A Study of Coercion


Robert W. Dellinger


"There's always a pretty good number of self-appointed pied

pipers, self-appointed messianic people, self-appointed gurus in any

society who say to the confused masses: 'Follow me! I have a simple

solution for the complex problems of life.' But if the social

structure has not broken down, very few people will follow them," says

Margaret Singer, a clinical psychologist and a professor at the

University of California's medical school in San Francisco and in the

Psychology Department at the University of California, Berkley.

Singer has talked to more than 500 cultist and ex-cult members, and

has worked individually and in group therapy with more than 200 people

who have come out of cults.

Cults are not new. When Eastern and Western cultures collided

during the last days of the Roman Empire, a number of apocalyptic

movements appeared. After the French Revolution in 1789, France

witnessed a tremendous rise in the number of cults. Cultic groups did

not arrive on the scene in England until the 18th century, during the

Industrial Revolution. And the United States had to wait until its

citizens pushed west before these assemblies proliferated. But many

social observers believe that the recent growth of cults in this

country, which began in the late 1960's and became really visible in

the mid-1970's, has been something special.

Singer estimates that three million young adults between the ages

of 18 and 25 are affiliated with these movements. There are at least

250 different cults, she says, and, depending on the definition you

use, as many as 2,500 cults can be identified. According to Singer,

these groups fall into ten classes: neo-Christian-based cults; Hindu-

and eastern-based groups; occult, satanic, and witchcraft movements;

spiritualistic-based groups; Zen-based assemblies; race-based cults;

flying saucer-based cliques; psychological movements; political cults;

and communal- living groups.

"It's important to note that all cults are not religious in their

content," Singer points out. "Some of them were communal living

arrangements at first. Synanon was started to help drug addicts, and

Scientology began as a new psychology and evolved into a religious

body. The contents of witchcraft and occult groups, psychological

movements, neo-Christian organizations and Hindu groups vary; but most

of these movements have become religions because of the wonderful

protection that the First Amendment and the many state tax laws give

to religious entities. By using the term religion, the new cults try

to blend themselves in and appear as if they are no different from

'institutionalized' religions. The point we're all trying to make is:

'Yes, they are different - at a social and political and informational

and power level!'"

Singer says that today's cults are usually led by charismatic

males who center the love, devotion, and allegiance of the members on

themselves. Rabbis, ministers, priests, and other "legitimate"

religious leaders, on the other hand, keep the veneration of adherents

focused on God, abstract principles, and group purposes.

"At the time they arise, cults try to tell people that they're

innovative and exclusive because part of their appeal is to say that

they're all-millennium," she explains. "Doomsday cults say that the

end of the world is coming in one way or another - the A-bomb, etc. -

and that if you join brand X cult you'll be part of the elite who

survive and take over and lead the new order. But they usually turn

out to be pseudo-revolutionary in their actual practices. While these

cults and cult-like groups are saying they are the new way, they are

really far more restrictive than any of the life-styles in the

surrounding community.

"Cults have only two basic purposes: recruiting new members and

fund raising. Cults may claim to make real social contributions, but,

in reality, these remain mere claims or minimal gestures."

According to Singer, cults tend to have a double set of ethics.

The "love bombing" that the Moonies (members of Reverend Sun Myung

Moon's Unification Church) are famous for, the personality test that

Scientologists give, and the unconditional acceptance that almost all

of these groups show toward potential members, she claims, are totally

contrived. "If I apply to be a Catholic, the priest will spell out in

utter detail the church's doctrine and practices by making me take

religious instructions," she says. "If I go off to be an

Episcopalian, a Baptist, a Seventh-Day Adventist, a Jew - any of the

'institutionalized' religions - they want full-capacity informed

consent. Whereas, the cults start with duplicity and deception."

"These groups are able to attract people who don't really know

that it's totally staged. And then, after they get in, these young

men and women are unaware of what the methods - the social and

psychological manipulative tools that are applied to them - are going

to do to their thinking and how they are going to be separated off

from their families and from their past lives and their past religions

and past consciousness."


