International Journal of Coercion, Abuse, and Manipulation (IJCAM) 

Vol. 4, (2022). Published December 31, 2022. 

DOI: 10.54208/1000/0004/003

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How can I trust someone who lives in the darkness? Former cult members' perceptions of consultations with healthcare professionals

Cecilia Hadding, Olof Semb, Arja Lehti, Martin Fahlström, Mikael Sandlund, and Valerie DeMarinis


Objective: This study explores former cult members’ perceptions of consultations with healthcare professionals for mental illness that they relate to their cult involvement. The study also aims to identify the needs, obstacles, and facilitating factors related to these consultations. Design: Qualitative methods using semi-structured interviews that were analyzed using systematic text condensation. Participants: Nineteen former cult members who had been in contact with Swedish healthcare professionals due to mental illness related to their cult involvement. Results: Former cult members remain affected by cult belief systems, rules, and ideations even after leaving a cult. This leads to ambivalence and inner conflict for the former cult member in a healthcare consultation. Care providers are perceived as ignoring cult experiences and lacking knowledge of a cult’s impact on an individual. Conclusions: To understand, help, and work with former cult members, healthcare professionals need to know about cults and the possible impacts of cult involvement. Person- and patient-centeredness in the form of non-judgmental attitudes, validation of experiences, and awareness of the psychosocial situation are important in consultations with these patients. Moreover, healthcare providers need to acknowledge cultural and existential aspects of a former cult member’s life, both in the present and from earlier experiences in the cult.