Help - My relative is in a therapy cult / 12-step cult
Posted by: atl2009 ()
Date: December 01, 2009 12:05PM


I am wondering if anyone can give me advice on this situation.

My relative is a young woman who has a severe mental illness. She seems normal to most people, it's not a very dramatic mental illness, but it's very, very severe. She worked for a few years after college but then had a nervous breakdown. Since then she has not been able to work or go to school, and has been living on disability. She's been staying with my mother.

She's been involved with 12-step recovery groups for several years. In the beginning I talked with her a little bit about why she went to these groups. She's not an alcoholic or drug abuser. She told me it was important for her to heal from her mental illness and her problems growing up. However, over the last 2 years, she has not gotten better. Her life revolves around meetings of these groups. She has almost no life outside the group. Six months ago she had a breakdown because the leader of one of the groups yelled at her, singled her out and attacked her verbally during a meeting. We found out that this group was a "secret" group that was more intense than a regular 12-step group. They use jargon words like "maintaining lineage". The members of the group all hang out with each other and support each other for everything. They are all women of various ages and the destructive leader is a woman... we know her first name and that's it, because the group is so secretive.

After the breakdown six months ago, she said she was staying clear of this particular group, but the meetings (sometimes 2-3 times a day) continued. She had another breakdown this week. It's really, really bad. She is staying with her mother and father now and they're trying to get her into a psychiatric clinic. We found out that contrary to what she said, she has always stayed involved in the group, and all the friends here that she is so close with are also group members and under the sway of this leader! Her older friends from college are extremely worried about this. Luckily she has still stayed in contact with some of them and what they have heard about the group really scares them.

We all feel really angry and upset. Any kind of intervention is out of the question because her mental state is too fragile. She is an extremely vulnerable person and she can't handle stress right now. Hopefully she will be in a clinic getting some real treatment soon, and she'll be cut off from the outside world (including the group) so that should give us a little breathing room to figure out what to do for the long-term.

This is a really tough situation to make a decision. We can't live her life for her or treat her like a child. She has to work towards independence. But she's also incapable of living on her own for now. She will have to live with family members, like us, or old friends until she makes more progress towards independent living.

I don't have anything against groups like AA and Al-Anon and I know many people who have been helped by 12-step group. But her group isn't just anonymous. It's turned evil. It's secretive and encourages codependency under the guise of recovery. It's led by an abusive, power-mad woman. I looked at this page -- [] -- and I could check 9 out of 10 items on the checklist for my relative.

I'm looking for resources on how to persuade people they are really in a cult, when they argue back by saying "it's just a 12-step group". I'm looking for more material that shows how and why these groups can go bad.

I'm so angry that they promised to make my relative better but all they're doing is making her worse. I've told her before she needed to stop going to so many meetings, stop thinking about other people's problems so much and work on her own problems more. I told her this just a few times, in a very mild way, and dropped it immediately when she disagreed, because I didn't want to seem patronizing. I'm kicking myself now. Maybe I should have been more forceful and argumentative. I wanted to have more of a relationship with her over the last years but every time I ask her to do something with us it's always been "I have a meeting".

We are considering hiring a private investigator to get more details about this group and its leader. Any materials or articles on situations like this would be helpful. Especially first-hand accounts of getting out of these groups. Thank you.

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Re: Help - My relative is in a therapy cult / 12-step cult
Posted by: rrmoderator ()
Date: December 01, 2009 10:18PM

See []

This is an article about one AA group that went bad in Washington D.C.

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Re: Help - My relative is in a therapy cult / 12-step cult
Posted by: atl2009 ()
Date: December 03, 2009 01:43AM

Thanks. That's useful. Right now I am just sharing information with one of her old friends (from college) about this to make sure we're all on the same page. I'm not sure what to do if she comes back and lives with my mother. Maybe we could make living here contingent on her being involved in low-stress outside activities (family dinners, volunteer work, hobby classes) that are outside the cult network.

Nobody thinks it's a good idea for her to live with her parents, although that's the only short-term option right now because she needs constant care until she goes into the clinic. Her mother is in denial about the whole thing and her father is very manipulative and controlling.

