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Ethical Problems in Exit Counseling

by William M. Alnor and Ronald Enroth

from the Christian Research Journal, Winter 1992, page 14. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

In December 1984 a young woman involved with The Bible Speaks ministry of Massachusetts went home to visit her family. When she arrived, according to a notarized affidavit,[1] a visitor was there waiting for her. He brought a "hallway full of suitcase boxes," which made her realize that his "visit was to be more than an afternoon chat," she said.

Actually, the visitor was a well-known "exit counselor" (often referred to as a deprogrammer) hired by the woman's parents to try to "rescue" her from a group they considered to be a cult. The young man related that he was there, the affidavit states, because "he had a church relationship with my father." He wanted her to "consider all the sides" pertaining to her continued involvement with The Bible Speaks and to make an "intelligent decision accordingly."

"I asked [the exit counselor] what was his purpose for coming to my house, and he stated, 'to inform you of the questionable practices of The Bible Speaks.'" Realizing that she had been set up, "I got up to leave," she said. "I tried to exit my house when I was forcibly detained by my father and brother." Later the document states that she made her "escape" by running out the basement garage door.

To be sure, The Bible Speaks ministry -- which has since changed its name to The Greater Grace World Outreach and moved to the Baltimore area -- is controversial and has generated denunciations from anticult groups worldwide. In 1983 the Christian Research Institute published a report on the sect (headed by Carl Stevens) stating that the group's doctrine of pastoral authority was authoritarian, unbiblical, and abusive. In 1987 a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge ordered the sect to return $6.6 million to a millionaire heiress who had been manipulated into donating the money (see the Summer 1987 CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL). The ruling stood up under appeal, and the sect was forced out of its 69-acre complex (which eventually went to the heiress).

All this aside, was the exit counselor's role in this case ethical? Since we haven't spoken with the woman or the exit counselor, we cannot be sure. But if we take the document at face value as true, our answer must be that his actions were unethical. The document stated that the exit counselor said he had a "church relationship" with her father, which wasn't true (her father was a Roman Catholic while the exit counselor was a Baptist from a city about 500 miles away). And the woman, a consenting adult, was "forcibly detained" while the exit counselor tried to talk to her. Being forced to "escape" in the manner that she did must have been a traumatic experience.

This article, the result of an informal but extensive inquiry, is about exit counseling. During the past year or so the authors have spoken with many of the chief exit counselors in the country, and have consulted with many experts concerning the topic. We have also consulted with various evangelical countercult and apologetics ministries familiar with exit counseling. In order to insure a balanced approach, we have also spoken with -- or read materials from -- some of the most vociferous critics of the practice (and of countercult ministries and organizations), including spokespersons from various "religious liberty" groups that are often funded by the cult groups themselves.


The result of our inquiry is that out of approximately 15 major exit counselors operating in America, only a few appear to conduct themselves in a manner that communicates a sense of integrity and ethical concern. The field of exit counseling is full of men and women operating like loose cannons in a shadowy world of secrecy that contains little or no controls on their activities and offers little or no enforcement of ethical standards. Further, the amount of money major exit counselors charge is often excessive and unjustifiable, especially since in many instances their clients are vulnerable parents -- driven by panic over the conviction that their children are involved in a cult. Fees in excess of $20,000 per case are not unusual.

Many exit counselors at times engage in activities that are unethical at best and illegal at worst. They do this by participating in cases where consenting adults (over 18 years of age) are physically accosted, tricked, and sometimes kidnapped; thrown into rented vans; and held against their will in some cases for weeks at a time. During these ordeals the exit counselors try to talk them out of their cultic involvement.

As Christians it is very difficult to endorse such tactics used on adults in light of God's Word. Romans 13:1, for example, instructs us to be subject unto "the higher powers" of the land and to obey the authorities. The unlawful restraint and deceit used by many deprogrammers together with security teams hired to help out is contrary to God's Word. We are told to live at peace with all men (Rom. 12:18) and to speak the truth in love to people with whom we disagree (Eph. 4:15).

