Leaving a cult or another situation of undue influence is a truly heroic feat. Unfortunately, however, the experience of being in a cult can leave former members with many long-term effects, including radical personality change, psychological and relationship problems, and difficulties in their daily lives. It takes time and often the experience of a therapist trained in cult recovery to get beyond the mentality that authoritarian cults indoctrinate into their members.
Until recently, few programs have been available to train therapists in the unique skills they need to help people heal from cults and other forms of mind control abuse. Former cult members who become trained as mental health counselors often have not done their own self-recovery work or learned what they need to know before they advertise their services to others. I was excited to talk to Dr. Gillie Jenkinson on my Influence Continuum podcast about her work and new book.
Dr. Gillie Jenkinson is an accredited psychotherapist in the UK, an international speaker, and a director of Hope Valley Counselling. For over 25 years, she has specialized in the challenges faced by those who have experienced coercive, cultic, and spiritual abuse. She developed an innovative program called Post-Cult Counselling and trains mental health professionals through her Certificate in Post-Cult Counselling. She also has a forthcoming book called Walking Free from the Trauma of Coercive, Cultic, and Spiritual Abuse: A Workbook for Recovery and Growth, which will be published by Routledge Press in the spring of 2023.
Gillie got interested in training mental health professionals because, like me, she exited a destructive cultic group. Back then, not many recovery services were available for people who had experienced mind control abuse. She also encountered unethical treatment by therapists who were untrained in this area.
The Importance of Specialized Training in Cult Recovery
Most people require specialized counseling to recover from an experience of cult indoctrination. But many therapists that work with former members are not trained to help with the after-effects of mind control and cult-related problems, such as the formation of a pseudo “cult identity.” People need to understand what happened to them in the cult and how they were brainwashed and controlled, so they can process that cult identity effectively and get to the root of the issues.
Gillie and I share the concern that therapy can be ineffective and even dangerous if these underlying cult-related issues aren’t addressed. A former client of mine had been in the Boston Church of Christ for thirteen years and was suicidal and self-harming. She was in the mental health system for eleven years, misdiagnosed, and given therapy that was exacerbating her difficulties. After I gave her intensive counseling, which addressed her cult-related issues, she got off all her medication and stopped having any impulses of self-harm or suicidality. That’s why this area of training therapists in mind control abuse is so important.
Training Therapists in Post-Cult Counseling
Inspired by her experience encountering unethical and inexperienced therapists, Gillie created an approach to counseling former members, which she calls Post-Cult Counselling (PCC), that brings together ethical therapy and the knowledge of cults. PCC aids recovery, helping individuals ‘chew over’ their experience, discarding what is not healthy while holding on to what is nourishing in order to restore their authentic identity (whether they joined or were born or raised in the cult). PCC incorporates relational psychoeducation and the use of a Recovery Workbook, which addresses many different areas such as identity, introjects, trauma theory, thought reform, and unmasking the cult leader, amongst others. Her new book, Walking Free, is an expanded version of this workbook. It is based on the premise that psychoeducation leading to understanding how cults gain control is just as important for recovery as the therapeutic relationship itself.
After delivering Post-Cult Counselling to more than 100 clients and realizing there was a demand for her services that she could not meet personally, Gillie developed a Certificate in Post-Cult Counselling. She trains therapists and other mental health professionals to work with survivors of undue influence and to use the psychoeducational Recovery Workbook. She also mentors, coaches, and supervises therapists, which is vital for everyone in this field. Gillie is now able to refer potential clients to therapists trained in PCC.
After 45 years of speaking out, organizing, and helping people to exit and heal from mind control cults, I wholeheartedly agree with Gillie’s approach to dealing with the cult experience. In my own Foundational Course for Clinicians, I provide mental health professionals with an understanding of the dynamics of cultic groups, thought reform theory, and the ‘cult mindset’ so they can work with these issues.
The Freedom of Mind approach to recovery and healing helps the former cult member to find an internal locus of control, self-awareness, self-efficacy, and the tools needed to maintain their well-being and effective functioning. This method focuses on addressing the issues created by cult influence. When therapists undertake specialized training to work with this approach, they can help former members identify their authentic selves and function in a healthy, balanced way.
Mental health professionals are on the frontlines in efforts to heal the damage that various forms of undue influence have done. That’s why I believe that education and training about mind control and cult-related issues should be a priority for everyone in this field.
A note on the video: I wish to apologize to my listeners and to Gillie. There was an internet delay problem that caused us to talk over each other and long silences. We have since switched to a new platform so this will not happen again.