Lessons From Adjacent Fields: Cults and Radical Extremist Groups

ICSA Today, 10(1), 2019, 2-9

Lessons From Adjacent Fields: Cults and Radical Extremist Groups

By Rod Dubrow-Marshall, Maarten van de Donk, and Wessel Haanstra

Note: The recommendations and information in this paper are based on presentations and discussions during the Radicalization Awareness Network (RAN) EXIT working-group meeting of June 27–28, 2017, in Bordeaux, France.

How can those professionals working in a rather small and complex field such as exit work improve their methods and programs? Learning from professionals and organizations who are working on similar processes is one option. Helping individuals to leave cults has a comparatively long history. Some of the first exit programs for extremism, put in place in Europe at the end of the 1990s, were based on experiences with cults. Since then, new insights have been gained into how to work with people who leave cults or an extremist environment, thus creating opportunities for new cross-fertilization. This document is intended for exit organizations in both the field of violent extremism and that of cults. Other actors in the fields of countering violent extremism (CVE) and preventing violent extremism (PVE) may also benefit.

The field of exit work to help people leave an extremist movement, stop their use of violence, and change their opinions ­has emerged only fairly recently. Programs first came into existence in the Western world at the end of the past century. The number of radicalized persons as such is limited and heterogenous when it comes to the kinds of extremist ideology, background, and motivations that make these individuals decide to leave the radical environment in the end. The approach adopted by the various existing exit programs differs. Some tend to put more emphasis on behavioral aspects (disengagement) and others on the ideology (deradicalization). Some programs are based on therapeutic psychological insights, others on youth-work methods. There are no standards in exit work when it comes to assessment, treatment, and registration of cases. This range of methodologies and the limited number of cases makes looking at adjacent fields interesting.

One field that is similar to those noted in terms of the process observed for leaving a group is that of cults, or sects.1 Here, there is a longer tradition of trying to help people get out, and also a longer history of academic research on both the cultic environment and leaving mechanisms. When scholar Tore Bjørgo designed one of the first European exit programs (in Norway, later implemented in Sweden and Germany), he found his inspiration in cultic studies. 

Providing a platform for an exchange of views on what those doing exit work can learn from cults—and vice versa—the RAN [Radicalization Awareness Network] EXIT working group organized a meeting in close cooperation with the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA). That meeting took place June 27–28 in Bordeaux, France.

Cults and Other Extremist/Radical Groups: Similarities and Differences

To a certain extent, it is difficult to distinguish between cults and other extremist or radical groups. Some cults do commit violent acts that can be considered as disruptive for society, such as the sarin attack on a Tokyo metro station in 1995 by members of the cult movement Aum Shinrikyo.

Like cults, many extremist or radical groups also have strong internal control mechanisms, create psychological changes in their members (such as a dependence on and a strong degree of identification with the group leader), and have a guru personality as leader, just like the invisible but always-present figure of Al-Baghdadi in Daesh (ISIL, or ISIS). So there is no clear-cut line between the two; there is instead a continuum on which groups can be placed. For both cults and extremist or radical groups, the groups concerned will sometimes categorize themselves in that way; but most are more likely to reject the label they are given by the outside world as either prejudiced or pejorative.

Bringing two fields together also implies bringing together two vocabularies, both of which have their own rich history of debate when it comes to definitions. To leapfrog these challenges and keep the paper understandable, we note the differing history of work on cults and recovery (i.e., leaving the cult) and extremist groups and exit (again, leaving the group), whilst also noting the overlaps between the two, including that of definitions.2 

In this paper, we zoom in on the similarities and differences in terms associated with leaving cultic and radical groups. Before we concentrate on exit work/recovery, we first look at the group mechanisms that are typical for both extremist groups and cults, and the variations that can be found here. In the final sections, we explore challenges and opportunities for further cross-fertilization.

