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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Health and Spirituality Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.

Question

As a parent, I am frightened. There seem to be religious cults all over the place that seem to prey upon young adults. Yet I do not want to discourage my young persons' efforts to define their own spiritual paths. Can you offer any help?

Answer

There is indeed an abundance of religious cults around. In addition, there appear to be cult-like groups that espouse forms of psychotherapy and personal growth. What becomes increasingly clear is that it is not weak- minded people who end up in cults. To some extent, we are all vulnerable.

As a parent, one key element is to establish an atmosphere of open discussion as far as spiritual issues are concerned. Keep in mind that many young people are disillusioned with organized religion and are looking elsewhere for spiritual sustenance. The acceptance and open discussion of such doubts and disillusionments at home makes it less likely that young people will turn elsewhere for guidance on finding answers.

Second, learn something about cults. There are different definitions as to what constitutes a cult. Our first thought is of a group such as the Moonies or, more recently, Heaven's Gate. There are two facets of cults which are especially noteworthy. Cults limit freedom of choice and cults do not tolerate dissent. In other words, cults assault our capacity to think. This is why open discussion within your family is the best line of defense. If you encourage your young people to think for themselves instead of demanding blind adherence to a specific doctrine, then they will be less vulnerable to cult-like influences.

Hopefully, your young people will feel free to bring to the table for discussion any experiences they have had with religious points of view different than your own. If so, encourage open discussion and critical thinking, the very faculties cults tend to discourage. In other words, the best defense against cult influences will happen around your dining room table.

03/15/98

Richard B. Patterson is a clinical psychologist in private practice in El Paso, TX. He is the author of three books on psychology and spirituality.

 

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