Gary Scharff, once a religious studies major at Princeton

University, was recruited by the Unification Church in 1972. After

finishing his junior year, Scharff says he started feeling cynical

about the merits of learning theology from a textbook. Deciding that

he needed some time to sort things out, he went home to Louisville,

Kentucky, and got a job in a tool factory. It was there that the

Moonies recruited him.

"I just met a couple of people from their bus team and was very

intrigued by them," he explains. "I had never heard of 'cult' or

'brainwashing' at that point. I had a mixed reaction. First, I felt

somewhat amused by the literature they gave me, which seemed to be

fairly childish and juvenile. They were proposing to answer the

profound questions of life in a series of three or four lectures, and

here I had spent three years trying to understand the questions. But

then, on the other hand, there was this really powerful devotion and

commitment in the young woman who handed me the literature and struck

up a conversation with me."

Scharff knew that she must be from a fringe religious group, but

he thought it would be interesting to try to understand what real

belief was like without an intellectual foundation. Gradually, he got

more and more emotionally involved with members of the group. After

eight months, he moved into the Unification Church's local center.

Still, Scharff had no intention of signing up for life. He just

wanted to share their faith with them for a while. But soon he was

asked to attend a 100-day leadership training program near New York

City. Church officials assured him and his parents that he would be

back in Louisville in a couple of months. The camp, which operated on

a rigid schedule, was physically, emotionally, and mentally

overpowering. Scharff felt that he never had enough food to eat or

hours to sleep.

"We spent most of the time just sitting listening to lectures,"

he recalls. "You would have this being-at-the-edge-of-consciousness

kind of awareness - the same feeling you have at three o'clock in the

afternoon on the day after you've pulled an all-nighter. There's a

shell that's just kind of surrounding you, and you don't feel alert.

You feel like anything could happen, and it would take you longer to

react to it and to even understand what it was. So there's kind of an

undertone of fearfulness that accompanies all your actions."

Scharff describes the experience as a combination of affection

and deception. The love and concern made him less suspicious of his

mentors; the dishonesty and manipulation isolated him from his family

and friends and, eventually, from himself.

"There's something continuously going on, from early in the

morning until late at night," he explains. "Even in those situations

where you're just moving from one location to another in the camp,

there's somebody on either side of you. Your attention is constantly

drawn towards things outside you, and so you're not in the kind of

mental posture to turn inward and reflect. You never get a chance to

talk to yourself because there's always somebody else talking to you.

And that becomes a very serious problem because so many ideas are

unloaded on you."

"Ultimately, you become so fatigued and your emotions become so

strongly accentuated that they really kind of set off to the side any

kind of rational thinking process. You become an absorber of feelings

and attitudes and behavior patterns rather than an alert adult

responding to a community that is offering something which you can

take or leave. You really become committed more by default than by


The isolation, intellectual bombardment, and emotional

fluctuation worked their spell on 21-year-old Gary Scharff. After 90

days of training, he was made director of the Pennsylvania Unification

Church. During his four years in the "Movement," he also was national

director of CARP (the Collegiate Association for the Research of

Principle, a recruitment arm of the Unification Church) and assistant

director of planning and development for a proposed system of

Unification Church seminaries. He gave the initial three-day workshop

for people recruited in New York City and did some public relations

work, too.

The experience still frightens him when he looks back, even

though he has been out of the group for four years. "I went into that

thing kind of emotionally involved but nonetheless an open-minded and

alert student of religion," he muses, "and I came out of it a very

fanatical, highly focused, totally submissive servant of Sun Myung


The first step in "processing" cult recruits away from their past

lives, according to Margaret Singer, is separating them from their

families and friends. "Many of the groups refer to themselves as 'the

family' in one way or the other and emphasize 'We are your new family

now!'" she explains. "Several of the groups tell members, eventually,

that their parents are 'satanic. ' Another group calls them 'potential

trouble sources.' One of the groups refers to all non-members,

including parents, as the 'wog world.' In quite a few of the groups,

they say your parents are only your physical parents."

