People don’t join cults. They get involved in groups they are led to believe represent these high ideals.” — Rosanne Henry, MA, LPC


  • Take care of yourself
  • Chronic stress kills!
  • Take breaks from thinking about the issue
  • Focus on your other relationships
  • Find some way to be at peace
  • Recognize strengths of the member
  • Recognize the benefits s/he’s getting
  • Keep the connection
  • Build the relationship (show interest, respect)
  • Maintain communication; find common ground
  • Build Trust; act in ways that contradict picture group painted of you
  • Be honest about your feelings; express calmly, not in a blaming way
  • Respond calmly to questions and provocative statements rather than react emotionally
  • Stimulate critical thinking at appropriate times, e.g. cognitive dissonance
  • Use “I” messages

Be a “researcher;” learn as much as you can about the group:

  • So you can talk the language and “join” with your loved one
  • So you can recognize contradictions

Keep tension low on visits:

  • Plan and rehearse good responses to questions
  • Be alert for opportunities when member expresses doubts or the group is less vigilant
  • Be patient and wait for an optimal time to intervene


  • Criticize the group
  • Argue with other family members in front of  group member
  • React to provocative statements
  • Jump on expressions of doubt; stay calm; explore
  • Let your amygdala (adrenaline) hijack your executive brain
  • Forget the long-term goal
  • Get discouraged; most people leave eventually

Doni Whitsett, Ph.D., LCSW
Adapted from Livia Bardin, MSW, LCSW