Articles‎ > ‎

Psychologists Survey

Cultic Studies Review, 7(1), 2008, 1-19

Psychologist Survey Regarding Cults

Edward A. Lottick, M.D.

Abstract

In order to assess psychology professionals’ experience with, knowledge of, and opinions about cults, we mailed a detailed questionnaire to 2,980 members of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association. Our interest was specified as being about cult behavior rather than belief, and about cults that were harmful rather than benign. In the directions, “destructive cult” was briefly characterized as one that utilizes manipulation and constraint to accomplish the objectives of the organization or leader to the detriment of the recruit or adherent. A total of 695 psychology professionals completed the questionnaire. Half of the respondents indicated direct experience with cults—professional, personal, or both. Detailed results are presented and discussed, and some recommendations for psychology professionals and other interested readers are presented.

According to Lottick (2005), in recent decades approximately 5,000 cults that contain approximately two million adherents have operated in the United States. In his address, Lottick specifically cited surveys of high school students that estimated that 1% to 3% of this age group report belonging to a cult.

Olsson (2005) makes very clear that some cults have extremely destructive aspects. For the past several decades, it has become commonplace, especially in psychiatry, psychology, and cultic studies, to distinguish destructive cults from benign cults. Included in the destructive variety are groups that encourage people to make a complete break with their family and their past. Some organizations are dedicated to complete and unquestioning control of members, even to the point of personal harm, and the term “destructive cult” is applied to distinguish them from more benign groups.

In 1985 The International Cultic Studies Association/University of California at Los Angeles, (ICSA/UCLA) Wingspread Conference on Cultism developed the following definition:

Cult (totalist type): A group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control … designed to advance the goals of the group’s leaders to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community. (West & Langone, 1986)

In a 1992 survey of physicians, Lottick (1993) defined destructive cults as

groups which violate the rights of their members, harm them through abusive techniques of mind control, and distinguish themselves from normal social or religious groups by subjecting their members to physical, mental, or financial deprivation or deception to keep them in the group.

Many scientists, psychological and medical practitioners, cultic-studies students, and even cult supporters and self-characterized “cult experts” have spoken and written about cults. Aronoff, Lynn, & Malinoski (2002) reviewed empirical studies that examined harm among ex-cult members. Professionals have also discussed their individual experience and insights in detail (Singer, 2003; Lalich & Tobias, 1994, 2006).

Cults have a history as long as history has been recorded, but there has been remarkably enhanced concern about them more recently. In the 1970s at least two noteworthy whistle-blowers called attention to the rapidly expanding adversity of cults. One was Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D., a psychologist, and the other was John G. Clark, M.D., a psychiatrist. Their writings (Singer, 1979; Clark, 1979) sounded an alarm. They suggested that harm, which consists of physical and psychological constraint and manipulation, refusal to let adherents leave, depletion of adherent’s funds and assets, denial of competent treatment for illness, and even plain and simple wasting of adherents’ time, had been widely noted as a consequence of destructive cult involvement. Such harm is now clearly perceived by a significant segment of the population, but widespread awareness of the extent of destructive cultic harm is not yet incorporated into the American culture.

Methods

In the late summer of 2004, 2,980 U.S.-postal-address psychology professionals, all from the membership list of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association, were mailed an 8-page, 275-item questionnaire. Seven hundred and four participants returned questionnaires, a 23.6% rate of return. Of these initial 704, 9 surveys were blank, including 7 with notes citing retirement, 1 with the comment “no experience,” and 1 without comment. That left us with 695 completed surveys to read and analyze.

The survey contained six different sections, as follows:

  1. Demographics, involving age, gender, level of education, occupation, and association membership;
  2. Sources of information about cults and self-rating of extent of knowledge;
  3. Professional experience with cults;
  4. Personal experience with cults;
  5. Miscellaneous (cult retribution, criminal sanctions for “brainwashing,” and usefulness of various terms); and
  6. Opportunities to express further thoughts.

