Expert: Cults focus on control
The Digital Courier, Dec. 22, 2002
By JAMES LEWIS, Daily Courier Staff Writer
Martin, 56, started the facility outside Columbus with his wife and her brother in 1986 after eight years of what he describes as his own cultic experience.
To date, the psychologist and counselor says he has interviewed or treated more than 1,000 former members of abusive organizations.
So, what is a cult?
In its most basic terms, Martin said, one has to consider life as a big pie with different aspects of life representing a piece.
For instance travel, work, family, religion, free time, associations, friends and spending habits all are a part of a person’s life.
He said he asks those who come from abusive groups if they had any of those pieces to themselves — pieces which were not controlled by the group.
“If the client says no, then your group is probably a cult,” he said.
Martin said there are other signs, too, such as consequences for violations.
Those who violate a group’s rules can be yelled at, followed, threatened, beaten, he said. “In some case, some cults will even go out and kill you. It’s not a creed, it’s the deed.”
Martin stressed that cults can be any kind of organization and does not have to necessarily be religious in nature.
“You can make a cult out of any belief system,” he said.
Martin said it doesn’t take a particularly gifted person to begin a cult, and abusive organizations, while sometimes selective in who they recruit, can seduce just about anyone.
In his interviews with former members of abusive organizations, Martin said the story is inevitably the same and deals with a group offering truth, with a place for confession.
“It’s just the same story,” he said.
And leaders of such organizations, Martin said, establish their rules and exert control through a series of steps and missteps.
“I think the answer is when a person’s ultimate agenda is control, then by trial and error they find the ultimate pathway to power and tyranny,” he said.
He said the group must meet a need at some basic human level.
“That is why (the members) stay,” he said. Those reasons might include seeking spiritual answers, looking for a place to belong, friends or finding a sense of identity.
Once those needs are met, Martin said, the needs can “conflict with other things like just a need for survival, consciousness, truth. That’s when people start to break down and leave.”
Many times, the stories which emerge from groups can be so spectacular that they defy belief.
“As a general rule, former cult members are very traumatized people, he said.
But the psychologist said he’s found that former members of cults offer reliable testimony.
“After a while, you realize that these are not just a bunch of lunatics,” he said.
While many former members of The Word of Faith Fellowship have characterized the organization as a cult, Martin said he had heard about the group for some time but had not treated anyone from WOFF until Holly Hamrick and Shana Muse earlier this year.
“We’ve heard about this group on and off for years,” he said.
Hamrick came to the treatment center in the spring and Muse, who is now engaged in a custody fight for her four children who remain inside the church, completed two weeks of treatment earlier this month.
“I would certainly say in this situation, I think (Muse) is rightfully concerned about wanting to get her kids out of this group,” Martin said.
The psychologist has offered support to Muse during her 10-day battle to convince authorities to help her obtain her children.
“This woman is a hero in my book,” Martin said. “She is a strong woman.”