Cult Membership Study

Under direction of  Carol Marcus, PhD (JBFCS) and Bruce Grellong, PhD (JBFCS)

Based upon previous research finds, the investigators 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 pursuits fit together, i.e., a purpose in life.  The first group, not in therapy and never involved in a cult, found adjustment to adult life changes 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 treatments.  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, 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.   

The study was described in the 1990 issue of Practice & Research.