Results

The participants were 60% female and 40% male. The age range was from 23 years old to 96 years old, with a median age of 51 years. Of the respondents, 70.9% had doctorate degrees (Ph.D., 49.1%; Psy.D., 15.6%; Ed.D., 6.2%), and 26.8% had master’s degrees (M.A., 14.7%; M.S., 8.6%; M.Ed., 3.5%). The pathway to masters or doctorates was occasionally not direct, and many experienced hands reported themselves as still students, which resulted in an overall total of 11.2% checking “student.” Licensed psychologists consisted of 81.8%. Of those responding, 78.8% reported that they were members of the American Psychological Association, 10.1% reported American Psychological Society membership, and 5.0% reported Eastern Psychological Association membership.

General Experience

Respondents were asked to specify the content area of their most advanced degree. Of the responses, 57.7% specified clinical psychology, 17.3% specified counseling, and 12.8% specified educational or school psychologist. In total, 38 different categories were specified by one to several participants. Respondents were asked to check particular specific operations performed in connection with their work during the past three years. Within that list, 84.4% checked psychotherapy, 49.9% checked counseling, 65.0% checked testing, 42.2% checked teaching, 24.9% checked research, 18.6% checked forensic, 39.1% checked administration, and 20.6% checked other.

Length and Focus of Practice

Respondents were asked how long they had been in practice since completing all of their training. The range of responses was from 0 years to 50 years, with a mean of 17.22 years and a standard deviation of 11.27 years. Participants were asked what percent of their practice was spent with clients or patients in psychotherapy or counseling. The range of responses was from 0% to 100%, with a mean of 63.3%.

Self-Rated Knowledgeableness Regarding Adverse Cults

Participants were asked how knowledgeable they were about cults with the following response rates: no knowledge 8.7%, little knowledge 46.5%, some knowledge 39.4%, and much knowledge 5.4%.

Information Resources Regarding Adverse Cults

If they had at least a little knowledge about cults, participants were asked how they acquire it? The following (descending) percentages were checked: professional literature, 45.3%; magazines, 40.3%; colleagues, 29.9%; clients, 23.6%; continuing education courses, 22.9%; professional meetings, 22.6%; mass-market books, 19.5%; friends, 16.0%; self-study books, 15.5%; graduate course work, 14.6%; college course work, 10.7%; computer Web sites, 7.9%; independent research, 7.4%; family, 6.5%; and conference workshops on cults, 3.1%. For Pennsylvania psychologists, there is obviously no single source or tight cluster of a few sources for information about cults. The less-than-50% but leading position of professional literature in the results underscores the importance of getting more scholarly information about cults into the literature.

Professional Experience with Cults

The 1992 survey of members of the Pennsylvania Medical Society revealed that 21% of primary-care physicians and 50% of psychiatrists had experience with cults. Similarly, psychologists’ overall experience totaled around 50%. Professional experience treating active or former cult members was reported by 33% of psychologists, and professional experience treating family or friends of the cult-involved was reported by 20.4% of the group. Former cult members were treated by 27.0% of psychologists, and active members were treated by 12.3%.

Pathogenicity of Cult Participation

After being asked about professional experience treating cult members, psychologists were then asked to specify if they were treating problems related to the cult, or not treating problems related to the cult, or treating both related and not-related problems. Of those with professional experience with cult members, 72.9% reported treating problems both related and unrelated to the cult experience, while 15.8% reported treating just cult-related issues, and 11.3% reported treating issues that were unrelated to the cult. Of those with professional experience with family and friends of cult members, 66.9% indicated they treated problems both related and unrelated, while 16.9% indicated treatment of cult-related and 16.2% indicated treatment of cult-unrelated issues. When cult members or ex-members or their family or friends are treated, most treatment is at least partially relevant to the cult experience. Of those treating either current or former members, only 11.3% of those they treated had problems that were unrelated to the cult experience; and of those treating family members or friends of cult members, only 16.2% of those they treated had problems that were unrelated to the cult experience. For some of those receiving treatment, cult participation is clearly implicated in the production of symptomatic illness, as subsequently reported by professional psychologists.

Age Distribution of Cult Affected Clients

Participants reported upon the age ranges of their clients (see Table 1). Most of the data is valid because most participants listed numbers of clients in each category. A handful of participants, however, merely made check marks and did not indicate their count. For tabulation, a check mark was simply counted as one. The results in Table 1 are therefore somewhat approximate.

