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Book Review - Cult Recovery A Clinician’s Guide to Working With Former Members and Family


International Journal of Cultic Studies, Vol. 9, 2018, pages 79-82

Cult Recovery: A Clinician’s Guide to Working With Former Members and Family

Lorna Goldberg, William Goldberg, Rosanne Henry, and Michael Langone

Reviewed by Cyndi Matthews


Bonita Springs, FL: International Cultic Studies Association. 2017. ISBN-10: 0931337097; ISBN-13: 978-0931337093 (paperback). 500 pages. 79.00 (Amazon.com).

Cult Recovery: A Clinician’s Guide to Working With Former Members and Family is a comprehensive, landmark book that brings together 26 leading experts, clinicians, and researchers from the field of cult recovery. These cult-recovery experts consider counseling and research issues and offer various therapeutic approaches for working with former cult members and their families. Dr. Stephen Kent, from the University of Alberta, Canada, has described the book as containing “Decades of valuable and useful research and treatment experience…” (front matter). Dr. Carmen Almendros, from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain, asserts that the book is “A must read for students and mental health professionals” (front cover).” In the words of Dr. Michael Langone, Executive Director of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) and one of the book’s editors, the overall goal is to bring together experts in the field of cult recovery and explicitly point out how “different experts approach the kinds of problems that might confront therapists working with former cult members or families of cultists” (p. xxiii).

I have counseled with both cult survivors and current cult members; I also have researched former cult members and their experiences in counseling situations. Thus, I personally have been looking forward to this resource, the first book of its kind, and I loved going through, chapter by chapter, reading and learning from the experts who deal with the specific and traumatic issues former cult members and their families face.

The Clinician’s Guide… was published by the ICSA, which was founded in 1979 as the American Family Foundation (AFF) by parents who were concerned about their children dropping out of college and joining cults. By the 1990s, AFF found that its membership and the persons it was working with included both current and former cult members along with their families from outside the cult. Today, ICSA notes that its membership reflects current and former cult members and multigenerational family members, along with the clinicians and professionals who work with them (xvi–xviii).

The need for a clinician’s handbook focused on cult recovery has been long recognized and overdue. ICSA researchers have estimated that more than 2,500,000 individuals in the United States and Canada have joined cults over the past 30 to 40 years (McCabe, Goldberg, Langone, & DeVoe, 2007). Singer (2003) estimated more than 5,000 cults were operating in the United States and Canada. Because of the prevalence of cults, Lottick (2005) discovered in his cult-related study that 26% of clinicians, therapists, psychologists, and counselors had treated former cult members, and that 12% of clinicians had treated current cult members. In 2008, in a subsequent study, Lottick’s findings revealed an increase to 33% of psychologists who had treated former members. Based on this same study, Lottick also noted that 13% of these same clinicians reported being personally involved with cults, either through direct experience or through the experiences of their family members.

Cult Recovery: A Clinician’s Guide comprises 20 chapters divided into five different sections, and an extensive bibliography of resources written on the topic of cult recovery. In the Introduction, Michael Langone succinctly and clearly acquaints clinicians and other readers with cults, types of cults, why people join and stay in cults, and includes a list of symptoms former cult members may exhibit once they have left their cult. Langone points out that ICSA is concerned with cults or groups in which the “relationship seems to enforce an exploitive compliance through subterfuge” (p. xviii). In other words, cults are defined as abusive and exploitive groups that can deeply damage and traumatize their members.

Authors explore, within these chapters divided into the five broad contexts, the counseling implications of a cult’s exploitive requirement for compliance, and the potential outcome of abuse and trauma, along with possible counseling interventions and case studies. The chapters are written from very different therapeutic perspectives. Authors discuss how they would work with individuals according to their respective theories or particular interventions. Each section of the book is prefaced with a cult expert’s take on the topic.

The five sections and general contexts include the following:


Helping Families and Loved Ones


Helping Former Members—Individual Psychotherapy


Support Groups


Recovery Workshops, Intensive Programs, and Residential Treatment


Special Issues and Research

Drawing on their background and experience, some authors write strictly as clinicians, others write as researchers, while others write from a framework of being both a clinician and a researcher.

The authors who write from a clinical point of view present their chapters based on extensive experiences they have had in counseling former cult members. One example includes William Goldberg in the section “Helping Families and Loved Ones,” who focuses on counseling with family members who currently have loved ones in a cult. In the section “Support Groups,” William and Lorna Goldberg, talk about utilizing support groups as a form of, or as an adjunct to, therapy based on their therapeutic experiences.

Other authors discuss how they make use of a model from another field. In the second section, whose focus is individual psychotherapy, for example, Pat Knapp applies a faith-based model to cult-recovery counseling. Madeline Tobias offers her perspectives on the application of Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) for former members of high-demand groups. She provides a case study throughout her chapter, and demonstrates how she utilizes CPT as a means of working through the case. Likewise, Rosanne Henry discusses case vignettes through the lens of attachment theory and mentalization. Leoni Furnari shares case scenarios to discuss the use of Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy with both first- and second-generation former cult members. Likewise, Shelly Rosen does a very credible job of discussing trauma theory and looking at former cult involvement through a trauma lens. Also, in an extremely well-researched chapter, Rod and Linda Dubrow-Marshall discuss theories and practices of self-care for both therapists and former cult members.

