“I will not ‘should’ on myself today.”
Carol Giambalvo has no letters behind her name, no PhD, no MA, and, as she herself will tell you, “I never went to college.” She is a soft-spoken, kind great-grandmother.
But make no mistake: Carol Giambalvo is fierce. Fierce in her protectiveness of and advocacy for survivors of abusive relationships or groups. Her workshops (run together with her team) are geared toward cult survivors. The advice she would give to them is “Be patient with yourself, get the information, set up a support team for yourself, set healthy boundaries.”
To experience Carol standing up in the center of a room and encouraging you, with the weight and conviction of personal experience behind her, to be choosy about your friends and set your boundaries for yourself, is nothing less than invigorating. You feel as if someone has breathed oxygen directly into your lungs.
Carol grew up in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania and wanted to be a nurse when she was little. Later, she met and married Noel Giambalvo. It was in doing research about cults because her stepdaughter had become a devotee of Hare Krishna that Carol realized that the group she and Noel were in, est, was also cultic. Upon realizing this, they both left est and began to study the cult phenomenon deeply. Carol began to write, lecture, and work as an exit counselor, which eventually led to her heading workshops for cult survivors.
Over time, Carol and her team developed the workshop geared to cult recovery called the Colorado Model, an incredibly empowering experience that many people choose to attend more than once. According to an article published in ICSA Today in 2010,
This model consists of weekend workshops that are open to former members of destructive cults who have applied and been screened for their compatibility for attendance. The Colorado Model differs from other workshops in its strong emphasis on psycho-education and its use of former member facilitators who are mental health professionals. The ex-member facilitator team, equipped with the important credentials of cult experience and clinical training, models healthy cult recovery and instills hope for those struggling with cult trauma.
Carol was a founding member of reFOCUS, a national support network for former cult members, is on ICSA’s Board of Directors, is Director of ICSA Recovery Programs, and is responsible for ICSA’s Project Outreach. She has been the recipient of the Margaret T. Singer Award twice, in 2008 and in 2009.
In addition to all this, or perhaps making all this possible, is her “very, very close family... very supportive. I’m married to a wonderful man who is also so supportive of me and my work. We share his/hers children: his three and my two. Altogether, we have seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.”
“Doing this work,” she adds,
especially with the wonderful people in ICSA, has helped me develop into who I am far, far more than the promises of the self-improvement workshop that brought me into this work! It was, in fact, recovering from my experiences with that workshop that provided me with a perspective I never dreamed of having.