Counselling Questions for a Post-Cult Survivor

Remember that the individual will NOT TELL YOU that they’ve been in a cult like environment. It’s up to YOU to figure it out. It’s up to you to listen, Listen, LISTEN very, Very, VERY CAREFULLY as you will be “unwinding” decades of delusional fear based cultural programming.

Tell me about church when you were a kiddo.

I know church is usually a welcoming place, but did you ever have any fears at church?

The individual might give you a superficial blow off type of answer, but listen. Ask, shut up, listen with patience.

Always reassure the ‘post-cult’ person that they are safe. Unlike some of us who’ve grown up in a more normalized mainstream church, a post-cult individual has been

Tell me about church when you were a kiddo.

Remember that the mainstream church experience that you and most people grew up with might be a HUGE contrast to what this person went through. This should be an open ended question with a high tolerance for patience. Be sure to pause long at the end of this question. Leave a substantial amount of silence and be patient for an answer.

I know church is usually a welcoming place, but did you ever have any fears at church?

The individual might give you a superficial blow off type of answer, “It was fine” ….but listen. Ask, shut up, listen with paused patience. Remember that post-cult survivors probably have DECADES of delusional social programming that has conditioned them to think that they should NEVER talk about issues at church.

Did you ever have any fears about messing up at church? It’s ok if you did. This is a safe place to talk about that.

Always, Always, Always (this can NOT be emphasized enough) ALWAYS reassure the individual of their safety. Most post-cult survivors will always have ingrained FEAR conditioned into their responses. Fears of being judged in a way not even imaginable by most people. Being persecuted in front of peers, elders, and even the whole church is NOT what most people are accustomed to. However, this was any day in the life of a post fundamentalist cult survivor. Their fears are delusions that do not exist, but those fears are very real to them. Fear is maybe a controlling factor for some. But FEAR is the ONLY way that cults control.

Hey, out of curiosity, were you ever required to wear certain styled outfits?

Remember, your goal is to “invite” the person to open up to you. Instead of saying something like, “Did you have to wear uniforms?”, you want to simply “pave the way” for the other person to open up to you. What you’re listening for is something like, “Yeah. We had to wear dresses all the time.”

And, was this just on Sundays like dressing up in “Sunday Best” or was this all the time?

Getting dressed up in your Sunday Best is something we’ve all grown up doing. But for a post-cult person, they were usually required to wear a dress ALWAYS! Not just on Sunday mornings, but to the grocery store, while walking around in public, at work, and everywhere else. Remember, your goal is to listen for answers and ask clarifying questions.

Compared to most families you see around you, was yours a bit more confined?

See how that question really isn’t limited in the wording? It doesn’t ask ‘were you confined to your bedroom? …your house? …or anything like that. It’s sort of a generalized question that can allow the other person some comfort when moving to the next question(s). That’s one of those questions were you’ll want to simply ask and then give a long listening patient pause after asking. See what the person replies with. They might give a quick wit of “no, I don’t think so” or they might answer with something a bit more revealing. So, here’s a few follow up questions:

Did you notice any people different from you when you were younger?

Here’s what you’re not listening for and what you are trying to decipher: We’ve all grown up in neighborhoods that are probably pretty similar to ours, but for a cult survivor, their answers might need to be coaxed with a bit more finesse. Were their peers wearing dresses as well? Were they only allowed to play with friends who belonged to the same church? Were the only friends that they could associate with from the same church? Remember, a little lack of ethnic diversity is probably pretty normal for most mainstream individuals. For cult survivors, their seclusion was always much more severe. It could be limited to isolation in a particular school, or even college campus where they were restricted, and especially the more common isolation of confinement in a house.

Ask the individual if they have a degree from some of the fundamentalist colleges.

Bob Jones University, Maranatha Baptist University, Hyles Anderson College, & Pensacola Christian College are a few.
Remember that some of these colleges are established colleges which have been around for decades and decades. HOWEVER most of them have refused any type of accreditation. The list is too huge to mention here, but remember that while a few of the fundamentalist colleges have relented on being unaccredited and given in, most of colleges like this still maintain that it would be an “abomination” to have any type of standards, that an accreditation would be a sin, and that all of their graduates don’t need a “worldly” job in the fist place. Graduates are usually meant to stay within the “bubble” of their far religious right – so why would the college need to have any “worldly accreditation” at all.

Don't Leave Silent. Say Something!