At the same time we recognize there can be extenuating circumstances. What is a husband to do who leaves a cult while his wife stays, and his wife -- under orders of the cult's leadership -- cuts off all communication with him? Since marriage is ordained by God (Matt. 19:6) and is a higher law than the government, it could be argued that the husband (or wife) should take matters into his own hands and try to free his spouse and children from the endangering sect. And what about cases where the sect poses an imminent danger to its members? Following the deaths of 913 people in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978 many tearful parents wished they had taken more serious action to get their loved ones out of the People's Temple before it was too late. And what about the extremist Bible-based groups operating across America that believe it is not right under any circumstances to seek medical attention? Should relatives be expected to sit back and watch their loved ones die?

In cases where there is clearly an imminent danger to the health and well-being of cult members, we believe the best approach is to work through the legal system to ensure protection at the very least for children. Most states have, in one form or another, conservatorship laws which make provision for assuming temporary custody of minor children if a clear and present danger exists.[2] But how do we define imminent danger? Is there any consensus on what imminent danger is? These are legal questions that must yet be worked out.


Although only a handful of exit counselors (in our opinion) are succeeding at being professional and ethical in their endeavors, it is nevertheless true that many other exit counselors, whose activities we cannot endorse, have sometimes had a beneficial effect in helping people leave cults. A few have been helpful to cult researchers and evangelical ministries to cults in supplying valuable information needed to research various cult groups. And many exit counselors deserve credit for their willingness to fly across the continent on short notice to help a family confronted with a cult problem, not knowing in many cases when they'll be able to return home. Some have literally lived out of suitcases for years at a time. Many have sacrificed their lifestyles, health, family life, and even personal relationships in their efforts to assist people leaving cults. (Most exit counselors are former cult members themselves and are motivated by their memories of how enslaving cult involvement can be.)

We also acknowledge the role of the occasional exit counselor -- those who work on a sporadic basis. In talking with experts in the field, our guess is that there may be from 50 to 100 lesser known exit counselors in the United States, and many of these may be doing excellent and ethical work -- particularly those working in conjunction with Christian ministries. Many of the critics of exit counseling, however, would disagree with this figure.


We applaud several recent secular anticult organizations' efforts to clean up the field. In the past few years there have been initiatives within both the Cult Awareness Network and the American Family Foundation toward creating ethical standards by which exit counselors can police themselves. However, we are skeptical about these moves, particularly when the guidelines are only voluntary and enforcement is dubious. More troublesome is what appears to be a built-in conflict of interest; the monitoring committees are run by exit counselors who themselves may have a vested interest in keeping their fees high and who may be tempted to protect their colleagues. Moreover, some of these same exit counselors are under review by other cultwatchers over alleged unethical activities surrounding their businesses, personal lives, and exit counseling practices.

For example, according to Carol Giambalvo of Florida (a highly regarded exit counselor), a committee of exit counselors met during the Cult Awareness Network's 1991 annual conference in Oklahoma City to take up the issue of ethical standards. What they decided, Giambalvo said, is that if one of them hears a complaint about a fellow exit counselor, they'll refer it directly to the counselor involved and advise him or her to resolve it voluntarily with the family. They also decided to agree on the types of fees they would charge. And they agreed on creating experience levels for the profession: those just starting out would be called "apprentices." For those who reach the rank of a full exit counselor (a determination made by other exit counselors at an informal annual meeting), it was decided that "reasonable fees" per case should range from $400 per day to $1,000 per day. "We can't set fees for each other but we feel these are in the bounds of fairness," she said.[3]

It can be argued, however, that daily fee schedules can be misleading, particularly because they don't include expenses or take into account the varied working styles of exit counselors. One well-known exit counselor from Arizona, who says he charges $500 per day for cases, bemoaned the fact that another exit counselor from the East Coast came into his area and charged only $300 per day for working with a family on a case involving the Potter's House (an aberrant Christian group). The Arizona exit counselor - - who prefers the title "consultant" -- said that although the other exit counselor charged less money per day, that counselor spent well over two weeks with the family (14 days multiplied by $300 per day comes to $4,200, plus expenses). This means that the other counselor actually cost much more than he would have, since he seldom spends more than five days on a case (five days multiplied by $500 per day comes to $2,500, plus expenses).

