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Recovery from Spiritual Abuse

Recovery From Spiritual Abuse 

Friday 9:00 a.m. April 21, 2017 to Saturday 5:00 p.m., April 22, 2017 

Courtyard Marriott,10050 Gulf Center Drive, Fort Myers, Florida 33913. 239-332-4747 

"Breaking the Chains" - Christine Cole

Some apply the term spiritual abuse to any kind of psychological, physical, or sexual abuse that takes place in a religious context. Others apply the term specifically to manipulations that damage a person's relationship to God or to his/her core self. Spiritual abuse has been reported in mainstream religious organizations as well as nonmainstream groups, such as cults.

The terms psychological abuse or emotional abuse refer to harms that overlap those associated with both of these conceptualizations of spiritual abuse. These harms include, but are not limited to, damaged self-esteem, induced dependency, impaired capacity to trust oneself or others, and emotional reactions such as anger, anxiety, and depression. In some cases, one's faith in God may also be shaken.

To a large degree, the choice of a term, psychological abuse or spiritual abuse, depends upon the framework (psychological or religious) with which the speaker/writer feels comfortable. This two-day conference finds value in resources coming from psychological and religious frameworks, though obviously some issues, e.g., questions about God's mercy, may require religious concepts to address properly. The conference is aimed at those who were spiritually abused, whether recently or in the past, family members concerned about a loved one, and helping professionals, including pastors and therapists.

The agenda (pasted below speaker biographical sketches) will include the following topics:

  • The varieties of abuse 
  • Coping with triggers 
  • Personal accounts of spiritual abuse 
  • Psychological issues in counseling 
  • Spiritual issues in counseling 
  • How can churches and synagogues become spiritual safe havens 
  • Spiritual abuse victims dialogue with religious and mental health professionals 
  • Open discussion
This conference has been made possible by donations to ICSA and the willingness of speakers to volunteer their time. Without the dedication of these people, registration fees would be much higher than they are. If you are unemployed, on disability, or otherwise limited financially and need help with the registration fee, please contact us at or (239)-514-3081.

Space is limited, so REGISTER ASAP or you may not be able to attend. 

Hotel Reservations

The Courtyard Marriott is near Southwest Florida International Airport in Ft. Myers. There is a free shuttle from the airport. The hotel is within the Gulf Coast Town Center, one of the finest malls in the area.

Room rates are $109. To reserve a room, call 239-332-4747 (ask for ICSA conference rate) or go to the hotel’s 

Featured Speakers

Ron Burks, PhD
, holds an MDiv and an MA in counseling from Asbury Theological Seminary and a PhD in Counselor Education from Ohio University. He worked for many years at Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center in Albany, Ohio. He and his wife Vicki wrote Damaged Disciples: Casualties of Authoritarian Churches and the Shepherding Movement, published by Zondervan. His other publications include a chapter on a connection between cults and addiction in the medical reference, Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook, published by Williams and Wilkins. He and Vicki now live near Tallahassee, Florida where both are licensed mental health counselors and operate an intensive outpatient substance abuse program at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Ron is a former president of the Wellspring board and is a clinical advisor to both Wellspring and Meadowhaven, a treatment center near Boston.

Charlene Edge
. After a successful career as a technical writer and proposal specialist for a high-profile software company, Charlene Edge took wing, leaving the industry to devote herself full time to writing. Her poetry has been published by Wordsmith (The Tampa Writers Alliance), the Rollins Book of Verse 1885-2010, heard on public radio, and, along with her fiction, has appeared in The Florida Writer magazine. Essays focused on her fundamentalist cult experience have been published in Shifting Gears: Small Startling Moments In and Out of the Classroom and in ICSA Today, magazine of the International Cultic Studies Association. She is a sought-after guest speaker for college-level religious studies, philosophy, and psychology classes. Charlene is a graduate of Rollins College and lives in Florida with her husband, Dr. Hoyt L. Edge, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Rollins College. They travel the world, and Charlene blogs about their adventures, as well as fundamentalism, cults, the writing life, and other musings on her website Her memoir, Undertow: My Escape from the Fundamentalism and Cult Control of The Way International,™ was published in  2016.

