My Experience with a Cult Survivor as a Psychology Intern

Graduation Day from University of Wisconsin-Stout

1987-My sister and I graduating from College
1987-My sister and I graduating from College | Source

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.


Have you ever known anyone that survived being in a cult

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Definition of Cult

cult definition according to

(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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Comments 40 comments

Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 5 years ago from Rural Arizona

What an amazing story. I have never heard of this before, but find it very believable. Thanks for sharing this with us.

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 5 years ago from USA

Howdy Minnetonka Twin - Yes, the air can get smoky when someone tries to breathe another's problems. It's a rough go for everyone.

Gus :-)))

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marellen 5 years ago

Wow....never ever heard this before. Its kind of scary too. Was that the devil leaving her body? Sort of changes my beliefs of the cult....

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

Hi Old Poolman-Yes, I had never heard much about cults until my internship. It sure opened my eyes to painful childhood's. After this, my issues seemed quite doable :)

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

Gus-I was glad she was able to release this trauma from her past. What a courageous young lady she was.

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

Marellen-It was VERY scary for me as a rookie in the field. I couldn't tell dad information but I did ask him questions about what he thought the devil was. My dad was a great catholic man and even he wasn't sure what to tell me. He did tell me to pray during that session and ask God to be with me.

akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon

Yikes - I think I would have probably passed out from fright - I'm not one for the occult or cults! Good viewpoint though of what it was like and definitely eye opening.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago

It sounds like you had a good internship experience Minnetonka Twin. It reminds me of my own intership experience, and to be more sensitive to the experiences of new interns. Thanks.

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

akirchner-I know-Yikes says it all. I didn't know much about cults and it's not something I thought about when I become a counselor. It sure opened my eyes to what some children live through in their childhood's. This young women was remarkable. I was glad when that session was over. What a life experience :-0

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

Thanks kim for your kind words. It sure was a tough way to break into the field but nothing after that really shook me up. I had gotten through what I thought was the worst.

MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 5 years ago from South Africa

This reminds me of the stories about evil spirits occupying a person's body. Scary. Thanks for sharing.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

What an amazing experience. And you told it so well, I was engrossed all the way through. It is an awesome responsibility to try and help mend the lives of those who've been abused to that extent. It sure does make my minor troubles shrink in comparison. Thank you for sharing this story.

Aris Budianto profile image

Aris Budianto 5 years ago from Lying along the equator Country

Thanks for sharing your great experience, not everyone can do it.

kashmir56 profile image

kashmir56 5 years ago from Massachusetts

Thanks for sharing this amazing story .

Interesting and vote up !!!

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

It is a difficult subject Martie but so many have been through this scary experience. Thanks for reading :-)

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

Peg-Thanks so much for your kind words. I too felt like my problems were miniscule compared to this woman's. It's amazing what human beings can endure and continue to have hope.

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

You are very welcome Aris. I took me over a year to write this story because of it's disturbing content but I hope it can help someone.

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

and thank you for coming by and reading it, Kasmir56, I appreciate it. It was one tough internship but a very good learning experience :-0

CASE1WORKER profile image


Wow! Voted up! This was really an awesome experience!

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

Thanks so much CASE1WORKER-I'm glad you liked it and it wasn't too unsettling for you. I tried to be careful about how I worded this sensitive subject.

b. Malin profile image

b. Malin 5 years ago

What a Truly Amazing Hub story you have shared Minnetonka Twin. It almost left me speechless. What a Learning Experience and Internship you had...Wow!

danfresnourban profile image

danfresnourban 5 years ago from Fresno, CA

Thanks for sharing this experience. I had a similar experience. I was at my grandmother's bedside in the hospital at the moment she passed away. At the very instant the heart monitor stopped beeping I felt a breeze and I heard the swoosh of air rush by as my grandmother moved on.

Thanks for sharing your experience and validating my own experience.

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

Thanks so much b.Malin-Ya, eye opening for sure and it really made me think about If I could handle being in the counseling field. I did choose to continue on and had many great experiences helping people heal.

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

You are so welcome dan and I thank you for sharing your beautiful story. I think you definitely need to write a hub on that experience with your grandmother. It is truly touching and inspiring :-)

Spirit Whisperer profile image

Spirit Whisperer 5 years ago from Isle of Man

Thank you for sharing this. You have described the experience very realistically and the work you have chosen to do is very special indeed. How have these experiences affected you? And how do you ensure your own balance as result of the experiences you listen to in your line of work? I am a hypno-psychotherapist in the Uk in private practice and curious as to the measures you take where you are from. Thank you.

