Articles‎ > ‎

Psychological Distress in Former ICC

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1999, Volume 16, Number 1, pages 33-51. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Psychological Distress in Former Members of the International Churches of Christ and Noncultic Groups

Peter T. Malinoski

Ohio University

Michael D. Langone

American Family Foundation

Steven Jay Lynn

State University of New York at Binghamton


Former members of the International Church of Christ (ICC, N = 15), a reputedly cultic group, former Catholics (N = 19), and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship graduates (IVCF, N = 23) completed a battery of standardized measures of psychological distress.  A substantial minority of the former ICC members reached clinically significant levels of psychological distress, depression, dissociation, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms; two-thirds sought psychotherapy after leaving the ICC.  Former ICC members scored higher than the noncultic comparison groups on measures of depression, anxiety, dissociation, and symptoms of avoidance and intrusion.  These findings support clinical reports of significant levels of psychological symptoms in former cult members.

In the last two decades, mental health professionals have argued that cults foster psychologically abusive environments that harm a significant proportion of their members (Clark, 1979; Hassan, 1988; Singer & Ofshe, 1990; West & Martin, 1994).  Clinicians assessing former cult members reported a high prevalence of depression, anxiety, anger or violent outbursts, dissociation, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (see Aronoff, Lynn, & Malinoski, in press, for a review). Two large surveys of former members (Conway, Siegelman, Carmichael, & Coggins, 1986; Langone, Chambers, Dole, & Grice, in preparation) found that a high percentage of respondents endorsed symptoms of depression, anxiety, dissociation, anger and/or violent outbursts, and PTSD symptoms, such as nightmares, flashbacks and insomnia.  

Cults do have their defenders, however.  These "cult sympathizers" (e.g. Alexander, 1985; Anthony & Robbins, 1992; Coleman, 1984; Levine, 1984; Malony, 1994) contend that cults are merely alternative cultures or "new religious movements."  Moreover, some evidence has accrued that cults can have beneficial effects on members, such as decreasing drug use (Galanter, Buckley, Deutsch, Rabkin, & Rabkin, 1980) and providing therapeutic benefits for members (Levine, 1984).

Aronoff, et al.'s review  (in press) concluded that the vast majority of studies assessing the psychological sequelae of cult involvement used nonstandardized measures of questionable reliability and validity.  The administration of specific, standardized measures with established clinical normative data to assess dissociation, anger, or PTSD symptoms in former cult members has not been reported in the published literature.  This is unfortunate insofar as such measures are needed to support or refute clinical observations of these symptoms in former members.  Martin, Langone, Dole, and Wiltrout (1992) published the only empirical study that used a specific, standardized measure of depression; their residential treatment sample of 111 self-described former cult members had a mean Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) score of 14, indicative of mild depression.  In addition, the median scores for the anxiety (79) and dysthymia (75) scales of the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory were in the clinically significant range.

So what are "cults"? Chambers, Langone, Dole, and Grice (1994) operationally defined cults as:

... groups that often exploit members psychologically and/or financially, typically by making members comply with leadership's demands through certain types of psychological manipulation, popularly called mind control, and through the inculcation of deep-seated anxious dependency on the group and its leaders (pp. 105-106).

Langone (1993) argued that cults use unethical, manipulative techniques of persuasion and control not found in benign groups.

The International Church of Christ (also known as the Boston Church of Christ) is commonly considered to be a cult (Ostling, May 18, 1992; Hill, February 19, 1988).  Thornburg (1996) described the ICC's controversial practices at Boston University, including high pressure recruitment, inducement of excessive guilt, submission to authoritarian leaders, a systematic thought-reform program, severing of contact with members' family and friends, absolute control over members' time, and heavy pressure on members to recruit.  American University and George Washington University have revoked the charters of student groups founded by church members, and Howard University investigated aggressive recruiting tactics by group members (Masters, April 24, 1994).  Ronald Loomis, past president of the Association of College Unions International, has identified 24 campuses that have banned the ICC for violations of campus regulations (personal communication, February 21, 1996).  Giambalvo and Rosedale (1996) collected seven first-person accounts from former members critically describing their involvement with the ICC.  


The present study incorporated samples of former Catholics and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship graduates as comparison groups.  The InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a nationwide, evangelical and interdenominational campus ministry, focuses its evangelical efforts on college students, espouses an orthodox Christian belief system, and is considered to be noncultic. IVCF members leave their group when they graduate or leave college.  IVCF graduates do not disaffiliate from their Christian churches, and graduates are not generally disgruntled with the IVCF.  Former Catholics may or may not be disgruntled with Catholicism.  


