Cult Conversion From the Perspective of Families: Implications for Prevention and Psychological Intervention

Álvaro Casta˜no, Jocelyn J. Bélanger, Manuel Moyano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Groups of psychological abuse (GPA), organizations popularly known as “cults,” are a well-documented social and public health problem that directly affect 1% of the global population. However, there are few studies that consider the process of cult conversion from the perspective of outgroup family members. This study aims to illuminate the process of cult recruitment, conversion, and disengagement, and analyze the experiences, perceptions, and needs of cultists’ families. Quantitative and qualitative data were collected from 100 relatives of cult members in 15 different countries, with two-thirds of the respondents from Spain and the United States. Analyses revealed that warning signs, vulnerability factors, and motivational elements were key drivers for understanding the process of cult recruitment and participation. Moreover, results indicated that cult conversion of an individual has measurable mental health and well-being consequences for their relatives, as family members are often left legally helpless and without access to specialized psychological support. Collectively, these findings have implications for the prevention of cult conversion and clinical and psychosocial intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)148-160
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology of Religion and Spirituality
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • Cults
  • Families
  • Groups of psychological abuse
  • Prevention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Religious studies
  • Applied Psychology


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