Overview: Mental Health Professionals
Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.
Mental health professionals are prone to make a number of errors in cult-related cases.
First, they may assume that a group involvement is merely a sign of normal adolescent rebellion and identity searching, and that "this too will pass." Although this point of view is sometimes true, it is false often enough to make the assumption unwise. Don't dismiss families who may seek your help. Their concerns may indeed be warranted. And don't overlook the possible deleterious role of a cult involvement in patients who seek your help for depression or other psychological disorders.
The second common error mental health professionals make is to assume that a group involvement reflects unconscious individual psychopathology and/or a dysfunctional family system. There is no doubt that many who join cults have pre-existing psychological problems and/or come from highly dysfunctional families. But many have normal psychological and family backgrounds. Those who were troubled and those who were not troubled may both be affected—though perhaps in different ways—by a highly manipulative and exploitative group environment. In one of our research studies, former group members preferred the terms "psychological trauma" and "psychological abuse" to describe their experiences, rather than "cult," "mind control," or other terms. So don't focus on the person's or family's past to such a high degree that you overlook possibly traumatic effects of an abusive group experience.
A third common error, made also in other settings, is to succumb to confirmatory bias, that is, the common human tendency to notice, seek, and/or be alert to information that supports our initial impressions or formal assessment. Professionals should, to the contrary, notice, seek, and/or be alert to information or behavior that is inconsistent with the professional’s initial assessment. The findings of an assessment are more akin to a scientific theory to be tested rigorously than to a “fact” upon which to build future investigations. This is especially true in cultic cases, which often involve high levels of the involved person’s self-deception as well as deceptions perpetrated by group leaders. The reality often isn’t what it at first appears to be.
Finally, don’t approach a cult-related case as a strange, deeply mysterious phenomenon requiring esoteric expertise. Cult-related problems are, at their heart, consequences of unusually powerful social influences interacting with the spectrum of human personalities, needs, and goals. They are similar to other situations where social influence adversely affects a person’s or a family’s functioning. Some have pointed out similarities between cult cases and certain instances of spouse abuse, hostage experiences, and abuse within dysfunctional families. Professionals with knowledge and experience dealing with these kinds of problems may frequently apply what they know to cult situations. We advise these professionals, however, to supplement their expertise through readings available on this site and contact with professionals who specialize in treating cult-related problems (see profiles of helping professionals or attend one of our conferences).
Although our capacity to give individualized responses to inquiries is limited, we do what we can and, when appropriate and feasible, refer inquirers to people who may be able to give additional assistance. The ICSA network includes experienced helping professionals, some of whom run support groups.
If this service interests you, contact us.
Resources for Mental Health Professionals
Priority resources bolded.
Working with cult-affected families. M. D. Langone. Psychiatric Annals.
A Workshop for People Born or Raised in Cultic Groups. Kelley McCabe; Lorna Goldberg, MSW; Michael Langone, PhD; Kristen DeVoe, MSW . ICSA E-Newsletter. 6(1), 2007.
An Investigation into Cult Pseudo-Personality: What is It and How Does It Form? - Gillie Jenkinson, M.A. Cultic Studies Review , 7(3), 2008, 199-224.
Are Cultic Environments Psychologically Harmful? Jodi Aronoff McKibben, M.S.; Steven Jay Lynn, Ph.D.; Peter Malinoski, Ph.D. Cultic Studies Review, 1(3), 2002.
Attacks on Peripheral versus Central Elements of Self and the Impact of Thought Reforming Techniques. Richard Ofshe, PhD & Margaret Thaler Singer, PhD Cultic Studies Journal, 3(1), 1986, 4-18.
Born and Raised in a Sect: You are Not Alone. Lois Kendall.
Born or Raised in Closed, High-Demand Groups: Developmental Considerations. Leona Furnari. ICSA E-Newsletter, 4(3), 2005.
Child Protection in an Authoritarian Community: Culture Clash and Systemic Weakness. Livia Bardin, M.S.W.Cultic Studies Review, 4(3), 2005, 233-267.
Clinical Case Studies of Cult Members. Arthur Dole, Ph.D. Cultic Studies Journal, 12(2), 1995, 121-147.
Clinical Update on Cults. Michael Langone. Psychiatric Times, July 1996.
Cult Formation. Robert Jay Lifton, M.D. Cultic Studies Journal, 8(1), 1991, 1-6.
Cults and Families. Doni Whitsett, Ph.D. & Stephen A. Kent, Ph.D. Cultic Studies Review, 3(2), 2004.
Cults, Psychological Manipulation, and Society: International Perspectives - An Overview. Michael D. Langone, Ph.D. Cultic Studies Journal, 18, 2001, 1-12.
Diana, Leaving the Cult: Play Therapy in Childhood and Talk Therapy in Adolescence. Lorna Goldberg. International Journal of Cultic Studies (2) 2011, 33-43.