Carol Giambalvo
is a former cult member who has retired as a thought reform consultant. She is a cofounder of reFOCUS, a national support network for former cult members. She is on ICSA’s Board of Directors, Director of ICSA’s Recovery Programs, and is responsible for its Project Outreach. Author of Exit Counseling: A Family Intervention, co-editor of The Boston Movement: Critical Perspectives on the International Churches of Christ, co-author of "Ethical Standards for Thought Reform Consultants," and co-author (with Rosanne Henry, MA, LPC) of "The Colorado Model" in ICSA Today, 1(1), 2010. Ms. Giambalvo has written and lectured extensively on cult-related topics. In 2008 and 2010 (shared with the other Colorado workshop facilitators) Ms. Giambalvo received ICSA's Margaret T. Singer Award.

Maureen Griffo, MA, MEd
, an ex-member of The Church of Bible Understanding as well as several fringe churches, is a board member of reFOCUS and also was one of four collaborators who established the Leo J. Ryan Education Foundation. Ms. Griffo had moderated an online chat/support group for former members for many years. Currently she is spearheading the ICSA New York City Educational Initiative. She has a Master's in Sociology with a focus on cultic practices as well as a Master's in Education with a focus on special education. She works with children with severe emotional and developmental disabilities in New York City.

Michael D. Langone, PhD,
a counseling psychologist, received a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1979. Since 1981 he has been Executive Director of International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), a tax-exempt research and educational organization concerned about psychological manipulation and cultic groups. Dr. Langone has been consulted by several hundred former cult members and/or their families. He was the founder editor of Cultic Studies Journal (CSJ), the editor of CSJ’s successor, Cultic Studies Review, and editor of Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse (an alternate of the Behavioral Science Book Service). He is co-author of Cults: What Parents Should Know and Satanism and Occult-Related Violence: What You Should Know. Currently, Dr. Langone is ICSA Today’s Editor-in-Chief. In 1995, he was honored as the Albert V. Danielsen visiting Scholar at Boston University. He has authored numerous articles in professional journals and books.

Judy Pardon, M.Ed.
, has been a teacher and a counselor. Since 1992 she has been Associate Director of the New England Institute of Religious Research and Meadowhaven, where she has worked with former cult members, including some who have experienced profound trauma. She has also spoken widely on the subject and conducted training programs for human service personnel. In 2014 Ms. Pardon received, with her husband Robert, ICSA's Herbert L. Rosedale Award. \

Robert Pardon, M.Div., Th.M.,
is the Executive Director of the New England Institute
of Religious Research and MeadowHaven. During the past five years he has specialized in Bible-based communal groups. Much of his work involves counseling, support groups, working with those born and/or raised in groups, and helping former members rebuild their lives. To facilitate the recovery process MeadowHaven, a long term rehabilitation facility was opened in 2002. In 2014 Rev. Pardon received, with his wife Judy, ICSA's Herbert L. Rosedale Award.



Title (Speakers)




The Varieties of Abuse (Michael Langone)



Repressed and Distressed: Seventeen Years of Emotional Abuse in The Way International (Charlene Edge)

Living on the Edge: My Fringe Church Experiences (Maureen Griffo)

12:30 – 2:30



Coping with Triggers (Maureen Griffo)

3:30 – 4:00


4:00 – 5:30

How to Benefit from Counseling (Ron Burks)




Spiritual Issues in Counseling (Robert and Judy Pardon)



Making Churches Safe Havens for Spiritual Abuse Victims (Ron Burks; Robert and Judy Pardon)

2:30 – 4:00

Spiritual Abuse Victims Dialogue With Religious and Mental Health Professionals (Ron Burks; Michael Langone; Judy Pardon; Robert Pardon)

4:00 – 4:15


4:15 – 5:00

Wrap-up and Closing (Facilitator: Michael Langone)