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Exploring Parallels: Cults and Therapy - Ensuring Safety and Accountability

Exploring Parallels: Cults and Therapy - Ensuring Safety and Accountability

Any show on cults I fervishly watch in disbelief, fascination, and awe.  It will suck me in, as I try to figure out the allure of its participants and the creation of their leaders.   The two together create horrific outcomes that include cultural abuse, emotional abuse, often physical abuse, and even sexual abuse.  While cults are one of the extreme outliers in our society, I see parallels in self help groups and therapy.  How can we guarantee safety in our therapy rooms and instill accountability in our therapy leadership roles?

The Allure of Cults: A Dark Fascination

The Innate Urge for Group Inclusion is Biological

Is it a human need to search for like minded people to reinforce our values and build a community.  Throughout human history this is how civilizations began and thrived.  In the survival model of emotions, being a part of a group is essential to staying alive, because being outside of a group would mean death. This evolutionary purpose for emotions sheds light on the biological origins of group inclusion and why it's such a strong human urge.  It also explains how neglect and abuse during our formative years persist far into adulthood when we are capable of escaping.

Isolation is the Next ingredient for cults

Now, picture yourself being raised in a secluded group, cut off from the rest of the world, where strict rules govern every aspect of life and leaving includes threats of severe consequences like drugs, death, or damnation. At the same time, this group idealizes the value of inclusion, promising that you and your family's souls will ascend to heaven if you remain devoted. These doctrines permeate your home and community, isolating you from the outside world, limiting your exposure to alternative perspectives, and also your education is limited. Most cults have some sort of limited home schooling. As a result, individuals trapped in this environment are unable to survive in the outside world and are too terrified to even attempt an escape. 


Indoctrination is the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically, often through methods that discourage questioning or skepticism. This process is often associated with religious, political, or ideological groups, although it can occur in any context where one group is seeking to shape the beliefs of another.

Cult Indoctrination involves:

Repetition of specific messages
The control of information (including the suppression of dissenting viewpoints)
The use of social or emotional pressure to encourage conformity
Rewarding conformity
Punishing dissent
Creating an "us versus them" mentality
Appealing to fear or other strong emotions

While the term "indoctrination" typically carries a negative connotation in many contexts, suggesting manipulation or brainwashing, it's worth noting that not all forms of teaching or socialization are indoctrination.

Education ideally encourages critical thinking and questioning, allowing students to form their own viewpoints based on the evidence presented to them.

(KDH Collective is dedicated to fostering open discussions that are rooted in evidence-based knowledge, and Therapy should do the same.)

In contrast, indoctrination seeks to inculcate specific beliefs or values, often discouraging or actively suppressing critical thought and dissent.

Indocturation is how cults feed on the urge of inclusion.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely. At the core of this type of cultural abuse is intense aloneness pain.  This type of pain is common in treating trauma.  Most of us have had this feeling at some point in our lives.  Aloneness pain is universal and treatable.  It is not relegated to the outlier cult group but it does explain how well meaning parents would become a part of such insanity.  Most cult members think they are doing what is best for their families.  There are sexual deviant cults with members who are acting from a narcissistic place.  But the vast majority think they are doing what is right.


In certain religious families, when instances of sexual abuse come to light, survivors are often expected to adhere to religious doctrine and offer forgiveness to their perpetrators. However, this type of doctrine can be incredibly harmful for survivors of sexual abuse. It is crucial to prioritize trauma processing before forgiveness, as prematurely forgiving can lead to dissociation and perpetuate further abuse.

So what does INDOCTRINATION mean In therapy?

Difference doesn't have to mean exclusion!  This is especially important in our world today.  Political differences, religious differences, sexual differences, and racial differences have traditionally meant exclusion and that exclusion has no place in the therapeutic setting.  Our code of ethics calls for more accountability.  I cannot refer a client on just because we do not share the same political or religious values.  

As human beings, we often find ourselves entrenched in the belief that our views are right, but as therapists, we are reminded that we cannot let this mindset polute the therapy room.

People that are more open think they are right and people that are more closed think they are right.  As therapists what you believe outside of the therapy room is not a part of what we do inside the therapy room.  We must take our role seriously to avoid this gross misuse of power.  It's the subtle degradation of our clients authentic views that disempowers and further harms them. 

Our psycho-education provides valuable insights into separating oneself from abusive groups and harmful ideologies. However, it is important for us to create an environment where clients feel empowered to engage in critical thinking and open discussions about the harm they are experiencing. We encourage our clients to explore their own perspectives and not feel pressured to conform to our thinking, as our goal is to support their critical thinking and ultimately their individual growth and well-being.

How Do Therapists ensure Safety and accountability in our therapy room?

Maintaining Ethical Standards Is essential to Prevent the Abuse of Power in Therapy

  • Encourage critical thinking and questioning
  • Maintain an unwavering stance of objectivity within the counseling room
  • simultaneously recognizing and exposing any harm that may be present in our Counseling relationship and in our clients lives.
  • Abide by our code of ethics by not engaging in dual relationships.  

Therapeutic Accountability


We must have our accountability.  The nature of our job is that we are alone in the office with our clients and this role as expert has to be tempered.  I am a direct therapist and a clients level of mental health struggle does necessitate how direct I am but I also refer to other therapists to encourage new information and accountability within a team.  

Professional consultation is a powerful tool that provides support for ourselves, checks our power with clients, and provide new information. Two heads are better than one.  Group support can be powerful and therapeutic when critical thinking is encouraged, and we use it upon ourselves.  Make sure your consultation is not in an echo chamber, critical thinking of our therapy practices is essential.

Engaging in Difficult Conversations with Clients

Engaging in difficult conversations is a major part of what we do, and it is an intricate balancing act of acknowledging differences and recognizing their impact within the therapy room. It requires many skills to identify exclusion, acknowledge its presence, and then forge a connection by constructing a metaphorical bridge. This bridge is made through our conversations in the therapy room. And if that bridge becomes worn out, it is our responsibility to tear it down and construct a new one.


Maintaining a stance of objectivity within the confines of my therapy office serves as an ongoing personal growth journey, reminding me that there are countless paths to navigate life. If I am fulfilling my role effectively, there is no singular correct approach. This mindset has spilled over into my personal life, allowing me to appreciate the value behind individuals' adherence to specific ideologies and how those beliefs shape their existence. Moreover, my neutrality empowers me to openly address the harmful aspects when necessary.

This further emphasizes the vital role that our code of ethics plays in the field of therapy and most importantly in our relationship with our clients. Stay tuned for our upcoming ethics course!

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