Vol IV, No. II - Spring 1993
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America's Secret Shame
The Neglect of Victims of Destructive Cults

By Paul Martin

During the 1980s an unprecedented 15 million Americans joined some 500,000 support groups. Now in the 1990s there remains a growing interest in the recovery/codependency movement and its 200 different kinds of self-help groups, often modeled on the 12-step programs pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous.

A recent survey of national drug and alcoholism treatment centers shows that there are currently 13,893 such centers. There are 1200 women's shelters in the United States. Prior to 1975 or so there were none. Special hospital wings for the treatment of victims of Satanism and ritualistic abuse have sprung up all over the United States as well.

During the 70s and 80s a number of post-cult rehab centers were established in various regions of the United States; I know of at least ten besides Wellspring. Currently there are only two such rehab centers in operation anywhere in the world: one in Germany, and Wellspring.

The Council on Mind Abuse of Toronto (not a residential rehab facility, but a counseling and information agency) recently closed its doors, having been forced into bankruptcy by the cost of defending harassing libel suits. COMA's director, Robert Tucker, said, "We have no choice. We can't pay the legal bills anymore. They've won.... I'm fatigued; it's incredible stress to live under. I'm tired of being followed, of being intimidated."

In addition, the Positive Action Center of Portland, Ore., another cult information and counseling center, ceased operation.

Why is it that there has been on the one hand a mere handful of under-funded post-cult rehab centers, most of which have had to fold for lack of money, and on the other hand well over 13,000 drug and alcohol treatment centers and over 500,000 support groups for a multiplicity of other pains and needs? Some estimate the number of alcoholics at 16,000,000 and the number of drug abusers at about five million Americans. So there is one treatment center for every 1511 alcoholics and drug abusers. If cult victims received equal attention, and if there were only 500,000 cult members in the U.S., there should be 330 post-cult rehab centers! The most conservative estimate of members of destructive cults has been 2,000,000. Clearly, something is seriously amiss here.

Federal funding last year for treatment and prevention of drug abuse was around $15 billion. Federal funding of cult victim research and treatment proportional to the government funding of alcohol and drug abuse sector would be $1.5 billion -- if there were only 2 million members of destructive cults in the U.S. Yet not one penny has ever been given by the government for research and treatment of ex-cultists, and the combined budgets of all counter-cult organizations and rehab centers is less than 1.5 million dollars per year!

There are several possible explanations for this horrific discrepancy between funding and facilities for drug and alcohol problems on the one hand and for treating cult victims on the other. Either the facilities for alcoholics and drug abusers are grossly out of proportion to the need; or perhaps cult members and victims have no such need; or the need simply has not been recognized. The first suggestion is clearly not correct, as evidenced by the numbers seeking treatment who are placed on waiting lists.

Critics of counter-cult organizations claim that what we call destructive cults are not destructive at all, and they maintain that we are a bunch of bigots, crying wolf when there is no wolf.

Are our critics correct? Is there no problem? Are all the suicides, hospitalizations and wrecked lives of former cultists to be explained away? I am convinced the evidence is overwhelming that a desperate need does exist, but there is little awareness in our society of the problem and that people need help with it.

Relatively few understand the nature of the cult problem. We know it will take time to eradicate this ignorance. But our recent advertising of Wellspring's Victims Assistance Fund has shown us that there are people who know they need help but simply lack the resources to get it.

The investment in the people we have helped has already produced many gainfully employed members of society who are making a contribution to their communities and churches. It has also helped to educate people about cults. Our investment in these people will serve to influence even more needy people to perhaps seek Wellspring's help.

Typically the church has viewed such cult-victims as self-willed "backsliders." This is often an excuse to ignore them, and the church does this all too often. I know of very few church related organizations that have given funds to help cult-victims. I pray that this trend will change. At Wellspring we see former members as those ravaged by wicked and worthless shepherds (see Ezekiel 34). They are people who cry out for, and deserve, our assistance.

Therefore, we at Wellspring consider it a tremendously worthwhile investment for our Wellspring supporters to contribute to the rehabilitation of those who so desperately need it. The spiritual and emotional recovery of cult victims is of ultimate benefit to the entire society.

The Siren Call of Modern Pied Pipers
By Lawrence A. Pile

[The following is a condensation of an article written by Wellspring staffer Larry Pile, and published in the January issue of Employee Assistance magazine.]

Corporations large and small throughout North America are increasingly looking for ways to augment productivity (and profits) by helping their employees to more effective performance through stress reduction, self-regulation, accelerated learning, and accepting a greater share of responsibility for themselves and their companies. To accomplish these commendable and even necessary goals, numerous businesses are turning to a mushrooming crop of training and consultation firms offering workshops, seminars, and courses which claim to transform employees into highly motivated and efficient visionaries and producers.

Many of the trainers, however, use techniques and promote philosophies at variance with the moral and religious convictions of employees who are urged, and sometimes required, to attend the workshops. Most often, these techniques and philosophies arise from the broad and variegated matrix of the so-called New Age Movement. And this fact has caused a great deal of controversy in and around the workplace. The core of the controversy is highlighted by the words of Arthur Johnson, "There's a fine line between corporate culture and corporate cults."

