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