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'Victims gradually lose their ability to make independent decisions and exercise informed consent.'
- Dr Margaret Singer



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CIFS 2010 Conference:
Summary of Presentations
March 13, 2010

National Conference at Parliament House, Queensland
Coercive Persuasion and Mind Control
Treating Victims of
Coercive Groups and Destructive Cults

The 2010 CIFS Conference was held at Parliament House, Brisbane in March 2010. Over 120 delegates attended from Australia, New Zealand and overseas. During the conference about 60 ex-members of 16 various cults were provided professional counselling and support.

Delegates also heard of the reality and mechanisms of cult mind control and coersion. The reality of psychological damage done by abusive cults was documented and programs for support and rehabilitation were presented.
Hosted by CIFS Qld.

Program Summary
Apologies for errors, simplifications and omissions.
There is a full video set of proceedings from CIFS Queensland subject to availability.

Friday, March 12th, 2010


  • Rachael Kohn PhD
    Opening Address

    Rachel Kohn shared her wide knowledge of cults and abusive groups and their methods. In opening, she said that many people asked her how many cults there are active in Australia. Of course there are many, but the issue, rather than cataloguing, is their abusive methods.

    Deception, social isolation, aura of mystery, expulsion for disobedience, creating a power relationship, alienation from society, damaging the sense of self, enforcement of strict conformity, were outlined as common tools of mind control across many groups. This was contrasted with the liberal, diverse and open nature of healthy social groups.

    Rachel described the dual nature of many cultic groups who used a clean conservative public image to hide the horrendous abuses which are done to individuals. This also touched on the individual's inability to complain of mistreatment as it was often difficult to prove and was counter to the organisation's public image, making the victim appear suspect.

    Rachel went on to present a history of cultic groups across the world from the 1960s to the present day. This included murders, mass suicides, mind control, enslavement and the myriad psychological abuses perpetrated against people who join with an idealistic spirit.


  • Michael Bachelard MA
    Overview of the Cult Problem in Australia

    Michael Bachelard talked of his experiences as a journalist and how he came to write a book on the Exclusive Brethren "Behind the Exclusive Brethren". He said how cultic groups often harassed their critics and attempted to shut down discussion of abusive methods by the use of strategic litigation.

    He acknowledged the attendance of the note taking lawyer in the audience who was contracted by the Exclusive Brethren.

    He presented the 'Bachelard Doctrine' where a group should be given no greater liberties under the law than those it gives to its members. He mentioned disregard of labour laws, disregard of basic human rights and psychological abuses which are so often excused under the guise of religious freedom.

    Questions and comments from delegates showed how his experience and helpful exposure of these issues has been well received.


  • Professor Doni Whitsett PhD, LCSW
    Coercive Persuasion and Mind Control
    Vulnerability Theory

    Doni Whitsett is Clinical Professor at the University of Southern California School of Social Work.

    This talk was about how people were attracted into cults. The equation:

    Needs + Vulnerabilities + Mind Control = Cult

    was given as a simple overview.

    Doni went on to outline the psychology of 'vulnerability theory' where a cult can provide superficial answers to existential angst.

    An overview of 'Self Psychology' was also given, where a person's development and sense of self and validation is provided by certain people at critical points in life. These needs can be tapped into by a well attuned cult leader to make a person feel valued and accepted.

    This acceptance is later slowly re-developed into a controlling power-relationship which becomes difficult to challenge.


  • Professor Doni Whitsett PhD, LCSW
    Overview of Persuasive Mind Control

    Methods, which are a violation of basic human rights, are used by cultic groups to cause thought reform in the group members.

    An overview of many cults was given and it was shown how the many basic human freedoms were systematically removed by the cult. This abuse causes psychological damage because it denies the validity of the self except where it conforms exactly to the cult's expectations.

    Types of cults, characteristic thought modes, controls and belief systems were presented with reference to Robert Jay Lifton, Margaret Singer, Stephen Kent and other researchers in the area.

    Ample time was allowed after sessions for questions and participation.


  • Rosanne Henry, MA, LPC. & Nancy Miquelon, MA, LPC.
    Introduction and Overview of Recovery

    Ex-members of abusive cults were offered a workshop program. This was a confidential and private session and conformed to an interactive program which had been developed by the psychological counsellors in Denver Colorado.


  • Professor Doni Whitsett PhD, LCSW
    Overview of Mental Health Treatment and Assessment

    One method of control by cultic groups is control of interpersonal relationships. Bonds of honesty and trust within families or groups of friends or between partners are weakened. The only bond allowed to be strong is the one between individual member and the leader. The impact on children can be severe. The situation of shared access of a child with one parent in a cultic group was highlighted as highly stressful to a child, and that in some US states it is not allowed because authorities recognise the psychological damage.

    Methods of therapy were presented including Judith Harman's recovery model. Judith Harman's recovery model takes these three strands:

    • Danger                 Safety
    • Dissociation         Remembrance
    • Isolation                Connection
    Other issues of shame, guilt, flashbacks, self-forgiveness were explored.

    Ultimately the damage has been done and it is the role of the therapist to open the way to new beginnings - which can range from succumbing, survival, resilience or thriving.


  • Rosanne Henry, MA, LPC. & Nancy Miquelon, MA, LPC.
    PTSD and Triggers

    Ex-members workshop with discussion of post traumatic stress disorder and how to combat its symptoms.

    Flashbacks, dissociative episodes, fear etc, can be triggered by everyday experiences. For example, if medical treatment is considered evil by the cult, a trip to the doctor or to hospital could be a trigger for experiencing cultic stress all over again.

