Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Beware of Symptom Lists

Anti-Cult Controversies: "Symptom Lists can be Powerful Things":
As one self-proclaimed cult expert's website states, "symptom lists can be powerful things". Indeed they can, although not in the sense that particular website author means it. Symptom checklists such as the one presented on that website are notorious for leading people into believing they have syndromes that lack good research support. A well-known example of this were the checklists published that supposedly indicated people had repressed memories of sexual abuse, which were laundry lists of symptoms that just about anybody could be experiencing for a variety of reasons. For example, people with weight problems were told that this meant they had repressed memories of sexual abuse, ignoring the many other reasons a person might have a weight problem. People who had such symptoms were then subjected to years and years of therapy that may have ended up doing them more harm than good.

Something similar is occurring with the alleged "post-cult syndrome" where a wide variety of symptoms that could have a number of possible causes are attributed to an ex-cult member's past cult experience. There is no solid evidence for such a "syndrome" and I would highly recommend that the therapy consumer beware of websites claiming such and posting lists of symptoms, repeatedly offering an icon for people to click on, claiming that help starts by contacting the therapist.

[...] The problem now is that people who are walking out of groups on their own and surfing the web could be influenced by the websites suggesting all these symptoms and I am concerned that these checklists could become self-fulfilling prophecies, just as the checklists for repressed memories of sexual abuse were for so many people in the 1990s.

The other possibility is that people could be actually experiencing those symptoms for reasons that have nothing to do with the cult experience.

[...] Also beware of people claiming their practice is "evidence-based" who then refer to studies that are published by organizations with a vested interest in the form of therapy, rather than an independent peer-reviewed journal (the blooming cottage industry of "e-therapy" appears to be doing this, hyping benefits that have yet to be independently established by researchers who have nothing to gain financially).

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