The Definitive Guide to Helping People Trapped in a Cult
Learn how to help friends and family being influenced by harmful cults.
Posted April 13, 2021 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
- Be patient and respectful when asking questions.
- Teach by sharing similar examples and experiences.
- Learn about mind control techniques.
- Work to establish a relationship and connect with your friend or family member, which will build trust.
Under the right circumstances, even sane, rational, well-adjusted people can be deceived and persuaded to believe the most outrageous things, as well as, have blind faith in their cult leader. Cult leaders use deceptive psychological techniques to influence devoted followers’ behavior, information, thoughts, and emotions. Very concerning is that some are so fervently devoted, they have cut off relationships with any that believe differently than them, including close friends and even family. There can be large authoritarian cults like QAnon, plus many different kinds of cults: religious, political, psychotherapeutic, multi-level marketing, large groups awareness training groups, pimps and traffickers, or even a cult of personality—where one person controls another to make them dependent and obedient.
Regardless of the type, techniques to help them remain the same. Since you are concerned about their well-being, stop arguing, calling them names, or cutting them off. Instead, try to engage in respectful, warm, regular communication. This will serve as a bridge, helping them to start thinking rationally. In time, the “bubble” will burst and reality will dawn.
As a mental health counselor, Ph.D., author, and former cult member with over 45 years of experience helping people leave and recover from destructive cults, I have developed strategic and helpful techniques. In January, I published my doctorate dissertation, "The BITE Model of Authoritarian Control: Undue Influence, Thought Reform, Brainwashing, Mind Control, Trafficking and the Law," which you can read online for free.
It is important to become well-informed about mind control and learn how to help ones that are being influenced.
Things to Do First
Start with you. Become well-informed by doing your homework. Formulate a plan. Research cults and coercive control. Don’t make the mistake of trying to rationally argue. Learn about mind control techniques and which communication strategies are most effective. Don’t fly blindly. I recommend reading these two books in this order: Combating Cult Mind Control and Freedom of Mind. My website is filled with useful and important information, including many blogs, interviews, and videos. Helping a person will be a process requiring patience, effort, flexibility, and love.
Build rapport and trust. Rebuild your relationship, if it’s broken. If you were the one to break contact, apologize. Reach out and be warm. Remember the good times. Focus on common values and areas you both enjoy (children, pets, music, dancing, fishing, sports). At first, don’t talk about controversial topics. Avoid “hot topics.” Just try to connect with the other person and have positive interactions. Build credibility and sustain positive interaction. Build a long-term relationship based upon respect, compassion, and love.
Do what you can to remove or minimize media that continually indoctrinates to only one point of view. This may only apply to certain types of cult groups. But it may be in the form of social media, videos, or television. You can even agree to make a pact to go on a media fast together. Don’t make this about “them” or “their problem.” Make this a fun thing to do together as a “break.” Be prepared to honor requests on your end.
Things to Do During Your Conversations
- Ask thought-provoking questions while being warm and curious. Be prepared to listen deeply. You will know if you have listened well if you can repeat back to them what they said. Be humble and open to hearing what they say.
- Keep conversations positive, productive, and civil. Never get angry. Stay resourceful. It is better to end the interaction than to say something counter-productive. It is better to return to the conversation at another time, rather than the person cutting off all communication out of anger or fear.
- Adopt a general tone of curiosity and interest in their positions. Pretend you’re an impartial counselor. Really try to get inside their beliefs.
- Try to connect them with their authentic identity before these extreme beliefs. Remind them of past experiences together. Talk about the connection you once had and how you miss it.
- Don’t “tell” them anything. Help them to make discoveries on their own.
- Try to get them to look at reality from many different perspectives. This can include many things.
- Teach them about indoctrination and mind control. Use examples for which they have no attachment.
- Use examples of cult leaders with similar qualities to their group's leader(s) and have conversations about it.
- Share feelings and perceptions, not judgments. Use “I feel” statements. Don’t claim to be “right.” Stick to what your perception is when reflecting back to them.
- Ask a question and then wait for them to think and respond. Be patient. You do not need to fill silence.
- Caution: an abundance of facts won't necessarily help. Do not overwhelm them with information, especially if it attacks the leader or doctrine.