I am excited and grateful that, Cracking the Cult Code for Therapists: What Every Cult Victim Wants Their Therapist to Know, is now available for therapists who assist people who have experienced extreme spiritual abuse. Bonnie Zieman has written several self-help type books for people who have survived cults. In this book, she pulls together her education and experience to speak directly to therapists.
Therapists often lack knowledge about the cult experience, and this lack of education makes it terrible for the person who seeks help. If a therapist lacks the expertise, the client will have few choices. They can either leave therapy (often discouraged and feeling even more isolated) or they can educate the therapist (a daunting task requiring patience and normally not a role the client performs in the therapeutic relationship). This book fills the gap. It is written by a retired therapist and former cult member. It does not tell therapists how to do therapy, but rather the issues that may need to be addressed.
The book begins with several definitions of a cult. It describes the behaviors and after-effects of cults. Zieman makes it clear that a cult is defined by its behaviors and not its teachings. Those behaviors are summed up in this quote:
“It is not the use of the word ‘cult’ that is essential in a therapist’s work with their client. It is the understanding that the client is being or has been unethically influenced, dominated, controlled, exploited, and at a minimum psychologically abused in the organization.” (p 12)
Chapters Five through Sixteen identify the techniques cults employ to keep the member in their group. Each chapter is divided into two sections, the strategy used and its after-effects. Among the topics covered are belonging, isolation, personal identity, learned helplessness, individual freedoms, fears, doubts, automatic compliance, threats and punishments.
In Chapter Nineteen, Zieman discusses the unique challenges facing people who were born into a cult and then exit. She argues that those who join as an adult have an authentic self to return to. Basically, they have experiences and people to return to. Their journey of recovery might be easier. However, people born in may need help to uncover who their authentic self is. They may have been so restricted in education and life, that “the individual never gains-especially if born into the cult- any real sense of autonomy, agency, authenticity, initiative, industry and competence while in the cult.” (p 96) they do not have “a mature pre-cult personality to awaken.” (p 98)
Some important steps of recovery include grieving losses, creating community, problem solving, developing curiosity, developing a sense of purpose and finding new meaning. This book will help the therapist support the client, without putting the added pressure of always trying to define and explain what was experienced within the cult. The examples the book gives will help therapists understand which groups are commonly considered to be cults.
Cracking the Cult Code for Therapists is comprehensive. It fills an important gap in current cult literature. It is not a memoir. It is not a flood of research to wade through. It is a quick read, slightly over 100 pages. I can see people who are seeking therapy, recommending or giving the book to their therapist. I have already given two copies to friends who are therapists so they can use it as a resource. It is important to help spread the word, because the internet is making it easier than ever for cult members to leave. As the author asserts, “There’s no doubt that mental health therapists will be receiving more and more requests for help from cult victims.” (p xvi)
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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