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Cult Experts

How To Select A Cult Expert

Leaving a cult

Countless people are – or have been – caught up in manipulative cults, abusive churches, or destructive relationships (‘one-on-one cults’).

Many make it out by themselves, or with the help of friends and family.

Others need intervention and/or follow-up counseling.

Experts, Consultants, Specialists Ect.

When you are looking for help — for yourself or for someone else — you run into terms like: ‘cult expert,’ ‘thought reform consultant,’ just ‘consultant,’ ‘lecturer,’ ‘exit counselor,’ ‘intervention specialist,’ et cetera.

The media often still refers to ‘cult experts’ as ‘deprogrammers’ — people who ‘deprogram‘ someone who has been ‘programmed’ through ‘brainwashing‘ or ‘mind control.’

Familiarize yourself with the terminology and issues so that you can ask informed questions when interviewing people.

Keep in mind that this in an unregulated field in which some people who have become quite skilled at marketing themselves are the very ones to stay away from.

What is a Cult Expert?

A cult expert is someone who is knowledgeable about

  • the teachings and practices of groups and movements often referred to as ‘cults’
  • the ways such groups (and individuals ) recruit followers
  • how they go about convincing members not to leave (and, often, reject their parents, friends, and former way of life)
  • how members can be encouraged to re-evaluate their involvement in such groups

Buyer Beware

The term ‘cult expert’ is not protected.  Anyone can use it regardless of ability, approach, or level of acceptance by recognized authorities in the field.1

Among cult experts you can encounter

  • professionals
  • lay experts, or
  • loose canons, charlatans and sundry unethical types

Some cult experts are trained and licensed mental health counselors, while others have no formal counseling training.

Some people in this field have a bias for or against one or more religions.2

Some scholars prefer the euphemism ‘New Religious Movement’ instead of ‘cult.’  While knowledgeable about the teachings and — often to a lesser degree — practices of groups and movements often referred to as ‘cults,’ many such scholars reject negative testimonies of former members and denounce other critics as well.3

Nobody joins a cult. You join a self-help group, a religious movement, a political organization.

They change so gradually, by the time you realize you’re entrapped – and almost everybody does – you can’t figure a safe way back out.

Deborah Layton, who was involved in -- and escaped from -- Jim Jones' Peoples Temple cult

International Cultic Studies Association

Many cult experts are listed, affiliated with — and/or recommended by — recognized organizations such as the International Cultic Studies Association — an interdisciplinary network of academicians, professionals, former group members, and families who study and educate the public about social-psychological influence and control, authoritarianism, and zealotry in cultic groups, alternative movements, and other environments.

When selecting a cult expert it is a good idea to check with ICSA for recommendations.4

You may also want to check the resources listed here and here.

Buyer beware: some self-proclaimed cult experts are primarily skilled at marketing themselves as such. While you may recognize someone from sound-bytes on TV,  it pays to do some research: are they well-connected?  Do experts refer people to them? Are they licensed counselors?

Cult Terminology

The term ‘cult‘ is controversial, in large part because over the years it has taken on a negative connotation.

In addition, though the term has several precise definitions the word is ambiguous.  Its meaning differs depending on the context in which it is used, and often also on the perspective of the person using it.

Likewise, the term ‘sect‘ — often used in Europe instead of the word ‘cult’ — is controversial for the same reasons.

The reason we use the term ‘cult’ anyway is that the word tends to be the first that comes to mind when someone is looking for help.

Other terms you may hear are: high-demand groups, LGATs, intentional communities. new religious movements, alternative religious movements, et cetera.