The goal of the current study was to evaluate psychological dysfunction in former members of a reputed cult, the International Church of Christ.  To do this, we used a battery of specific clinical measures with known psychometric properties to compare the former ICC members to two noncultic samples.  As noted above, clinical reports have noted that many former cult members suffer from significant psychological distress (Aronoff, et al., in press); thus, we made the following specific hypotheses:

1.        Former ICC members would score higher than the IVCF graduates and the former Catholics on measures of general psychological distress, depression, trait anxiety, trait anger, dissociation, and post-traumatic stress symptoms.  

2.        A greater percentage of former ICC members than IVCF graduates and former Catholics would reach clinically significant levels of distress on these measures.




Fifteen former ICC members (4 males and 11 females), 23 IVCF graduates (9 males and 14 females) and 19 former Catholics (6 males and 13 females) completed the assessment battery.  Table 1 provides basic demographic information on the samples.  Former ICC members were about 10 years older than former members of the other two groups, and former Catholics had about two fewer years of education than the other groups.  The majority of the former ICC members (80%), IVCF graduates (91%) and former Catholics (95%) were not married.  The racial composition of the groups varied considerably; half the IVCF graduates were of Asian ancestry, while Whites constituted the majority in the other groups (see Table 1). All participants lived in the greater Boston area.

Table 1  

Ethnic composition of the samples


                       White       Black       Hispanic      Asian        Other


Former ICC        13 (87)        2 (13)        0 (0)            0   (0)        0   (0)        

IVCF graduates          9 (39)        0   (0)        0 (0)        113 (57)        1   (4)        

Former Catholics        14 (74)        2 (11)        1 (5)          0   (0)        2 (11)


Demographics questionnaire.  The demographics questionnaire consisted of demographic items (e.g., age, sex, education, income, marital status, seeking of professional mental health) and basic questions about participants' involvement with their group, such as when they joined, and how long they were members.  

Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale (MCSDS). The MCSDS (Crowne & Marlowe, 1960) is a 33-item true-false self-report measure designed to measure social desirability (need for approval), independent of psychopathology (Crowne & Marlowe, 1960).  The test exhibits good test-retest reliability and internal consistency, and demonstrates excellent construct validity (Crowne & Marlowe, 1960).

Hopkins Symptom Checklist Subscales for Dissociation (HSLC-DIS).  The HSCL-DIS (Briere & Runtz, 1990) is a 14-item scale designed to assess dissociative responses; it was included as an alternate measure of dissociation.  It has good internal consistency, but construct validity has yet to be established (Briere & Runtz, 1990). Although norms exist for college women, clinically meaningful scores have not yet been determined.    

Symptom Checklist 90, Revised (SCL90-R).   The 90-item SCL90-R (Derogatis, 1994) is perhaps the most widely used measure of self-reported psychological distress; it has good internal consistency, reliability, and validity (Derogatis, 1994).  The Global Severity Index (GSI), recommended by Derogatis (1994) as the best single indicator of overall symptom severity, is used to assess reported psychological distress. Derogatis (1994) advocates an optimal T-score cutoff of 63 in the nonpatient norms as indicative of psychiatric disorders so this cutoff was used to determine clinically significant distress. The Derogatis (1994) male and female psychiatric outpatient GSI means were also used as higher thresholds for clinical significance.

Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). The 21-item multiple-choice BDI (Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1979) is considered the gold standard of self-report measures of depression, and it has demonstrated very good psychometric properties (see Beck, Steer & Garbin, 1988, for a meta-analytic review).  BDI scores of 19 or greater are indicative of moderate to severe depression (Beck, 1967; Beck et al., 1988), so this cutoff was adopted for clinical significance.

State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI-Y). The STAI-Y (Spielberger, Gorusch, Lushene, Vagg, & Jacobs, 1983) is a widely used self-report measure consisting of 20 items assessing state anxiety and 20 assessing trait anxiety.  Only the 20 items assessing trait anxiety were analyzed in this study.  The trait portion of the scale has good internal consistency, test-retest reliabilities, and well-established construct validity  (Spielberger et al., 1983).  Spielberger et al. (1983) provide norms for male but not female outpatients, so a conservative raw score cutoff of 53 for males and 55 for females was adopted to determine clinically significant anxiety, representing the most anxious 5% of the working adult 19- to 39-year-old standardization sample.

