What cults are

A cult is not necessarily a religious group, although religious cults are common, including breakaway sects from more mainstream faiths. Cults can also take the form of therapeutic, commercial, educational, self-help, pseudo-scientific and various spiritual groups. Whatever they masquerade as, and whatever public relations stunts they seek to pull off, what damaging cults have in common is their vindictive abusiveness and their dissociative totalitarianism.

Cults recruit members by various forms of enticement or deception, demanding subservience and the total adoption of their ideas from members, to the exclusion of free thinking. Members are usually exploited both financially and as a labour force. At the same time, to gain acceptance from wider society, cults lobby politicians and the public, using the same ideas of freedom of expression which they deny their members.

  1. Cults are dissociative, separating members from families, friends and colleagues.
  2. Cults tend to be psychologically manipulative or abusive in order to exploit and control members commercially or sexually.
  3. Some cults can also be physically abusive.
  4. The guru and/or upper ranks of the cult are supported in a relatively comfortable lifestyle by the exploitation of lower ranking members.
  5. Cults are totalitarian in structure and thrive on master-slave dependency.
  6. Cults are “socially addictive” and the harm they cause is similar in some ways to other forms of addiction such as gambling, and even drug or alcohol abuse.


Cults are abundant and deceptive and the reason for concern is clear. The separation from loved ones, whose personalities may become unrecognisable after cultic recruitment, causes a great deal of grief and upset to families and friends. Seeing changes in, or hearing of the abuse suffered by, cult victims – or sometimes having to deal with an individual’s disappearance – can cause a great deal of stress, anger and upset in the home. These “cult parents” and “cult families” are therefore also victims of cults, even if they had nothing to do with their child’s recruitment to a cult. All cult victims need help, no matter how they have been involved or harmed.


Helping the victims of cults and educating interested professionals, politicians and members of the public helps raise awareness of the harmful methods and techniques employed by cults. The role of The Family Survival Trust is to listen and talk to, advise and help, parents, children and other individuals, and seek to ease stress. Family support of this kind can enhance family life in the home. For those individuals who do not have families or friends, we can also help: nobody should feel alone.

By way of example, enquiries have been received on the following groups and subjects. We would like to state that the groups or subjects listed here do not necessarily fulfill the criteria of “cult”: Mormons and Mormonism; psychological coercion; Scientology and Scientologists; social addiction; psychological abuse; Jehovah’s Witnesses; the Occult; brain washing; Christadelphianism; Satanism; physical or sexual abuse; Christian Science; Seventh Day Adventism; Kindoki; slavery within a cult; Swedenborgianism; the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formally the Unification Church) and often referred to as “Moonies”; The Family, or The Family International (formerly the Children of God); the School of Economic Science; the Exclusive Brethren or Plymouth Brethren. We receive many other enquiries about groups, terms, concepts and subjects not named here.

There are hundreds of cults operating within the United Kingdom, and thousands of cults operating around the world. Some are small, one-to-one groups; others are large groups with a great deal of money, websites, front groups, and multinational reach.