Table 1

Age Distribution of Cult-Affected Clients

Participants gave an indication of the age ranges of their clients. Most of the data is valid because the great majority of participants listed numbers. A handful of participants, however, merely made check marks and did not indicate their count. A check mark was simply counted as one.

Age Ranges

Total Count

Under 18

173

18 – 25

328

26 – 65

317

Over 65

2

Relative Prevalence of Symptoms

The presentation list of symptoms in the survey had been derived from psychological assessments of ex-members and was taken from Aronoff et al. (2000). Each percentage number indicates the relative prevalence of each symptom (see Table 2).

Table 2

Relative Prevalence of Symptoms

The figures in Table 2 are percentages. Each percentage indicates the relative prevalence of each symptom. Note that each line of relative prevalence adds up to 100 percent. The presentation list of symptoms for the questionnaire was taken from Aronoff et al. (2000) and had been used in studies of ex-members.

Prevalence of Symptoms

None

Slight

Moderate

Much

Don’t know

Depression

4.5%

8.0%

29.5%

49.0%

9.0%

Anxiety

5.1%

5.1%

26.2%

51.8%

11.8%

Dissociation

17.4%

8.2%

23.8%

34.9%

15.7%

Passivity

12.4%

14.7%

27.6%

28.8%

16.5%

Guilt

9.9%

12.1%

27.5%

39.0%

11.5%

Psychotic break

34.7%

20.4%

13.7%

13.2%

18.0%

Fear of reprisal

14.0%

17.4%

24.4%

31.4%

12.8%

Other

13.3%

10.0%

16.7%

50.0%

10.0%

Among the symptoms listed in Table 2 and presented in our questionnaire, anxiety and depression were observed most commonly; guilt was next in frequency, then dissociation, then fear of reprisal, then passivity, then psychotic break. Nonlisted symptoms were elicited under “other,” where there was considerable activity. Post-traumatic stress disorder was cited four times. Symptoms mentioned twice were multiple personality disorder, delusions, sexual abuse, and self-mutilation. Twenty-eight additional symptom categories were listed once and consisted of alcohol abuse, relationship problems, personality disorder, eccentric beliefs, dissocial values, marital problems, dependence on cult leadership and structure, physical abuse, conduct disorder, rebellion, obsessive-compulsive disorder, visual hallucinations, sexual dysfunction, poor coping, poor decision-making, panic attack, loss of self-awareness, loss of ability to experience intimacy, loss of self-esteem, poor memory, poor reality-testing, eating disorders, night terrors, triggering, suicidal actions, self-doubt, and loss of ability to assert self without panic and anger.

Effective Treatment List

Participants volunteered their favored treatments for clients with cult-related issues. One category stood out. Of the respondents, 61 wrote down “CBT” (cognitive behavioral therapy), and 18 respondents wrote down “cognitive.” Also, 17 respondents wrote “supportive,” 15 wrote “family,” 13 mentioned hypnosis, 10 mentioned “psychodynamic,” 9 mentioned psychotropic medication, 7 mentioned interpersonal, and 7 mentioned “insight-oriented.” In addition, from our now-more-complete list, 88 other treatment approaches were mentioned, with frequencies ranging from 1 time to 6 times.

Ineffective Treatment List

In this category, 15 participants listed psychodynamic/psychoanalytic, 6 listed “behavioral.” A number of respondents commented on the ineffectiveness of authoritative and directive approaches. The complete list of various treatments cited as ineffective totaled 44.

Suicide Attempts and Completed Suicide

In this category, both suicide attempts and completed suicides had occurred. There were 279 responses either “yes” or “no” regarding experience with cult-related attempted suicides. Of the survey participants 36 (12.9%) checked “yes,” and the remainder checked “no.” There were 278 answers regarding experience with cult-related completed suicides. Of the participants, 7 (2.5%) checked “yes,” and the remainder checked “no.”

Professional Comfort Level for Cult-Related Problems

The percent distribution of five different responses to a question about comfort level with client-related cult problems was as follows: Very uncomfortable, 20.1%; somewhat uncomfortable, 33.5%; neutral, 27.1%; somewhat comfortable, 14.4%; and very comfortable, 4.9%.