State-Trait Anger Scale (STAS). The trait portion of the State-Trait Anger Scale (Spielberger, Jacobs, Russel, & Crane, 1983) consists of 10 items assessing trait anger severity.  The scale has adequate internal consistency and construct validity (Spielberger, Jacobs et al., 1983).  As no cutoffs were suggested for clinically significant levels of anger, a conservative cutoff score of 28 was adopted, which represents the 95th percentile for the college student, military recruit, and working adult normative samples reported in Spielberger, Jacobs et al., (1983).

Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES).  The DES (Bernstein & Putnam, 1986) is a 28-item self-report measure of dissociation that has been shown to reliably measure dissociation in normal and clinical samples.  Participants rate the percentage of time they experience dissociative phenomena on a 0-100 scale; the DES score is computed by summing all the scores together and dividing by 28.  The DES has good psychometric properties (Carlson & Putnam, 1993) and is able to adequately predict dissociative diagnoses (Carlson, et al., 1993).  Carlson and Putnam (1993) consider a DES score of 20 to be high and recommend that clinicians investigate further for dissociative disorders when this threshold is reached.  Hence, this criterion was adopted as the cutoff for clinical significance.

Impact of Events Scale (IES).   The IES (Horowitz, Wilner, & Alvarez, 1979) assesses the post-traumatic stress symptoms of intrusion and avoidance.  Intrusion includes "unbidden thought and images, troubled dreams, strong pangs or waves of feelings, and repetitive behavior," (Horowitz et al., 1979, p. 210).  Avoidance entails "ideational constriction, denial of the meanings and consequences of the event, blunted sensation, behavioral inhibition or counterphobic activity, and awareness of emotional numbness" (Horowitz et al., 1979, p. 210).  Symptoms of intrusion and avoidance were assessed for a single traumatic experience, which may or may not have happened during group membership.  The scale consists of a brief written description of the traumatic event, followed by ratings of 15 avoidance or intrusive symptoms.  The IES demonstrates good reliability and construct validity (Briere & Elliott, 1998).  Housekamp and Foy (1991) found that in a sample of battered women an IES Intrusion score of 29 demonstrated good sensitivity (.77) and specificity (.78) in predicting a DSM-IIIR diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, so this criterion was adopted for clinical significance.


Family Environment Scale (FES).  The FES (Moos & Moos, 1986) is a 90-item self-report measure of family dimensions.  It is comprised of ten subscales: cohesion, expressiveness, conflict, independence, achievement orientation, intellectual-cultural orientation, active-recreational orientation, moral-religious emphasis, organization, and control.  It has demonstrated adequate internal consistency, good test-retest stability and adequate construct validity (Moos & Moos, 1986).  The participants in this study retrospectively rated their families of origin.  

Childhood Sexual Victimization Questionnaire (CSVQ).  The CSVQ was adapted from Finkelhor (1979).  It inquires about a variety of sexual experiences.  If the participant endorsed experiencing fondling, attempted intercourse or completed intercourse from before the age of 16 and the other party was either five or more years older than the participant or used coercive techniques (bribes, threats, or physical force), the person was classified as sexually abused.

Physical Child Victimization Scale (PCMS).  The PCMS was adapted from Briere and Runtz (1988) and includes questions about physically abusive behaviors.  If the participant endorsed enduring bruises, scars, broken bones, or bleeding as a result of physical maltreatment (hitting, punching, beating, and kicking) from parents or stepparents before the age of 16, the participant was classified as physically abused.

Group Psychological Abuse Scale (GPAS).   The GPAS (Chambers, Langone, Dole, & Grice, 1994) is the first empirically derived measure designed to assess the abusiveness of group environments.  As it is not a clinical instrument, it will not be discussed further in the present research, but will be addressed in a future psychometric article.  



An ex-ICC members' association provided addresses for 152 former ICC members; a letter was sent to former ICC members in the Boston area explaining the study procedure and inviting participation.  The letter stated that the study "will compare the experiences and opinions of the former members of the Boston Church of Christ with graduates of a mainstream campus ministry and former members of a mainstream denomination."  The pastor of a Protestant church in the Boston area also assisted in recruiting church members who had previously been ICC members through announcements at services and through advertisements in the church bulletin.  

