April 10th, 2008
04:19 PM ET

Escaping a closed society, and unlearning all you know

Over the years we have worked with many children and youth from isolated sects and cults.  This includes the Branch Davidian children during and after the Waco siege (described somewhat in the book “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog”).  

Each of these experiences is somewhat different but a major challenge for all of these children is dealing with the “modern” world. In many cases, these children have been taught that “outsiders” and “non-believers” are evil and will harm them.  They have been taught that the outsiders will not understand their spiritual and holy practices (e.g., polygamy or spiritual marriage at age 12 or 13). 

They often have been taught that it is a virtue to confuse or lie to the non-believers – all of which make conventional assessment, interviewing and evaluation very difficult until some kind of trusting relationship can be formed between a child and the clinician or interviewer.

The transition from one way of life to the more modern secular life is difficult for many who are taken into care or who chose to leave their sect.  In cases such as the current FLDS removals, there is significant anxiety that can be caused by the unknown, by being transitioned from the world as the child knew it.  The efforts of CPS to be tolerant, understanding and respectful to the children, families and their beliefs have made these transitions more tolerable. 

When beginning to work with children in such situations, it’s important to see things from their perspective.  The children will need structure, routine and the presence of caring, well-trained adults who can be respectful of the healthy elements of these children’s religious beliefs and reinforce those while being clear and unambiguous about the negative aspects of the abusive or destructive parts of their beliefs.  This is a true challenge and it will take time, sensitivity and patience for these children to make the transition. 

The key will be to provide as many healthy, positive and respectful relationships with these children as possible.  And, so far, the good people of San Angelo and the members of the law enforcement, child protective and mental health systems have been working very hard to provide that healthy relational environment.


– Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D.

Filed under: Dr. Bruce Perry
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Joe Szimhart

    As this story unfolded I was hoping to hear that Dr Bruce Perry is involved. Since the Branch Davidian tragedy I have been following his work and applaud his tactful, flexible and reasonable response to cult members and victims of 'mind control.' Applying religiously preconceived and rigid or fringe therapies to such complex situations would only compound the problem, in my opinion.

    Joe Szimhart, Cult Information Specialist
    Douglassville, PA

    April 11, 2008 at 12:09 am |
  2. Keith

    One point I am still unclear on: Are the children born in this cult born in hospitals? Do they receive birth cirtificates and eventually SS#s? I just wonder if they are even "on the map". If, in fact, they live only in their cult and never get SS#s does the IRS even know these people exist? I just wonder if there are IRS implications in all this and if these children or even the young adults have SS#s or even birth certificates so they can someday get SS#s. Seems like there is alot more to be discovered.... and alot of problems ahead of them to get federal and state aid of they are not "on the map" with the proper documentation.

    April 10, 2008 at 8:20 pm |
  3. Annie Kate

    I hope these children make the transition well and are not tempted as they get older to go back to the FLDS. It is unbelievable how these children were treated and what they were taught to believe. I hope the mothers that came out with their children can be transitioned as well so the children can stay with their mothers – that might make the transition easier.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 10, 2008 at 8:12 pm |
  4. Slater

    Apparently the 16 year old that called in is nowhere to be found. Her name is allegedly Sarah. Perhaps her identity is being protected. Or...Could it have been a boy that was ex-communicated that called anonymously, or perhaps an older woman sick of the abuse?

    April 10, 2008 at 7:45 pm |
  5. Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA

    Given a lot of time with caring, patient, loving people, these children will make the transition. Almost anything is better than the lives they would have within this cult, especially the women who are treated almost as slaves.

    April 10, 2008 at 4:40 pm |
  6. Diane

    I feel so bad for the kids that came out of the Texas compound. It is going to be extremly tough for them to even begin to trust anyone after what they have been taught all of their lives. Hopefully with the right help they can get through all of this and grow up to be normal people with no desire to ever return to polygamy at all.

    Diane, Ga.

    April 10, 2008 at 4:38 pm |

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