reprinted from the Jul/Aug 1993 Free Minds Journal

 

Starting and Maintaining Support Groups

 by Bruce Laughton

 I am a born-again Christian who has been studying the cults for nearly 12 years. In 1985, 1 was recruited into Lifespring and gained firsthand experience with being in a mind control group. In 1988, I started Answers Inc. as a formal outreach to the Jehovahís Witnesses. I did not make the connection between my Lifespring experience and the Witness recruitment practices until nearly a year later. Instead, I started by pointing out the errant theology and contradictions of the Watchtower. I became so skilled at argumentation that the Witnesses gave me the nickname "The Exorcist." While I found this flattering, my objective was to get people out of the group; not to win arguments.

I made a commitment to quit doing what didnít work and started looking for what would. I stumbled onto the book, Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan. That discovery helped me to understand why I had been unsuccessful, and kicked off a round of learning that continues today. I am currently half-way through my Masters Degree in Psychotherapy and Counseling, am interning in a mental health clinic here in Minneapolis. I have come to understand the psychological dynamic used by these groups to impose their belief systems.

As Hassanís book points out, the most effective way to work with someone in one of these groups is to show them how other, similar groups work. If you are able to develop rapport with them and share this information, they themselves will see the connection between their group and others. Once this occurs, the critical thinking process will be restarted and automatic defenses will lessen. They will then be able to process information about their group.

Understanding these things is important when attempting to help ex-members as well. When they are able to see the parallels between different groups, it takes the power out of left-over group teachings. Our ex-member support group is made successful by the presence of ex-members of several groups. As they discuss their experiences, the similarities become obvious, and openness to further exploration results. We do not share the Gospel with these ex-members until they specifically ask about it. Even then, great care is taken to understand their question and to answer it without adding more than they want to know. Most have been so abused, it takes months for a trusting relationship to develop. For these, the only witness they can receive is a lifestyle witness. Having confidence that the Lord can and does work through a nonverbal witness is foreign to most evangelicals. Yet there are numerous examples of Christ offering healing to people without a verbal witness. This is the pattern we have found to be effective. There are several "rules of thumb" I would offer for setting up a support group:

 

    1. Do participants feel free to come and go as needed?
    2. Are people reporting progress?
    3. Decreased feelings of guilt and fear.
    4. Willingness to let the support group structure be fluid and responsive to the people who show up, increasing tolerance for different personalities and orientations within the group, willingness to address personal growth issues.
    5. Do you, as a facilitator, feel free to let the group change and grow ... a willingness to look for what works rather than to have your ideas "succeed"? 

The support group is to provide support. That support should ideally come from the people who are there for support. The most effective healing is open experienced through the process of helping others. If the facilitators can keep that focus and have confidence in the capability of the participants to help themselves and each other, the group will accomplish its intended purpose.

 Bruce L. Laughton

10438 Aquila Ave. S.

Bloominqton, MN 55438

 


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