Why all the fuss? Simply that many of the seminars and workshops being offered promote New Age concepts to which some employees object, and they have been charged with using methods and techniques that instill these concepts without the participants' realizing what is happening.

Underlying all of these programs, to one degree or another, are the following concepts:

All of reality is part of one essence. This is the Eastern philosophical view known as monism, which teaches that "all is one."

This means that God and man are the same--"If you don't see me as God, it's because you don't see yourself as God," Shirley MacLaine told an attendee at a seminar in the New York Hilton.

If man is God, then man has unlimited potential, able to accomplish anything he desires and is able to visualize -- an attractive idea, no doubt, to many corporate managers.

Further, if "all is one," then there are not only no distinctions between God and man, there are also no distinctions between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, good and evil. In fact, all distinctions are mere illusion. Thus, the problem of humanity is that we have forgotten our own divinity. This lapse of memory must be overcome by undergoing what is called a "paradigm shift," a drastic change in the way we view the world around us.

This paradigm shift is accomplished by any one or more of numerous "psychotechnologies." These "intentional triggers of transformative experiences" include "sensory isolation and sensory overload...; biofeedback...; 'consciousness-raising' strategies...; hypnosis and self-hypnosis...; meditation of every description...;" etc.

The frequent result of all such techniques is that the individual comes to sense the dissolution of his person and a oneness with the Universe, referred to in Eastern religions as enlightenment, cosmic-consciousness, or God-consciousness.

Though there often are positive results, there are also frequently negative results not commonly admitted by the trainers.

Researchers have found serious problems occurring in a significant minority of individuals, possibly as many as 15%, including psychotic episodes, posttraumatic stress disorder, "atypical dissociative disorders," "relaxation-induced anxiety," and "miscellaneous reactions... such as difficulty in concentration...; self-mutilation; phobias; suicide and homicide;" and psychologically induced strokes, heart attacks, ulcers, and other ailments. In rare cases participants in such seminars, specifically EST and Lifespring, have actually died during sessions, largely as a result of inadequate screening for people with delicate constitutions and lack of properly trained staff to intervene in a timely fashion to prevent serious harm.

Further, the fundamentally religious presuppositions underlying most of these New Age training programs would seem to make them off-limits for corporations, at least so far as being required of employees. In the words of Richard Watring, personnel director for Budget Rent-a-Car, "Private corporations that are not church-affiliated should neither attempt to change the basic belief systems of their employees nor should they promote the use of techniques that accelerate such change; and while spiritual growth is important, corporations should not prescribe the methods whereby employees grow spiritually."

As for the stated goal of many of the business-targeted programs to forge greater employee loyalty and cohesiveness, these are certainly necessary qualities in any workplace. But if a byproduct of their generation is a mentality that "insists on the primacy of good feeling and the validity of one's own reality," then the time-proven creativity-enhancing clash of ideas among coworkers may well be inhibited. According to New Age thought, "It is not possible to be wrong, just different." But companies must allow for failure and support risk-taking, both when it works and when it doesn't. This implies being able to say, "Your idea sounded good, but it proved to be wrong." Saying "Your idea was valid according to your reality, but our customers have a different reality" doesn't cut it in the business world.


Out of Darkness
TM Offers "Cure" for Crime

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the chief guru of Transcendental Meditation, issued a pre-Christmas offer to 60 major cities of the U.S.: for a fee, he would rid the cities of all crime. As attractive as this prospect is to mayors as well as citizens, no one has yet taken the Maharishi up on his offer.

City officials have been put off by two unavoidable considerations. Though described as a "bargain," the fees solicited are not inconsiderable. The Maharishi asked a mere $93 million from the city fathers of San Diego (compared to the fees requested of other cities, that may be a bargain -- Atlanta was asked to cough up $105.7 million).

And what would the cities get for their money? According to Arthur Brice in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution of Dec. 18, 1992, Maharishi would send in "specially trained teams of Transcendental Meditation experts...to create balance and raise positively through meditation." But, as TM publicists pointed out, since these meditators would be staying in city hotels, eating in city restaurants, and making other purchases in city shops, much of the money would remain in the city.

John Beckman, a spokesman for Atlanta Mayor David Dinkins, said, "[Maharishi] can assist us...outside the context of a contract. We believe in the power of prayer, and we hope we have the Maharishi's prayers."

However, as Brice remarked, "There's not a prayer that the Maharishi will offer a free program anywhere."

Watchtower a Billion Dollar Company?

According to Dun's Marketing Services, the Watchtower [Bible and Tract Society, or Jehovah's Witnesses] has benefited from the new donation arrangement where the Witnesses in effect give double for the literature (once at the literature counter when picking up the literature, then later setting aside the contributions received at the door). The 1990 report (Duns number 00-128-0973) indicates $1,012,200,000 in sales, and the 1991 record shows $1,248,400,000 in sales!

[From Free Minds Journal, January/February 1993]

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The Wellspring Journal is a publication of Wellspring Retreat & Resource Center,
a residential treatment facility, specializing in the treatment of victims of thought reform and coercive abuse.