My Experience with a Cult Survivor as a Psychology Intern
Graduation Day from University of Wisconsin-Stout
Receiving a Bachelor and Master's Degree
In the 1980s I was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. I received a Bachelor's degree after majoring in Psychology and minoring in Sociology. I took a little break and eventually went to graduate school in the 1990s and received a Master's degree in Counseling and Psychological Services.
I'll never forget how excited I was when I finally found an internship to fulfill my graduate studies. I worked at an agency called, "The Center for Transition." Not only did the agency offer one on one counseling services but they also ran group therapy sessions. They were well known for a ten week group called, "Healing the Child Within." It was very popular back then for counseling agencies to offer 'family of origin' groups, to help client's work through childhood trauma's.
I went through many hours of training and supervision by a licensed Psychologist to help me as a new counselor and psycho-therapist. In supervision, I worked on honing my counseling skills and learning which areas I would specialize in. This was also a safe place for me to get feedback and support for difficulties I might be experiencing. My supervisor had been in the field for many years and was very gifted, but even his expertise couldn't have prepared me for what would lie ahead.
'Healing the Child Within' Support Group
As I stated earlier, the counseling clinic specialized in "Healing the Child Within" groups. This was a twelve week session that met once a week. The owner of the agency expected all interns to co-facilitate this group with her as part of their training. In a staff meeting with me, she began explaining how the twelve week group ran and what topics we would be covering. As part of the preparation, she went through intake papers on all client's to help me understand what type of trauma's they wanted to work on. Childhood trauma's included: issues of rape, incest, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, chemical dependency, and the list goes on.
At one point, my supervisor and owner of the counseling clinic, paused to gather her thoughts. I remember thinking to myself, "what could be so difficult to hear." It was obvious by the look on her face, she was preparing me for something that would be challenging as a rookie in the field. What she told me would be difficult and confusing for me to comprehend. This was not something they even touched on in my college courses. My head was spinning as I left the office. On my drive home, I couldn't help but wonder if I had what it took to be a good counselor.
I thank God that at the time of this internship, I was living with my father. I was a poor graduate student, working park-time. My father and I were very close and he didn't hesitate when I asked if I could move in while I worked on finishing my Master's degree. It felt good to get home to my father that day after feeling scared and confused about what I had been told in the meeting.
I learned I would be working with a young woman who had survived being brought up in a cult experience. This courageous young woman had been through more than I could ever imagine. Her parents were leaders of a cult which committed many crimes and atrocities. She was just a child, vulnerable to these parents that she was born to. She and her siblings were often drugged by their parents and brought on horrific expeditions with other cult members that often ended in murder and sacrifice. Regarding this specific client, my supervisor suggested I do a lot of praying in preparation for the upcoming session. She also told me to silently repeat (in my head) that God is my Savior, which would help keep me safe from evil energy.
The last week of group was always the toughest for the women. They were to write a letter to their abuser/abusers and read it out loud to the group. We knew as therapist's that it would take incredible courage for the cult survivor to read the horrors she lived through. She was not only still afraid of her family and other cult members but now she would love herself enough to speak about it for her healing.
Every Cell in our Body, Holds Memories
As Corina (this is not her real name) read her letter out loud about her parents and other cult members, something strange began to happen. In retrospect, I was thankful I was briefed about this phenomenon in supervision even though it scared me at the time. I could truly be there to help aid in her healing and not look shocked. The room began to fill with a very pungent odor of smoke. Some client's in the group were coughing but pushed through it for their fellow group member. By the time she had finished reading her letter, it was as if we were sitting beside an out of control bonfire. We all clapped and cheered that day for Corina. Reading and admitting to what she had been through, set her free. She would move on now and try to live a normal life, free of shame and guilt for what her parents and other cult members did to her and made her do to others.
I had planned on stopping at my sister's house on the way home from work. I knew it was going to be a difficult group session and felt seeing Laura was the best thing for me. I got there and rang the doorbell. When she saw me she have me a hug and said, "did you just come from a bonfire?"
Every cell in our body holds memories, good and bad. The smoke in the room when Corina read her letter, were painful memories being released. We smelled smoke because she talked about her pain and released the horrible memories. The smoke was being released from her cells as she recalled horrific experiences at bonfires where cult members made sacrifices and performed other ritualistic atrocities.
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Definition of Cult
cult definition according to thefreedictionary.com:
(kʌlt)n1. (Theology) a specific system of religious worship, esp with reference to its rites and deity2. (Theology) a sect devoted to such a system3. (Sociology) a quasi-religious organization using devious psychological techniques to gain and control adherents4. (Sociology) sociol a group having an exclusive ideology and ritual practices centred on sacred symbols, esp one characterized by lack of organizational structure5. intense interest in and devotion to a person, idea, or activity: the cult of yoga.6. the person, idea, etc, arousing such devotion7.a. something regarded as fashionable or significant by a particular groupb. (as modifier): a cult show.8. (modifier) of, relating to, or characteristic of a cult or cults: a cult figure.[C17: from Latin cultus cultivation, refinement, from colere to till]
© 2011 Linda Rogers
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