"They even structure families within the cult if families are

inducted into the group. The People's Temple did this. Jim Jones

broke up families. He would send the children of Mr. and Mrs. A to

live with Mr. and Mrs. B and C. If married couples go in, they, too,

tend to be broken up - because these are very upwardly centered

groups, and the cult leaders have found that it works best if they

prevent lateral allegiances and pairings and keep all the veneration

and affiliations directed upwards."

Because most cults suppress and monitor phone calls, visitors,

and letters, Singer says that they are often able to convince new

members that their parents have abandoned them.

Next, according to Singer, these groups try to get the neophytes

to focus on past deviant behavior - drug use, sexual misdeeds,

psychological hangups, poor social relationships. The mechanism is

often some kind of group confession or encounter session, and the

result is often recruits who now see their past as something evil. By

controlling and reinterpreting all information from the outside world,

keeping members busy marketing and proselytizing, using thought-

stopping cliches and a closed system of logic, squelching all

resistance and negativity, and reinforcing only group-desired

behavior, cults resocialize vulnerable individuals.

"After they've been in a long enough time, the groups try to

convey to the new members that they won't be able to return to the

outside," Singer explains. "One of the major cults says, 'Returning

from here to the world will be like eating your own vomit!' The new

members are both afraid to leave the group because of personal failure

and afraid that the group may come after them and bring them back.

Most are relatively debilitated from long hours of cult work every

day, and, eventually, they get to feeling very bad because they start

to become aware of the deception that was practiced upon them to get

them in. But by then, they have been in so long that they have almost

no easy life to return to. So the choice usually is to stay."

"What I'm trying to paint is a picture of many, many pathways to

social and psychological manipulation, to restricting reflective

thinking, to restricting secondary associations, and to keeping the

person highly focused on the leader while they're in these groups."

The Unification Church is not alone when it comes to using

deception and mental maneuvers to recruit and keep members, according

to Singer and others. Although the followers of Lord Krishna, the

Hare Krishnas, reserve their hard sell for the selling of their

literature and incense, they can be heavy proselytizers whenever a

possible recruit comes by. Critics (most noticeably Flo Conway and

Jim Siegelman, authors of the book "Snapping") claim that the constant

chanting of their mystical incantation or mantra invokes an

unquestioning mental state. Others contend that a horrendous work

schedule plus a no-meat, no-eggs, no-fish, low protein diet keep

members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in a

constantly repressed condition.

The Divine Light Mission is supported by the sale of converts'

possessions and gifts, and by the tithing of "preemies" (i.e.,

devotees). Counter-cultists say that the meditative "knowledge"

techniques practiced by its congregation are consciousness-altering

methods that harm a susceptible mind. At the heart of DLM philosophy,

in fact, is the idea that rational thought prevents human beings from

reaching God. Some former members have claimed that they were

brainwashed by being bombarded with the group's doctrine. Others have

reported such cognitive disturbances as memory loss and an inability

to read without "trancing out" - going into a meditative state.

Margaret Singer believes that the Church of Scientology, the

Children of God, The Way International, the Tony and Susan Alamo

Christian Foundation, the Love Israel family, and the Body of Christ

all rely on coercive conversion methods. Others have also suggested

that many "Me Generation" movements, such as LifeSpring, TM, and EST,

can influence an individual's thought processes.

Father Kent Burtner, a Dominican priest who counsels former cult

members and their parents, believes that the best way to view all of

these groups is to place them on a continuum that runs from positive

support of the person to mind destructiveness through the use of

deception and abusive behavior modification techniques. "When you get

to Moon and his Booneville, California, training camp, there is no

question about the subterfuge and trickery going on there," he says.

"But when you look at some of these fringe 'human potential' groups,

then you get into this really fuzzy zone. Within this gray area,

there may be a case and time where an individual's freedom is totally

betrayed and another case where an individual's freedom, given

slightly different circumstances, is not. You really have to judge it

on a case by case basis."