Personal Experience with Cults

Participants were asked whether they had ever had personal experience involving the participation of self, family member(s), or friend(s) with a destructive cult. Of 625 participants responding, 82 (13.1%) responded “yes,” and 543 (86.9%) responded “no.” Participants were then asked which of the following people were directly involved. “Myself” yielded positive responses from 23 out of 85 respondents (27.1%), “Spouse” yielded positive responses from 6 out of 72 respondents (8.3%), “Child” yielded positive responses from 6 out of 71 respondents (8.5%), “Parent” yielded 3 positive responses out of 72 respondents (4.2%), “Friend” yielded 36 positive responses out of 76 respondents (56.6%), and “Other” yielded 36 positive responses out of 76 respondents (47.4%). We realized that we had omitted a probably common category, “Sibling,” only when we were analyzing survey results. Siblings apparently ended up in the category “Other.”

Personal Comfort Level

Participants were asked about their comfort level for dealing with “cult-related personal problems.” The pattern was similar to that for responses to the comfort level with client-related cult problems. Of 385 respondents, the breakdown was as follows: Very uncomfortable, 17.1%; somewhat uncomfortable, 33.5%; neutral, 30.4%; somewhat comfortable, 11.4%; and very comfortable, 7.5%.

Hostile Retaliations by Cults

Participants were asked whether a destructive cult had subjected any of the persons listed in Table 3 to Investigation, Litigation, or Harassment. There were instances of each hostile action. Again, we inadvertently omitted “Sibling,” as well as “Parent” and “Other,” from this list.

Table 3

Hostile Cult Retaliation

The following numbers are totals of instances of various types of hostile cult retaliation cited by participants. Note that the presented list was incomplete and did not, for example, include sibling, parent, or other. Although we added up instances of each type, we failed to achieve a true grand total. Instances reported as one may include more than one occurrence.

Instances of Hostile Cult Retaliation Cited by Participants

Investigation

Litigation

Harassment

Self

5

3

19

Spouse

1

2

4

Child

2

1

4

Friend

6

3

18

Client

8

7

36

TOTALS

22

16

81

Usefulness of Terms for Psychological Manipulation and Control

As shown in Table 4, participants were presented with a list of terms and spaces to check to indicate the degree of usefulness for each term in a professional report or paper. The term most preferred by participants was “process of manipulation and control,” and the runner up was “mental manipulation.” “Brainwashing,” the popular commonplace “granddaddy” term for the process, was not very strongly favored by the participants.

Table 4

Usefulness of Terms for Psychological Manipulation and Control

Participants were presented with a list of terms and asked to check spaces to indicate the degree of usefulness for each term if it were used in a professional report or paper. The numbers are percentages based on responses to indicate relative usefulness of each term. Each horizontal line adds up to 100%.

Not

Useful

Somewhat

Useful

Useful

Very

Useful

Mind control

22.1%

18.3%

24.0%

35.7%

Thought reform

27.3%

26.7%

24.4%

21.7%

Brainwashing

24.7%

26.0%

21.4%

27.9%

Mental manipulation

9.2%

15.5%

35.7%

39.6%

Undue influence

10.0%

23.6%

33.6%

32.8%

Intensive persuasion

7.0%

15.5%

36.6%

40.9%

Psychological influence

7.4%

15.1%

36.3%

41.2%

Conversion induction

31.8%

28.8%

22.5%

16.9%

Process of manipulation and control

3.8%

9.8%

36.0%

50.4%

Differentiation of Terms for Influence

The question reflected in Table 5 was inspired by Margaret Singer’s effort to clarify that terms for psychological manipulation and control were distinct from other forms of influence (Singer, 2003). Participants were asked if they thought that the terms in the preceding question about psychological manipulation and control were distinct from other forms of influence such as propaganda, indoctrination, advertising. or education. Possible answers were yes, no, or not sure. 545 persons participated in responding to this question.

Table 5

Contrasting Terms

Are the following contrasting terms distinct or not from terms in Table 4?

Horizontal lines add up to 100%.

