Choices Facing Young Adults: Route to Cult Membership

Entering adulthood is a difficult time for many young persons. Among those who look for solutions to their concerns, JBFCS works with young adults who seek mental health services and through its Cult Clinic some who have sought such radical alternatives as joining a cult or messianic group. Based upon previous research findings, Carol Marcus, Ph.D. and Bruce Grellong, Ph.D. undertook to explore, among three groups of young adults, age 22-32, the family environment, adolescent history, depression, stressful life issues and the personal view of how one's self and one's life pursuit fit together, i.e., a purpose of life.

The first group, not in therapy and never involved in a cult, found adjustment to adult life challenges easier while development continued in their need to define a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives. The success of these young adults was due in part to the support of their families that allowed for their independence and growth.

Clinic and ex-cult subjects were both found to be different from this first group. Young adults using clinic services, the second group, expressed the greatest amount of distress over life events in the year prior to treatment and reported a decrease in stress over the course of treatment. Both ex-cult and clinic subjects came from distressed family environments. However, the clinic group came from backgrounds of greater family conflict, experienced more difficulties in adolescence and felt more depressed in young adulthood. Ex-cult members, the third group, can be characterized by difficulties with identity, particularly feelings of depression specifically related to identity formation. they also had the most difficulty developing a sense of purpose in life. Difficulties with identity formation appeared to have made this group more vulnerable to cult recruitment techniques that offer clear cut identities and prescriptions for living.

The Marjorie Dammann Research Fund was the project's major funding source.