Increasing numbers of people are leaving high-control groups (commonly referred to as cults or sects). Given worldwide recent developments and investigations of some of these groups (e.g. Australian Royal Commission into the Jehovah’s Witnesses) and the increasing number of members leaving these groups, it is vital for mental health professionals to recognise the specific needs of this group.
Various forms and sizes of high-control groups and relationships exists. Spanning from one-to-one high-control relationships, for example domestic abuse, to religious high control groups and secular groups, such as political or commercial groups.
The focus of this course lies predominantly on understanding religious high control groups.
The course focuses on how we can identify these groups, understanding the spectrum of control, what we can do to minimise the harm they cause and how we can support people’s recovery from membership in these groups, post-exit. The course will also offer some insight into preventative actions that can be taken to promote healthy relationships and reduce risk factors relating to the recruitment into high – control groups and relationships.
The course will also include a personal account of a survivor and a Q&A session, where attendees can answer questions directly to a survivor of high control group abuse.
Julia Gutgsell (BSc, MSc) is a criminologist and transition coach. Her dissertation on high control groups and relationships was awarded with the Jeanine Seghers prize, a prize rewarded to original and innovative research. Her current and past professional roles have involved working with hard to reach groups: youth delinquency, homelessness, domestic abuse and religious high control groups. Her main interest lies in understanding how former high control group members recover and (re)claim personal autonomy post-exit.
Nick French was born in Scotland and moved to England whilst still a toddler. His mother now divorced from his father joined a high control group and Nick was raised in it from the age of 6. A survivor of sustained CSA by the time he was 15 he too dedicated himself to the group believing that it would give him the help he was needing. He returned to Scotland in 1989. Leaving the group many years later he finally went to the police and saw his abuser sent to prison and today is an activist and whistle-blower about the group he was in and gives support to others leaving high control groups.
Paula Greenlees is a PhD researcher in the Social Psychology department at Edinburgh University. As a person who married an ex-cult member, she finds it fascinating that cults survive when they place such a high demand on their followers. Her research aims to delve into the fine grain workings of how a high control group environment is built and maintained. Her findings show how difficult aspects of cult practice (in social psychology we term this group norms) are normalised inside the group and also how these often frowned upon practices are downplayed to outsiders to maintain a positive image to the rest of society.
Dr Nick Child, BSc MB ChB MRCPsych MPhil
Rtd CAMHS Psychiatrist and Family Therapist
Nick Child retired in 2003 from a career as a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service NHS psychiatrist in Edinburgh and Lanarkshire. He then worked in the voluntary sector as a Family Therapist in Edinburgh. Raising the profile of family therapy in the non-statutory sector coincided, in 2010, with meeting a remarkable client, now colleague. No client should ever have to mail a textbook with their request to be seen. He helped Nick overcome his allergy to the pattern commonly known as Parental Alienation. To make up for his career long failure, Nick works to research, think, write, organise, teach and network in order to raise awareness about this and a wide range of other ‘relationships that take you in and cut you off’. He sees this ‘striangulation’ pattern as the core of all abusive harmful coercive family and non-family relationships.
What are high control groups
How do we identify them
Are all high-control groups equal
Recruitment and retainment of members
Lunch 12:30 - 13:15
Life in a high-control group
Exiting high control groups
Recovery from high-control groups post-exit
Risk factors and prevention
Q&A with a survivor
Who is this workshop aimed at?
The event is open to anyone with an interest in this topic. We particularly welcome professionals who may come in contact with high control groups/relationships as part of their work. Former members of high control groups/relationships are also very welcome to attend. Some of the content, particularly the personal stories shared by former members of high control groups, may be upsetting for some.