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Cults And Mental Health

Dubrow-Marshall, Linda; Dubrow-Marshall, Roderick P


Roderick P Dubrow-Marshall


This chapter summarises research about the association between cults (also referred to as high demand environments, sects, and/or extremist groups) and challenges to mental health. Research on the mental health and psychological wellbeing of members and former members has increased notably in recent decades (Buxant and Saraglou, 2008; Dubrow-Marshall 2010; Goldberg et al., 2017; Almendros, Gamez-Guadix, Rodriguez-Carballeira, and Carrobles et al., 2011; Tops et al., 2018; Saldana et al.,2021) resulting in an enhanced understanding of the relationship between the cultic environment, coercive control, identity, and psychological health. Parallels have been drawn to organisational settings which can also become abusive and coercive. Individual recovery is enhanced when psycho-education is incorporated to help the person understand the processes of undue influence which they have experienced, including principles of thought reform (Lifton, 1961). Further psychotherapeutic recommendations are for elements of existential therapy to be incorporated to address the existential void that is created when people exit so that former members can find meaning and purpose, establish healthier and more mutual and non-coercive relationships, and feel part of a community again. Identity and attachment issues are also key elements to address in recovery, with the concepts of totalistic identity (Dubrow-Marshall, 2010) and trauma-coerced attachment (Doychak and Raghavan, 2018) offering insights for people whose sense of identity had been submerged within the cult as a result of the pressure to incorporate group teachings and goals as being more important than meeting individual needs (Lifton, 1961, Martin, Langone, Dole and Wiltrout 1992, Lifton 2000, Singer, 2003). The restoration of critical thinking and a full range of emotional expressiveness are also crucial to recovery. Principles for broader recommendations for healthy practices and policies within groups are suggested that respect individual differences and autonomy and the development of mentally healthy and non-coercive relationships.


Dubrow-Marshall, L., & Dubrow-Marshall, R. P. (2023). Cults And Mental Health. In Encyclopedia of Mental Health. (3). Elsevier

Acceptance Date Mar 8, 2023
Online Publication Date Mar 24, 2023
Publication Date Jul 31, 2023
Deposit Date Jun 26, 2023
Publisher Elsevier
Series Title Encyclopedia of Mental Health
Edition 3
Book Title Encyclopedia of Mental Health
ISBN 9780323914970