The New England Regional Director of the IVCF provided a list of 56 recent IVCF graduates and similar letters were sent to invite these individuals to participate.  IVCF graduate volunteers were also solicited at an IVCF graduation weekend.  Former Catholics were recruited through advertisements in the Boston University student newspaper, which read: "Former Roman Catholics are needed for a research study comparing mainstream and nonmainstream religious groups.  $10 compensation for participation.  If you are interested, contact [contact name and phone]."  

The second author tested participants individually or in small groups either at the Danielsen Institute at Boston University or at a local Protestant church.  After completing written informed consent forms, listening to standardized instructions, and answering questions, participants completed the assessment battery. Participants required between one and two hours to finish the battery.   All participants were paid $10 for their participation and were informed that they could discontinue participating at any time.


Background Characteristics of the Sample


An alpha of .05 was used to evaluate statistical significance.  ANOVAs on 9 of the 10 subscales of the FES revealed no differences among the groups on retrospective evaluation of the family of origin.  The groups differed only on the Activity-Recreational subscale, F(2, 53) = 7.07, p = .002; Tukey post-hoc tests indicated that the IVCF graduates scored higher than the other two groups, suggesting that IVCF graduates perceived their families of origin to participate relatively more in recreational and social activities.  Statistical differences in the percentages of former ICC members, former Catholics and IVCF graduates reporting sexual abuse (33%, 26% and 4%, respectively) were detected, c2(2) = 6.7, p = .035.  Fisher's exact tests for small expected cell frequencies showed that a greater proportion of former ICC members than IVCF graduates reported sexual abuse (p = .027).   Former Catholics did not differ from either group.  Differences were detected among the former ICC members (7%), IVCF graduates (0%) and former Catholics (21%) in reported physical abuse perpetrated by parents or stepparents, c 2(2) = 7.0, p = .031.  Fisher's exact test indicated that Catholics reported higher rates of physical abuse than IVCF graduates did (p = .035) and that former ICC members did not differ from either group.  


More than half of the former ICC members (53%), compared with only 9% of IVCF graduates, reported seeking mental health services at any point prior to joining their group, a significant difference by Fisher's exact test, p = .004.  It must be noted that former ICC members joined their group approximately five years later in life than did IVCF. Former Catholics were not included because most considered themselves Catholics at a very young age (See Table 2).  No differences were detected in the proportions of former ICC (33%), Catholic (36%), and IVCF (4%) members who sought mental health services while they were in their groups, c2(2) = 4.08, p = .13; it also must be noted that former Catholics spent 16.2 years in their group, compared with 2.4 and 4.0 years for IVCF and former ICC members, respectively (see Table 2).

The groups did differ significantly in whether or not they sought mental health counseling after they left the group, c2(2) = 15.32, p < .001.  Former ICC members (67%) and former Catholics (42%) were more likely than former IVCF members (4%) to have sought mental health services after leaving (Fisher's exact tests, p <.001, and p =.025, respectively).  No differences in seeking mental health services after departure from the group were detected between the former ICC members and the former Catholics.  These findings must be viewed in the light that, on average, the former ICC members and former Catholics left their groups 5.4 and 5.7 years prior to the administration of the battery, compared to only 1.8 years for the IVCF graduates.  

Table 2

Demographics for the former ICC members, IVCF graduates, and former Catholics


ICC (N  = 15)      IVCF (N = 23)    Catholic (N = 19)   F(2,54)    p          ή2 


Age in years        33.5 (5.6)                23.9 (3.6)                22.3 (5.4)                        25.9        <.001        0.49

Years education        16.5 (2.5)                16.3 (0.9)                14.6 (2.0)                        6.0        0.005        0.19

Income        38,900(22,900)        56,400(56,000)        44,800(41,700)        1.4        0.257        0.06

Age at joining         24.2 (7.7)                19.7 (1.7)                0.6 (2.6)                        149.4        <.001        0.85

Years in group        4.0 (2.4)                2.4 (1.3)                16.2 (3.3)                        184.9        <.001        0.88

Years since left        5.4 (2.6)                1.8 (3.8)                5.7 (5.7)                        5.0        0.01        0.17

An ANOVA revealed no differences on the MCSDS, F(2, 54) = 1.0, ns, suggesting that group differences in social desirability were unlikely to cloud the results of the other measures.

