ICSA Annual Conference: The Evolution of Cult Intervention

Rachel Bernstein, Joseph Kelly, Patrick Ryan, Doni Whitsett

Saturday, June 25, 2022

As the knowledge base of cults, manipulation, and control has expanded, so too has the awareness that intervention is often more complex than at first it might appear. Many cult interventionists have become aware that, in addition to the manipulative and coercive tactics utilized by high control groups, there is often a mental health component that needs to be understood and addressed in order for the intervention to succeed. Our approach begins with an in-depth assessment of the family system to evaluate whether intervention is appropriate at a particular time, what part family dynamics might be contributing to the situation, and who in the family could be helpful during intervention. For all of these reasons we have found it valuable to collaborate with a mental health professional for a more comprehensive understanding of the overall picture. This talk will explore the development of our family-centered, non-confrontational, respectful approach to understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one’s cult involvement. Vignettes from our cases will be presented to illustrate how this collaboration has enhanced our effectiveness as cult interventionists.

Rachel Bernstein (Facilitator)

Former Member Support Group

Rachel Bernstein, MSed, LMFT, has been working with former cult members for nearly 30 years. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Educator, who lives in Los Angeles, CA. She has been a member of ICSA for many years and has presented talks and moderated panels at ICSA conferences. Rachel previously ran the Maynard Bernstein Resource Center on cults, named after her father. She was the Clinician at the former Cult Clinic in Los Angeles, as well as the Cult Hotline and Clinic in Manhattan. She now treats former cult members and the families and friends of those in cults in her private practice. Rachel has facilitated numerous support groups for former cult members, for people who were in one-on-one cults, and for the families of those in cults. Rachel has published many articles, made media appearances, consulted on shows and movies about cults, and has been interviewed for podcasts and YouTube videos. Rachel is the host of her weekly Podcast, “IndoctriNation,” about breaking free from systems of control. RachelBernsteinTherapy.com, bernsteinlmft@gmail.com 818-907-0036

Joseph Kelly

Interventionist, Cult Meditation

Joseph F. Kelly is a graduate of Temple University, has been a thought reform consultant since 1988. He spent 14 years in two different eastern meditation groups. He has lectured extensively on cult-related topics, and is a co-author of Ethical Standards for Thought Reform Consultants, published in ICSA’s Cultic Studies Journal. For many years, Mr. Kelly has also co-facilitated ICSA pre-conference workshops for ex-members. Recently, he helped to initiate ICSA’s monthly meeting in Philadelphia. joekelly411@gmail.com. Websites: intervention101.com; cultmediation.com; cultrecovery101.com.

Patrick Ryan

Interventionist/Mediator/Religious Conflict Resolution, Cult Mediation

Cult Mediation Specialist Mr. Ryan is the founder and former head of TM-EX, the organization of ex-members of Transcendental Meditation. He established ICSA’s online resource (1995-2013), was the editor of AFF News, a news publication for former cult members (1995-1998), has contributed to the Cult Observer, AFF’s book, Recovery From Cults, is co-author of “Ethical Standards for Thought Reform Consultants,” and has presented 50 programs about hypnosis, inner-experience, trance-induction techniques, communicating with cult members, conversion, cult intervention, exit counseling, intervention assessment, mediation, religious conflict resolution, thought reform consultation, eastern groups, transcendental meditation and workshops for educators, families, former members and mental health professionals at ICSA workshops/conferences. Mr. Ryan received the AFF Achievement Award (1997) from AFF, the Leo J. Ryan “Distinguished Service Award” (1999) from the Leo J. Ryan Foundation, and a Lifetime Achievement Award (2011) from ICSA.

Doni Whitsett

Clinical Professor Emerita of Social Work, University of Southern California

Doni Whitsett, PhD, LCSW, MFT, is a Fulbright scholar and a Clinical Professor Emerita of Social Work at the University of Southern California where she taught courses focused on neurobiology, trauma, mental health, and sexuality for 25 years. As a psychotherapist in private practice she has been working with cult-involved clients and their families for almost 3 decades. She has presented to professional audiences both nationally and internationally in Australia, Canada, France, Poland, and Spain. Published articles focus on neurobiological implications of cult involvement and families and cults (co-authored with Dr. Stephen Kent). Her latest publications include chapters on “A modern psychodynamic approach to working with 1st generation cult survivors” and “Global violence of women in cults.” As an AASECT certified sex therapist Dr. Whitsett was awarded a Fulbright Specialist Scholarship in 2016 to study, teach, and do research on sexuality in China. whitsett@usc.edu; (323) 907-2400.

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