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,’ ‘exit counselor,’ ‘intervention specialist,’ et cetera.

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


“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


What is a Cult Expert?

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.

A cult expert is someone who is knowledgeable about the teachings and practices of groups and movements often referred to as ‘cults'; about the ways such groups (and individuals ) recruit followers; and how they go about convincing members not to leave (and, often, reject their parents, friends, and former way of life).

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.1

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.2

If in doubt, see also 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?

Don’t be fooled by lofty sounding names.  Some ‘Institutes’ are merely one-person efforts.

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.


  1. One particularly bad apple is bitterly hostile toward Christians
  2. Note that ICSA is an open membership organization.  Organizations, websites and invidivuals listed on its links page are not necessarily recommended.