Psychological Functioning after Disaffiliation


Table 3 shows the means, standard deviations, effect sizes, and F-values for the ANOVAs on the measures of psychological functioning.  Two orthogonal planned comparisons were calculated in each analysis.  The first compared the IVCF graduates and the former Catholics, using two-tailed tests; no differences were detected on any of the clinical measures between these noncultic comparison groups (see Table 3).  The second orthogonal contrast used one-tailed tests to evaluate the directional hypotheses that former ICC members were more distressed than members of both noncultic groups on the clinical measures.  Table 4 shows the frequency and percentage of each group reaching clinical significance on each of the clinical measures, as defined in the procedure section.  The former ICC members were compared to the noncultic comparison groups combined; Fisher's exact test was used to test for differences in proportions.  

Former ICC members, IVCF graduates and former Catholics differed on the omnibus test on the SCL-90R; no differences between former Catholics and IVCF graduates were detected.  Former ICC members scored marginally higher than the other groups (p = .053, see Table 3).  According to Derogatis' (1994) T-score criterion, nearly half of the former ICC members are considered at high risk for the presence of a psychiatric disorder compared with about a quarter of the noncultic groups; this difference approached, but did not reach statistical significance (see Table 4).  When, however, the Derogatis (1994) outpatient means are used as higher clinical thresholds, a significantly greater percentage of former ICC members (40%) than the noncultic groups were at risk for psychiatric disorders (see Table 4).

Former ICC members scored significantly higher than the comparison groups on the BDI; their mean of 13 indicates that on average, they can be classified as "mildly depressed" (Kendall et al., 1987).  One-third of former ICC members scored in the moderately to severely depressed range compared with none of the former Catholics and only one IVCF graduate, a significant difference (see Table 4).  

Marginal differences were detected among the groups on trait anxiety as measured by the TAI (see Table 3).  Planned comparisons revealed no differences between IVCF graduates and former Catholics, but former ICC members scored significantly higher than the non-cultic comparison groups (see Table 3).   One-third of the former ICC members reached the 95th percentile in anxiety for working adults aged 19-39, compared with 9% of the IVCF graduates and 16% of the former Catholics; these percentages approached significance in the expected direction (see Table 4).  

Former ICC members were more dissociative as measured by the DES than the two noncultic comparison groups.  More than a quarter of former ICC members reached clinical significance on the DES compared to no IVCF graduates and five percent of former Catholics, a significant difference (See Table 4).  The HSCL-DIS detected no differences among the groups.

Table 4.

Frequency and percentage of participants reaching clinical significance


Measure                   Frequency (%)                


        ICC        IVCF        Catholic                Fisher


Symptom Checklist 90 Revised

(T score > 63)        7 (47)        5 (22)               5 (26)        0.093        

Symptom Checklist 90 Revised (outpatient means)

        6 (40)        0 (0)        2 (11)                0.003        

Beck Depression Inventory(Score >= 19)        5 (33)        1 (4)        0 (0)                0.004        

Trait Anxiety Inventory        5 (33)        2 (9)        3 (16)                0.074

Trait Anger Scale        0 (0)        0 (0)        1 (6)                0.732

Dissociative Experiences Scale        4 (27)        0 (0)        1 (5)                0.014

Impact of Events--PTSD likely        4 (27)        1 (5)        0 (0)                0.015


Note:  Fisher's exact tests compare the former International Church of Christ (ICC) members to the combined noncultic groups and yield one-tailed probability levels.  Two InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) graduates did not complete the IES Avoidance Scale, and one IVCF graduate did not complete the IES Intrusive scale.  One former Catholic did not complete the Trait Anxiety Inventory.

Former ICC members experienced more intrusive symptomatology and were more avoidant as measured by the IES than the two comparison groups (see Table 3). As shown in Table 4, a significantly greater proportion of former ICC members (27%) reached clinical significance on the IES intrusiveness scale, suggesting presence of a PTSD diagnosis, compared with 5% of IVCF graduates and no former Catholics.  Forty percent of the former ICC members scored higher on the IES Avoidance scale than the standardization outpatient mean of seekers of outpatient psychotherapy for an adverse event (Horowitz et al., 1991), compared with 14% of IVCF graduates and 21% of former Catholics; this difference approached statistical significance (see Table 4).


Former ICC members did not differ from the comparison groups on trait anger as measured by the TAS (see Table 4). The means for the three groups were at or slightly below the normative means for working adults, college students, and military recruits reported in Spielberger et al. (1983).  Likewise, no differences emerged in the proportions of people reaching clinically significant trait anger; only one former Catholic and none of the former ICC members or IVCF graduates reached the 95th percentile.