There is a more critical problem, however. For the major exit counselors to assemble and decide what their prices should be smacks of a price-fixing cartel similar to what the OPEC nations do regarding oil prices. As one Christian apologist from Arizona, who is frustrated with exit counselors, commented: "They are charging fees on the basis of what the market will bear, rather than on the need to help those caught in destructive religious systems. There's something very wrong with that."[4]

Some Positive Developments

We know of Christian exit counselors who believe it is wrong to set a daily price on what they view as being the Lord's work. One Christian exit counselor from the Midwest, who wants little to do with the Cult Awareness Network due to its secular approach to what she considers to be spiritual problems surrounding cults, has worked on cases throughout America. She simply asks families to pay her expenses and, if they feel led to, give her an optional gift at the end of her stay with the family.

Along the same lines, there are some interesting developments within the evangelical cult-watching community where some are becoming increasingly involved in voluntary (i.e., no kidnapping) exit counseling as part of their ministries. Craig Branch of the Watchman Fellowship (along with others associated with that ministry) already does limited voluntary exit counseling and is seeking to expand his ministry's involvement in the area. Randall Watters of Bethel Ministries in Southern California has been involved in the field in both a publishing and teaching role for some time. Steve Hassan, a highly regarded Jewish exit counselor from Boston (and author of Combatting Cult Mind Control, Park Street Press, 1988), has assisted Watters, even so far as conducting a seminar for Bethel ministries, teaching them how to assist people out of cults that utilize mind control. And Bill Kellogg, who heads the counseling ministries for the Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP) of Berkeley, California, has recently gotten involved in exit counseling. He has been drawing on the work of Carol Giambalvo (who wrote a helpful booklet offered by the Cult Awareness Network called Exit Counselling: A Family Intervention). Kellogg says that when people ask him what his fee is, he tells them they can make a voluntary gift to SCP if they want to.

Another positive development in the field of exit counseling is the fact that the largest rehabilitation center in America designed primarily for former cult members is the Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center in Ohio, a facility run by evangelical Christians. Because of Wellspring's effectiveness in helping former cult members acclimate to life outside the cults in a nonsectarian fashion, it has gained the respect and support of many of those associated with the secular Cult Awareness Network (CAN), the secular American Family Foundation, and even Jewish exit counselors. Many exit counselors, including those we have problems with, refer members of cults to Wellspring following the successful completion of their cases. Recently psychologist Paul Martin, the founder and director of Wellspring, was named as a CAN board member.


Steve Hassan was kidnapped and deprogrammed against his will in the mid 1970s after he became involved with Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. As a result, he doesn't endorse any kind of situation in which adults are kidnapped.

"It's very hard to describe being held against your will," Hassan said in a recent interview. "It's very, very intimidating." "Multiply fear by 10 when you're in that type of a situation," he added. "That fear is not conducive to good counseling. It's a raw emotional state of survival."

Technically, Hassan's kidnapping and deprogramming was a "success," he said, but he added that it wasn't a classic case. He said that after he was snatched he reacted very badly to it. This led him to an "eye to eye, man to man" talk with his father, who helped orchestrate the kidnapping. After his bad reaction, his father told him that if he just listened and talked to the deprogrammers he was free to leave with no strings attached.

Years later Hassan realized he was still resentful of those involved with his forced abduction, and it was this, coupled with his studies over the years, that convinced him that involuntary deprogramming was not the way to go.

The Father of Deprogramming

It was Ted Patrick who first coined the term "deprogramming" in the early 1970s. His best-selling book, Let Our Children Go! (Thomas Congden Press, 1976), made the practice even more popular as it helped inspire several movies showing "deprogrammers" in a positive light. In one popular Hollywood film released during this period, a deprogrammer is seen striking a restrained kidnapped cult victim who held beliefs strikingly similar to the Children of God sect. Patrick, who gained the nickname "Black Lightning," alleged that cult members were brainwashed and thus advocated deprogramming them through often arduous sessions -- sometimes lasting weeks -- during which time they were restrained. Earlier, in 1974, Patrick helped found the Citizens' Freedom Foundation, which evolved into the Cult Awareness Network.[5] However, Hassan noted that "Patrick's success...was far from universal, and numbers of unsuccessful rescue attempts returned to their group and sued him as well as family members. No doubt these caused further alienation, hardship and pain -- as well as legal convictions. His methods were sensationalistic -- abduction in broad daylight, car switches, hidden locations for the deprogramming, 24-hour security guards to prevent any escapes."[6]