What is significant about these movements, according to Father

Burtner, are the psychological techniques that have been used to

convert and control followers. "I don't care whether it's someone

leading a Catholic charismatic prayer group or if it's Sun Myung Moon

- whether they're into a 'socially acceptable' form of spirituality of

not - if they start using methods that deprive individuals of their

ability to make a free choice, they're acting in a tremendously

destructive way towards the person," he says. "And that, to me, is an

objective evil."


If these groups are so harmful, why would anybody enter one? In

studying cults, social scientists have come up with a number of

reasons to explain their popularity with today's youth and young

adults. A disillusionment with the scientific community, the

military, big business and labor, schools and colleges, government,

family relationships, and religions - every aspect of our

materialistic society - has made many human potential movements and

cults appealing. A longing for moral authority and a sense of purpose

has also led people into the waiting arms of assemblies with simple

answers to life's most puzzling problems.

"It's not just a pathologigal people who join the cults," says

Margaret Singer. "There is no one type of person who becomes involved

with the cults. Rather, all of us at various times are more

vulnerable than at other times. Almost anyone who is in a period of

loneliness is in a vulnerable period in which he or she might get

taken in by the flattery and deceptive lures that cults use to recruit

new members. I've found that the people who've gotten involved with

cults have tended to be somewhat depressed. The cults picked them up

between high school and college, between romances, between college and

their first job, between marriage and when they were divorced. But

they were in between a major anchoring point and affiliation."

Gary Scharff says that being a member of the Unification Church

gave him a strong feeling of commitment and sacrifice, of

subordinating himself to the higher goal of saving the world. "That

was a very, very powerful incentive," he confides. "It was very

rewarding. I felt I was really putting my life on the line, living by

what I believed. It's a feeling of really being devoted and having,

in a sense, cast your fate into the lap of God."

But probably more than any other factor, the need for love and

friendship steers young people who are making the difficult transition

from late adolescence to adulthood into cults. At the heart of their

appeal is the promise of uncomplicated warmth and acceptance. Being a

member of one of these "communities of love" means being a part of

what some have called the ultimate in-group. "If you comply and focus

your thinking outward, do not dissent, stop thinking of your past

family and your past work," says Singer, "you will get lots of payoffs

because you have joined an elite group. And one way or another in

this elite group, you're going to become a perfect human being."

"The attraction in the majority of cases has involved normal,

healthy kids going through temporary depressions," explains Jean

Merritt, a psychiatric social worker who has been counseling former

cult members and their families since 1973. "They have been caused by

the typical things that cause depressions in that age group: conflicts

with parents, boyfriend or girlfriend; problems in school; the loss of

a relative or a friend through death or divorce. A fair number of the

kids who have been approached by Moonies, let's say, when they were

feeling good laughed it off, knowing exactly that this was probably a

cult. They were not the least bit interested. Then they were

approached again when they weren't feeling so strong, and off they


According to Merritt, cults usually go after single, white,

middle-class and upper-middle-class young people who have been taught

to be open to innovative ideas and to try new experiences. They are

often intelligent young men and women who are extremely idealistic and

altruistic. She says that some cults today are also actively

recruiting lower and working-class inner-city youths. But beyond

that, Merritt believes there is no typical cult member. Young and old

alike who are at loose ends are easy prey to the cults' flattery and



Margaret Singer believes in the importance of early education.

"If parents would get their kids to be a little more streetwise," she

says, "that's the main thing. There are no free lunches."

Singer believes that fathers and mothers should become more

knowledgeable about the major cults so they can answer their

children's questions. But even more important, she feels that parents

need to listen and hear the feelings, concerns and fears of their sons

and daughters. "You must be the one who helps a young man or woman

find answers to his or her questions," she says. "If you don't, a

cultist may lure him or her off with false promises that there is one

solution to everything."

Just as parents should talk to their kids about drug abuse, Jean

Merritt says they also need to inform them about cults. In giving

lectures around the country, she has discovered that high school

students are terribly naive about the whole subject of cults. Even

teen-agers who know that it's bad news to get messed up with these

groups, don't know why. And Merritt insists that these people are

just as vulnerable as their unaware peers because they're likely to

pass it off as just another thing, like marijuana, that Dad and Mom

will get hysterical about.


