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Counseling the Former Cultist

Written by: Martin, Paul R.    Posted on: 05/01/2003

Category: Cults / Sects / Non Christian Religions and Topics

Source: CCN

                  Counseling the Former Cultist

                    by Paul R. Martin, Ph.D.

I find it curious and somewhat puzzling that both the mental health community and the Church (with the exception of the Roman Catholic Church, which published a Vatican Report on Cults) has remained fairly silent in regard to the harmful effects of cults.

Yet, other well known bodies such as the Parent-Teachers Organization (1982), the European Parliament (1984), the government of Spain (which mobilized the entire country against harmful cults after a nationally televised debate in 1984), the International Wingspread Conference in Wisconsin (1985), and the Israeli International Report (1987), have all issued strong statements about the detrimental effects cults have on their members, members families, and society in general (L. J. West, "Persuasive Techniques in Contemporary Cults. A Public Health Approach," in M. Galanter, ed., Cults and New Religious Movements, Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1989).

Dr. Louis J. West, former director of the Neuro-Psychiatric Institute at UCLA, has commented: "For at least two decades the situation has been growing steadily worse. We do not know how many people are affected. I have seen estimates that as many as 10 million Americans have been at least briefly involved with cultic groups during the past 20 years. But even if it were only a million, the situation should be considered grave.

"Suppose a million people in the United States were afflicted with some mysterious infection about which many victims did not complain, but which caused considerable suffering in others and while only a small percentage died, that was affecting a steadily increasing number of people. Would we not consider that an epidemic?" (Ibid).

Dr. Walter Martin, in his book Martin Speaks Out on the Cults, reported that there are 30 million people in the U.S. who currently belong to one of the thousands of cults now operating in this country (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1983).

Yet, what disturbs me greatly is that, to the best of my knowledge, there is a mere handful of books written about the psychological and social effects of destructive cults. There is a veritable glut in the Christian market of books that deal with theological heresies of the more well known cults.

Unfortunately, the impression is easily gained from such books that cults can be identified strictly on the basis of doctrine, while ignoring cultic practices such as authoritarianism, legalism, prohibition of dissent, etc.

Another problem is that the focus on the more visible cults can obscure the fact that there are thousands of small cults that never make media headlines, but are just as dangerous (often more so) as the major groups. The average reader, then, ends up with a distorted idea of just what the dangers of cults are, and how extensive the problem really is.

Cultic groups can destroy or damage peoples lives spiritually and psychologically. Yet as Ronald Enroth laments, "I am confronted on a regular basis with hurting people who are coming out of these groups." The evangelical church and the church at large have done a great deal for other types of social needs. They have provided resources for unwed mothers, for drug addicts, and for alcoholics. But they have done nothing for the person who is coming out of one of these extremist cults. Christians are not aware of the great need to assist former cultists on the path back into mainstream society.

"I feel very strongly about this need. It involves a ministry of reconciliation, healing, and nurturing. It is a real need that has to be addressed, and its going unmet." Many pastors and others want to help and are sincere, but they do not really know where these people are coming from.

"Former cultists have special needs and special problems. One is that they often find misunderstanding and even stigma in the evangelical community. I challenge Christians to extend fellowship and friendship to this new minority - the former cultists" (R. Enroth and J.G. Melton, Why Cults Succeed Where Church Fails, Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 1985, pp. 98-99).

The vast majority of those leaving cults do so because they are thrown out, have escaped, drifted away, or walked out, unable to stomach the regime any longer. Those re-entering society we are morally obligated to help.

What about cult members who have little or no financial assistance from their families? What of those who have no families, or who have been estranged from their families by their cult involvement? Where will they go if there are no charitable services available? (The only charitable agency of which I know is run by the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles.)

In this I agree with Dr. Enroth: we are faced with a great challenge and a responsibility to act.

Long before I heard of Enroth's challenge to help ex-cult members, I was in the process of starting a rehabilitative center as a result of my own involvement in a fringe Christian movement. After I left this organization I struggled for several years to regain my health, emotional vibrancy, and spiritual zeal.

When I did open up about my experience I was so misunderstood that I remained fairly silent for years. During that time I continued to meet other ex-members of the same movement with similar stories to tell.

Yet, I knew there was no place for these people to go and with the lack of proper resources for ex-members of various groups. These facts led me to found Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center. It was high time to do something to help these people. It is now in its 6th year. A few weeks ago I realized that our new lodge (now under construction to alleviate our present small, cramped, and inadequate guest house) is the first in the world ever to be build for the express purpose of helping former cult members.

Wellspring Retreat & Resource Center A Residential Facility for Cult Rehabilitation Post Office Box 67 Albany, Ohio 45710

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