Yes

No

Not Sure

Propaganda

46.3%

33.2%

20.5%

Indoctrination

22.4%

52.0%

25.6%

Advertising

62.7%

20.3%

17.0%

Education

64.8%

16.8%

18.5%

Support for or Opposition of Law Against Brainwashing

We asked participants whether or not they would favor a law against brainwashing. Participants numbered 625. Of those, 21.4% “Strongly supported” a law against brainwashing, 35.0% “Supported” a law against brainwashing, 29.0% chose “Can’t say,” 10.1% marked “Oppose,” and 4.5% marked “Strongly oppose.” Participants were then asked how inclusive the law should be. Of 392 who answered, 15.3% checked “minors,” 7.7% checked “minors and adults,” 9.2% checked “minors, adults, and senior citizens,” and 67.9% checked “all citizens.”

Expressions of Curiosity and Further Interest

Participants were asked whether a continuing education program about cults would be useful if offered in Pennsylvania in the next year or two, and 52.5% checked “yes.”

Participants were also asked, Do you plan to read the results when the survey is published? Respondents numbered 602; of those, 89.0% responded “yes,” and 11.0% responded “no.”

The final question asked whether participants would like more information regarding possible resources to draw upon in a possible future encounter. Those participants who checked “yes” numbered 280.

Discussion

Destructive cults often create peculiarly distorted, unreflected-upon, short-cut, sometimes concrete thought in their recruits who are undergoing processing. It appears to the observer that these recruits have lost their higher powers of empathy, insight, and judgment. A percentage of cult followers develop symptoms partly as a result of this distortion or derangement and the concomitant short-cutting of their prior-to-cult, formerly richer and more reflective thought patterns (neural connections). Current research strongly suggests that persons who have been subjected to brainwashing have developed short-cut, less circuitous neuron pathways for processing thought in their brains (see Taylor, 2004). Some recovery or rejuvenation apparently involves reconnecting or re-establishing the former richer neural network.

In Table 1, it is noted that the juvenile segment is somewhat larger than expected from literature, while the senior-citizen segment tends to vanish in this study. Note that younger ages, less than 18 years, and especially in the age range from 18 to 25, predominate and therefore should be central in our concern. Education about destructive or adverse groups needs to achieve its goals in persons by their mid-teens at the very latest, because that is when recruitment interest accelerates.

Looking at Table 2, in retrospect it is obvious that the provided symptom list was not nearly extensive enough. Participants listed 33 different additional symptoms under “Other.” Because of no advance listing, no additional participants were able to bring to mind and comment on an expanded list. Anyone planning to repeat a similar question might consider using these detailed results as a basis for an expanded list. Also, perhaps the question would be less constrictive if it were worded to include “problems, and defects,” as well as “symptoms,” or perhaps more inclusively as “issues.” For an expanded list, see Giambalvo, 1993.

Referring to Table 3, various interferences such as Investigation, Litigation, and Harassment were occasionally checked. Harassment was the most common form of hostile retaliation. Survey reports probably involved patterns of harassment rather than isolated occurrences. For evaluation, let us assume a total pool of 1,000 cult-involved clients in the sample. Therefore, the hostile retaliation would have involved harassment for 8% those clients, investigation for 2% of the clients, and litigation for 1.6% of the clients.

Like the oft-cited Eskimos’ language and its variety of terms for their ubiquitous (but now diminishing) snow, cultic studies literature has a lot of terms for psychological manipulation and constraint, the focus of the results in Table 4. That is because psychological manipulation and constraint are so prevalent in the world of cultic studies. Each term for psychological manipulation and constraint in Table 4 is slightly different, however, and does have its individual history; but all are terms that involve psychological manipulation and constraint. Participants were asked to judge whether a specific term would be useful or not in a professional report or paper. The objective of the exercise was to determine whether a particular term was favored or not favored, and how strongly. It seems to be reasonable to assume that the more familiar one is with the history and context of the terms, the more one would find more terms more familiar and therefore more favorable.

On the question regarding distinguishing the propaganda, indoctrination, advertising, and education terms from other forms of influence, the focus of Table 5, the sought-for answer was “yes” for all four. Margaret Singer features a very lucid explanation and table in her ground-breaking book, Cults in Our Midst, pp. 58-59. All of the terms at issue are influence terms, but the manipulation and control terms (e.g., brainwashing) are somewhat more specific and more distinguishable from other forms of influence, such as education or advertising or indoctrination or propaganda.

