a leap there really was from observing rats in a maze, trapped and looking for a way out, to the mystifying, soul-destroying experience for members of destructive cults.

As many know, Paul formed Wellspring with Barb back in the 1980s; and with her support and the support of his family and many dedicated co-workers, Wellspring became the leading and pioneer residential treatment facility for survivors of abusive cultic groups and relationships. It was, to put it simply, Paul’s calling—it involved a lot of sacrifices for him and his family—but it blended together his commitment to humanity, to God, and to the creation of a safe haven, a space for psychological and spiritual recovery, an oasis from which the scared could find solace, the depressed find hope. The location was and is literally, nowhere; and from nowhere many found their way back to somewhere. Many in this room today and far beyond, I know, have benefitted immensely from the work of Wellspring, the work of Paul, the commitment too of Barb, the support of Tim and Steve; and I want to pay special tribute today to all of Paul’s family for your incredible contribution to making and sustaining Wellspring over so many years.

This lecture, then, is about Paul Martin’s contribution along so many dimensions—how he created and weaved together the “Wellspring method” for treatment of survivors of cults. This was a method that drew on seminal work by Robert J. Lifton; and I remember Paul describing how, when he read Lifton, he had an epiphany, an “a-ha” moment, which changed the course of his life’s work. I know he remained eternally grateful to Robert J. Lifton for his seismic contribution to our understanding of cults and extremism, and he went onto develop a new scale—the Lifton scale—which operationalises the themes of thought reform outlined by Lifton and is an important method to measure the extent of cultic abuse in group contexts.

What is so special about Paul Martin’s approach to work and to life is that he did not keep these insights to himself—this was not just a private epiphany, but a bold leap of faith that he shared with many others and that led to a treatment program and its progenies, which have literally saved the lives of many hundreds of people affected by cults worldwide.

What is and was unique was that this was a treatment program that acknowledged at its heart that members of cults have had special and unique experiences. There may be some commonalities with victims of other forms of trauma (such as plane crashes), but there are some key differences—often including an ideological commitment that has to be understood and worked through as part of the recovery process. Operationalizing the essences of thought reform into a workable treatment program was a revelatory approach that has arguably changed the field of cult recovery forever. Now Paul was also a humble and generous man, and I think I know he would also want me to say that he didn’t do this on his own. There was Barb’s contribution, and also some other very special colleagues who worked with him on this unique method—Larry Pile, Ron Burks… There are others, too. Paul was also a great leader of committed practitioners, and he assembled a wonderful team of colleagues who took forward this unique blend of therapy and psycho-education over many years and hundreds and hundreds of clients.

The other key thing that Paul decided to do was to measure the success of his treatment program at Wellspring. As practitioners, we all have that choice in life: Do I subject my work to the scrutiny of science, of research, to see—to put it bluntly—whether the work I am doing is having any positive effect, or am I just imagining it is? I think this was a key commitment of Paul’s life, too, which was never to be satisfied with good enough, but to strive for better understandings through these new approaches and through a detailed analysis of its outcomes. So Paul, with others, such as Ron Burks, Pete Malinoski, Jodi Aronoff, J. B. Whitney, and others at Ohio University in Athens, created what has become known as the “Ohio Battery”. This test packet of instruments was carefully constructed and administered to clients at intake to the (usually) 2-week treatment program and at discharge; and, where possible, a follow-up of some of the measures was also administered some time later.

The immense benefit of this approach has been that, for the first time ever, there is now a large and hugely rich set of data that charts both the harm and the recovery of many hundreds of former cult members. At this point I should declare my own interest and say that I met Paul at Wellspring for the first time about a decade ago, and he got me hooked—quite literally, I think—with these key questions: Does this data show a specific pattern of harm that is unique to former cult members and that is explained by cultic practices? And does the data show an efficacious treatment program at Wellspring—one that is working and that shows that this harm can be treated, but only with a careful application of some of Lifton’s key tenets? Along with Ron, Pete, Lois Kendall, Carmen Almendros, Lindsay Orchowski, Linda Dubrow-Marshall, and others, we set about trying to answer those and related questions.

To be clear then: Paul Martin launched a new field of research enquiry on cults and recovery that has caught the imagination and interest of new generations of researchers from across the different continents of our planet. I think our growing research network, made up increasingly of psychologists and social scientists, has a great deal to thank Paul Martin for because I think he has inspired so many of us to push the boundaries of this field and of our enquiries.

