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The Effects of Deprogramming
Deprogrammers Have High Levels of Success
Why Is Deprogramming Successful?
What Are the Psychological Consequence of Leaving?
Deprogrammers Have High Levels of Success
In 1987 David Bromley was able to obtain data from the files of the Unification Church on 400 members who were deprogrammed.
This profile of Unification Church members is the only data of its kind that has ever been publically available.
It offers some important clues both about the demographics and the success rates of deprogramming.
Unification Church deprogrammings by year: 1973-1986
Who is deprogrammed?
Percent Females 52%
Length of membership
< 1 year 49.5%
> 1 year 51.5%
Deprogramming success rates
Age at deprogramming :
18-20 76% success 24% failure
21-25 60% 40%
26+ 54% 46%
Sex of deprogrammee
< 1 year
3 years +
Why is Deprogramming Successful?
May already have doubts
May be burned out by the hectic, demanding life-style of the group
May feel acute guilt/grief over turmoil family has experienced
Deprogrammers present shocking information about the unsavory behavior of the individual's group and leader.
The individual is identified as a victim of brainwashing perpetrated by the "cults."
The beliefs of the group are presented as heretical to their family's faith tradition.
Deprogrammers seek to capitalize on all of these factors, especial guilt.
What Happens to People Who Leave Cults and Sects?
James Lewis study of former NRM members who left groups by three routes:
Voluntary exit counseling
Involuntary exit counseling (aka de-programming)
Exit counseling is a voluntary, intensive, time-limited contractual educational process that emphasizes the respectful sharing of information with members of exploitatively manipulative groups. Exit counselors ideally should have intimate knowledge about the group in question. Exit counseling is distinguished from deprogramming, which received much media coverage in the late 1970s and 1980s, in that the former is a voluntary process, whereas the latter is currently associated with a temporary restraint of the cult member. If the implementation strategy focuses on family counseling, the clinician may nonetheless consider bringing in an exit counselor consultant at some point in order to help the involved person better understand details about the group's manipulations.
Helping current cult members. Because cults tend to be elitist and distrustful of the outside world, members will rarely consult a mental health professional, so my suggestions are based more on reasoning than experience. If a cult member consults a clinician at the urging of family members concerned about a possible cult involvement, then the clinician can explore the cult issue in depth and, if indicated, bring in the family. If, however, the cult member comes in voluntarily (e.g., to deal with depression that may or may not be causally connected to the group's practices), clinicians should be even more sensitive to the ethical implications of their actions. Even if the destructiveness of the group involvement is obvious to the clinician, the cult member may not be willing even to consider this issue. Does the clinician force the issue? Keep a hidden agenda? Do what is possible within the boundaries established by the patient? Refer the person elsewhere? The answer to these questions will depend upon the patient's situation (e.g., is he or she suicidal?) and the clinician's ethical analysis of the situation.
If clinicians address the cult issue when working with a cult member, they may find it helpful to take a careful chronological history in order to try to help the patient see how his or her behavior and psychological state may have been influenced by the group's practices. Sometimes it may be appropriate to bring in an exit counselor, with the patient's permission, of course.
Working with cult victims and their families demands a special understanding and appreciation of the potential power of highly manipulative environments. It is a field full of uncertainty, ambiguity, frustration and complexity. But it is also a field in which success brings the special gratification of having helped to liberate both a body and a mind.
Michael D. Langone, Ph.D., is the editor of Cultic Studies Journal and executive director of American Family Foundation (AFF), a professional research and educational organization founded in 1979 to assist cult victims and their families through the study of cults and psychological manipulation.
Consultation with families addresses three areas: assessment, education and training (Langone; Ross and Langone).
Assessment should include an exploration of the family's history, strengths, weaknesses, current functioning and knowledge about the loved one's involvement (frequently families become alarmed, though not necessarily inappropriately, even though they have minimal information about the group in question). I use the following question to help focus the family: "If your child (spouse) were not in a cult, what if anything would bother you about his or her behavior?"
If there are no troublesome behaviors, it is likely that the family is overreacting. If troublesome behaviors are identified, then the consultant tries to help the family determine whether there is reason to believe that these behaviors are linked to the group's practices.
During the assessment process the consultant should begin to teach the family about cults and psychological manipulation (many useful resources can be obtained from the American Family Foundation, P.O. Box 2265, Bonita Springs, FL 33959,  249-7693). It is important, however, not to let the unavoidable generalizations of books, articles, and audiovisual materials obscure the uniqueness of the individual case.
The training component has three goals: (1) to improve communication; (2) to identify a strategy to help the involved person; and (3) to implement the strategy. Standard communication and negotiation skills training can contribute much to the first goal. In addressing the second, the consultant and family will usually choose from one of the following options: (a) postpone a decision about strategy and focus on collecting more information to complete the assessment properly; (b) acknowledge the family's limited influence, devise a strategy for making the best out of a bad situation and carefully look for reasons to hope that the situation may someday change for the better; and (c) develop a strategy for intervention, which may include family counseling with the involved person or exit counseling.
from Steve Hassan's site:
From Chapter 3 of Steven Hassan's Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves
When is the best time to act?
The best time to act is now. Get active and get professional advice. It is always a good idea to prepare, and your case might require immediate intervention. Of course, counseling a cult member is particularly effective when a cult member is questioning his involvement, is disillusioned, or burned out -- or simply wants to leave. Mini-interactions are designed to help the cult member question his situation, reality-test, and accept help from family and friends. The SIA is an ongoing process that makes each telephone call, letter, and visit more effective. Every time we interact with the cult member, questions are asked and answered, and information is gathered and delivered. Strategies are formulated, and opportunities to develop rapport and trust unfold. Positive experiences accumulate.