The Manipulative Group 

Both cults and extremist groups use tactics to attract and retain members in a manipulative way. In general, people in the group are gradually pushed in one direction. Once they are lured in, stepping back seems difficult or is made impossible. In this section we deal with how this group manipulation functions. Because there is a huge variety of cults and extremist groups, not all mechanisms are used by all groups with the same intensity at the same time.  

Recruiting Members. One of the recruitment techniques that is applied is deindividuation. With this strategy, members of the group are given bounded choices, and violation of the boundaries is unacceptable. Several forms of violence may be present: sexual, physical, psychological, spiritual, educational, financial, social, and family related. There is a moral reorientation and a demonization of the “other” (creating an “us and them” thinking pattern).3 

To keep order within the group, intragroup surveillance techniques are used. Members spy on each other, and internal court systems are not unknown. Punishment can result from this court system, or it can be part of the set of rules within the group. People are restricted in their behavior in order not to trigger safety hazards for the group.4  

However, it is important to underline that not all people are equally susceptible to manipulation and strategic recruitment. Personal ties such as friendship networks can play a role, as can psychological vulnerability (although overall psychopathology is no more prevalent among cult members than in society as a whole).5 Finally, it is of course possible that persons join of their own free will.6 Therefore, a kaleidoscope of both pull and push factors can drive an individual toward such a group. Second-generation members—those who become members by birth into the group—are, however, a special category. They grow up with the idea that the group is normal because this is where they receive their education and socialization. 

Both these similar recruitment mechanisms and the psychological changes among members are shared by members of a large variety of groups labeled as either cults or radical groups. There are, however, huge differences when it comes to an individual group’s

·         worldview/ideology;

·         acceptance of common societal values;

·         acceptance of laws;

·         cult of leadership;

·         internal violent behavior or intentions, both physical and mental; and

·         external violent behavior or intentions toward society or a specific group.

Different “scores” on these points help us to make the distinctions between organizations and followers that range from relatively innocent to representing a clear and present danger.

The way in which a cultic or radical group functions evolves over time. Groups also can split up into more or less dogmatic/radical factions.

Retaining Members. Margaret Singer (1995) described six ways in which cults can use thought-reform processes to influence and control members.7 Cults and extremists can use these processes to exercise extraordinary control over members’ lives, although not all groups necessarily do so.

1.    Keep the person unaware of what is going on and how she or he is being changed one step at a time. Potential new members are led, step-by-step, through a behavioural-change programme, without being aware of the final agenda or full content of the group. The goal may be to make them deployable agents for the leadership, to get them to buy more courses, or get them to make a deeper commitment, depending on the leader's aim and desires.

2.    Control the person's social and/or physical environment; especially control the person's time. Through various methods, newer members are kept busy and led to think about the group and its content during as much of their waking time as possible.

3.    Systematically create a sense of powerlessness in the person. This is accomplished by removing members from their normal social support group for a period of time, and instead putting them in an environment where the majority of people are already group members. The members serve as models for the attitudes and behaviours of the group and speak an in-group language.

4.    Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in such a way as to inhibit behaviour that reflects the person's former social identity. Manipulation of experiences can be accomplished through various methods of trance induction, including leaders using such techniques as paced speaking patterns, guided imagery, chanting, long prayer sessions or lectures, and lengthy meditation sessions.

5.    Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote learning the group's ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviours. Good behaviour, demonstrating an understanding and acceptance of the group's beliefs, and compliance, are rewarded while questioning, expressing doubts or criticising are met with disapproval, redress and possible rejection. If someone expresses a question, he or she is made to feel that there is something inherently wrong with them for questioning.

6.    Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and cannot be modified except by leadership approval or executive order. The group has a top-down, pyramid structure. The leaders must have verbal ways of never losing.

The ultimate result in conversion is that the person internalizes the ideology and values of the group, becoming a deployable agent. This conversion process is also described in “The Influence Continuum…” (Dubrow-Marshall, R., 2010); self-identification with the group becomes totally dominant and suppresses other aspects of a person’s identity. Totalistic identity theory is based on research that found evidence of links between a form of group-based psychopathology and the extent of one’s identification with a group. The theory also explains how group-based actions, including violent actions, can be self-referential and reinforcing of the dominant part of the person’s self-identity, which is group related.

