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Book Review - Born and Raised in a Sect You Are Not Alone


International Journal of Cultic Studies, Vol. 9, 2018, pages 70-72

Born and Raised in a [Sect]: You Are Not Alone

Lois Kendall

Reviewed by Gillie Jenkinson

Progression Publishing/Lois Kendall, PhD. 2016. ISBN-10: 0995556202; ISBN-13: 978-0995556201 (paperback). 472 pages. $17.99 (Amazon.com).


It is now well established in the clinical and research literature that, to recover, former cult members need to understand their experience. Born and Raised in a [Sect]… gives a comprehensive overview of theories that are pertinent to second-generation adult former cult members (SGAs) from the perspectives of both developmental psychology and specialist cultic studies. This book is a mix of personal reflection by way of moving poetry, academic study, and self-help. To achieve this blend, Dr. Lois Kendall brings together findings from her PhD research (with some of the technical bits omitted), other research, and quotes from autobiographies. Former members, family members, and mental health professionals will learn about a number of different theories and expand their repertoire through this publication. The book is a huge undertaking that has been much needed because there is little published about SGAs, and nothing else to this depth. Dr. Kendall’s contribution is helping to fill that gap.

Dr. Kendall, who was herself raised in a sect, declares her motivation for publishing this book by stating that

This is a book written about the second generation for the second generation . . . so that those who have grown up in sects and left and who feel very affected by their experiences will know that they are not alone, there are others to relate to who have also suffered. (p. xliii)

She challenges social scientists, noting the harm we can do when we do not acknowledge the damage that is caused by deeply held bias evidenced in myths that continue about the cult experience and former cult members. Dr. Kendall addresses this research bias and raises a challenge to society in general when she states that “What happens in sects, and how communities and societies respond to sects, may affect children the most” (p. xli).

The book is structured in such a way that it leads the reader into the difficult and controversial field of cultic studies, into which SGAs emerge when they leave their groups, and which may have impact on their postcult recovery process (p. xli). Dr. Kendall explains that she adopted the term sect because of these controversies in the cultic-studies field, and she notes that defining the problem is slippery and difficult (p. 4).

Chapter Overview

To summarize briefly the content of each chapter:


Chapter 1: What is a sect? —Contains an overview of different terms used and provides an in-depth look at the definition of extremist authoritarian sect; also explains the rationale for adopting the term sect.


Chapter 2: How did I get here?—Explores how and why SGA’s parents (first generation, or FGAs) became involved in a sect, and explores whether those who join have a particular personality type; also explores why, in some groups, there are no children.


Chapter 3: Is this a bad dream?—Explores how the structure and hierarchy of a sect impacts families, and what the families may be like; identifies how children in the same sect may be treated differently, and parenting styles; reviews additional psychological theories about the basic needs of all children, finishing with a discussion of how social influence occurs.


Chapter 4: It’s not your fault!—Looks at child maltreatment, neglect, and abuse, and also some pertinent psychological theories; also considers the impact of the psychopathology of the cult leader, which will affect the members differently, depending on the leader and on each member’s proximity to the leader.


Chapter 5: Getting through childhood!—Explores two important psychological theories in relation to child development: John Bowlby’s attachment theory and Eric Erikson’s theory of human development. These theories can, in turn, shed light on why parts of an SGA’s development may be stunted.


Chapter 6: Why do people stare at me?—Addresses why children in sects may not learn the cultural norms of the world outside the sect, leaving them unprepared for state schooling and life outside. This, in turn, increases their vulnerability when they leave the group.


Chapter 7: Why didn’t anybody tell me?—Addresses why it is difficult to leave the sect, including fallacies of logic that cloud one’s thinking and that leaders might use to keep a member in the sect; looks at statistics of how many leave sects, at what age, and why; also addresses culture shock and theories around “third-culture kids.”


