1979–2019: The Changing Population of ICSA

ICSA Today Vol. 10 No. 1 (2019)

1979–2019: The Changing Population of ICSA

By Michael D. Langone

In the late 1970s and through most of the 1980s, a large majority (probably more than 80%) of the people attending conferences or seeking help from ICSA (then known as American Family Foundation—AFF) were parents concerned about a young-adult child involved in or formerly involved in a cultic group.

At the 2008 ICSA annual conference, 14% of attendees were parents, who themselves had never been in a cult, concerned about a cult-involved loved one. Fifty-eight percent of attendees were former group members, and 41% of these (24% of total attendees) had been born or raised in cultic groups. The percentage of born-or-raised persons attending ICSA conferences has been steadily rising during the past 10 to 15 years (ICSA, 2018).

Thus, whereas noncult parents dominated the early years of this field, former members dominate today, with the born-or-raised group being the fastest growing constituency within ICSA.

In 1978, Conway et al. conducted a survey of 426 former cult members from the emerging cult awareness movement. These 426 persons came from 40 different groups (10.65 subjects per group on average); 76% came from one of five groups; and 44% came from the Unification Church. Seventy percent of the former members had been deprogrammed; their average age at joining was 21 years, and they spent an average of 2.7 years in their respective groups (Conway, Siegalman, Carmichael, & Coggins, 1986).

In 1991, I conducted a survey from the same network of people. Three hundred eight subjects came from 101 different groups (3.05 subjects per group on average); 33% came from the top 5 groups, with 16% coming from the largest group. The average age at joining was 24.8 years, and subjects spent an average of 6.7 years in their respective groups (Langone, 1991).

Between August 2014 and December 2018, 1,351 people completed an online survey designed by ICSA. Eight hundred twenty-two of these persons named a group in which they had been a former member. In total, 435 groups were named, an average of 1.90 subjects per group). Subjects had been in their groups an average of 11.78 years (ICSA, 2018).

Thus, former members entering the ICSA network today come from a much larger variety of groups (an average of 1.90 subjects per group, compared to an average of 10.65 subjects per group in 1978), and they now stay in their groups more than four times as long (11.78 years, compared to 2.7 years in 1978). This change has significant implications for helpers.

Note: These figures apply only to those who enter the ICSA orbit. Reliable scientific data do not exist regarding the broad population of cult joiners and cult leavers.


Conway, F., Siegelman, J. H., Carmichael, C. W., & Coggins, J. (1986). Information disease: Effects of covert induction and deprogramming. Update: A Journal of New Religious Movements, 10(2), 45–57.

ICSA. (2018, October). Interesting statistics from the 2018 ICSA Annual Conference in Philadelphia, ICSA E-Newsletter (22 October, 2018). Available online at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uvuN8xSjepMQ1GHAiN31vtx-fVsYzcZNDOVjH5PoQOk/edit

Langone, M. D. (1991). Questionnaire study: Preliminary report. Available online at icsahome.com/articles/questionnaire-study-preliminary-report-langone

About the Author

Michael D. Langone, PhD, 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). He was the founding 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 coauthor of Cults: What Parents Should Know and Satanism and Occult-Related Violence: What You Should Know. He is coeditor (with Lorna Goldberg, LCSW, PsyA; William Goldberg, LCSW, PsyA; Rosanne Henry, MA, LPC) of Cult Recovery: A Clinician’s Guide to Working With Former Members. Dr. Langone, ICSA Today’s Editor-in-Chief, has been the chief designer and coordinator of ICSA’s international conferences, which have taken place in Barcelona, New York, Rome, Philadelphia, Geneva, Denver, Brussels, Atlanta, Madrid, Stockholm, Dallas, Bodeaux, and Philadelphia. 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, and has spoken widely to dozens of lay and professional groups, various university audiences, and numerous radio and television stations, including the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour and ABC 20/20.