Leaving an Extremist Group or a Cult

There are two ways to leave an extremist group or cult: voluntarily or by force. Voluntary withdrawal can happen if the member feels that inconsistencies in ideology and group behavior become unbearable. RAN EXIT deems that a seed of doubt about the group or ideology is a necessity for successful exit intervention: “There is a difference between someone needing help and someone being ready for help. You cannot force an exit intervention on someone who is not open to it.”8 The other way of exiting an extremist group or cult is by force: being kicked out by the group, being pulled out by family members, or being imprisoned by the state. But even though a person may be pushed or pulled out of the direct influence of a group, this exit does not necessarily mean the individual renounces the group’s ideology or behavior. Both individuals who leave voluntarily and those who are forced to leave must deal with many challenges before successful resocialization into mainstream society is possible. 

Challenges After Leaving a Group

Individuals who have left a cult or extremist group are first confronted with some primary survival concerns.9 Outside of the group, they have little or no access to key resources such as money and housing. Individuals who have been in the group for a long period will have little or no connections left in mainstream society; their entire network and identity is now manifested in the group. Survival thus becomes their first priority. People who have left the group may experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)10 (see sidebar). Second-generation members who have been pulled out of cults may not feel that they have been rescued at all. Instead, they have left all they have ever known.

Former members may also be confronted with a lack of general knowledge about life outside the group. This is especially true for second-generation members: 

I remember being in school and my classmates were talking about Michael Jordan. I asked them who Michael Jordan was. Somewhat surprised, they told me that he was the most famous basketballer in the world. I asked them what basketball was. From that point I was known as the freaky kid.11

It is not uncommon for the individuals who left voluntarily to feel guilty and think about returning. Experiencing difficulties after leaving can feel like proof that they are unfit for life in mainstream society. Active harassment from the group to pull these individuals back in can amplify these feelings. In contrast, people who have chosen to leave can feel ashamed and angry as they realize that they were deceived by the group.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

·         Individuals leaving a cult or extremist group can suffer from PTSD. This will directly influence their capacity to disengage from the group and resocialize in general society. PTSD starts with depression, leading to anxiety and ultimately to the individual feeling dissociated. Individuals with PTSD may suffer from the following symptoms:

·         Reexperiencing symptoms: flashbacks, bad dreams, frightening thoughts.

·         Avoidance symptoms: staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience. Avoiding thoughts and feelings that remind him or her of the trauma.

·         Arousal and reactivity symptoms: easily startled, on edge, sleep deprivation, angry outbursts.

·         Cognition symptoms: trouble remembering key features of the trauma. Negative thoughts about oneself or the world. Guilt, blame, other distorted feelings. Loss of interest in enjoyable activities.

Resocialization and Exit Work

The main challenge for resocialization is overcoming the identity crisis that individuals are likely to experience. The deconstruction of individuality has left their individual identities completely intertwined with the cult or extremist group. The loss of their entire social network, surroundings, and activities will leave them with the question, “Who am I?” For each individual, to completely deconstruct the extremist or cultic identity, it is crucial to replace that identity with a new one.12 Although many former members are able to do so without help from others, exit work can play an important role in that process.

