Book Review - Recovering from Churches That Abuse

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1996, Volume 13, Number 1, pages 119-120. 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 - Recovering from Churches That Abuse. 

Ronald Enroth. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994, 166 pages.

This is a short book, but the material is concise, readable, useful, and well referenced. There is an appendix of checklists of factors and forces in "abusive groups" and in recovery from them. Six pages of footnotes further document and clarify the book's content. Enroth is a sociologist who has written other books on cults and Anew religions" and this book's format and content attest to his expertise. His writing style is clear and the development of the subject logical and well documented. The material reflects a knowledge of the subject and insight into the cognitive, affective, and spiritual factors involved in spiritual abuse.

Enroth uses a case study approach, of men and women who were victimized by abusive religions. He allows them to "speak their own thoughts and tell their own stories" which he then "put into narrative form." His "primary purpose" was "to describe the processes of recovery, obstacles encountered," and "factors that inhibit or retard recovery" (p. 10). Enroth describes spiritual abuse as "damaging the central core of who we are," which then "leaves us spiritually discouraged and emotionally cut off from the healing love of God." Enroth feels that much spiritual abuse is not intentional but occurs because of narcissistic leaders or those whose enthusiasm or faith renders them insensitive to human needs. Spiritual abuse is more destructive when the victim is in a need state (e.g., substance abuse, depression, desperately seeking help). The abuse is intensified in legalistic, authoritarian, and "spiritually elite" churches where rules are rigid and rigidly enforced and independent thought is prohibited. Social stressors further exacerbate the abused, such as where members are belittled or shunned if they drop out. Other negative effects are reinforcement of depression, low self-concept, rejection, failure, or futility.

Throughout the book Enroth describes the recovery process for each abused person, and the methods used. Among the methods is the four-step Wellspring method: learning to trust again without codependency; process questionable teachings of the abusive church ("twisted hermeneutics"); grieving for one's self; future planning (Wellspring Retreat and Rehabilitation Center in Albany, Ohio, specializes in former cult member clients). Ebaugh's four stages are also included: questioning commitment; exploring and evaluating alternatives; deciding to leave; creating the ex-role. In this way, the book is a helpful reference for comparative postcult recovery.

Of value to researchers and therapists is the author's conclusion, after interviewing victims, consulting with experts in the field, and reflecting on common factors, that "the road to recovery is different for each person." Equally important, abusive religions appear to always erode self-confidence and self-esteem. Of value to society and the future is Enroth's observation that "battered believers" can recover (p. 147), and he offers examples where abusing religions have, of and by themselves, seen the error of their ways and reformed themselves. Thus, there is hope for the individual, the sect, and society.

This is a useful book and is highly recommended. It contains real-life cases, their journeys to recovery, a concise review of counseling methods, and examples of how several abusing sects readjusted to healthier, more positive practices.

Frank MacHovec, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Dept. of Behavioral Medicine

University of Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 13, No. 1, 1996