"If your child has only been involved in a group a very short

time and still hasn't left home, there are certain ways that you can

respond to their questions," says Henrietta Crampton, secretary of

Citizens Freedom Foundation, a parents' counter-cult network with

affiliates in many states. "You can find out which cult your child is

involved with and who the leader is. You can call a local chapter of

CFF or maybe talk to an ex-cult member. But get the specifics. Then

you can present these facts to your child and get him or her to

understand. If you know early enough, you can stop it."

The hardest thing for fathers and mothers who have lost a child

to a cult to swallow is their own guilt. Most are ashamed. Many see

themselves as failures. But because the cults recruit mainly from the

ranks of the idealistic and committed, the loss of their child is, in

fact, a kind of horrible personal compliment.

Once a son or daughter has taken off with the group, most

professionals believe that the sooner the parents start trying to make

contact, trying to keep the lines of communication open, and trying to

lure the child out, the better. "So often parents think it's

something like Hula Hoop - it's just a passing fad," says Margaret

Singer. "They don't know how really tight the psychological and

social pressures will come to bear upon their child."

Singer, Father Burtner, and Merritt believe that parents must

keep in mind that cults see the world through polarized glasses:

everybody inside is good and everybody outside is demonic or, at

least, influenced by Satan. aIf parents tip their hand too early by

coming out openly against the group, the recruit will often go

underground and may not be seen again for years. To counter this, the

three counselors tell parents to keep lots of "love messages" going to

their kids.

Parents who have had their children drawn into cults have three

basic options. By keeping communications going, they can try to get

their son or daughter to talk with a former member or local cult

authority. Sometimes this third party, by providing critical

information about the group, can break the cult's hold. Although many

cult watchers say this approach rarely works, the Jewish Community

Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia, a counter-cult

organization, recently reported that "hundreds of young people have

been convinced to leave the various cults as a result of discussions

with concerned and knowledgeable individuals. These discussions were

entered into voluntarily by the cult members, usually at the urging of

their parents."

Some parents go to the courts when their children refuse to

listen to the "other side." There are two connected legal remedies:

conservatorship-guardianship and a writ of habeas corpus. Through

conservatorships-guardianships, a state places an adult in the

temporary custody of another adult. Although state laws differ about

the grounds on which these legal orders may be granted, the most

common reasons include being harmful to oneself and others, physical

infirmity, or mental incompetence. But civil libertarians argue that

it's an unconstitutional form of legal kidnaping, and many magistrates

are reluctant to issue these orders. If a judge decides that the

cultist does need a conservator-guardian, a writ of habeas corpus is

then issued to gain custody of the person. Most conservator-guardian

decrees specify a time period in which medical and mental health

evaluation and treatment must take place. At the end of these days or

weeks, the judge reviews the case.

The last alternative, the forcible abduction and restraint of the

cult victim, is illegal. And although some judges have been

sympathetic to parents who take this course of action, these

kidnapings have been prosecuted at every level of the criminal justice

system. Ted Patrick, the well-known San Diego deprogrammer, has been

jailed many times for conspiring to forcibly remove a member from a

cult. Others have been fined. Many contemporary deprogrammers will

only talk to cultists who either come to them voluntarily or through a



Whether a person leaves a group voluntarily, through a court

order, or by being illegally kidnaped, many counter-cult authorities

believe the recruit must be deprogrammed. "They don't get their heads

on straight unless they have a chance to talk to somebody who's been

through their experience, who knows what's going on inside of them

emotionally," says Neil Maxwell, a San Francisco pharmacist who has

done some 50 deprogrammings and who is willing to do more. "I think

it's a fantastic process. It's very similar to surgery to correct a

condition that can't be corrected in any other way. It's not a harsh

confrontation process but rather a kindly exchange of information."

Father Burtner agrees that even when members choose to leave

cults, they still need to have the opportunity to sort things out.