Paul was not afraid to ask the difficult questions. And in part this was because he knew what the prize could be—he was dedicated to stamping out the myth put about by some academicians that cults were mostly benign, that brainwashing was a fiction: Data, hard data, carefully collected and rigorously analysed, held the hope that we, those of us who witnessed the harm in those we helped, “could nail the cult apologists for good.”

I was honored to work with Paul on some of the analysis of the data from Wellspring; and as some of you know from presentations that Paul and I did together at ICSA and elsewhere, we have gone some considerable distance to finding that prize. There is consistent evidence that the Wellspring method is highly efficacious, and that the harm it treats relates specifically and directly to cultic practice and undue influence. I promised Michael that this would be a stats-free talk, so I won’t delve any deeper today; but suffice it to say that the data analysis from Wellspring shows clearly that there is a specific form of cultic harm that is real and that is treatable. I remember vividly the excitement that Paul felt and transmitted to others as he worked on this statistical analysis—this was the height of his mission, to demonstrate scientifically what he knew as a clinician was the terrible harm that some people suffer in cults. As a consequence, I think I can say that any “cult apologists” still out there need to watch out!

Importantly, the combination of Paul Martin and his research was a standard bearer in the field for providing scientific data that could be used in courtroom settings; and Paul was a frequent expert witness, helping many victims of abuse get justice against the groups and individuals who had violated them. In these ways Paul’s published work of more than 15 articles and books raised the bar for others to follow. This work includes the seminal 1992 article in Cultic Studies Journal (with Michael Langone, Art Dole, and Jeffrey Wiltrout) on measuring post-cult symptoms using the MCMI, which demonstrated clear treatment effects for the Wellspring model and showed also that dissociation was a key feature of the psychopathology associated with prolonged cult membership.

His article in Cultic Studies Journal entitled “Pseudo Identity and the Treatment of Personality Change in Victims of Captivity and Cults” drew critical lines of connection with work across disciplines and practice contexts, demonstrating the visceral relevance of cultic studies, and the importance and applicability of a recovery model that took time to listen to the experiences of victims and focused on their holistic recovery and development. Paul Martin’s published work also included his chapter in the now-seminal volume Recovery from Cults, edited by Michael Langone, entitled “Post Cult Recovery: Assessment and Rehabilitation,” and of course the book that so many in the field have used as a guide to follow in working with families and other affected by destructive cults, Cult Proofing your Kids.

As I have said, Paul Martin’s work led to a considerable following of graduate students who worked with him over the years; and, with them, he presented at numerous conferences, which included the American Psychological Association; Ohio Psychological Association; and, back in October 2008, he presented with Linda Dubrow-Marshall, Ben Zablocki, Lois Kendall, and me as part of a symposium at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Paul was not afraid to take his analysis and his work to new audiences and to audiences who had perhaps been reluctant to admit the problem of cults and the dangers they can pose. This is another example of Paul Martin as the pioneer, breaking new ground, taking ideas and arguments further and more widely than ever before. It is not surprising and indeed was totally deserved that Paul Martin received not only the John G. Clark award from AFF for Distinguished Scholarship in Cultic Studies in 1993 but also that he was the co-recipient of the 2006 ICSA Herbert L. Rosedale Award for leadership in preserving and protecting individual freedom.

One brilliant example of Paul Martin’s work at its groundbreaking best was his analysis of Lifton’s work on thought reform and how this applied to the actions of terrorists and the growth of terrorism post-9/11. Unlike some whose analysis was based on ephemeral classifications or religious dogma, Paul’s approach was to systematically apply Lifton’s thorough analyses to this latest manifestation of cultic extremism and destruction. From Heaven’s Gate and Jonestown to Ground Zero and Abu Ghraib, a clear red line ran through Paul’s analysis that was compelling in his testimony in court cases, including the famous Lee Boyd Malvo trial and the case of Zacarious Moussoui (dubbed the “20th 9/11 hijacker”). Paul’s analysis of thought reform and extremism got to the heart of the matter in a most striking way that was as compelling to the courts as it was to conferences, to TV audiences, and to those who read his work.