Other authors come at the respective issues from a clinician/researcher point of view. Two of my favorite chapters were from Doni Whitsett and Steve Eichel, included in the Individual Psychotherapy section. They propose their own theories based on the experiences they have had with their clients. Doni Whitsett proposes a double-helix model in working with former cult members, whereby one strand of the DNA represents building upon the present life of the client, while the second strand is interwoven with strand one, and represents working through the past trauma from the cult. Steve Eichel likewise describes his own Brief Intermittent Developmental Theory (BIDT) model and how he would make use of it in relation to two different clients, one a first-generation cult survivor, and another born and raised in a cult.

In the Support Group and Recovery Workshop sections, other authors discuss their past successes and history of working with former cult members through cult-recovery workshops, psychoeducation, treatment facilities, exit counseling, outpatient counseling, and so on.

Almost all chapters throughout the first four sections include case studies and scenarios and present how the authors either have used or would use their theory in working within that particular context.

The book appropriately concludes with a discussion of research concerning cult survivors and counseling with former members. Lois Kendall, the notable author of Born and Raised in a [Sect]: You are Not Alone, wrote two of these chapters, one in which she discusses what cult research tells clinicians and researchers overall, and another chapter that speaks to how research should and can occur with former cult members. The research chapters will be very helpful in terms of assisting clinicians and researchers in advancing the field of cult recovery.

There are many strengths in this comprehensive clinical resource. The editors have drawn on experienced clinicians and researchers who obviously have worked with many former cult members over time. For the most part, this Clinician’s Guide… is hands-on and deals with real-life examples that clinicians can use and adapt to their own clients. Most of the chapters also include excellent resources for readers who want to continue their research in counseling with former cult members.

Most of all, because of the different viewpoints and theoretical orientations presented for working with former cult members/survivors, the Clinician’s Guide… points to the possibility of flexibility on the part of counselors working with these individuals. The overall message is that that there is no one right way to work with a former-cult-member client. The common goal is healing the trauma that past cult members have experienced.

All of the authors of this guide have done an effective job sharing their expertise about how to work with first-generation former cult members, or those who joined a cult later in life and subsequently left. However, as Langone points out in the Introduction, a third of ICSA former cult members are second- or multiple-generation survivors—in other words, those born and/or raised in cults. As a potential area for expansion in cult-recovery research, authors could continue to explore and advance theories and approaches for working with former second- and multiple-generation cult members.

Some authors, including Steve Eichel, Rosanne Henry, and Lorna Goldberg, have specifically taken the time to discuss second-generation survivors. As some writers point out, the issues for those born and raised within a cultic environment can be much more traumatic than for those who join later on in life, and can include developmental and attachment challenges from which these survivors may have a difficult time recovering.

Regarding those born and/or raised in cults, a noted absence from the book is a discussion about people born and raised in cults having to leave behind family and friends in the cult. Perhaps in a follow-on book, authors could also discuss issues related to the trauma of leaving family, friends, and one’s history behind and entering an often-unknown or unfamiliar world outside of the cult.

As another minor point, mental health clinicians in general are moving toward more evidenced-based clinical research. Although most chapters are supported by current, evidenced-based research, some chapters seem to lack the research base to support the methods and interventions the authors present. There are notable exceptions. The chapters by Kendall, Eichel, Marshall, and Jenkinson are structured as research- and evidence-based interventions.

Overall, Cult Recovery: A Clinician’s Guide to Working With Former Members and Family is an excellent resource for mental health clinicians and students studying to become mental health-care workers. The Clinician’s Guide… provides excellent information about the multifaceted levels of expertise needed for counseling former cult members. I would highly recommend this resource as an introduction to students in the mental health-care field, clinicians, former cult members, and loved ones of former and current members. The chapters provide excellent information and resources for counseling and understanding this population. As Richard A. Chefetz, a medical doctor in private practice in Washington, DC, states on the back cover of the book, “If you read one book about psychotherapeutic approaches to recovery from the morbidity of cult membership, then read Cult Recovery … This book is a MUST.” I, as both a mental health clinician and a researcher, wholeheartedly agree with Chefetz!

References

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

Kendall, L. (2016) Born and raised in a [sect]: You are not alone. Charlston, SC: Progression Publishing.

Lottick, E. (2005). Prevalence of cults: A review of empirical research in the U.S.A. Retrieved from http://www.religionnewsblog.com/11811/prevalence-of-cults-in-the-usa

Lottick, E. (2008). Psychologist survey regarding cults. Cultic Studies Review, 7, 1–19.

McCabe, K., Goldberg, L., Langone, M., & DeVoe, K. (2007). A workshop for people born or raised in cultic groups, ICSA e-Newsletter, vol. 6, no. 1. Retrieved from http://www.icsahome.com/articles/sgaworkshop

Singer, M. (2003). Cults in our midst: The continuing fight against their hidden menace. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


About the Reviewer

Cyndi Matthews, PhD, LPC-S, NCC, is an experienced, licensed, counseling clinician working in private practice and specializing in counseling with marginalized populations. She has a PhD and Master’s in Counseling, and a Master’s in Business. Cyndi currently is an Assistant Professor and researcher at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, where she teaches graduate counseling students.