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Exit counseling, also termed strategic intervention therapy, cult intervention or thought reform consultation is an intervention designed to persuade an individual to leave a group perceived to be a cult. It is distinguished from deprogramming by the fact that it's a voluntary procedure, that the follower is treated with respect, can leave any time, and that the decision to stay with the group or leave it is wholly up to the follower and will be accepted as it is by the exit counselor.
Generally, the person is presented with information about the group in question or other groups, including especially information which is usually not available to followers, testimonies from former members of this or other cults, along with information on the nature of mind control theory. The conviction of the exit-counselor is that once the member is aware of the logical flaws in his belief structure and his allegiance, as well as the emotional factors binding him to the cult, he will not feel comfortable remaining in the organization.
Additional recommended knowledge
During the 1970s and 1980s a series of techniques called deprogramming were developed to persuade or force a person to abandon allegiance to a religious or political group. Deprogramming was mainly involuntary, the targets were not required to agree to the procedure, they were often taken by force and then held against their will. Advocates of this procedure viewed it as an antidote to illegitimate or deceptive religious conversion practices by those groups. Opponents of this procedure argued against it chiefly of the following grounds:
The practice itself is controversial and heavily criticized by new religious movements themselves and some sociologists in that field, both because of its basic assumptions and because of its methods, whose degree of force, stealth and/or deception used is disputed.
When deprogramming fell into disfavor in the late 1980s and early 1990s, exit counseling was born.
Unlike deprogramming, which is usually defined as including coercive factors, exit counseling is usually seen as a voluntary agreement between a follower and an exit counseling specialist to talk about the follower's involvement with the group and it is usually done in presence of the family of the follower. The exit counseling specialist is usually hired by concerned relatives or marriage partner of the follower.
Exit counselors who abide by an ethics code, e.g. Steven Hassan, author of the book Combatting Cult Mind Control, Rick Ross, or the Thought Reform Consultants including Carol Giambalvo and David Clark, confirm in accordance with their code that exit counseling is a voluntary procedure, that the follower is treated with respect, can leave any time, if he or she wishes, and that the decision to stay with the group or leave it is wholly up to the follower and will be accepted as it is by the exit counselor.
Carol Giambalvo, David Clark, Steven Hassan and Rick Ross describe an exit counseling with the following steps: (Giambalvo 1992, Clark 1993, Hassan 2000, )
Typically an exit counseling takes several days: Giambalvo and Hassan speak of three, Rick Ross of four days average. Hourly rates vary, according to qualification and experience of the consultant, figures given are between 75$ and 150$ per hour, fees for an intervention between 3750 to 5000 US dollar.
Clark speaks of an average of 90% of persons leaving the cult following a three day intervention, Ross of about 75%. Both stress that it is not possible to predict the issue of a specific case in advance.
Approaches in exit counseling
While all exit counselors stress non-violence, respect for the person, and autonomous informed choice of the person, there are three main approaches the field of exit counseling (Clark, 1993):
Controversy over the terminology
The terms "exit counseling" and "deprogramming" are not always clearly distinguished and at times consciously used interchangeably, especially by critics of the practices who disagree with the basic assumptions. On the other hand, also some critics of the practice(s) assert that the confusion is deliberate and is exploited to conceal the unethical or illegal tactics of deprogrammers, particularly their reliance on coercive persuasion.
People who practice exit counseling (exit counselors) often distinguish between "involuntary deprogramming" and "voluntary exit counseling", pointing out that exit counseling, in contrast to deprogramming, includes neither forceful abductions, physical force or threats and is aimed at getting the cult member to make a voluntary, informed decision, though there are also people who distinguish between "involuntary deprogramming" and "voluntary deprogramming," and others who distinguish between "involuntary exit counseling" and "voluntary exit counseling".
David Clark states "the only necessary distinction between exit counseling and deprogramming is, that the latter physically confines the cultist, at least initially ..." and concludes from this that exit counselors have to establish a rapport with the person almost immediately, while this is not required in deprogramming. Also deprogramming tends to be more emotional - the person often being understandably enraged about the confinement. Moreover, the confinement factor tends to exaggerate the power of the cult on the person. (Clark 1993)
Margaret Singer defines "Deprogramming [as] providing members with information about the cult and showing them how their own decision-making power had been taken away from them" (Singer 1995), a definition which is also applicable to exit counseling.
Rick Ross quotes Singer's definition and adds:
To avoid terminology confusion, exit counselors who are committed to voluntary interventions created an organization of Thought Reform Consultants. Its members have agreed to abide by a set of ethical standards. (Giambalvo 1996)
Proponents of new religious movements as well as some people who value religious freedom and tolerance very highly oppose exit counseling because it tries to alter the beliefs of a person. Proponents of exit counseling counter that the issue is not the beliefs of a person, but the informed choice of the person regarding their beliefs.
Another point of critique is the fact that exit counseling presumes the group has used some sort of mind control or manipulation on the person, so that the person's informed choice regarding the group is in some way altered. In contrast, adherents of NRMs, theologians, and also some proponents of the counter-cult movement (especially those of Calvinistic tradition) deny that mind control exists or that manipulation could be a factor in choosing a religious affiliation. An argument used in this context is that "exit counseling" is merely "mind control in reverse", a case of "fighting fire with fire". So, even if some degree of coercive persuasion was used to recruit a member into an unpopular new religious movement, coercing him out of the movement would be a clear case of "two wrongs don't make a right". And further, it is argued that the success of exit counseling could depend on forcing the belief on the follower that he is "a victim of cult mind control".
Some critics see no difference between deprogramming and exit counseling or claim that exit counseling is just another name for deprogramming used after a number of legal problems with the latter, and that it includes at least emotional or intellectual coercion. This view is strengthened by some aspects of the controversy about terminology. Another contributing factor could be, that there is a lot more media coverage to be found regarding deprogramming, which does contain more elements which are "newsworthy". Also in fiction and especially in films and TV, there are many examples of getting someone out of a cult by deprogramming and virtually none using exit counseling. (Szimhart, 2004)
In Popular Culture
The film Holy Smoke! portrays an American 'exit counsellor' working with an Australian girl and her family.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Exit_counseling". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|