Morrisville — They each spent well over a decade in a cult and now a husband-and-wife team are starting up a cult recovery support group.
The confidential group starts Nov. 14 at Psychological Services in Morrisville. It will be facilitated by Gerette Buglion, a cult awareness educator, and her husband Frederic Gluck, a licensed mental health counselor, both of Hyde Park.
The support group will meet once a month for six months and will also include recommended journaling exercises and a confidential online forum for sharing between the in-person sessions.
Buglion said like any good expert in their field, experience goes a long way. And she has experience after spending about 19 years in a cult, or a controlling group as it is also called.
The pair didn’t want to disclose the name of the group they had been a part of, but after she got out Buglion, realized she had experienced brainwashing and mind control. She said she joined the group as a free-thinking, educated adult.
“One of the misnomers of cults is that many people in society can think, ‘Oh gosh, smart people wouldn’t be involved in a cult.’ Or, ‘That would never happen to me’ is the classic expression. And it is very much proven again and again, when you’re in the cult recovery world, how many brilliant people, how many well educated people, how many people who actually had a really good upbringing get involved in groups,” she said.
She said these groups can either be destructive to start with or become so over time. For her and Gluck’s cult, she said it didn’t start out menacing or controlling, but that’s what it grew into.
“And I grew with it,” she said.
Buglion said not all cults are destructive and even the ones that are have something good about them because people wouldn’t take part in them if they didn’t get something positive out of it. She said implicit bias comes into play because someone will see a group and based on their bias their critical thinking shuts down and they think the group can do no wrong.
“And then slowly, and sometimes quickly, we can actually lose our autonomy instead of becoming more empowered,” she said.
She used the example of self-help groups. While she said some of them are wonderful, others can turn into cults because the leader will get hungry for power and some people are looking to be followers.
Buglion said she stayed in the cult as long as she did because she truly believed in the ideology of the group. She said she believed they were doing good work and didn’t see her friends and family were worried about her until she got out.
A crisis in the organization was what helped her get out. She said another member who she respected told her about the experiences she had gone through from the group’s leader.
“When I heard her describe her experiences of abuse, in this case we’re talking emotional and verbal abuse, when I heard how she described it my whole world started to change and it changed quite quickly. Because suddenly I believed the leader, who I truly thought could do no wrong, I knew that he had done great harm to this person because I knew she was not lying,” Buglion said.
She said this created a crack in her beliefs where the light started to come in.
Gluck said he got out of the group a couple years before his wife did and it was difficult for him to watch her continue.
“I didn’t want to judge what she was doing, kind of let it go on until she could figure it out for herself,” he said.
He said it was easier for him to get out because he wasn’t as involved as Buglion was. He said he tried to keep himself at a distance from the group. Gluck said there was a part of the group that dealt with therapy and that got his interest until he realized it wasn’t about the therapy, but about supporting those promoting the therapy.
“It was very clear to me that it had to end,” Gluck said.
Buglion said after she got out, she wanted to figure out how she ended up in such a group. What she discovered is these groups are focused on power dynamics. She said a knitting club can become a cult when power dynamics come into play with a charismatic leader.
“There’s a level of control. There’s a level of ‘We have all the special answers.’ Cults always have a kind of ‘Us versus them.’ The insiders versus the outsiders,” she said.
Gluck said the hope is those that attend the group can feel supported and have their experiences validated. He said the group is also there to help people adjust to life outside of a cult.
Once the group wraps up in April, he said the goal is for people to feel more confident, have a greater sense of themselves and aren’t so impacted by the dynamics they experienced. He said he hopes they can be free to build their lives from a place of independence and self acceptance.