At least a substantial minority of the former ICC members in the sample reached clinical significance on the measures of general psychological distress, depression, dissociation, anxiety, and symptoms of intrusion and avoidance.  Former ICC members scored significantly higher than the noncultic comparison groups on measures of depression, anxiety, dissociation, and symptoms of avoidance and intrusion, with marginal differences emerging for general psychological distress.  

Forty percent of the former ICC members scored at or above the clinical outpatient means for general psychological distress on the SCL90-R compared with 5% of the participants from noncultic comparison groups, suggesting a large minority of the former ICC members were experiencing significant psychological distress.  The mean SCL-90R score for former ICC members was well above the means for the nonpatient standardization sample, and approached the outpatient means (Derogatis, 1994).

One-third of former ICC members scored in the moderate to severe range of depression on the BDI compared to 2% of participants in the noncultic groups. The mean BDI score of 13.1 for the former ICC members is indicative of mild depression, and is close to the BDI mean of 14 reported by Martin et al. (1992) for self-described former cult members from different groups seeking residential treatment for cult-related issues. The means for the noncultic comparison groups were in the normal range.  Thus former ICC members are more likely to experience significant depression than former members of the other groups.  

Similarly, 33% of former ICC members reached the 95th percentile on trait anxiety on the STAI, compared with 12% of the participants from noncultic comparison groups.  The former ICC members' mean TAI score was comparable to those suffering from panic disorder (Oei, Evans, & Crook, 1990) and to male neuropsychiatric patients in the standardization sample (Spielberger et al., 1983); means for the noncultic comparison groups were very close to the nonpatient psychiatric means (Spielberger et al., 1983).  

The mean DES score of 13.8 for the former ICC members was higher than general population means for five studies reviewed by Carlson and Putnam (1993), whose mean or median DES scores ranged from 3.7 to 7.8; means for the comparison groups were within the normal range.  DES scores indicated that as many as one-quarter of the former ICC members may experience significant dissociative pathology, compared with 2% of the noncultic comparison groups.   The HSCL-DIS, however, indicated that all group means were comparable with the standardization sample of college women reported by Briere and Runtz (1990).

The former ICC group means for the IES intrusion and avoidance subscales are only slightly lower than the normative means for those who sought outpatient psychotherapy for stress response syndromes for bereavement or injuries resulting from accidents, violence, illness or surgery (Horowitz et al. 1979).  The means for comparison groups were well below the outpatient group means.  Moreover, 40% of the former ICC members indicated that they were experiencing significant problems with avoidance of stimuli related to the traumatic event, and 40% reported significant intrusive symptoms. More than a quarter of former ICC members are likely to meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD, compared with 2% of the members across the comparison groups. No group differences emerged on the measure of trait anger.

These findings, coupled with the fact that two-thirds of former ICC members sought mental health counseling after leaving the ICC suggest that a high proportion of former ICC members suffer from the psychological described in surveys and clinical reports of former cult members.  These preliminary findings provide empirical evidence to support clinicians' observations of distress, depression, anxiety, dissociation, and PTSD symptoms in former cult members.

A number of limitations of the present study are worth noting.  Small sample sizes resulted in decreased statistical power to detect true differences. In addition, the responses generated by letter and newspaper advertisements constituted convenience samples, and may not be representative of the entire population for each group.  Moreover, the racial composition and ages of the groups varied considerably.  A greater proportion of former ICC members reported sexual abuse in childhood, which has been shown to have negative long-term psychological sequelae (Malinosky-Rummel & Hansen, 1993).  The greater proportion of ICC members seeking counseling before joining may suggest that the ICC attracts more distressed recruits than InterVarsity; this may partially explain the former ICC members' relatively higher scores on current measures of psychological distress.  One must not conclude on the basis of these data any causal relationship between group membership in the ICC and higher levels of psychopathology after leaving, but there does appear to be a correlation.

This study is unique in assembling a battery of standardized, validated measures of clinical symptoms, seeking out former members of a cultic group who were not necessarily seeking psychotherapy, and incorporating noncultic comparison groups. Nevertheless, future studies should assess larger samples of former members of groups suspected of being cultic in nature with a similar battery of normative measures to determine whether a similar pattern of findings pertinent to psychopathology emerges.


Alexander, J. W. (1985).  Religious freedom at secular schools.  Cultic Studies Journal, 2, 318-320.

Anthony, D. & Robbins, T. (1992).  Law, social science and the "brainwashing" exception to the First Amendment.  Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 10, 5-29.