For exit work, the challenge of resocialization means that the first steps in helping the individual with disengagement will revolve around practical matters such as housing and income. A new job and environment may help the individual to construct a new social network and identity. Meanwhile the individual can benefit from counseling during the disengagement process. The most important lesson for counseling is that it must be tailored and paced. The counselor should not be hasty or act as if she knows the client’s situation. In addition to the practical issues mentioned previously, counseling can help the client with the following issues: 

·         learning to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty;

·         having space to express a full range of emotions, including existential angst, anger, and grief;

·         returning to critical thinking and the ability to make decisions;

·         finding a balance between having choices and being overwhelmed with choices;

·         kick-starting stalled developmental issues;

·         repairing relationships with family members and friends;

·         forming new relationships; and

·         dealing with emotional issues—returning to conflicts that existed before group involvement and that may have increased the client’s vulnerability to the cult.13

Not all issues should be addressed directly and simultaneously. If a client suffers from PTSD (see sidebar), PTSD recovery should be the primary concern. Judith Herman (1997/1992) has differentiated three stages of recovery that can guide the counselling process:

(a)  Safety, self-care, healthy regulation of emotions

(b)  Remembrance and mourning 

(c)  Reconnection with people, meaningful activities, other aspects of life

True disengagement and resocialization may take many years. But exit work is not necessarily exclusively executed by professionals. Family, new friends (not attached to the cult or the extremist), and other important third persons can also play an important role.

The Role of Families

Families can play a major role in preventing a family member from joining a cult or extremist group, and also in helping the member who has joined to leave the group. Of course, there are cases in which the family or certain family members have a negative influence. RAN recognizes the importance of family and has published several papers outlining lessons on family support, both for prevention and disengagement from violent extremism.14,15 

Families are the first to recognize an individual’s change in behavior, feeling a lack of contact. Growing concerns and disagreement with the ideology of the movement/cult can leave family members confused: their loved one is “brainwashed.” Families often tend to wait, hoping the person will change his mind or look for professional help himself, or they focus on persuading him to leave. These approaches can end up in temporary loss of contact or in conflict.16

Support programs for families, such as Intervention101 for cults and Hayat (a German program that supports mothers whose children have joined Daesh) for extremist groups, work with the philosophy that retaining the relationship is more important than fighting the cult or extremist group. A good relationship is important in itself; however, it also provides the only opportunity to influence the person who has joined, however insignificant this relationship might appear at certain moments. Fighting the group will cause loyalty issues and bias the relationship. Not fighting the ideology/religion/goals of the group does not imply a family’s approval. The person in the cult or extremist group should have the feeling that returning to his family is always an option.    

Counselling Issues for Families

Families experience a high degree of stress and anxiety when a loved one has joined an extremist group or cult. Counsellors have reported that families have found the following aspects of counselling to be particularly helpful to them:

·         Receiving psychoeducation about the effect of high-pressure groups and group influence

·         Soothing anger through understanding

·         Learning communication skills

·         Examining family issues—unification around concerns for family member

·         Learning to take planned action rather than responding with impulsive outbursts

·         Receiving encouragement for patience and for small steps toward family conciliation17

Challenges to Further Cross-Fertilization

Exit work related to both cults and extremism faces challenges when it comes to legitimizing that work to the general public or policymakers. Because samples are small, few standardized methods exist and the number of evidence-based interventions is limited, so both aspects have problems in terms of proving their added value.

The legitimation challenge takes different forms. For nonviolent cults, the belief that (former) members pose no great harm to society as a whole has posed challenges in terms of accessing government funding. For extremism, more resources are available, but expectations are also high because of the perceived threat to society, especially when it comes to returning foreign terrorist fighters (who go back home after fighting). Both forms of exit work also have a few unpopular messages to convey: Compulsory treatment without any intrinsic motivation is most likely to fail; treatment takes time; and there are multiple pathways for leaving a group, largely depending upon circumstances and biographical elements.

A specific challenge is working with the second-generation former members—those who know only the cult or extremist milieu. Recovery work with individuals from this group has been taking place for some time. For violent extremism, the phenomenon is quite new (e.g., children returning from the caliphate or being raised in a völkische Siedlung, or patriotic settlement). For children of extremists, the challenge can be amplified if parents or other family members are prosecuted and imprisoned.

