Journal Article

Insights From Cult Survivors Regarding Group Support


in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 29, issue 4, pages 581-599
Published in print August 1999 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online August 1999 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Insights From Cult Survivors Regarding Group Support

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Reports of numerous types of cults have increased and have been receiving considerable media coverage over the last ten years (Singer and Lalich, 1995). Cult activity is now prevalent in many countries of the world. The article offers insights for therapists and other professionals who come into contact with cult survivors. It emphasizes that, when dealing with cult survivors, one has to be sensitive to their needs and to reshape one's therapeutic approach accordingly. The article examines post-cult adjustments and the role a support group can play in fostering recovery from cult abuse. Findings were obtained from a qualitative study that obtained first-hand data from survivors on their cult involvement and their post-cult recovery. Particular emphasis was placed on their involvement with an ex-member's support group in Montreal. The group called itself the Ex-Members Society support group, although it was more of a self-help group. Ex-cult members shared their experiences and, through their interaction and mutual support, they were able to recover from cult abuse and re-integrate into mainstream society. Gazda (1989) makes the distinction between what constitutes a self-help group as compared to a support group. By definition, self-help groups are ‘groups in which members assume primary responsibility for the organization, functioning, and leadership of the group’ (Gazda, 1989, p. 237). The professional acts as an advocate-mediator to observe the group, identify conflicts, clarify alternatives for resolution, and negotiate compromises acceptable for all of those who are involved in the group. On occasion, a professional would co-lead the group with an ex-member acting as an observer, guide and consultant; however, the onus was on members to benefit from each other's support and to help each other in the recovery process. The researcher had never been a member of the ex-member's support group. Four cult survivors who had participated in the group were individually interviewed. Two of the participants were then interviewed together. A person-centered theoretical framework was employed to orient the study to listen to the voices of the cult survivors with empathy and understanding. The findings indicated that a support group for cult survivors cannot operate in an undiffrentiated manner from other support groups. To be effective, it must take care not to resemble a cult in any way. It has to be sensitive to the special needs of each ex-cult member and to the particular context of the cult from which they exited.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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