Partly because of problems associated with these approaches, new methods of reaching people involved in cults began to emerge. Many began to conclude that the Patrick model was fundamentally flawed. As Hassan put it, the philosophy of deprogramming is that the "cult member is `snatched" in order to `break' them out of the cult trance via a process of `deprogramming' the mind. The term sounds like one is dealing with a computer, and not with a human being with a mind and a special, separate identity....Deprogramming operates outside of the law."[7]


By the mid 1980s a new philosophy emerged in the place of deprogramming. The practice, known as "exit counseling," is based on the recognition of and respect for the conscious will of the cult member. The Cult Awareness Network no longer advocates deprogramming and its national board does not endorse abduction or false imprisonment, but rather voluntary exit counseling. It has also for some time been distancing itself from Mr. Patrick. But after surveying the landscape of exit counselors' techniques and tactics today, it is abundantly clear that Patrick's influence lives on. Many who claim to be exit counselors are actively involved in situations where cult members are abducted and are held against their wills for sometimes weeks at a time. Furthermore, individual people associated with CAN and the religious cults themselves often "refer to deprogramming and exit counseling interchangeably."[8]

One young woman who was formerly associated with the Church of Bible Understanding, an East Coast-based group headed by Stewart Traill (who, according to members, has the spirit of Elijah) told us that she was abducted off the streets of Cleveland by her parents. And a block from the snatching site, her parents picked up the "exit counselor" who began to bombard her with audio tapes denouncing cults, and played them continuously during a long drive to the Pocono Mountains. Once there, she was held prisoner while the exit counselor "acted like a maniac," she said. She added that when she would retreat to the bathroom, the counselor would stand by the door playing tapes, banging on the door, and shouting denunciations against cults.

"It was very harmful," the young woman said. "It was the worst thing I had ever gone through in my life. It was like mental torture and I wound up hating him."

Equally disturbing is the fact that the exit counselor used in this case was a professing Christian who at the time had informal ties to several evangelical anticult and apologetics ministries. When questioned then about the case by one of the authors, the exit counselor declared that the woman's parents tricked him and that he had no idea the girl was snatched against her will until after the case was in progress. But when the woman was told about the exit counselor's explanation, she was annoyed. "My parents would be furious if they heard he accused them of tricking him," she said.

That story had a happy ending, however. The woman did exit the sect, and through meeting with other people who also left the group, she was able to unravel the group's techniques and theology in her own mind. She is still embittered, though, since the exit counselor did not give her any follow-up materials to help her adjust to life outside the sect.

Both Giambalvo (who is often assisted by her husband, Noel) and Hassan do not do involuntary cases in which a cult member is held against his or her will. In Giambalvo's "Counselors' Fee Scale Information" sheet (which she gives to prospective clients), they must answer yes to the following question before she takes the case: "Are you willing to work with us with the understanding that if the client should be prevented from leaving the intervention by any physical methods, we will also leave?"

Nevertheless, Giambalvo says that some exit counselors -- even some associated with the committee pledging to police the profession -- do "involuntary" exit counseling using varying rationalizations to justify it. Others who claim they don't do "involuntaries," she said, tell prospective clients they don't want to know how the parents got their children to isolated locations in order to talk to them. Still others distance themselves from the actual act of snatching alleged cult members, yet they coordinate their efforts with the security teams responsible for the snatches.

There are exceptions to this trend. One professing Christian exit counselor from Southern California is up front about his role in kidnapping sect members. He is also among the few with his own security team trained to snatch members of religious groups. In a January 6, 1991 article in the Los Angeles Times, the man claimed to have "snatched" 15 people from religious organizations in the past year -- despite the fact that he was involved in a highly publicized unsuccessful deprogramming incident that wound up in court. The parents who hired the deprogrammer were sued by their daughter, but the judge eventually threw the case out of court, saying that he didn't think the parents should be prosecuted as criminals.