Means of Further Cross-Fertilization

Cults and extremist groups function on one continuum, which means that efforts to make a clear-cut difference between them will be impossible, inaccurate, and unhelpful. Some groups exhibit clear characteristics of both groupings. For example, the place of the apocalypse in Daesh ideology and the role of invisible leader Al-Baghdadi could be considered rather cultic. In other words, there are cults that commit acts of violent extremism and are considered terrorist groups (e.g., Daesh or Aum Shinrikyo). Meanwhile, differences also remain concerning (a) perception of societal danger posed by groups and the (b) legitimization of violence that they attempt.

Likewise, there are similarities between the two groupings when it comes to (a) vulnerable target groups who are lured into a unit, b) manipulative strategies for recruitment and retention of and psychological changes in members, and (c) guiding principles of how to work as professionals and families to help individuals leave the group/movement and return to mainstream society. Further cooperation between experts in general, or more specifically, between RAN and ICSA, on working with those leaving cultic and extremist groups could be fruitful in supporting the individuals affected by improving programs, methods, and activities.

Looking at the similarities, an exchange of case studies to grow the data pool would benefit both cult and extremism exit work. The same applies to exchanges about which methods and tools are effective, including the training of staff in both exit and recovery work. For these efforts to bear fruit, it is key to first bridge the vocabulary divide and to consider developing a common terminology that applies to these overlapping fields.

Finally, further exchange about involving former members—who are active in both fields—could be beneficial. Some former members from nonviolent cults are already working with former extremists, which indicates the importance of further work to establish when the role of former members has the most added value alongside other roles (such as that of mental health professionals, who have been active for many years in exit and recovery work).

Appendix 1: Definitions Concerning Cults and Radical or Extremist Groups—Clarifying Overlapping Terms 

Across related and overlapping fields of practice and inquiry concerning cults, radical and extremist groups, and violent extremism multiple terms have been variously defined at different stages of history and through different forms of practical intervention and research. 

The term cult (or sect) is widely acknowledged as an imperfect term with a degree of ambiguity and associations with media stereotypes that are sometimes unhelpful. For example, the word cult often conjures up the notion of a religious group such as those that proliferated in the 1960s and often originated in the United States. The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) does not use the term cult to label particular groups but instead sees cult-like practice or cultic influence on a continuum of undue influence and draws on research which has defined key psychological aspects of coercive persuasion and control and thought reform (as discussed in Robert J Lifton’s seminal work [1989/1961]). The focus for ICSA is on the group modus operandi and practice, and on the psychological changes in cults and extremist groups (as in the totalistic identity theory), which allows the term cult to be applied to a wide range of groups, some of which are religious, political, psychotherapeutic, business-focused, or terrorist in their nature and activity, and which sometimes involve a combination of these features.

Related common terms such as radical groups or extremist groups can also be applied widely to a range of similar phenomena; thus, it can be demonstrated that terrorist groups and violent extremism are a subset of a wider set of groups that may be variously termed as cults or radical or extremist groups. The extent of cultic or undue influence or thought reform may vary considerably between groups, including those that are violent extremist groups. It follows that the extent of thought reform, analogous to a totalistic identity and to the process of psychological conversion, will also vary between groups and, importantly, within groups. Just as the extent of violence will vary between groups (ranging from none to a modus operandi based entirely on acts of terrorist violence), so too will the extent of abuse within a group and the extent of harm suffered by members. The phrase coined by Michael Langone (Executive Director of ICSA) in 1999 speaks to the importance of a balanced and empirical approach to research and practice in this area when he said that “…a huge body of clinical evidence and a growing body of empirical research indicate that some groups harm some people sometimes, and that some groups may be more likely to harm people than other groups.”18

Therefore, we can consider the definitions of violent extremism and terrorism to describe the features of particular phenomena that overlap in important ways with a wider range of phenomena referred to as cults or radical or extremist groups. The European Commission (2005) defined violent radicalization as “the phenomenon of people embracing opinions, views and ideas which could lead to acts of terrorism as defined in Article 1 of the Framework Decision on Combatting Terrorism” (p. 2). It is clear that such a definition is also encapsulated within the wider definition of cults, which was established in 1985 by ICSA

as a group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g., isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it…), designed to advance the goals of the group’s leaders, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community. (West & Langone, 1986)

Clarifying the meaning and application of these overlapping terms is therefore helpful as practitioners across related fields of practice collaborate to enhance understandings and the efficacy of interventions to counter violent extremism, and to facilitate the exit of and foster the sustainable recovery for former members.