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

Hi Spirit Whisperer-Thank you very much for reading my story. Well, to answer your question. It is super important to have Great self-care when working with client's so that I don't get too overwhelmed. Some of my strategies to keep clear-headed and grounded: Power walking at least 4 days a week, meditation, supervision from a licensed mental health practitioner so I have someone to bounce things off and make sure what I am seeing is correct and most of all, a great family and support system. Thanks for your kind words and right back at you. You are an important part of the circle of healers. God Bless :-)

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, amazing story, after reading this phenomena, I wondered if maybe our bodies go through a chemical change when relieving something traumatic? for example we know when someone has eaten something strong because we can smell it, not just through their breath but on their body, maybe this is what happened, she had been holding onto this memory, and somehow it produced the chemical that we would produce if we were in a real fire, her memory was strong enough to trick her body into believing it was still happening or just happened, could be, just a thought, I am glad she managed to put it behind her, and thanks for an interesting hub, cheers nell

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

Hi Nell and thanks so much for reading my story. Yes, it's true and much like what you said. Every cell hold memories and once we let it go, it can be released as a smell if smell was part of the memory. Because she was often at bonfires with the cult, the smoke smell was part of the memory that she released. The body is really amazing and it's incredible how people can overcome such abuse. This young girl was very successful and very kind and caring.

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femmeflashpoint 5 years ago

MinTwin - oh my goodness! As Alastar Packer says, "Where to start?" This was an incredible read!

I felt both happy and very sad for you while reading your account of this phase of your internship. What terrible things to have to learn, and probably even absorb for a while, in helping these survivors. But, at the same time, what a privilege to get to share in their success in making steps toward healing.

I know the rule of thumb is to not get personal, be professional, but for those who are empathic, the two are always linked. And caring is a totally personal reaction. I'm without doubt that you're quite empathic and truly care about the cases that pass through your life.

The girl, oh my, poor thing. I'm so glad she had you there with her. I believe she was getting help and support from the very best person for the job.

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

You are so sweet Femmeflashpoint. Ya, talk about getting right in there to learn ropes. This gal was such an inspiration to all of us. It is funny how they teach you how to stay professional and not get too involved. It's impossible not to care as that's what gets you into this type of field in the first place. Thanks so much for reading this story.

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iamaudraleigh 4 years ago

Thank for sharing your story. It is hard being in your position without getting "attached". Have you heard any updates on how Corina turned out years later?

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 4 years ago from Minnesota Author

Hi Audra and great to see you. No, I haven't heard how she's doing but when I was working with her she was very motivated in her healing and recovery from her childhood. I think of her often and hope she is doing well and having a lovely life.

Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland

MT - what an incredible experience for you - and for 'Corina'. This hub was amazing and no wonder you found it difficult and frightening when you first heard all about this poor child/woman. I'm so glad that she managed to read her letter out - what a brave soul and she is definitely a very special person.

The smoke is interesting. In some areas of research it's thought that our own fears/negativity/pain/trauma can be projected outwards. Some see this as a physical thing, such as a black mist or cloud, but just as many have experienced not only black smoke, but a burning smell as well. I don't know if it's the same thing but they certainly seem related to the smoke experience you all had.

This was awesome and fascinating!!! Voted up + shared!

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 4 years ago from Minnesota Author

Dear Seeker-you are such a neat woman-your comments are always so thoughtfully written. I can always see that you have read my story with patience and that means a lot to me as a writer and your hub friend. Yes, Corina was such a strong, courageous young lady. She went through so much but didn't let it make her a victim. She fought to heal from all she went through. I agree with you that there are many concepts of these paranormal experiences. There is the fear and pain that we project out and the blacks mist. In this instance, this was Corina's cells clearing out. I had learned of this concept as a Psychology student. All the cells in our body hold memories. When she read her letter, some of that trauma came out of her cells-it's an incredible phenomena and our bodies are fascinating. The fact that trauma's from our past can come out in the form of smoke from sacrificial fires in the present, is just mind boggling. I really appreciate you sharing this story. Corina's story can help any of us by reminding us that we are strong enough to overcome any childhood trauma and pain. God Bless

DreamerMeg profile image

DreamerMeg 3 years ago from Northern Ireland

What an amazing experience! Not one that anyone would want to go through too often though, I would think. It must be hard to get through for those listening and supporting, as well as those who have been through the experience, dredging it up out of their memories and I suppose the clients possibly feel really tired and worn out after such a session, almost as if they had relived it? It's good that you and our twin did the same courses, I am sure you are a great support to each other.

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 3 years ago from Minnesota Author

Hi Meg-It was a really freaky experience and one I never saw coming. It did teach me a lot about the different issues people are struggling with. It was very comforting to have my sister's support-both personally and professionally. We have always been there for each other and it helps to know someone knows what your going through with a client issue. This brave woman was so courageous to share all of her pain and suffering regarding her past. It was truly draining for her and all the participants in the group, as well as the staff. What a way to learn right from the start :-0

Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 22 months ago

Linda, I find this amazing and I have read about things like this, my family experienced some strange things in a house in California.

Voted up, UAI and shared.

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 22 months ago from Minnesota Author

Hi Shyron-it was one heck of a way to start out my counseling career. I learned a lot from co-running this group and the different issues people needed to heal. I was so impressed by the courage shown by the woman who was brought up in a cult.

Deborah Demander profile image

Deborah Demander 13 months ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

Fascinating article. Thanks for sharing your experience.


Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 13 months ago from Minnesota Author

Glad you liked my article Deborah. It was quite an experience for a new therapist.

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