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Speakers


Ashley Allen, MSW, LMSW, completed her Master’s in Social Work at Monmouth University where she was also selected to coordinate and present the School of Social Work’s Annual Clinical Lecture Series. Her lecture series focused on children born and/or raised in cultic groups with a special focus on issues of human rights. She has presented on cults, with a particular focus on second-generation adults (SGAs) at various mental-health agencies, universities, and at the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) annual conference in New Jersey. Ms. Allen gained a breadth of experience volunteering at the Cult Clinic of JBFCS in NYC for three years and has gone on to work as a therapist with former cult members in community mental health. Ashley is currently serving on ICSA’s NY Educational Outreach Committee, on the Board of Directors for reFOCUS, and as an Adjunct Instructor at Middle Tennessee State University. 
Email: AshleyAllenICSA@protonmail.com | Phone: 941-465-8696

Donna Backstrom

Steve Guziec, MS, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Illinois. He holds a Masters of Clinical Psychology from Benedictine University in Lisle, IL. Steve practices with Behavioral Health Providers in Sycamore, IL, and is a consultant for Freedom of Mind. Steve specializes in helping people who have been born into cults and families that have been abused by a cult or other coercive entities, especially destructive religious groups. In addition to providing one-on-one treatment, Steve hosts a podcast, Sunshine After the Fog, that provides information, resources, and support for victims of cultic and coercive groups and is creating a training program for other mental health professionals with Freedom of Mind. Website: www.bhproviders.netwww.freedomofmind.com & www.sunshineafterthefog.com Email: sguziec@gmail.com Phone: (630) 677-2070

Gina Harding: After suffering spiritual abuse at the hands of a well-known high control/cult group, Gina Harding chose not to be a victim but rather to search for answers that led to healing. In stark opposition to what she'd been taught, she believed a formal education was step number one. She earned an MBA from Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio. Almost by accident, Gina discovered her next step in the healing process. She began to seek out individuals who'd been subjected to the same kind of high control tactics and abuse that she had. She quickly realized that she could come along side and support others in their quest for healing. Gina currently runs a social enterprise focused on working with people who have been forced out, or have voluntarily left a high control or cult group, and as a result have experienced spiritual, mental, financial and even physical challenges due to shunning or excommunication. In collaboration with Vineyard Church of Columbus, Gina facilitates a nonjudgmental, Christ-centered support group called Redefining Christ, for people who have been given a false witness as to who Jesus Christ is, but desire to know him and have a close personal relationship with him. Within the framework of the relationship, a referral system exists for issues requiring clinical counseling, financial counseling and even includes a “Road-to-Home-Ownership” program. Since 2014, numerous people have received the help they need to better deal with the aftermath of escaping a high control group. Gina has spoken at various Christian churches about her unique approach to assisting people who are escaping the often lethal grip of a high control or cult group. She is also in the process of publishing her support group curriculum for national syndication, and welcomes program inquiries and support. In her spare time, Gina enjoys tennis, singing, reading, writing, and spending time with her husband and 5 children.

Anna Holmquist

Peter Malinoski, PhD has conducted and published research assessing psychological distress in former cult members for seven years. He is a therapist in private practice in Indianapolis, IN.
Steve Martin

Dawn Racine, M.S.Ed., graduated from Northern Illinois University with a dual major in Special and Elementary education. Her first teaching position was instructing students with Learning Disabilities, and then went on to teach 5th grade, 4th grade, and gifted students. After 30 years of teaching she is currently retired and does dog therapy with her black Labrador, Stone, takes continuing education classes at Roosevelt University, and accompanies at her church during Saturday evening services. Her daughter, age 37, has been in a religious doomsday cult for almost 8 years. Dawn has been involved in the Dear Demeter support group for 2 years.

Gregory Sammons, MEd, PC, resides in Albany, Ohio with his wife Angelina. Greg began working at Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center in March of 2001. He has filled nearly every role at the small residential agency over the past ten years. After his beginnings as the Clinical Residence Manager, Greg was inspired to go back to graduate school to complete his Master in Counseling Education. Greg’s degree covers the area of Clinical and Rehab Counseling. His areas of competence include Abusive Group/Relationship Counseling, Mental Health Counseling, Personal and Social Counseling, Addictions Counseling, and Diagnosis and Treatment. Greg has presented various topics at highly regarded conferences including those sponsored by the American Counseling Association, Ohio Counseling Association, and Ohio Rehabilitation Association. Greg currently provides all clinical counseling and assessment at Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center in Albany, Ohio. In addition to providing clinical services at Wellspring Gregory serves as the Director of Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center. 

Debby Schriver, MS, A native of Chicago, Debby Schriver earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her major studies were in educational counseling psychology and early American literature. Schriver’s curiosity in the psychological and sociological ways that people develop, particularly during the formative years, found a professional home in higher education. At the University of Tennessee she served as Associate Dean of Student Conduct and Orientation for 13 years and Manager of Employee Training and Organizational Development for 18 years. Her books include: To Read My Heart, the Journal of Rachel Van Dyke 1810-1811 (Co-edited with Lucia McMahon, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000); In the Footsteps of Champions: The University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers, the First Three Decades (The University of Tennessee Press, 2008); Ice ‘n’ Go: Score in Sports and Life (Co-authored with Jenny Moshak, The University of Tennessee Press, 2013); Whispering in the Daylight, The Children of Tony Alamo’s Christian Ministry and Their Journey to Freedom (The University of Tennessee Press, 2018 release date). Schriver is actively involved in civic organizations, particularly those that direct their services to children. She is a Girl Scout volunteer, member of the Board of Directors for the YWCA (East Tennessee) and serves as a member of the Foster Care Review Board for the Knox County Juvenile Court. 

Danya Shakfeh is an attorney and litigator. During her late teens and 20s, Danya was heavily involved in various Islamic organizations as both a student and volunteer until she started to witness spiritual abuse. She has since been working with those affected by spiritual abuse for almost two years.Through her practice as an attorney, Danya is skillful in collecting evidence and testimony, sifting through evidence to determine the veracity of claims, and conflict resolution. Danya has her law practice in Illinois where she she resides with her husband and three children.


Stephen Smith, Th.M. has a Master of Theology (Th.M.) from Dallas Theological Seminary. From childhood, Steve attended a small, controlling church in southern Maine. In 1997, his twin brother left the church and was shunned. Steve remained in the church and became an assistant to the pastor. In 2008 Steve entered seminary in Dallas, and in 2010 he grew concerned about the nature of leadership in his home church. Shortly thereafter, his pastor was hospitalized and the church recognized that they had been spiritually abused. A church consulting agency helped the remaining leadership make the decision to close the church and send people to healthy churches in the community. Steve reconciled with his twin brother and started to research about spiritual abuse. His summative paper at Dallas Seminary was on the nature of spiritual authority. His home church no longer exists. Because of his own painful background in a legalistic and controlling church, Steve is passionate about the topic of spiritual abuse and wants to help other people to recognize healthy and unhealthy spiritual authority based upon biblical principles. Steve has appeared on radio and been interviewed by reporters from Texas Monthly and al-Jazeera America on the topic of cults.

Matthew Staton