Need Help Now? How To Select Cult Experts

Understand that cult experts operate from various perspectives

  • Many deal with cults and cult-related issues primarily from a sociological point of view. Their emphasis is on behavior rather than theology or ideology.
  • Many more operate primarily from a theological perspective — emphasizing how specific doctrines violate the accepted, normative set of beliefs and boundaries of the faith tradition certain groups and their leaders claim to represent. Usually they look at behavioral issues as well, since bad behavior tends to be rooted in faulty doctrine.
    • Most experts in this group work from a Christian point of view, with specific expertise in addressing cults of Christianity.
    • Similarly, there are organizations and individuals who address deviations from the Jewish faith. It should be noted that the majority of them refer to Christians and Christian organizations — particularly those that participate in evangelism among Jews — as ‘cultists’ and ‘cults.’
  • A number of experts and their organizations claim to be ‘value free,’ ‘neutral’ or ‘non-sectarian.’  Some operate much like consumer protection agencies — but a number have strayed into actively supporting and defending cults and cult leaders — generally under the guise of ‘promoting religious freedom.’  Some do — or have done — both.5

Learn more about cult counseling perspectives

Research organizations, ministries or individuals

  • What are their professional credentials, if any?  Remember, this is an unregulated ‘industry,’ and not everyone who calls him- or herself an ‘expert’ is qualified to help you.
    • Buyer beware: Helping people to leave a cult, or to deal with the aftermath of a cult experience, necessarily involves a certain amount of (mental health) counseling — in addition to expert advice.  There are many capable counselors who do not have official degrees and or licenses.  But you’ll find they have a proven track record — and, having gained a good reputation, come recommended by many other reputable experts in the field.
  • What is their religious affiliation or perspective, if any?
  • Will they counsel you even if you are not willing to accept their religious belief system? See this information.
  • Are they respectful toward followers of other religions?
  • Who are their professional contacts and affiliations? Who do they refer to or consult with?
    • Some cult experts who market themselves as such are, in fact, shunned by many respected professionals and organizations in the field.
  • Don’t be fooled by lofty sounding names and titles.  For instance, some ‘Institutes’ are merely one-person efforts.

Observe the general behavior of the organization, ministry or individual you have under consideration

  • As is the case in any other profession, this field of work has its share of charlatans, angry loners, self-proclaimed experts, and the like.
    • Bluster may play well in the (social) media, but genuine expertise generally is accompanied by professional behavior.
    • One ‘expert’ — who lacks formal training — has gained a decidedly bad reputation due to his sustained attacks on qualified cult experts he disagrees with.
    • Avoid people who have a track record of blustering, bullying and stalking. You and your loved ones deserve better.

Ask questions about the fees involved

  • Intervention and counseling services do not come cheap.  This is true for licensed professionals (e.g. a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and/or someone certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors), and for non-licensed and non-certified people who charge fees  in exchange for their services.
  • Discuss fees as soon as possible and get everything in writing.
  • Do not make hasty decisions, but compare rates and check your options.
  • Some individuals or organizations may work on a sliding scale (i.e. adjust their fees according to your ability to pay).

(Check by Monday, July 20, 2015)

Until then, see this list.

Research Cults and Cult-Related Issues

Understand the differences between theological and sociological definitions of the term ‘cult.’

Sociological Perspective

At CounterCultSearch.com you can search for information about (religious) cults, cult-like organizations, and cults experts, — as well as paranormal-, New Age, and pseudo-scientific claims — across 260+ websites, blogs and forums dedicated to cult research, spiritual abuse information, ex-cult counseling & support.

These resources address cults primarily from a sociological point of view.

Theological Perspective

At ApologeticsSearch.com you can search for apologetics articles, books, videos, and other research resources — across 140+ Christian apologetics websites and blogs.

Most of these resources address cults primarily, though often not exclusively, from a theological point of view.

Many deal with so-called Bible-based cults (properly referred to as cults of Christianity).

Notes:

  1. The same is true for such terms as Intervention Specialist, Thought Reform Consultant, Deprogrammer, or Exit Counselor.
  2. One particularly bad apple is bitterly hostile toward Christians
  3. These scholars have been referred to as ‘cult apologists‘ or ‘cult defenders.’  The scholars themselves claim they are merely defending religious freedom.
  4. Note that ICSA is an open membership organization.  Organizations, websites and individuals listed on its links page are not necessarily recommended.
  5. For awhile these experts were referred to as ‘cult apologists.’  While many have bettered their ways — or at least have become more cautious — it pays to be aware of the dangers some experts represent.
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