    Such psychological reactions can be deeply embedded and continue their damage to the victim for many years.


  • Professor Doni Whitsett PhD, LCSW
    Working with Cult-Involved Families / Loved Ones

    Families of people who are inside a cult have a difficult time. They are often separated from their child or relative and the cult paints the member's family as evil or harmful.

    Strategies included keeping communication open, not taking negative communication from the cult member at face value, not giving up hope.

    This difficult situation was highlighted by many questions and comments from delegates who are in such heart-wrenching situations.


  • Rosanne Henry, MA, LPC. & Nancy Miquelon, MA, LPC.
    Dealing with Anger and Grief

    Ex members workshop focussing on anger at what had been perpetrated on themselves or their family, along with dealing with feelings of grief.



    Saturday, March 13th, 2010  

  • Ex-Member Testimonials

    Three short talks were presented by ex-members of various cult groups. These heart felt stories exposed the reality of the controlling nature of abusive groups and the need for an avenue for complaint.

    Broken families and relationships, long hours of work, deceptive practices and psychological torment were highlighted. The speakers were thanked with energetic applause.


  • Senator Nick Xenophon
    Update on Current Issues

    Senator Nick Xenophon, Senator for South Australia is an independent member who has recently spoken in the Senate regarding the alleged abuses being perpetrated by Scientology. He has called for a Senate inqury in response to the scores of personal stories of abuse he received since raising the issues.

    Senator Xenophon was welcomed with prolonged applause.

    He described his parliamentary colleagues who were apparently disinterested in the issues of abuse by cultic organisations as 'gutless'.

    After outlining his motion to parliament which recently was voted down, he said that there was a groundswell of support that he got from individual members and therefore he is committed to being a 'stubborn bastard' and will carry on with pushing for some form of investigation or report on the activities of these groups.

    He repeated that this is not about religious freedom, anybody has the right to believe what they like. It is about the behaviours which result in demeaning work practices and psychological damage, especially when religious freedom is used as an excuse for such abuses.

    Also that tax exemptions should be allowed to religious groups that do provide public benefit as reviewed by a formal body. Such a 'Public Benefit Test' exists in the UK and has been effective in allowing tax exemptions to religious groups providing measurable public benefit.


  • Rosanne Henry, MA, LPC. & Nancy Miquelon, MA, LPC.
    Trauma/PTSD Neurobiology

    This session overviewed mechanisms in the brain which could be damaged by stress. Results of this damage can be amnesia, dissociation, regression to child-like attitudes and behaviours and inappropriate responses to stimuli.

    Dissociation was described as losing awareness of the immediate surroundings and shutting down or withdrawing to your own thoughts among other things. This is a common issue from recovering cult survivors.

    This was a long session about how the brain responds to extreme environments. Delegates' questions and participation reflected the interest in this topic.


  • Rosanne Henry, MA, LPC. & Nancy Miquelon, MA, LPC.
    Boundaries: Recognition and Repair

    This ex-member workshop covered issues of personal boundaries. Cult members are often prevailed upon to do anything asked of the leader, personal agreement or consent are not part of the picture. Ex members often have difficulty re-establishing their own limits and boundaries of behaviour and participation.


  • Rosanne Henry, MA, LPC.
    ICSA Recovery Workshops: The Colorado Model

    The content and methods of the ex-member workshops was presented to non-participants in this session.The workshops presented for ex-members were off limits to others. This privacy allowed the expression of long-repressed thoughts and feelings in a safe environment. The workshops are run by ex-cult members who have psychology qualifications as counsellors. This ensures that there is a full understanding of the issues faced by participants.


  • Nancy Miquelon, MA, LPC. &
  • Professor Doni Whitsett PhD, LCSW

    Reinventing Yourself and Your Relationships

    Ex-member workshop. Ex-members of abusive groups have generally been made to conform to ideas and behaviours set down by the group leader. It is a challenge to re-establish one's own tastes and even personality. This is especially difficult for people who have been born into these controlling groups as they don't even have a pre-cult personality to re-establish, and so have a steep learning curve.


  • Panel of Experts:
    Q&A with Peter Janetzki(MC), Doni, Rosanne, Nancy, Michael and Senator Nick Xenophon

    This was a lively session with questions from participants. Much of the discussion was on how the legal system doesn't allow for the reality of cultic abuse - especially in family law situations of shared custody.

    Possible areas of official investigation raised included Employment and Workplace Relations, Fair Work legislation, Assult legislation and expanding it to include psychological assult and torment, Family Court recognition of cultic abuse, review of grounds for tax exemption, Trade Practices, Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading.

    The observation was made that groups of so many diverse ideologies use the same patterns, methods and deceptions to ensnare people into their control.

    There were many other varied questions and comments and it was evident that this conference was a timely event for many people.

    The presenters and delegates emphasised their commitment to this issue and that abuses will continue to be highlighted and authorities need to be educated regarding the dynamics of these groups.

    These grievances will not just go away.


    Attendees and presenters were thanked, and the organising committee was commended for an excellent conference.


    Disclaimer:This news page is about groups, organizations or movements, which may have been called "cults" and/or "cult-like" in some way, shape or form. But not all groups called either "cults" or "cult-like" are harmful. Instead, they may be benign and generally defined as simply people intensely devoted to a person, place or thing. Therefore, the discussion or mention of a group, organization or person on this page, is not necessarily meant pejoratively. Readers are encouraged to read widely on a topic before forming an opinion. Never accept information from a single source at face value. This website only holds a small amount of information and should not be relied on as a complete source. For example, if you find older information, this should be weighed up against newer information as circumstances can change.
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