NYC Educational Outreach Committee Model Presentations
ICSA is proud to make available a series of papers on basic cultic issues developed by ICSA’s New York City Educational Outreach Committee.
Much literature exists on the subject of cults, and books and films about them are drawing an ever widening audience. However, there is little clarity about just what a cult is, and why people become or remain involved in them, even to their own great detriment. These papers are part of ICSA’s effort to make accessible a foundational understanding of subjects such as:
New York City Educational Outreach Committee members include educators, writers, and mental-health professionals. All are former members of high-control groups. Almost half were born and raised in their groups of origin. (See member profiles.)
These papers represent two years of research and development, including presentation at ICSA International Conferences and education workshops. Additional papers are in development and will be made available soon, including
We encourage people using the content to combine relevant pieces from multiple papers for presentations. It is also possible to use one's own personal experience to illustrate and expand on the concepts discussed. Some of the papers have vignettes for this purpose, but the speaker's personal experience may be appropriate as well.
ICSA formed the NYC Educational Outreach Committee in 2013 to promote education on the subject of cultic groups and psychological manipulation. Our purpose is threefold:
Our goal is to raise public awareness; provide thoughtful, well-researched information; help frame appropriate questions; and suggest an approach that yields productive answers.
In 2014, ICSA held a focus group at the MeadowHaven Retreat and Recovery Center near Boston, where professional speakers, clergy, mental-health professionals, and former members discussed what subjects should be included in a model presentation about cults. The objective was to refocus education about cults from discussions of particular groups such as Hare Krishna, the Unification Church, or Transcendental Medication to sharing and promoting an understanding of the dynamic that defines a cultic relationship. This dynamic may take place between a leader (or group of leaders) and followers, between two individuals, within a family, or even between a group of people and a unifying idea or program (as in some self-improvement groups or professional-advancement programs).
What is distinctive is the type of psychological interaction, not the particular ideology. And what matters is not whether to call or not to call a group a cult, but rather whether the group or relationship is manipulative and harmful to the people in it.
The MeadowHaven focus group developed a list of subjects that should be included in a model presentation about cults, including, for example, the following: How does one define cult? What are the characteristics of a cultic group? What is the impact on children of being born or raised in a cultic environment? Why do people stay, and why do they leave? Culture shock: How do former members rebuild their lives?
The NYC Educational Outreach Committee developed a series of brief papers on each of these subjects. These papers are not intended to be extensive or definitive treatments, but rather to serve as educational tools that can be adapted for different audiences. For example, a talk for a group of college freshmen might focus on the characteristics of a cultic group and how people become involved without realizing it. A religious congregation might want to learn more about the impact of cultic involvement on children, or on a member’s family.
Each committee member took one or more of the subjects and developed a brief outline. We read each other’s work, made suggestions, and revised. In May 2014, we presented our work in a meeting room at Columbia University to a group of invited guests. At this meeting, we developed our respective outlines into brief talks, modeling the process we expect people to use who adapt our papers.
In June 2014, we gave a history of our work and presented several sections at the ICSA annual conference in Washington, DC; in June 2015, some of our members discussed the process we had followed as a model for educational outreach at ICSA’s annual conference in Stockholm.
Between January and October 2015, various members of our committee presented one of our sections each month at ICSA’s New York Monthly Support Group.
What We Achieved
Our work has had two significant outcomes:
Following our presentation at ICSA’s 2015 Annual Conference in Stockholm, a representative of the Swiss agency InfoSekta contacted us to find out about using our papers and our process to help educate mental-health professionals in Switzerland. A therapist-training institute in New York City also is considering using our papers in its syllabus to prepare therapists to deal with cultic trauma.
Our committee continues to work. We are preparing papers on additional subjects, such as abusive religious groups and abuse of spiritual belief systems. We are developing an outreach program in the Greater New York area. We welcome suggestions and invite people interested in our work to contact us through ICSA at firstname.lastname@example.org
History and Purpose of Model Presentations
Common Myths and Misconceptions About Cults and Cultic Groups
Characteristics of Cults and Cultic Groups
What is a Cult?
What Impact Does Cult Involvement Have on a Member?
What is the Impact of Leaving a Cultic Group?
What Do We Need to Know About Being Born or Raised in a Cultic Environment?
What Impact Does Cult Involvement Have on a Member's Family?
Culture Shock: The Challenge of Building or Rebuilding a Life
How You Can Use ICSA Resources to Help Yourself or a Loved One
Views expressed on ICSA Websites or in ICSA's publications or events are those of the document's author(s) or speaker(s) and are not necessarily shared, endorsed, or recommended by ICSA or any of its directors, staff, or advisers.