When she gets out, she can't live by herself yet because of her mental illness... she could have an attack and need to be taken to the hospital. The options right now are her parents (very stressful), with us (less stressful, but in a location where she might get sucked into therapy cult activities again) or in another state with old friends (might be possible, but not sure).

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Re: Help - My relative is in a therapy cult / 12-step cult
Posted by: Sol Ivictus ()
Date: December 03, 2009 11:44PM

12 step programs are not very effective and are very destructive to self image. Since your relative is not any kind of addict she should not be exposing herself to this.

[] is a bit rambling but it is the best critical site I have ever come across documenting the destructive nature of these groups.

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Re: Help - My relative is in a therapy cult / 12-step cult
Posted by: rrmoderator ()
Date: December 03, 2009 11:57PM

Sol Ivictus:

Let's not use this thread for AA bashing.

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Re: Help - My relative is in a therapy cult / 12-step cult
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: December 04, 2009 02:18AM

One key safeguard for 12 step groups is they are supposed to follow the 12 traditions.

See here:


One entity that was listed as a 12 Step group in our area was not actually a 12 step group. Word got around that all the members were actually alumni of a yoga cult that is on the Ross Archive list. This kind of situation is a violation of the Traditions.

Some old timers in our 12 step scene referred to this fake group as 'The Pod People.'

Another precaution taken in Alanon, a 12 Step group for families and friends of persons with addictions, the group preamble, read at the start of each Alanon meeting, advises newcomers 'to attend if possible, six different meetings as close together as possible' to see which meeting is a good fit for that persons needs. Doing this is also a very good way for a newcomer to become aware of the variety of resources in ones area. That way, if you have been attending does get weird, and you find you cannot reform it, you still know you can find another group to attend and need not feel dependent on the group that's turned icky.

A well run group also prevents inbreeding, by giving announced updates on events that are county wide and even regional. If you attend these, it is a great way to share perspectives and it prevents members and groups from becoming isolated and exclusionary. A signal that you're in a group going bad is if you are discouraged from attending any other group and are given disapproval if you mention attending these outside regional conventions.

Two very important safeguards in the traditions are placing principles before personalities, so as to prevent group take over by one or more charismatic and domineering person/s.

Leadership in various roles (eg being secretary) is supposed to be time limited (just 3 to 4 months) so that everyone in the group can get practice with each role and so that no one person can take over.

And 12 step groups are not meant to serve as venues to push a specific political, therapeutic, or religious agenda. You're not supposed to use any 12 step group to funnel members into a particular therapists' practice for instance, or to discourage persons from seeking a variety of resources. You are not supposed to recruit for your favorite religion or belief system via your 12 step group. I remember being furious when, after I disclosed something and felt vulnerable, a woman pounced on me at intermission and tried to get me to go attend a Byron Katie event. This gal did not do this when we reported experiences of happiness and personal mastery, but when we had the weeps.

It is also not appropriate for a 12 step group to threaten any participant with disapproval or the threat of relapse if he or she is using prescribed medication. Many persons in recovery have discovered that they need and benefit from outside medical treatment in the form of medication prescribed for them, and this does not mean such a person is any less sober than someone who has the good fortune not to require adjunctive medical treatment.

But all this being said, there are instances of particular 12 step groups going bad.

The model, if property applied, is a safeguard. Its likely that any time a 12 step group turns cultic, one can identify precise ways that the group and its leaders departed from and distorted the 12 Traditions.

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Re: Help - My relative is in a therapy cult / 12-step cult
Posted by: dsm ()
Date: December 11, 2009 06:19AM

In my efforts to deal with the PTSD that I have, I have occasionally gone to 12-step meetings as a last resort. They can be helpful if they are run by responsible people.

I think the best thing is to try to get your relative to sit down with you and a licensed psychologist, together. The psychologist knows what the ethical standards are and could ask the right questions to get at the problem. Then if necessary, you could take the results of meeting with that psychologist to a regulatory agency to find out what is going on and find out what you need to do to help your loved one.

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