"I'm doing bigger and more exciting cases" [since that one], the deprogrammer boasted. "I'm doing double-snatchings. I did a family of four in Mississippi, and I did a double-snatch of brothers in Los Angeles. They were picked up simultaneously. All of them have been successful."[9]


Dan Holdgreiwe, Executive Director of the Coalition for Religious Freedom in Alexandria, Virginia, is especially irked by the exit counselor just quoted. In the June 1991 edition of the Religious Freedom Alert, which is edited by Holdgreiwe, he ran a page-one picture of the exit counselor with a story of how he had just been arrested for kidnapping a 22-year-old woman from her home in Mississippi. The story details how the woman was seized when two men entered her yard under the pretext of looking for a lost dog. She was forced into a van and then transferred into a second van before being released by the Highway Patrol which stopped the van en route to a remote hunting cabin. (At press time the case has not yet been decided.)

Holdgreiwe, an attorney, wants to know why the anticult movement tolerates such activities by exit counselors. One of his arguments is that many people who are not members of destructive religious groups -- even evangelical Christians -- are being kidnapped and held against their wills. He believes it is a matter of religious liberty.

While Holdgreiwe's coalition is partly funded by the Unification Church, and it is a fact he has been personally linked to the Unification Church,[10] does this invalidate his claims? We do not think so.

It's even more telling when Christians deprogrammed by this particular individual denounce his tactics. One woman whom the individual counseled out of the Church of the Great Shepherd -- a small, now-defunct authoritarian group that operated in Alhambra, California -- said that when the exit counselor approached the families of people who had children in the sect, "there was a real sense of pressure that they had to do it [snatch them] right then." The impression given was that "if we didn't have his counsel he didn't know what would happen. Without his services we would be damaged."

The woman added that the deprogrammer was helpful, "but I don't think he did anything different than what a pastor should be doing," she said, adding that her problem was not necessarily one of mind control. Her difficulty was that she didn't have a proper understanding of the Scriptures and of legitimate biblical pastoral authority.


This former member of the Church of the Great Shepherd was also upset by the fees charged by the exit counselor, and the more she traveled around comparing notes with others deprogrammed by this individual, she realized that money paid by grieving parents to him was in excess of $250,000! Costs charged to deprogram her and her husband amounted to $20,000 plus plane fare ($500) and hotel expenses (another $500). What's worse is that she spent only a half day and an additional two hours with the exit counselor. Another family was charged $50,000 for this exit counselor to kidnap and deprogram two of their sons who were in the sect.

She also claimed that the individual presented himself as a Christian, but when her family had questions about his bill, he turned "nasty." "It was not his ministry," she represented him as saying, "it was his business." He also placed tremendous pressure on people leaving the Church of the Great Shepherd to go to cult rehabilitation counseling sessions with a California Christian psychotherapist at an additional cost of $5,000 -- an experience that didn't help her one bit. In the sessions the Christian psychotherapist did not discuss the Bible at all, and that was the very thing she most needed to hear about.

In a recent interview, the psychotherapist didn't agree with the woman's reasoning. "First of all," he said, "I'm a psychotherapist. I'm not a theologian. I also don't want them to confuse my role as an authority by answering spiritual questions. I don't tell them how to live their life." According to the fee schedule he provided, cult rehabilitation costs are $4,500 (apparently a rounded figure), and this includes "reintegration of the victim's thoughts and feelings, reintegration with the family, and reintegration with friends and the social environment." Broken down, his costs are $2,975 per week for 35 hours of psychotherapy, which includes diagnostic testing and reports, family counseling, and group therapy; $700 for his assistant; $400 for car rental and seven days worth of gas; $200 for food; and $250 for miscellaneous expenses.

Both in telephone conversations with the authors and in a written statement, the Christian exit counselor involved claimed that during the past three years his personal fee has averaged $8,750 per case and that he puts in an average of 290 hours per case. "It's hard to put a price tag on what I do," he wrote. "I have faced three criminal trials -- at enormous cost, and have been sued on a civil level numerous times (also, at great cost to myself and my family). I have never burdened any set of parents to help me with the tremendous costs involved with my legal defense. You must remember that I put my `butt on the line' in every case that involved a snatch (which is the majority of my cases)."

