Book Review - Exit Counseling

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1991, Volume 8, Number 2, pages 255-256. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Exit Counseling: A Family Intervention. 

Carol Giambalvo. 

 Available from the American Family Foundation, 1991, 33 pages.

In the Introduction, the author states that her monograph will dispel the myths and the aura of "magical solutions" surrounding the process of family interventions. Many questions are answered regarding what happens and what is expected during an exit counseling and family intervention. The author's explanation is satisfactory for the generally uninformed family concerned and sometimes bewildered with the experience of having a loved one involved in a destructive cult.

The monograph is easy to read, providing many details which will enable a family to draw parallels to their own situation and to prepare for an exit counseling. The author states that each intervention is unique. "Unique" is the appropriate word as it comes from the Latin word "unus," meaning "one." We work with one person and one person's concerns at a time.

Families often do not know what questions to ask ahead of time about the intervention process. Giambalvo's booklet provides the general, common-sense details that are helpful to families before an intervention. An intervention, or exit counseling, is the best way for a cult member to make a clean break from a destructive group.

The "exiting" process involves coordinating the time and efforts of many people. Glitches will occur. Press on! Keep focused on the goal. It is difficult to prearrange for 3 to 5 days of a cult member's time, which the counselors need to complete the exit counseling process. Negotiation is a must between families and the cult member. I advise families to "Prepare for the worst, expect the best!" Let the counselors do their work.

Giambalvo explains in detail what exit counselors do during the intervention and how exit counseling is accomplished. Under the topic of pre-intervention the author provides advice on what to say and not say, the information gathering process, readings, logistical details (timing, location, travel, etc.), post-cult rehabilitation facilities, and suggestions for presenting the plan to the cultist.

The author's philosophy of intervention is based on an educational model with the goal of helping the client re-evaluate his or her commitment to the group. The emphasis is on sharing information at a pace that the client can manage. During the intervention the exit counselors, after establishing the necessary rapport, explore the client's cult background, teach the client about mind control, and help the client understand how mind-control factors influenced his or her own cult experience.

The first step in the recovery process is taken when the client makes the decision to leave the group. The author lists a number of issues that must be addressed. She omits, however, a piece of advice that I believe is important: The client should avoid contact with the former group and should have a feeling of being "protected" for a period of time.

I believe that Giambalvo is on target, however, when she stresses that follow-up and follow-through are every bit as important as the intervention itself. When the counseling team completes its work there is more for the family and the ex-cult member to do. The ex-cult member needs rehabilitation and counseling to re-enter society and to get re-established in the outside "real" world. Without follow-through the client may feel considerable distress and might regress rather than progress. Care, compassion, and understanding are needed to help the ex-cult member regain self-esteem and become functional in society. If the family does not follow through with the counselor's post-intervention recommendations, there is a higher possibility of a difficult re-entry into society.

I recommend this booklet as a handy reference for families to read before entering into an intervention and exit counseling situation. The quick-fix solutions sometimes associated with the term "exit counseling" are illusory. The fact is that exit counseling is hard work, done by families, contact persons, counselors, rehabilitation personnel, and, most important of all, the ex-member of the group. Moreover, communication, education, and planning are key to a successful intervention. When families contact me after an intervention is completed, I ask them for their recommendations to help me better prepare other families to cope while getting ready for an intervention. Sometimes it takes years for a family to call me back and they echo this thought over and over: "Communication, education, and planning helped me get my loved one out of the group."

Judy Safransky, President

Cult Awareness Network, Tampa Bay

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1991