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NCJ Number
Psychiatric Annals Volume: 20 Issue: 4 Dated: (April 1990) Pages: 204,207,208,210-213
D A Halperin
Date Published
7 pages
This article examines some of the clinical issues presented by the individual considering affiliation or actively associated with a religious cult, as well as rehabilitation issues raised in working with former cult members.
The psychiatrist's primary responsibility toward the patient is to protect his efforts to preserve his sense of self and autonomy and to prevent him from pursuing a self- destructive course. People who are particularly vulnerable to cult affiliation appear to be those who have suffered recent losses, feel isolated, are elderly, and want the group's promise of total acceptance. Therapeutic intervention can often help the individual recognize the cult's covert or secondary agenda, which is hidden behind the personal concern exhibited by the recruiter toward the subject. A symbiotic, enmeshed relationship between child and parent can be a predisposing factor toward cult affiliation. Experience and research have shown the importance of a unified family in approaching cult members about reconsidering their actions. Mass therapies and training programs are dangerous in that they fail to screen potential participants for past history of psychopathology. Psychiatrists must often use neuroleptics, active interpretation, and hospitalization to help the vulnerable individual reintegrate. Even when cult members are initially inaccessible to treatment, the psychiatrist may be able to work around specific areas of dysfunctional behavior and help the family deal with related issues. In treating former cult members, the psychiatrist may help him explore the defenses of splitting, projective identification, and denial. Case studies illustrate the issues discussed here. The article also contains 10 notes.