Aronoff, J.B., Lynn, S.J., & Malinoski, P.T. (in press). Are cultic environments psychologically harmful?  Clinical Psychology Review.

Beck, A.T. (1967).  Depression: Causes and treatment.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Beck, A.T., Rush, A.J., Shaw, B.F., & Emery, G. (1979).  Cognitive therapy of depression.  New York: Guilford Press.

Beck, A.T., Steer, R.A., & Garbin, M.G. (1988).  Psychometric properties of the Beck Depression Inventory.  Clinical Psychology Review, 8, 77-100.

Bernstein, E.M., & Putnam, F.W. (1986).  Development, reliability, and validity of a dissociation scale.  Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 174, 727-735.

Briere, J., & Elliott, D.M. (1998).  Clinical utility of the Impact of Events Scale: Psychometrics in the general population.  Assessment, 5, 171-180.

Briere, J., & Runtz, M. (1990).  Augmenting Hopkins SCL Scales to measure dissociative symptoms: Data from two nonclinical samples.  Journal of Personality Assessment, 55, 376-379.

Briere, J., & Runtz, M. (1988).  Multivariate correlates of childhood psychological and physical maltreatment among university women.  Child Abuse and Neglect, 12, 331-341.  

Carlson, E.B., & Putnam, F.W. (1993).  An update on the Dissociative Experiences Scale.  Dissociation, 6, 16-27.

Clark, J. G. (1979). Cults. Journal of the American Medical Association, 242, 279-281.

Chambers, W. V., Langone, M. D., Dole, A.A., & Grice, J. W. (1994).  The Group Psychological Abuse Scale:  A measure of the varieties of cultic abuse.  Cultic Studies Journal, 11, 88-117.

Coleman, L.  (1984).  New religions and the myth of mind control.  American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 54, 322-325.

Conway, F., Siegelman, J. H., Carmichael, C. W., & Coggins, J. (1986).  Information disease: Effects of covert induction and deprogramming.  Update: A Journal of New Religious Movements, 10, 45-57.

Crowne, D., & Marlowe, D. (1960).  A new scale of social desirability independent of psychopathology.  Journal of Consulting Psychology, 4, 349-354.

Derogatis, L.R. (1994).  Symptom Checklist 90-R: Administration, scoring and procedures manual.  Minneapolis: National Computer Systems.

Finkelhor, D. (1979).  Sexually abused children.  New York: Free Press.

Galanter, M., Buckley, P, Deutsch, A, Rabkin, R., & Rabkin, I. (1980). Large group influence for decreased drug use: Findings from two contemporary religious sects.  American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 7, 291-304.

Giambalvo, C., & Rosedale, H.L. (Eds.), The Boston Movement: Critical perspectives on the International Churches of Christ.  Bonita Springs, FL: American Family Foundation.

Hassan, S. (1988).  Combating Cult Mind Control. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.

Hill, C.B. (1988, February 19).  Boston Church of Christ grows amid controversy.  Christianity Today, 53, 55.

Horowitz, M., Wilner, N., & Alvarez, W. (1979).  Impact of Events Scale:  A measure of subjective stress.  Psychosomatic Medicine, 41, 209-218.

Housekamp, B.M., & Foy, D.W. (1991).  The assessment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in battered women.  Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 6, 367-375.

Langone, M. D. (1993).  Introduction.  In Langone, M.D. (Ed.) Recovery from cults:  Help for victims of psychological and spiritual abuse..  New York: W. W. Norton, 1-21.

Langone, M. D., Chambers, W. V., Dole, A. & Grice, J. (unpublished manuscript).  Results of a survey of ex-cult members.

Levine, S. V. (1980).  The role of psychiatry in the phenomenon of cults.  Adolescent Psychiatry, 8, 123-137.  (reprinted from the 1979 Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 24, 593-603.)

Levine, S. V. (1984, August).  Radical departures.  Psychology Today, 21-27.

Malinosky-Rummel, R., & Hansen, D. J. (1993).  Long-term consequences of childhood physical abuse.  Psychological Bulletin, 114, 68-79.

Malony, H. N. (1994).  Freedom of speech and assembly.  In L. Holzman (Chair), Protecting constitutional rights: The social and scientific responsibility of psychologists.  Symposium conducted at the American Psychological Association, Los Angeles, CA.

Martin, P. R., Langone, M. D., Dole, A. A., & Wiltrout, J. (1992).  Post-cult symptoms as measured by the MCMI before and after residential treatment.  Cultic Studies Journal, 9, 219-249.

