Coping with Cult Involvement: A Handbook for Families and Friends

By Livia Bardin MSW

I first began working for AFF (American Family Foundation), the publisher of this book, in 1980, shortly after the organization’s founding. AFF’s founders wanted the organization to study the cult phenomenon scientifically in order to educate youth and the public and help families and former group members more effectively. As a result, AFF has gone through several cycles of professional study followed by the development of practical resources. Available manpower has always been too small to meet all the needs that the organization identified. Therefore, AFF has shifted its focus over the years, sometimes concentrating on educational materials, sometimes on research studies, sometimes on resources for families, and sometimes on resources for former members.

In the mid-1980s, Joan Ross and I began working on what was to become Cults: What Parents Should Know, because parents of a cult-involved person had virtually no practical resources to which they could turn. Many parents praised this book, which provided a general introduction to the subject and concrete suggestions concerning assessment, communication, and strategy.

Despite such praise, I always felt that more was required. Families (spouses and siblings, as well as parents) needed a book that would get into the painful nuts-and-bolts of dealing with a cult involvement and that would help them apply the theoretical notions that others and I wrote about to their unique case. Unfortunately, after the publication of Cults: What Parents Should Know, AFF had to focus its limited resources on helping former group members, more and more of whom were seeking our help.

For nearly 10 years, I waited for an opportunity to return AFF’s focus back to families. In 1996 “opportunity knocked” when AFF volunteer professional, Livia Bardin, expressed interest in planning and conducting workshops for families concerned about a loved one’s cult involvement. Mrs. Bardin conducted her first family workshop in Stony Point, New York in 1997. Subsequently, she conducted workshops in Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Seattle. She has also presented educational programs on cults to a variety of mental health professional groups, as well as the general public.

Mrs. Bardin was the right person tackling the right job at the right time. She is a diligent student of the cult phenomenon and brings to the field the practical skills of clinical social work. She also knows how to clarify and organize, to cut through the fog that confuses so many families and to illuminate for them that which is important.

Mrs. Bardin developed for these workshops a collection of forms (printed at the end of this book) designed to help families think more clearly about their UNIQUE situations. When I first saw the initial drafts of these forms, I felt great relief! At last, somebody who clearly saw what was needed was meeting that need. She realized that families needed more than words and concepts. They needed concrete tools, tools that would challenge them intellectually and emotionally, tools that would empower them to understand and do something constructive about the distressing situation for which they sought help. The forms she had developed for her workshops are these tools.

This book, which was written to explain these forms, is built on the knowledge and experience gained from years of working with families in workshops and in private consultations. This is not a “fun” book. Nor is it a book that aims to validate feelings of anger, hurt, helplessness, and fear, although it does that to some extent. This book is ahandbook, a tool designed to help you achieve a goal, namely, to help a loved one. As with all tools, the book requires effort to learn how to use it. It is not something that you merely read. It is something that you use, something that you wrestle with, that you come back to again and again.

If you are willing to give the requisite time and mental exertion that this book demands, I am confident that you will find it to be extremely helpful. It may not solveyour problem, for, as Mrs. Bardin states in the Introduction, a cult involvement is often a situation to manage, not a problem to solve. The book will, however, make you confident that you are doing all that you realistically can to manage, if not solve, the problem that has caused you so much distress.

Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.
Executive Director, AFF Editor, Cultic Studies Journal
May 2000

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