"We've had kids who have left groups quite on their own, went home,

and then later, for some mysterious reason, went back to the cult," he

says. "Maybe they got left alone too long in the cult, and their

reflective processes began to work again. Then they panicked and fled

the group. But if that person doesn't get some good help, he or she

will still suffer from the residual effects of their experience, for

example, knee-jerk reactions to coercive circumstances. Another

reason a person might leave a group is that he or she overdoses on

guilt. The cult must make recruits surrender their guilt to the

group, which, in turn, enables the group to control them. But at the

same time, the group must maintain positive reinforcement - 'good

strokes' - for without these, the person is going to feel unworthy of

remaining within the group."

Although Father Burtner knows that some self styled

"deprogrammers" have tried to shock cultists out of their present

mental state with violence, he does not believe that shouting and

screaming, sleep deprivation, and sensory overload are the essence of

the controversial procedure. After conducting 16 deprogrammings, 14

of which have been successful, Father Burtner is sure that emotional

or physical strong-arm methods do not work because these tactics

simply reinforce the person's paranoia. "Deprogramming," he explains,

"is a counseling process whereby a cult victim is given the

opportunity to see a broad perspective on his or her group; to see

more fully the implications of membership; to learn the rudiments of

abusive behavior modification techniques and the thought-reform

process; to examine the values, tenets, and practices of the group; to

examine his or her own thoughts and feelings so that the person re-

evaluates the affiliation and makes a free personal choice."

According to Father Burtner, cults put up a wall between a

person's own ideas and emotions and his or her reflections on these

things. The cultist is stripped of any spontaneous reactions. The

group wants to control all communication that an individual has with

the innermost self - to direct what, and even whether, a person may

think and feel. "So in the deprogramming, you've got to reach through

that wall and help them experience their own thoughts and their own

feelings," he says. "There are a lot of ways to go about doing that.

Some deprogrammers are very attuned to people's emotional wavelengths

and can help them pick up on these things, especially, with the help

of parents and friends who know what's real and what's not in a

particular person. Other deprogrammers prefer to go at it by means of

a rational discussion about the cult's activities, hoping that as they

do it the individual will show them some areas of anxiety. Once

they've got hold of that, then they can help the person bring to the

surface what's really going on underneath."

Gary Scharff was deprogrammed in Kansas by Joe Alexander, a

professional anti-cultist. After four days of talking and reading,

Scharff realized that he could not take people's freedom away in the

name of God. "I felt very, very much in solitude in having to make up

my own mind in a way that was as honest as I could possibly do," he

says. "It was a painful choice internally, even though I was treated

respectfully and lovingly from the outside."


Even when parents are able to get their son or daughter away from

a cult, their problems are not over. The former member faces a number

of hurdles in adjusting to life on the outside. "These people have a

lot of guilt over some of the practices in fund raising, over the fact

that they recruited a lot of people who are still back in the cult,"

says Singer. "I've interviewed people who have left two or three

small children and a spouse back in the cult and are feeling very

confused about whether they should go back and try to get them out.

They also often feel very guilty about having censored mail and phone

calls, and having diverted friends and family of cult members in the


Overwhelming moods of depression and loneliness also often arise.

Former members realize and regret the fact that they are out of step

both in the job and social worlds. Some feel abused by their cult

experience. Because most cults restrict all physical contact and

pairing, many ex-members also have intimacy and sexual-growth

difficulties. And leaving a cult means leaving behind loved ones -

comrades who have shared a special experience with you. Former

members must quickly find new friends in a world that they have been

led to believe is hostile.

Because they are used to having every activity spelled out for

them, former cultists often feel that they cannot make it on their

own. "I find myself in some of our group therapy sessions saying to

certain people: 'Now you must buy an alarm clock and a tablet and

pencil in order to start getting your life structured, And you must

start writing down the list of things that you have to be in charge

of,'" says Singer. "Sometimes these have been 26 to 46-year-old

adults who have been in these groups and who need this type of

restructuring and encouragement to start doing all of these tiny

decision-making things that we all do."

