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Let’s Talk About Accessibility and Cult Recovery.

Special Thanks to Todd Heckathorne for their assistance in researching, editing, and contributing to this post.


In an interview that came out in 2021, one individual who assists families with their loved one’s cult involvement was featured in the following excerpt:


“_<name omitted>_” charges $5,000 a day for his services—“a shitload of money,” he acknowledges. “The clients that aren’t a match for my approach are the single parents,” he says. “If they have no funds, that’s not a match for me.


While this may be quite shocking to read, this is unfortunately an issue that has presented itself in different ways throughout cult recovery’s history.


In the deprogramming era, families' desperation to “rescue” their children from groups was preyed upon.


Similarly, elitist and classist attitudes (such as in the excerpt above), prevent vital information from reaching families of lower socioeconomic status who are in need of help.


It is People Leave Cults’ stance that consultation and education should be accessible to all individuals regardless of race, gender, skin color, affectional or sexual orientation, social or financial status, criminal history, or other factors which might affect a person’s privilege in life.


Family members who want to pursue intervention services need to be aware that it can be a time and financial investment.


The responsibility of exit counselors is to answer: how can we make information and services accessible to those who can’t necessarily afford an intervention?

Financial Accessibility and Cult Recovery


People Leave Cults strives to remain more financially accessible by providing the following:


  1. Free initial evaluations with families who are interested in intervention/mediation with a cult-involved loved one.


We just don’t try to sell you on “intervention”. While proceeding with a full intervention would provide someone like myself with the most financial opportunity, there are risks and ethical considerations that may make pursuing an intervention not always appropriate for families. There have been many times during an initial evaluation when I or someone else on the PLC team has told family members that intervention would not be our recommendation for the situation based on the information provided. We then offer suggestions on ways in which the family may move forward based on their unique situation.


If families wish to proceed in the process, we provide a virtual option for the assessment phase. This mitigates travel costs for consultants and provides flexibility for families.


During this evaluation, we discuss their concerns, provide general advice, and review our process and rates so that they have the information needed to determine whether they would like to proceed with a case assessment with the PLC team.


Reduced rates have been provided on a case-by-case basis.


  1. Affordable rates with established clients who are involved in intervention/mediation cases. Ongoing consultation is often necessary with families as their loved one’s cult involvement evolves.


  1. Affordable rates for cult survivors interested in a consultation. Currently, a 50-minute consultation is $100. We acknowledge that not all survivors can afford this. On our services page,we provide a link to a Financial Aid Request form. PLC also announces dates on our social media when individuals can pay what they can for a consultation, no questions asked.


Beyond affordable rates for consultation, in the future, affordable classes, workshops, and other opportunities to access psychoeducation will be available.


Disability Access and Cult Recovery


More than 1 billion people around the world have some type of disability.


People Leave Cults is committed to assisting those needing services in a trauma-informed and accessible format.


Web accessibility helps the following individuals:


  • Blind or Deaf/Blind People

  • Those with Cognition & Learning Difficulties

  • Individuals with Emotional, Behavioral Disabilities, or a Temporary Anxiety

  • People with Permanent or Temporary Injuries & Diseases

  • Traveling persons


The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is a helpful resource for those needing an introduction to web accessibility. The WAI offers, “strategies, standards, resources to make the Web accessible to people with disabilities”, free courses, videos, and content for those developing websites as well as information for non-technical learners.


There is a difference between taking steps to improve access and a disability justice approach. According to the Disability and Philanthropy Forum,


“Disability inclusion is a broad term to describe approaches to advance access and inclusion for disabled people. A disability justice approach centers the priorities and approaches of those most historically excluded groups, such as women, people of color, immigrants, and people who identify as LGBTQ+.”


People Leave Cults is committed to engaging with and learning from resources such as the Disability Justice Curriculum and Disability Justice: An Audit Tool.

Positionality and Cult Recovery


PLC also provides our positionality on our About page:


The founder, Ashlen Hilliard (She/Her), is a queer woman who recognizes her privilege as a white individual and does not face the same barriers as other communities due to the color of her skin she was born with. Black people, indigenous people, and people of color face many barriers in the United States and abroad when seeking to receive life-changing services, often due to systemic oppression and racial trauma. She has experienced spiritual abuse and coercive control in an array of contexts on an individual, group, and systemic level.


The concept of positionality is one that is common in (but not restricted to) academia, education, and research. According to research by Mitsunori Misawa:


positionality refers to how differences in social position and power shape identities and access in society…When a learning environment contains diverse learners, it is crucial for educators to make sure that everyone is included and is treated fairly. It is the responsibility of educators to create learning environments appropriate for LGBTQ students of color. In order for educators to create such environments, they first must know how to become more aware of their learners’ positionalities and power dynamics (Johnson-Bailey & Cervero, 2000, Ladson-Billings, 1999).”


It is important to note not only how our identity has shaped our worldview and identify any potential bias that would exist when approaching a research topic.


Similarly, I felt it was equally important to communicate this on an organizational level to provide transparency for individuals who can benefit from PLC’s services.

Being a Safe Space for Marginalized Groups

Finally, it was important for PLC to list on our website the following statement, “PLC seeks to serve as a safe space for all people, including those in LGBTQIA2S+, BIPOC, and other marginalized communities”.


PLC seeks to be an accessible resource for marginalized groups. While it's important to signal that you are a safe space in the cult recovery world -- it's important to go beyond purely performative allyship.


One of the many ways we can create a safe space is through modeling and sharing pronouns. Sharing pronouns can create a safer environment for everyone. However, it's important to allow cult survivors to opt out of sharing their pronouns if they don't want to, no questions asked!


Sharing a statement on the PLC site signaling inclusion may seem like a no-brainer, especially when helping survivors of cultic groups and relationships. Yet, you would be surprised how this doesn’t exist with some established helping organizations in the field of cult recovery, even when it comes to incorporating the use of pronouns.


Women, minorities, LGBTQIA2S+ individuals are often subjected to abuses within cultic environments. This could be due to many factors, such as, gender inequality, discrimination, patriarchal systems, or instilled prejudices while in a high-control system.


Questions to consider:


  • How are organizations tackling issues such as accessibility?

  • Are organizations operating in the cult recovery field transparent?

  • What steps are they taking to become a safe space that is accessible to marginalized populations?

Conclusion

I think that we all have room to grow as helping professionals in this field.


There is a difference between genuine and performative allyship. A statement on the website doesn't make an organization safe. It takes ongoing work!


I encourage and welcome feedback on PLC.


I don’t believe that we are perfect, and seek to learn more ways in which we can adapt and grow to be inclusive and safe.


If you find that People Leave Cults is failing in regards to any of the items discussed above, please reach out. We want to know how we can improve.


I believe that not only does accessibility matter in terms of helping those with different financial situations, but through transparency which creates accessibility amongst populations who are in need of safe spaces for their recovery.


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