Exit Counseling and the Decline of Deprogramming. Stephen A. Kent; Joseph P. Szimhart. Cultic Studies Review, 1(3), 2002, 241-291.
Family Responses to a Young Adult's Cult Membership and Return. Lorna Goldberg, MSW & William Goldberg, MSW. Cultic Studies Journal, 6(1), 1987, 86-100.
How Could Anyone Join a Cult?!! Maureen Griffo.
ICSA Recovery Workshops: The Colorado Model. Carol Giambalvo; Rosanne Henry. ICSA Today, 1(1), 2010, 2-9.
Influence. Robert Cialdini.
Inner Experience and Conversion. Michael D. Langone, Ph.D. Cultic Studies Review 2(2), 2003, 169-176.
Leaving and Recovering From Cultic Groups and Relationships: Overview (Power Point). Michael Langone Ph.D.
Lessons Learned from SGAs About Recovery and Resiliency. Leona Furnari, MSW, LCSW & Rosanne Henry, MA. ICSA Today, 2(3), 2011, 2-9.
Manipulative Therapists. Shirley Siegel.
On Using the Term "Cult." Herbert L. Rosedale, Esq. and Michael D. Langone, PhD.
Physical Child Abuse in Sects. Lois Kendall, PhD. ICSA Today, 2(2), 2011, pages.
Pitfalls To Recovery. Paul R. Martin, Ph.D.
Psychiatric Association Statement on “Repressed” Memories of Abuse. Cult Observer, 11(4), 1994.
Psychological Abuse: Theoretical and Measurement Issues. Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.
Psychologist Survey Regarding Cults. Edward A. Lottick, M.D.
Psychotherapy Cults. Margaret T. Singer, PhD, Maurice Temerlin, PhD, & Michael D. Langone, PhD. Cultic Studies Journal, 7(2), 1990, 101-125.
Psychotherapy with Ex-Cultists: Four Case Studies and Commentary. L. Goldberg, MSW & W. Goldberg, MSW. Cultic Studies Journal, 5(2), 1988, 193-210.
Questionnaire Study: Preliminary Report. Michael D. Langone, PhD.
Questions and Answers about Memories of Childhood Abuse. American Psychological Association.
Raised in Cultic Groups: The Impact on the Development of Certain Aspects of Character. Lorna Goldberg, MSW. Cultic Studies Review , 5(1), 2006, 1-28.
Reject the Wicked Man - Coercive Persuasion and Deviance Production: A Study of Conflict Management. Jerry Paul McDonald. Cultic Studies Journal, 4.2/5.1, 1987/88, 59-121.
Religious Conflict Resolution (Power Point). Michael Langone Ph.D.
Research on Destructive Cults. Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.
Residential Treatment: The Potential for Cultic Evolution. David A. Halperin, M.D.
Sex, Lies, and Grand Schemes of Thought in Closed Groups. A Collective of Women. Cultic Studies Journal, 14(1), 1997, 58-84.
Six Conditions for Thought Reform. Margaret T. Singer Ph.D.
Some hazards of the Therapeutic Relationship. Jane W. Temerlin, MSW & Maurice K. Temerlin, PhD. Cultic Studies Journal, 3(2), 234-242.
Spiritual Harm in New Religions: Reflections on Interviews with Former Members of NRMs. Phillip Charles Lucas, PhD. Cultic Studies Review, 2(1), 2003, 30-37.
Spiritual Pain and Painkiller Spirituality: Issues of Spiritual Abuse, Religious Addiction, and Dependency in ISKCON. Diana Lorenz.
Stairway to Heaven: Treating Children in the Crosshairs of Trauma. Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D.; Maia Szalavitz.
The Colorado Model. Carol Giambalvo; Roseanne Henry.
Thought Reform Exists: Organized, Programmatic Influence. Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D. The Cult Observer 11(6), 1994.
Thought reform programs and the production of psychiatric casualties. M. T. Singer & R. Ofshe. Psychiatric Annals.
Traumatic Abuse in Cults: A Psychoanalytic Perspective. Daniel Shaw, CSW. Cultic Studies Review, 2(2), 2003, 101-129.
Treatment of Satanism. Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.; Herbert A. Nieburg.
Trouble in Paradise: Some Observations on Psychotherapy with New Agers. Steve & Linda Dubrow-Eichel.Cultic Studies Journal, 5(2), 1988, 177-192.
Undue Influence and Written Documents: Psychological Aspects. Margaret Thaler Singer, PhD. Cultic Studies Journal, 10(1), 1993, 19-32.
Vulnerable Characteristics. Robert Fellows, MTS. From Easily Fooled. Copyright Robert Fellows.
What is Hypnosis?
What Messages are Behind Today's Cults? Philip G. Zimbardo, Ph.D. Monitor of the American Psychological Association, May 1997, 14.
When You’re Asked About Cults. Robert Fellows, MTS. From Easily Fooled. Copyright Robert Fellows.