The two questions about a law against brainwashing were inspired by Marci Hamilton, a constitutional law and First Amendment scholar, who first came to my attention on the Internet (Hamilton, 2003) during a search for information about the newly proposed Italian law against brainwashing. Hamilton wrote about the possibility of a law against brainwashing itself in the case of Elizabeth Smart, a 14-year-old girl from Utah. Her abuser was being prosecuted for aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, and aggravated burglary, but not brainwashing. In the survey, participants were asked whether they would support or oppose such a law in Pennsylvania. There was overwhelming support for such a law in Pennsylvania. Furthermore, the preponderance of participants, when given options, favored making the law protective of all citizens.

Conclusion

Malignant Pied Pipers of Our Time (Olsson, 2005) is a chronicle of the psychopathology of destructive cult leaders. There can be no question that some cults can be truly horrendous and destructive. We’ve all heard about mass murders and mass suicides. Smaller-scale horrors also exist and were described by clinicians including Margaret Singer and John Clark three decades ago. With this current report, there should be no further grounds for denying the existence of less dramatic destructive cults, which produce their psychological, psychiatric, or social casualties one by one.

“New religious movements” is a benign and descriptive phrase, but it should be applied sparingly and not used as whitewash. The destructive cult universe is very much still with us into the 21st century. “New religious movements” is an ironic term when misapplied because at the very least, malignant pied pipers are not particularly “religious” as that term is commonly understood. If a new religious movement exists on the back of its followers, we would question that it is religious. David Brear (2007) indicted destructive cults by stating that they either constructed anew or are modifications of existing ritual belief systems that are constructed or perverted for clandestine human exploitation.

In this current study, psychology professionals were more experienced with such groups both professionally (33% clients, and 20.4% family or friends of cult adherents or ex-adherents) and personally (13%,) when compared to the earlier study of primary-care physicians. The participants in the physician survey (Lottick, 1993) were both primary-care physicians and psychiatrists, and yielded mixed professional experience, 16.8% total, and mixed personal experience, 7.2% total. This physician survey gave a rough indication of prevalence, especially with the finding that 2.2% of physicians had experience in their own families.

Psychological symptoms were investigated in the current survey, and treatment approaches were discussed. Many participants favored cognitive behavioral therapy. It needs to be considered that a client might turn up at a professional psychologist’s office with less than optimal function but seemingly without specific diagnoses or symptoms. For example, a cult-involved client might even turn up at an office with ambivalence or uncertainty about his or her situation in life. Rather than facilitate the client’s disappearance back into the cult, by becoming directive himself or herself the psychologist might consider recommending an exit counselor for specific, brief, structured exit counseling. It would be far better to involve a third party than adopt a directive stance oneself, according to what our participants have reported. Cult members and ex-members are, more likely than not, looking to a psychological therapist for understanding, support, and encouragement, but not necessarily advocacy. Cult education might best be left to those who are knowledgeable about cults specifically, have insight into the client’s situation, and can mobilize appropriate relevant documentation.

Later in the survey, in the open-ended questions, a small but very significant and articulate group of participants expressed oppositional concern about involving the government in coping with the problems created by adverse cults. Some of these same respondents, however, strongly favored a law against deliberate psychological abuse. Actually, the great majority of participants (85%) seemed willing to favor (56%) or at least favor hearing more about (29%) a law against deliberate psychological abuse involving psychological manipulation and constraint. Such laws on a state-by-state basis may be the least Draconian of the many remedies suggested by participants for dealing with adverse aspects of cults.

It should be noted that many respondents were unable to recall the name of the cult involved. This suggests unfamiliarity perhaps due to little preprofessional education about contemporary cults. Perhaps this deficiency, as a number of participants suggested, might best be addressed at earlier levels of education.

This survey suggests that a cult-related encounter is very likely in a given psychologist’s future. Half of participants had had experience, many in low single-digit numbers; but a handful had lots of experience involving as many as dozens of cults. Of those surveyed, 29.9% listed colleagues as a source of information. It is suggested that all psychology professionals plan to access cultic studies information sooner, rather than later, and that novice practitioners might have in mind whom they might consult when confronted by a client who had been subjected to abuse within the context of a cult.

