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Reply to Dr Robbins

Cultic Studies Journal, 1990, Volume 7, Number 1, pages 99-100

Letters: Reply to Dr. Robbins

Criticism of a journal article is a valuable scholarly tradition. Such criticism helps clarify issues and reframe research, experiences, and observations so that they may be viewed and interpreted in a different light. It is valid, for example, to criticize authors for presenting a biased piece of work under the guise of objective observation. It is also valid to criticize authors' points of view if, in the critic's eyes, they have chosen the wrong side. However, to criticize authors for taking the wrong side of an issue under the smokescreen of criticizing them for not being evenhanded is less than candid.

In the article in question, we describe the experience of a young adult's involvement in a cult and return from the family's perspective. We state at the outset that our perspective is that of clinicians offering help to families in crisis, and offer suggestions as to how other clinicians can help such families. Our goal in the paper is to give useful, concrete advice -- not to offer a polemic. For example, Dr. Robbins is upset because we do not define the term “cult.” As clinicians who are faced with real people with real problems we are not rendered helpless in the face of definitional ambiguities. The term “schizophrenia” is also poorly defused and ambiguous, but clinicians are still able to offer help to individuals who suffer from this disease. As we stated in our article, whether society, the family, the clinician, or Dr. Robbins would categorize a particular group as a cult is of no clinical significance. What is significant are the techniques of manipulation which may have been employed in the individual's recruitment and his or her response to those techniques and manipulation.

Dr. Robbins takes us to task because we cite articles from the Cultic Studies Journal, and he suggests that we venture off the beaten CAN-AFF track to read works by sociologists who espouse opinions closer to his own. We are familiar with Dr. Robbins's work and find much of what he writes to be interesting. Our goal, however, is not to cogitate over finely defined sociological abstractions. Our article's purpose, as stated, is to serve as a guide for clinicians who are faced with the task of helping individuals who have been hurt and confused by the actions of destructive organizations. Our citations are from those authors who have actually helped people in this situation and who offer concrete, practical advice. Dr. Robbins can rest assured that when he writes something of practical clinical value, we will cite him.

On the subject of citations and objectivity, Dr. Robbins points with pride to the fact that his book, Cults, Converts, and Charisma: 7he Sociology of New Religious Movements, includes reference to works from the CSJ. Dr. Robbins cites these references as proof of his broad scholarship and objectivity. We are less impressed by the fact that fewer than 1.5% of his references are from the leading clinical journal studying the effects of cultic influences. lndeed an examination of Dr. Robbins's book reveals that many of bits citations of CSJ authors include qualifiers which call into question the validity of the authors' findings. The descriptions of child abuse made by Markowitz and Halperin, for example, become “alleged child abuse.” It is interesting to note that Dr. Robbins does not deem it necessary to employ such adjectives to qualify his citations to his own article in the CSJ.

Dr. Robbins is upset because we have used the descriptive term “dramatic intervention” and asks whether we are euphemizing physically coercive or brutal undertakings. Having created his own paper tiger, he then proceeds to slay it by accusing us of burying manhandling and coercion in our evasive euphemism. We know that Dr. Robbins will rest easier knowing that we are not aware of any legitimate exit counselor who brutalizes his or her clients. We have worked with several hundred former cultists and have never been told of an instance resembling his story of an individual being chained to a cot during an exit counseling. The dramatic intervention to which we referred was one in which the cultist's family and friends, along with a former member of the cult and a professional exit counselor, confronted the cultist with facts about the organization which had previously been denied her. This intervention was similar to Schwartz and Kaslow's network family therapy as described in an approving manner by Dr. Robbins on page 94 of Cults, Converts, and Charisma. The term “dramatic intervention” is not a euphemism. It is a description.

William Goldberg, M.S.W., A.C.S.W.

Community Support Center

Pomona, NY

L.orna Goldberg, M.S.W., A.C.S.W.

NJ Institute