According to his fee schedule, costs associated with a typical case add up to $27,500. This includes $3,100 for surveillance; $13,700 for "Rescue Pick-up/ Security/Deprogramming"; and $6,200 for miscellaneous expenses that include airline tickets, two vans, one rental vehicle, hotel and food and a week's rent at a "safe house." The $4,500 fee for the psychotherapist was included in his fee schedule.

This exit counselor's fee is fairly typical and in line with most others. According to another fee schedule given to us by a parent who used a different exit counselor, the average case -- which includes exit counseling, security, legal fees, rehabilitation, airline fares, rental vehicles, and miscellaneous expenses -- runs from $19,000 to $23,400. This fee schedule also makes clear another point that illustrates the nature of the business: they want to make it very difficult for anyone to trace the financial transaction to them. It states: "All payments are to be made in cash or cashier's check. This will be discussed with you in detail prior to the planned intervention. We do not accept traveler's cheques or personal checks unless there has been a stated agreement to do so." Others have told us that most agreements between clients and exit counselors are on a cash-only basis, and that most agreements are oral, not written.


What about critics' charges that evangelicals are sometimes being targeted by exit counselors? We believe there is some merit to these concerns. There is talk among some in the anticult movement that members of certain evangelical groups such as Jews for Jesus, Campus Crusade for Christ, Young Life, and others have become the targets of deprogrammings. Jews for Jesus has been especially hard hit by deprogrammers. (One Jewish exit counselor from Arizona told us he had done "many" Jews for Jesus cases.)

In addition, members of mainline denominations have also been subjected to deprogramming.[11] Certain anticult groups have withdrawn public support for Ted Patrick as he has been linked with deprogrammings over the years involving increasingly mainstream religious organizations.[12]

Dr. Paul Martin, founder of the previously mentioned Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center, agrees that some Christian groups are being targeted for deprogramming or exit counseling, and part of the reason is that "a lot of parents don't understand evangelical Christians."

Recently some parents contacted Martin to get him involved in a case where a young woman joined Campus Crusade for Christ, went away with the group for the summer, and never wrote her parents. "It caused a family disruption," Martin said in an October 3, 1991 interview. "The family thought their daughter joined a cult," he said, adding: "But I had to explain to the parents that in their daughter's newly saved zeal she had incorrectly diminished her responsibility to her parents." Eventually that situation rectified, he said.

In another related situation Martin said that a self-proclaimed "evangelical exit counselor" sent him (and several other evangelical cult watchers) a video tape of his talking a female Jews for Jesus member out of that group. Although it bothered him to hear the woman's allegations of authority abuses within that organization he was more disturbed by the exit counselor's lack of concern to steer the woman toward evangelical Christianity. Instead he seemed to foster her return to her roots in Judaism. Martin said he confronted the exit counselor about it. "I told him he was doing no one a service in taking on a case like that," Martin said. "If I were an exit counselor, would I do a case involving Jews for Jesus?" he asked. "No. I think there are better ways of handling such instances."


Additional problems facing the evolving "profession" of exit counseling (some of which we've already alluded to) are a lack of appropriate educational credentials, deficient accountability structures, inadequate follow-up, and the fact that certain evangelical exit counselors believe it "unethical" to guide cult members into a fuller understanding of correct biblical doctrine.

On educational credentials, we know of only one prominent exit counselor, Steve Hassan, who has advanced master's-degree level training in counseling. He is correct in calling for more professionalism in the field. This would give greater credibility to an occupation that is often associated with shadowy operations.

Although we have already touched on the issue of accountability, we should comment on how this relates to the handful of Christian exit counselors operating in the field. While these claim to be practicing evangelicals, the truth is that most of them are not accountable to the body of Christ for their activities. One professing Christian told us he seldom goes to church because he's away most weekends on cult cases. He also didn't have any kind of accountability group back home praying for him. His church was unaware of the fees he charged and the types of cases he was involved with. (This situation was not unlike another prominent Christian exit counselor from the West Coast.)