[1] Note that the term sect is often used instead of cult in Europe outside of English-speaking countries.

[2] See Appendix.

[3] Stephen A. Kent (ICSA). Possible Sociological and Cultic Studies Contributions to Radicalisation Awareness (presentation, RAN EXIT working group, June 27, 2017, Bordeaux, France).

[4] Stephen A. Kent (ICSA). Possible Sociological and Cultic Studies Contributions to Radicalisation Awareness (presentation, RAN EXIT working group, June 27, 2017, Bordeaux, France).

[5] Linda Dubrow-Marshall (RETIRN UK and ICSA). Recovery and Counselling. Lessons From Adjacent Fields: Cults (presentation, RAN EXIT working group, June 27, 2017, Bordeaux, France).

[6] Mike Kropfeld and Michael. L. Langone (ICSA). Recruiting and Retaining Cult Members (presentation, RAN EXIT working group, June 27, 2017, Bordeaux, France).

[7] See Singer’s Six Conditions, Re-FOCUS, Inc., Ó1998–2012 (adapted from Margaret T. Singer and Janja Lalich, Cults in Our Midst…, 1995, pp. 64-69), online at http://www.refocus.org/uploads/3/9/3/8/3938709/singers_conditions.pdf

[8] Setting Up an Exit Intervention (ex-post RAN paper), Berlin, Germany, February 13–14, 2017 (see https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/homeaffairs/files/what-we-do/networks/radicalisation_awareness_network/about-ran/ran-exit/docs/ran_exit_setting_up_exit_intervention_berlin_13-14_022017_en.pdf).

[9] Ashley Allen (ICSA). Working With First- and Second-Generation Former Members (presentation, RAN EXIT working group, June 27, 2017, Bordeaux, France).

[10] Linda Dubrow-Marshall (RETIRN UK and ICSA). Recovery and Counselling (presentation, RAN EXIT working group, June 27, 2017, Bordeaux, France).

[11] Ashley Allen (ICSA). Working With First- and Second-Generation Former Members (presentation, RAN EXIT working group, June 27, 2017, Bordeaux, France).

[12] André Taubert and Legato Hamburg. Lesson From Adjacent Fields: Cults (ex-post RAN paper, RAN EXIT working group, Bordeaux, June 27–28, 2017; see https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/homeaffairs/files/what-we-do/networks/).



[13] Linda Dubrow-Marshall (RETIRN UK and ICSA). Recovery and Counselling (presentation, RAN EXIT working group, June 27, 2017, Bordeaux, France).

[14] Family Support: What Works? (ex-post RAN YF&C paper, Manchester, UK, September 29–30, 2016; see https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/homeaffairs/files/what-we-do/networks/radicalisation_awareness_network/ran-papers/docs/ran_ex-post_paper_family_support_29-30_september_manchester_en.pdf).

[15] Working With Families and Safeguarding Children From Radicalisation (ex-post RAN YF&C and RAN H&SC paper, Nice, France, February 02–03, 2017; see https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/homeaffairs/files/what-we-do/networks/radicalisation_awareness_network/about-ran/ran-h-and-sc/docs/ran_yf-c_h-sc_working_with_families_safeguarding_children_en.pdf).

[16] Joseph Kelly and Patrick Ryan (Intervention101 and ICSA). Exit Work With Families and Current Members (presentation, RAN EXIT working group, June 27, 2017).

[17] Linda Dubrow-Marshall (RETIRN UK and ICSA). Recovery and Counselling (presentation, RAN EXIT working group, June 28, 2017).