Masters, B.A. (1994, April 24).  Small church causes a stir on campuses: Boston group's tactics banned.  Washington Post, pp. B1, B4.  

Moos, R.H., & Moos, B.S. (1986).  The Family Environment Scale Manual (2nd ed.).  Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.  

Oei, T.P.S., Evans, L., & Crook, G.M. (1990).  Utility and validity of the STAI with anxiety disorder patients.  British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 29, 429-432.

Ostling, R.N. (1992, May 18).  Keepers of the flock.  Time, 62.

Singer, M., & Ofshe, R.  (1990).  Thought reform programs and the production of psychiatric casualties.  Psychiatric Annals, 20, 188-193.

Spielberger, C.D., Gorsuch, R.L., Lushene, R., Vagg, P.R., & Jacobs, G.A. (1983).  State-Trait Anxiety Inventory for Adults: Manual.  Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Spielberger, C.D., Jacobs, G., Russell, S., & Crane, S.R. (1983).  Assessment of anger: The State-Trait Anger Scale.  In J.N. Butcher & C.D. Spielberger, (Eds.) Advances in personality research (pp. 161-177).  Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Thornburg, R.W. (1996).  The Boston Church of Christ at Boston University.  In C. Giambalvo & H.L. Rosedale, (Eds.), The Boston Movement: Critical perspectives on the International Churches of Christ.  Bonita Springs, FL: American Family Foundation.

West, L. J., & Martin, P. R. (1994).  Pseudo-identity and the treatment of personality change in victims of captivity and cults.  In Lynn, S. J. & Rhue, J. W. (Eds.)  Dissociation:  Clinical and theoretical perspectives.  New York: Guilford Press, 268-288.

Peter T. Malinoski, M.S. is a doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology at Ohio University.

Michael D. Langone, Ph.D. is Executive Director of AFF and Editor of Cultic Studies Journal.

Steven Jay Lynn, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology, State University of New York at Binghamton.

Table 3

Comparisons of the former ICC members, former Catholics and ICVF graduates on the clinical measures

  Measure        ICC (N=15)  h2        IVCF (N=23) contrast 1        Catholic (N=19) P contrast 1        F(2,54)  †contrast 2        P  P contrast 2                                tcontrast2        p        

  SCL- 90-R                    0.93 (0.81) 0.11            0.47 (0.28) 1.5        0.65(0.48) 0.159                   3.5 1.7          0.037 .053                                1.7        .053        

  Beck Depression   Inventory        13.1 (10.0) 0.22        4.4 (5.0) 1.6        7.0 (5.1) 0.115        7.6 2.7        0.001 .008                                2.7        .008        

  Trait Anxiety Inventory        45.9 (13.9) 0.10        36.3 (10.5) 1.0        39.9 (11.3) 0.322        3.1 2.2        0.055 .016                                2.2        .016        

  Trait Anger Scale        17.7 (5.2) 0.06        16.0 (3.9) 1.7        18.4 (4.6) 0.090        1.6 0.3        0.214 3.73                                0.3        .373        

  Dissociative Experiences Scale        

                13.8 (13.5) 0.15        4.9 (5.0) 1.4        7.7 (7.4) 0.168        4.7 2.0        0.013 .029                                2.0        .029        

  HSCL   Dissociation        24.7 (8.1) 0.07        21.3 (5.1) 1.7        24.5 (5.8) 0.100        1.9 0.9        0.157 .177                                0.9        .177        

  Impact of Events   Avoidance        

                17.1 (13.0) 0.17        6.1 (8.1) 0.9        9.0 (9.8) 0.365        5.3 3.1        0.008 .002                                3.1        .002        

  Impact of Events   Intrusion        16.7 (12.0) 0.19        5.8 (8.9) 0.4        7.1 (8.1) 0.670        6.4 3.5        0.003 .001                                3.5        .001        

Note: The first comparison compares InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (ICVF) graduates to former Catholics; two-tailed p values were used, as there were no directional hypotheses.  The second contrast compares former International Church of Christ  (ICC) members to both non-cultic groups; one-tailed p-values were used, as the former ICC members are hypothesized to be more impaired than members of the comparison groups.  Standard deviations are listed in parentheses.  Two IVCF graduates did not complete the IES Avoidance Scale, and one IVCF graduate did not complete the IES Intrusive scale.  One Catholic did not complete the Trait Anxiety Inventory.