Some former cult members who received exit counseling have complained that after they were deprogrammed, they never heard from the exit counselor again. These Christian counselors were not available to answer deeper theological questions once their initial mission was accomplished.

Furthermore, in many cases exit counselors deal only with mind control issues, leaving the former cult members to determine for themselves what constitutes correct biblical doctrine.

A Warning About Working with Exit Counselors

Christian ministries to cults need to be wary when dealing with exit counselors. Most exit counselors' livelihoods are gleaned from the information they receive from others. In other words, when they work on a case, most will bring dozens of newspaper clippings, research files, and video tapes of news reports and testimonies from former cult members to show to cult victims. Often they receive these materials directly from cult ministries, who provide data and files on various cults with the hope that the materials will be used to the glory of God.

Many major countercult ministries and evangelical cult researchers are visited often by exit counselors who hope to gain access to their information. One of the most prominent exit counselors operates in a vacuum cleaner-like manner, scooping up information from sources wherever he goes. He travels with a copier and has, on occasion, been able to work his way into the file rooms of various countercult ministries and into the research files of evangelical leaders.

Christian ministries need to consider how their contributors would respond to the fact that some of their material has facilitated kidnapping cases in which exit counselors were paid more than $20,000. We urge caution in making research files available to most exit counselors unless assurances can be made that such information will not be used in unethical situations.


We have seen that exit counseling has become a big business mingled with instances of unethical activity. It has done so, at least in part, because the church has allowed it. The church, with the assistance of evangelical countercult ministries and other available resources, should be doing more to equip its own members in the areas of developing discernment skills, offering Christ-centered exit counseling, and providing the necessary rehabilitative environment.

For the Christian, the cults represent more than merely a social or psychological problem. In a very central way, they are a spiritual problem. While we can learn much from our secular colleagues about the dynamics of cultism, as evangelical Christians we should be in the forefront of concern about the need to get people out of cults. A truly Christian concern proceeds from an eternal perspective. What good is accomplished if people are extricated from cults but their spiritual needs (which drove them into the cults in the first place), including the question of their eternal destiny, are left unattended?

Randall Watters has rightly noted that there is a "subtle hostility" to even legitimate forms of exit counseling on the part of some Christians, while many others are afraid of it. More of us need to be available to cultists who are open to leaving their group, so that as they abandon a false hope they will not be left with no hope. Rather, we can share with them the gospel hope that "does not disappoint" (Rom. 5:5).


1 On file at the offices of the Coalition for Religious Freedom in Alexandria, Virginia.
2 However, this is a gray area. Paul Martin of the Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center says that in recent years, thanks to civil libertarians, the courts have eroded a significant number of conservatorship laws which has driven many parents toward vigilante action. Mr. Martin may be reached at Wellspring, P.O. Box 67, Albany, OH 45710.
3 Interview with Carol Giambalvo, 25 September 1991.
4 Interview with Steve Cannon, Southwest Director of the Personal Freedom Outreach, 29 September 1989.
5 See "A History: Citizens Freedom Foundation," The Journal for Personal Freedom (1985) 1, 1:1.
6 Steven Hassan, "Strategic Intervention Therapy: A New Form of Exit Counseling Which Is Better than Deprogramming." Unpublished paper, 1991, 1.
7 Ibid., 3-4.
8 Ibid., 4.
9 Tom Gorman, "A Year and a Court Fight Later, Brown Family Still Torn," Los Angeles Times, 6 Jan. 1991, B3.
10 Holdgreiwe says he is a former member of the Unification Church who left on his own accord.
11 Included among these are Episcopalians, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, fundamentalists, Pentecostals, and Seventh-day Adventists. See John T. Biermans, The Odyssey of New Religious Movements (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press), 56.
12 According to vol. 1, issue 1 of the Journal for Personal Freedom, Patrick was barred from Canada for the attempted deprogramming of a Roman Catholic woman. He has also been linked with the deprogramming of two Greek Orthodox women (Biermans, 56).

End of document, CRJ0126A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"Ethical Problems in Exit Counseling"
release A, July 31, 1994
R. Poll, CRI

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