I present to you now a diagram that Paul loved to quote and use—it was part of a series he produced to explain the power and relevance of Lifton’s work on thought reform. The graphic was designed by Tim, I believe, and it illustrates viscerally the process of “doctrine over person,” how the cult takes over the person, how the apple is reduced to the apple core. Strikingly beautiful and painful imagery—but the painful truth that has the potential to set you free, and Paul took this analysis to so many who were prepared to listen. Paul called the use of this analysis of thought reform as “Lifton on steroids”—this was a great Paul Martin phrase—and encapsulated his approach, which was to honourably develop the great work of Robert J. Lifton but take it to new heights of explanatory power and accessibility.

The difficulty of a lecture like this is that it is hard to distil into 20-some minutes a career and legacy in cult recovery practice and research that was so diverse, so wide ranging, and so life changing for many people and for the field itself. I was privileged to work with Paul, developing the Extent of Group Identity Scale with him and Ron Burks, and later using our analysis of the Wellspring data to develop a new theory to explain the social psychology of cults, the Totalistic Identity Theory—in fact, Paul was due to present with Linda Dubrow-Marshall and me at the British Psychological Society Social Psychology Section Conference in September 2009.

I know Paul was delighted, as we were, that we had finally broken into the heady halls of British academe with this “left-field” cult research. Linda and I forced ourselves to present last September without Paul—it was very hard and painful, but we knew it was the right thing to do. And one of the things that struck us at this conference was the extent of research on terrorism and extremism that drew on similar concepts and sometimes even on Robert J. Lifton’s work—such as Terror Management Theory—but that did not locate itself in the cultic-studies tradition.

Paul Martin advanced the cultic studies field so far that he has now brought it into dialogue with academic traditions with which we can collaborate—a fruitful dialogue ensues that will, I know, expand the range and quality of research in this area for years to come. Indeed, at the Research Network yesterday and also jointly with Mental Health Professionals Network, we focused on the range of intersections that exist for cultic studies research with traditional academic disciplines and other fields of study. We intend to set up an online resource for researchers and mental health professionals to allow us to identify and dialogue about the most fruitful ways in which we can develop positive intrusions into academic and practitioner conferences and journals—to build on Paul Martin’s legacy of taking cult research to The Ohio Psychological Association, The American Psychological Association, The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, The British Psychological Society… And, earlier this year, carrying the torch forward, Greg Sammons, the Clinical Resident Manager at Wellspring, has presented with colleagues on research using the MCMI, at the American Counseling Association.

The “wellspring” of insights and ideas, if you like, have lit a touch paper across the world—and I know that there are many, some of whom are here today, who spent time at Wellspring as interns, who have taken Paul’s legacy to new places, to new horizons. The Wellspring model has effectively been adapted and developed for new populations in new settings, and to help new victims of abuse and undue influence. The groundbreaking international measurements project, led by Carmen Almendros, to which Paul (and I) contributed, has its initial roots in the Ohio battery, the use of the GPA with Wellspring clients, which forms part of the largest data set internationally of former cult members who have been in a residential treatment programme. Paul’s work at Wellspring I know inspired Carmen, myself, Lois Kendall, so many others to go out and do research to answer the vital questions: How do cults cause harm? and How can people be helped to recover?

So moving forward, as we know we must, Paul Martin has set the standard high but continues to shine a bright beacon of hope for us to follow. Not the rigid “shining path” of a cult leader, I hasten to add, but the emancipating paths of possibility when the mind is free to think, able to analyse without constraint, without fear or favour. Cultic studies—because of Paul Martin—holds out the hope to be one of the most creative, most pluralistic, most liberating research fields in the social sciences; a field with its roots in action research, in practitioner research, which respects the phenomenology of lived experiences, while combining this with rigorous analysis using carefully designed instruments.

For practitioners, Paul Martin created methods and approaches that are also profoundly liberatory for individuals and families, thus creating paths to re-empowerment for people, giving hope and adding confidence—vital precious ingredients to recovery and personal development. The clinical practice and the research went hand in hand for Paul, and this is a critical lesson I think that we should all try to learn: that in our practice daily we are researchers, learners, as we reflect on our work, its impacts, how we can do better. In these ways, research and clinical practice become the “yin and yang” of the cult-recovery and cultic-studies fields. Paul Martin’s contribution has planted the seeds and flowering blooms of possibilities for generations to come; and we honor him in this lecture yearly so that his memory, embodied in so much that we do, continues to blossom and grow for the benefit of all who have been harmed, and for the future of human rights and freedom everywhere.