Chapter 8: Nobody understands!—Addresses the multiple painful losses that one inevitably experiences upon leaving a sect, and explores the reasons for those losses; explores the types of dangers and risks SGAs may be vulnerable to, such as drug addiction and abusive relationships; also discusses some of the benefits that those raised in a sect might uncover after they leave.


Chapter 9: Hurt in relationships, healed in relationships—Discusses healthy relationships and the potential positive impact they can have on leaving; also addresses resiliency and uniqueness; summarizes avenues of possible care and social support, and explains a few counselling modalities.


Chapter 10: How long?—Examines the recovery timescale and starts with the quote, “Sometimes an ordinary life is an extraordinary achievement”; looks at psychoeducational support and several emotional areas in which SGAs may struggle, such as guilt and shame, and also at how to develop more positive attributes, such as a sense of humor.

Critique

When I first read the book, I was unsure about how to position it: Was it a self-help book, or was it a textbook? I was convinced by Dr. Kendall’s thesis that the book needed to be rigorous, teaching interesting (and sometimes complex) psychological theories to SGAs so they would be informed about development, attachment, and the like—and in a nonpatronizing manner. I therefore came to view it as a self-help book on steroids!

My main disappointment with the book, given that I am a trauma therapist and specialize in counselling former members, both FGAs and SGAs, was the section on finding a counsellor. I found this portion to be weak, and I would have liked more detail and explanation regarding the modalities; I perhaps would have categorized client centered to include the broader category of humanistic approaches, including Gestalt psychotherapy, which has been shown to have some theoretical and clinical contribution to the cult-recovery issue (Jenkinson, 2008, 2016).

The section on trauma therapies also is weak. I was concerned when I saw mention of approaches to trauma that I had never heard of, in spite of more than 20 years of experience investigating and working with trauma. I suggest that the website that was the source of the information could be misleading to SGAs, who may know nothing about therapy and therefore may not be able to discern between mainstream and other less-rigorous approaches. I recommend that, if there is a reprint, this section be updated and a thorough investigation of up-to-date trauma therapies added. For example, sensorimotor psychotherapy and EMDR are not included, although these modalities have been used with positive report by some who work with former members.

The section on specialist counselling for working with former cult members could be also developed. The new ICSA book Clinical Cult Recovery: A Clinician’s Guide to Working With Former Members and Families has many approaches that have been found to be helpful (Goldberg, L., Goldberg, W., Henry, & Langone, 2017). I therefore suggest that, when this book is reprinted, this section be updated with more relevant and helpful information for former members.

Conclusion

Dr. Kendall exhibits tremendous generosity, courage, compassion, and strength in this undertaking. Researching traumatic stories is extremely hard, even for those who do not identify as survivors of abuse (Coles & Mudaly, 2010), but to undertake research in an area in which there is personal trauma is extremely challenging (Jenkinson, 2016). The mix of scientific empirical research and creativity (poetry) is to be lauded and shows a helpful balance between creativity, intellectualism, and clear thinking.


References

Coles, J., & Mudaly, N. (2010). Staying safe: strategies for qualitative child abuse researchers. Child Abuse Review, 19(1), 56–69. doi:10.1002/car.1080

Goldberg, L., Goldberg, W., Henry, R., & Langone, M. (Eds.). (2017). Cult recovery: A clinician’s guide to working with former members and families. Bonita Springs, FL: ICSA.

Jenkinson, G. (2008). An investigation into cult pseudo-personality: What is it and how does it form? Cultic Studies Review, 7(3), 199–224.

Jenkinson, G. (2016). Freeing the authentic self: Phases of recovery and growth from an abusive cult experience. (PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.) Retrieved from http://
eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/view/divisions_t/e=5FSSLE=5FEducation.html

About the Reviewer

Gillie Jenkinson, PhD, MA, and UKCP-accredited psychotherapist, specializes in working with spiritual and cultic abuse, offering postcult counselling, psychotherapy, group facilitation, training, supervision, and consultancy. She is an international speaker and a published author, and the mental health editor for ICSA Today.