[18] Michael Langone. (ICSA). Cults, Psychological Manipulation, & Society (paper presented at AFF Annual Conference, University of Minnesota, St. Paul Campus, May 14, 1999; published in Cultic Studies Journal, 18, 2001, 1–12, para. 10.


Commission of the European Communities. (2005). Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament concerning terrorist recruitment: Addressing the factors contributing to violent radicalization [Article 1, COM(2005) 313 final]. Brussels, Belgium: European Commission.

West, L. J., & Langone, M. D. (1986). Cultism: A conference for scholars and policy makers Cultic Studies Journal, 3(1), 87. (Paper originally presented at this conference, Sept. 9–11, 1985, sponsored by the American Family Foundation, the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, and the Johnson Foundation, Winspread conference facility, Racine, Wisconsin.)

Dubrow-Marshall, R. P. (2010). The influence continuum—The good, the dubious and the harmful—Evidence and implications for policy and practice in the 21st century. International Journal of Cultic Studies, 1(1), 1–13.

Herman, J. L. (1997/1992). Trauma and recovery: The aftermath of violence—from domestic abuse to political terror. New York, NY: BasicBooks.

Lifton, R. J. (1989/1961). Thought reform and the psychology of totalism: A study of brainwashing in China. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Singer, M. T., & Lalich, J. (1995). Cults in our midst: The hidden menace in our everyday lives. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

About the Authors

Rod Dubrow-Marshall, PhD, MBPsS, is Programme Leader (with Linda Dubrow-Marshall) for the new MSc Psychology of Coercive Control in the Directorate of Psychology and Public Health and is Visiting Fellow in the Criminal Justice Hub at the University of Salford, UK. Rod is a social psychologist who has been researching the psychology of coercion, influence, and cults or extremist groups for more than twenty years, and he has developed the Totalistic Identity Theory as an evidence-based theory to explain and tackle coercion, abuse, and ideologically driven violence. A graduate member of the British Psychological Society, Rod is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Cultic Studies Association and is also Chair of the ICSA Research Committee and Network, and he is Coeditor of the International Journal of Cultic Studies (since its inception in 2010). Rod cofounded the Re-Entry Therapy Information and Referral Network (RETIRN) UK in 2004 with Dr. Linda Dubrow-Marshall, where he serves as a consultant in helping individuals and families who have been adversely affected by destructive or damaging cults and other extremist and high-demand/manipulative groups or relationships (see www.retirn.com).

Maarten van de Donk studied at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. After a period as alderman in one of the boroughs in Rotterdam, he became consultant on preventive youth programs and policy. In both positions, he became involved with work on countering radicalization. Since 2006, he has been working for the Radar Cunsultancy Group, where since 2012 he has been working full-time on this topic as one of the account managers in the Centre of Excellence of the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN). Within the Center, van de Donk is supporting the Prison and Probation and EXIT working groups. He delivers trainings on radicalization awareness and supporting EU member states in implementing elements of preventing or countering violent extremism policy. In the Netherlands, van de Donk is being accredited as a trainer for the Dutch National Institute for Education on Radicalisation. In this capacity, he delivered and codeveloped in-depth trainings for prison staffs and imams.

Wessel Haanstra studied sociology at the University of Amsterdam. After his study, he started working at RadarAdvies, a consultancy firm that operates in the social domain. The majority of his work at Radar revolved around projects concerning the prevention of radicalization: the evaluation of local P/CVE [preventing and countering violent extremism] approaches and training on radicalization awareness for first-line practitioners. Since 2015, he has been working full-time on this topic as one of the account managers in the Centre of Excellence (CoE) of the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), which serves as a hub in connecting, developing, and disseminating expertise on the exchange of experience, promising practices, and deliverables that contribute to countering violent extremism. Within the Centre, Mr. Haanstra is supported by EXIT’s Police working group and Youth, Families. and Communities working group. In 2019, he started working for the Project Management Bureau of the City of Amsterdam. wesselhaanstra@hotmail.com