A number of psychologists said they would include some questions about destructive- or adverse-organization involvement, “a group that some people might consider a cult,” as part of their intake interview.

Finally, to respond to those who said they would like more resource information, readers might follow up by reviewing some of the references. The Aronoff review is quite comprehensive, Margaret Singer is always highly relevant and timeless, and Kathleen Taylor is enlightening in her discussion of brainwashing and recent neural research. I have accessed many other authors since initially drafting this report and would like to especially mention Nobel laureate Eric Kandel’s book In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind, and Cozolino’s book The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Building and Rebuilding the Human Brain. And Peter Olsson goes far beyond recent media coverage. He has produced a timely and discerning psychological study of perpetrators and precipitators of mass murder and mass suicide in Malignant Pied Pipers of Our Time. Still, the most directly relevant book for psychology professionals is Michael Langone’s Recovery From Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse. There cannot be many who would question that cult recruitment is an all-encompassing, if not, overwhelming experience. When opportunity presents, psychologists may find themselves facilitating mental and physical recovery from the cult manipulative process or helping family or friends cope with their debilitating sense of powerlessness. This report demonstrates that the challenge of destructive cult abuse is clearly familiar to many psychology professionals, and is still very much with us.

References

Aronoff-McKibben, J., Lynn, S. J., & Malinoski, P. T. (2000). Are cultic environments psychologically harmful? Clinical Psychology Review, 20, (1), 91–111.

Brear, D. A. (2007). Universal identifying characteristics of a cult. (In Press.)

Clark, J. G. (1979, July 20). Cults. Journal of American Medical Association, 242 (3), 279–281.

Cozolino, L. J. (2002). The neuroscience of psychotherapy: Building and rebuilding the human brain. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Giambalvo, C. (1993). Post-cult problems: An exit counselor’s perspective. In M. D. Langone (Ed.) Recovery from cults: Help for victims of psychological and spiritual abuse (pp. 148–154). New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Hamilton, M. A. (2003). The Elizabeth Smart Case: Why we need specific laws against brainwashing, FindLaw.com.

Kandel, E. R. (2006). In search of memory: The emergence of a new science of mind. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Lalich, J. & Tobias, M. (1994, 2006). Take back your life: Recovering from cults and abusive relationships. Berkeley, California: Bay Tree Publishing.

Langone, M. D. (Ed.) (1993). Recovery from cults: Help for victims of psychological and spiritual abuse. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Lottick, E. A. (1993, February). Survey reveals physicians’ experiences with cults.  Pennsylvania Medicine, 96, 26–28.

Lottick, E. A. (2005). Prevalence of cults: A review of empirical research in the USA.  International Cultic Studies Association, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, July 14, 2005.

Olsson, P. A. (2005). Malignant pied pipers of our time: A psychological study of destructive cult leaders from Rev. Jim Jones to Osama bin Laden.  Baltimore: PublishAmerica.

Singer, M. T. (2003). Cults in our midst. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Singer, M. T. (1979, January). Coming out of the cults.  Psychology Today.

Taylor, K. (2004). Brainwashing: The science of thought control. New York: Oxford University Press.

West, L. J. & Langone, M. D. (1986). Cultism: A conference for scholars and policy makers. Cultic Studies Journal, 3, 117–134.

About the Author

Edward A. Lottick, M.D., has been a cultic studies student for 18 years. He retired from 35 years of active medical practice in 2000. Since then he has completed four years of advanced French at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and has taught an advanced psychology elective on American Cults at the college every other year for the past eight years. In 1992, he surveyed 5400 Pennsylvania physicians about their personal and professional experience with cults; in 2004, he surveyed 3000 Pennsylvania psychologists regarding similar experience; and in 2007, he surveyed over 1000 Pennsylvania legislators, district attorneys, and judges regarding similar experience. Two years ago, he published “The Forgotten Freedom,” The Torch, 79(3), 26-30, 2006, and is working on a book on a related topic. He recently translated from French to English, the legislation on fraudulent abuse of vulnerable persons introduced in 2006 to the Belgian Parliament. He is also active on a number of boards. He recently discovered he is listed fairly accurately when last checked on Wikipedia under “Edward Lottick.”