"Floating," the slipping back into the cult-altered state of

consciousness, is another after-effect. Like the flashbacks of drug

users, this trance-like condition where the person empties his mind

can be set off by stress, conflict, and depression or simply by

certain words and images. Some ex-members who experience these

episodes feel like they are going crazy. Others believe that the cult

they belonged to must be the real thing and that God is calling them

back to it. Additional consequences, according to some clinicians,

include a temporary decrease in mental sharpness, a fear of the cult,

which is sometimes based on reality, and extreme suggestibility.

Singer describes one more problem encountered by cult veterans -

the "fishbowl effect." The family and friends of the ex-member are

always on the alert for any sign that the person is thinking about

going back to the group. As a result, any positive talk about the

cult or its members sends the family into panic. "Parents have to

accept the fact that although the cult itself was sort of bad, there

were a lot of good kids in it," Singer explains. "They have to let

the kid talk about some of the positive things - the warm friendships

or even romances and the sense that group-living taught them to

connect more openly and warmly to other people than they could before

their cult days."

Singer believes it is very important for parents to be aware of

the special emotional problems that former cult members must deal with

during their re-entry into society. Most people need at least 30

days, she says. On the average, it takes from 8 to 18 months for ex-

cultists to get back to their full level of functioning.

Ideally, rehabilitation has several aspects. First of all, it is

a period for dealing with "floating." Second, the professional

counselor, who is an authority on cultic groups, explains to the

individual how he or she was manipulated. Finally, the counselor

helps the person integrate the group experience into present needs and

future plans.

People who join cults, says Father Burtner, have a lot of normal

developmental problems - conflicts with parents and resolutions about

themselves that are typical for their age group and need to be

resolved but are not. "When they go into a cult, it's like taking

those things and putting them into an icebox," he explains. "Then you

take them out of the cult, and you take the block of ice out of the

freezer. And it starts to melt, and these problems start to thaw out

and then need to be dealt with."

But ex-cult members often report that they could not find anyone

in the mental health field who would help them sort out their troubled

feelings, fears, and beliefs. "So few professionals know anything

about what happens to these people," says Singer. "So many

psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers feel that the cults

are a passing fad. But they're much more sophisticated and organized

than that. Secondly, there's a tendency for professionals to say

there's a pathology - some sort of abnormal condition - in the youth,

or that there's a psychopathology in the parents, and that if the

parents weren't peculiar people the children would never join cults.

There's this blaming of the victim and the victim's parents. We see

this same blaming-the-victim done in rape cases."

Gary Scharff does not believe he had a difficult readjustment.

Most important, he had to re-learn how to make decisions for himself.

But it took quite a while before Scharff's most serious side effect

went away. "I've always been a thoughtful and reflective kind of

person," he says. "And I felt proud of my ability to follow a thought

and concentrate very carefully on it. When I came out of the

movement, I found that there were times when I would be thinking about

something and all of a sudden it would just sort of go 'bing!' right

in front of my face. I would completely forget - not just lose a

train of thought, but just forget - everything that I had been

thinking about. I felt like I was left stranded without knowing what

was going on in my mind. It was a very frustrating feeling. And it

wasn't until another year and a half that I felt like I was able to

really keep control of my attention span."

Margaret Singer, Jean Merritt, and Father Kent Burtner together

have counseled hundreds of former cultists like Gary Scharff. But the

three agree that there are other victims - the fathers, mothers, and

brothers and sisters of cult members. "The most important thing for

the family to remember is that there are people out there who are

willing to help," says Henrietta Crampton of CFF. "These parents

aren't alone!"

NOTE: This file reproduced by permission from a booklet distributed by

Citizens Freedom Foundation. This booklet, which also contains an

extensive bibliography and a nationwide list of hot lines, is

available for fifty cents (single quantity postpaid) from:

Citizens Freedom Foundation

P.O. Box 266

McFarland, WI 53558

Keyed-in and edited by D. Moore, Computers For Christ #11

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