There might be a need for a formal three-day intervention. It is planned when we believe it will be successful. The time is right when we know that we have established trust and rapport with the cult member and we have information that indicates the conditions are right. Many times, mini-interactions may even make a formal intervention unnecessary.
What is the goal?
The goal of the SIA is to help the loved one recover his full faculties; to restore the creative, interdependent adult who fully understands what has happened to him; who has digested and integrated the experience and is better and stronger from the experience.
Deprogramming is over as soon as the person is out of the group. People are often left without trained people to follow-up. Consequently, family and friends are typically not prepared to know how to act as a support system. After an exit-counseling, former members may try to provide some support.
Cults use fear and guilt to program their members to believe that their lives are worthless outside of the group. It is hard to imagine the pain these buried psychic land mines cause when the person manages to leave. Cult experiences and indoctrination have to be worked through during an essential soul-searching recovery period, which usually takes months and sometimes years.
If the person participated in distasteful behavior -- if they recruited people, were raped, became a prostitute, or stole money -- it is helpful that they get ongoing counseling. Otherwise, they will spend the rest of their lives traumatized by what happened to them, or feeling guilty for what they did while a member of the group.
During the recovery period, your loved one needs to learn how to use recovery techniques in order to visualize and work with his cult identity to reclaim personal history, power, and integrity. He must acknowledge that he was doing the best he could at the time with the information that was available to him.
The SIA provides a long-term recovery process for both the cult member and members of the family. Everyone is traumatized by the cult involvement, even those who are not directly involved. Feelings get hurt. Belief systems are assaulted or shifted. People lose sleep. They get depressed. Anger, frustration, and resentment are repressed. Each person who has been involved in the traumatic experience of having a loved one in a destructive cult needs support on psychological and emotional levels.
The heightened sense of urgency that arises when a loved one joins a destructive cult provides the catalyst for truly remarkable growth, change and development. Family members, relatives, siblings and friends are willing to work hard on their own issues for the sake of their loved one. They are willing to make commitments that seem impossible under less trying circumstances. Their rewards are the many positive changes that take place as a result of working together to bring back a family member or friend lost to a cult.
Even in those circumstances where an individual does not immediately decide to leave the cult, there is basis for hope. Many key issues will have been communicated, especially those dealing with phobias, information control, and the broader issues of cult mind control. The gentleness of the repeated mini-interactions will help the relationship to become more honest, caring and compassionate setting the foundation for future interactions.
The Mirror: Escaped from Cults
By Jill Todd
In the forthcoming film Holy Smoke, Harvey Keitel tries to free Kate Winslet from an evil cult. Here two real-life cult victims tell Jill Todd their own distressing stories.
Kristina Jones aged 23
CULT: Children of God
MEMBERS: 9,000 worldwide - two-thirds are thought to be children
BELIEFS: Free love and no morality
Mum became involved in The Family (Children of God) at 15, when the Christian Union at her school invited them to give a talk. She moved to their commune in Bombay and from the moment I was born there, when she was 19, my life was controlled by The Family.
My earliest memories were of busking, begging and handing out religious pamphlets. All the children - I have six brothers and sisters - were treated as slaves. We had to clean, cook, teach and bring up the other children. I never had a proper education, the only things we were allowed to read were the Bible and writings by the late leader David Berg. And yet we thought that was normal.
We'd all been so brainwashed we saw ourselves as missionaries, on the front line helping to save people. Just after I was born, Berg decided the members would benefit from "sexual sharing". He said sex was natural and healthy and should be experienced by everybody, even children.
So people were pressured into sleeping around. Adults had orgies and I grew up knowing my parents were having sex with different people. The earliest I can remember having a sexual experience was when I was three. We were programmed into thinking we loved sex and wanted it.
When I was 11, Mum, who'd become increasingly unhappy, was told she wasn't spiritual enough and sent to England. She left me and two of my brothers with my stepdad and took the other children.
It was then that she read a book written by Berg's eldest daughter telling the truth about The Family. It was a revelation and she finally saw the light. She became depressed, convinced she'd lost the children she'd left in India. But 18 months later, when I was 12, we had our chance to leave when our Indian visas ran out.
We came back to England with my stepdad. Within days of us arriving, mum knew this was her chance. She left my stepdad in the middle of the night and moved us all into a women's refuge. Leaving the cult had a very traumatic effect on me.
I was sent to school for the first time, but I didn't tell the teachers I'd never been before. For two years I kept everything bottled up. I had no one to confide in. I was a complete misfit. We were so poor that I had to wear granny's clothes. I was beaten up and teased.
Even the teachers treated me badly. I didn't know what a Bunsen burner was. They thought I was being difficult. I left school at 15 because I was pregnant. At 16 I left home with my baby son, who is now seven. I was fed up being a father figure to my brothers and sisters.
At 18 I pulled myself together. I did my GCSEs and got four A-levels. Now I'm confident and outgoing and have a good brain. I'm trying to get something positive out of this by writing a book which might help others.
Even so, I get depressed. Each day is a battle to overcome the past. I was ruined emotionally, physically and sexually. I've never been a child and find it impossible to have normal relationships with men.
I came out of the cult on my own, which I wouldn't recommend. Ideally you need a support network and counselling.
I want to advise parents not to reject their children if they join a cult. One day your children will hopefully need you again. Be ready to welcome them back.