top of page

Academic & Non-Religious Cult Groups

Not all cults require involvement in a religious group.

In fact, many well-known instances of coercive control have occurred in groups that actively disavow any kind of religious beliefs.

The word cult has a much broader meaning, and it's important to learn about the broader spectrum of harmful groups.

What Are Non-Religious Cults?

A non-religious cult refers to a group that is not based on a religious belief system, but still exhibits some of the characteristics of a religious cult.

Such groups might have a strong ideological or philosophical belief system, a charismatic cult leader who exerts undue influence over the group's members, and a high degree of control over their members' behavior, thoughts, and emotions.

Examples of non-religious cults might include:

  • Political extremist groups

  • Self-help or personal development groups

  • Certain types of therapy or self-improvement programs

  • Academic groups that rely on coercive dynamics

  • Therapy Cults


Any group that seeks to exert undue control over its members, suppress dissenting viewpoints, or engage in unethical or illegal behavior should be viewed with caution and skepticism.

Self-Help Cults

A self-help cult is a group or organization that purports to offer personal growth, self-improvement, or spiritual enlightenment through a specific set of teachings or practices.

These groups often use manipulative or coercive tactics to maintain control over their members and keep them involved in the group.

Self-help cults may present themselves as legitimate self-help or personal development programs, but they typically exhibit several characteristics of cults (as listed in the section above).

Self-help cults can be found in a variety of contexts, including spiritual or new age groups, multi-level marketing schemes, and other forms of self-help or personal development programs.

While not all self-help groups are necessarily cults, it's important to be aware of the signs of cult-like behavior.

It's always worth exercising caution when considering joining any group that makes extraordinary promises or demands a high level of commitment.

Academic Cults

An academic cult is a group or organization that centers around a particular academic discipline, theory, or methodology and exhibits cult-like characteristics.

In academic cults, the group's ideology or belief system is presented as the only legitimate way of understanding a particular subject, and members are expected to conform to the group's beliefs and practices without question.

Academic cults may operate within universities or academic institutions, or they may be independent groups of scholars or practitioners who share a common ideology or approach to their field of study.

Academic cults may also exhibit other cult-like behaviors, such as the use of jargon or specialized terminology that is inaccessible to outsiders, or the use of indoctrination techniques to reinforce the group's beliefs and practices.

It's important to note that not all academic groups or disciplines are necessarily cults, and many legitimate academic communities can be highly effective in advancing knowledge and understanding in their fields.

If you find yourself questioning whether an academic group is safe, caution and critical thinking are needed. Awareness of cult-like behavior and the ability to withstand demands for conformity or obedience are vital.

Therapy Cults

A therapy cult is a group or organization that presents itself as a legitimate form of therapy or personal growth program, but in reality, uses manipulative or coercive tactics to control its members and promote the beliefs and practices of the group.

Therapy cults often operate under the guise of providing psychological or emotional support to individuals who are struggling with personal issues, such as addiction, trauma, or mental health disorders.

Therapy cults may use a variety of techniques to maintain control over their members, including hypnosis, guided meditation, or other forms of mind control.

They may also use tactics such as group confession, shaming, or public humiliation to enforce conformity and obedience.

It's important to note that not all therapy groups are necessarily cults, and that many legitimate forms of therapy can be highly effective in helping individuals overcome personal challenges.

Political Extremism Groups

For more info on political extremism and how the groups involved can utilize coercive control, check out our page on Political Coercion.

Family Cults

It's possible for family members to exhibit cult-like behaviors as well. Learn more about that on our page covering Family Coercion.

Seeking Help for Current and Former Cult Members of Non-Religious Cults?

When most people think of cults, it's likely they envision new religious movements or some other extreme, dangerous group.


Religious cults aren't the only ones out there though!

People outside of religious movements experience coercion though - and these people can leave their group for a better life.

If you've experienced a non-religious cult - or know someone affected by coercion and undue influence - People Leave Cults may be able to help!

We offer an ethics-based cult intervention service in collaboration with Cult Mediation and other helping professionals. 

Services from People Leave Cults

People Leave Cults offers a variety of services to help both cult survivors and the families/friends of cult-involved people. 

We invite you to explore whichever offering fits your needs at the links below. 

Talk to us!


Everyone's situation is unique.


If you are interested in resources, curious about intervention, or want to help spread cult awareness, get in touch!

Get In Touch
bottom of page