Is Miriam’s Villa a Deprogramming Center?
No. Some may think of us as such in that we work to assist the individual in reversing the effects of abusive brainwashing / mind control. Historically however, deprogramming involved getting a cult member to see that his or her group was deceptive and destructive and then persuading him or her to leave the group (this was particularly true in the ‘70s and 80’s). In this approach, family members would many times resort to kidnapping and holding the cult member against his or her will for few days or weeks and forcing them to listen to information about the cult from a deprogrammer that was designed to make them see that the group was deceptive, harmful and dangerous. If the person was over age 18, kidnapping and restraining the person was illegal (and still is). The individual being restrained and held against their will would often feel traumatized by the experience.
Since the 70’s and 80’s a method called “exit counseling” came about. The “exit counselor”, along with the family of a cult member, attempts to convince the cult member that it is in his or her best interest to take the time to re-evaluate some information, the nature of the group or relationship and their involvement in it. Ethical exit counselors employ no restraints whatsoever on the individual, so the individual may decide to stay and listen or to leave if they wish.
Miriam’s Villa does not engage in either deprogramming or exit counseling. Those who come to Miriam’s Villa have already recognized on their own accord or by other means that the group or relationship they were in was deceptive and destructive. Therefore, those who come to Miriam’s Villa are doing so strictly on a voluntary basis. Miriam’s Villa does not hold anyone against their will unless such mandatory treatment is ordered by a court. Those who leave destructive cults or abusive relationships often have further issues they feel they need to address. Upon leaving the group or relationship, they may feel they need to address depression, disillusionment, anxiety, fear, post-traumatic stress symptoms, they may have questions about how this could have happened to them that they were deceived, manipulated and exploited. They may have concerns about how to move forward with their lives. At Miriam’s Villa, we assist the individual through professional counseling treatment and information in addressing these issues and concerns after they have made decisions to leave the group or relationship. We help the individual re-integrate back into the mainstream.
“Since the name “Miriam’s Villa” contains a woman’s name, does that mean you only treat women?”
No. We treat males and females. The name “Miriam’s Villa” comes from a historical figure named Miriam from Biblical / Jewish history. Miriam was a woman who questioned authority, not for the purposes of being a “trouble-maker,” but she realized there were potential dangers in unchecked authority of leaders and therefore she questioned authority for the purposes of safety, safety from tyranny. Miriam understood the importance of balanced, critical thinking. People from a wide assortment of faiths, atheists, and agnostics have felt comfortable at Miriam’s Villa. Our viewpoint is that your choice of faith is YOUR choice! Our goal is to assist our clients in recovering from the harmful effects of emotional, psychological or spiritual abuse. Part of that recovery oftentimes involves assisting our clients in sharpening their critical thinking skills so they may be better equipped in making their own choices.
“I’ve been to several therapists…why don’t I feel like I’ve recovered?”
Many of our clients have initiated treatment, but found it did not address the unique issues that Miriam’s Villa addresses. This area of treatment is highly specialized and most therapists are not trained how to treat these unique set of issues in their professional educational programs. Clients show remarkable improvements in their symptoms when the problems are being addressed appropriately. In about 2 weeks in our intensive outpatient treatment program, our clients show significant improvements due to the fact that our staff are trained in this highly specialized area of treatment.
“What is brainwashing and mind control? What is spiritual abuse?”
We do not point fingers at particular organizations or make a list of “cults.” We find that it is much more helpful to point at the root cause of the trauma that has occurred in the person’s life. Even though technically there are differences between the terminology “brainwashing”, “mind control” and “thought reform”, for the purposes of our general discussion we use the terms interchangeably. Much of our work centers around the work of Dr. Robert Jay Lifton who identified eight criteria for a thought reform system in his book “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.” When we find these criteria active within an organization or relationship, we can usually conclude that the relationship or group is abusive.
Jeff VanVonderen, co-author of the book “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse,” offers one definition of spiritual abuse:
“Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority-the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people more free- misuses that authority by placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly godly purposes which are really their own.” VanVonderen also adds: “Nothing about spiritual abuse is simple. Those who have experienced it know it is powerful enough to cause them to question their relationship with God, indeed, the very existence of God. And it is subtle too! The perpetrators of spiritual abuse are rarely ‘Snidely Whiplash’ sorts of characters who announce that they are going to drain your spiritual energy. They may be people who seem like they are seeking to guide you to the deepest levels of spiritual maturity.”
“Do you only treat those who have been in cults?”
No, our program is beneficial for anyone who has been in an abusive, deceptive or manipulative situation. We have helped those who have been abused by their employer, their teacher, or therapist who crossed professional boundaries. We have treated many who have been sexually abused by clergy. Anytime someone has been deceived, manipulated, exploited and coerced, we can assist with caring, hope and understanding.
“What if a client decides they want to leave and quit the program?”
Clients are free to leave Miriam’s Villa and are under no obligation to continue with the program if they feel they would like to quit.
“What is the program schedule?”
Clients generally arrive in Montgomery on Sundays to check into the lodging of their choice. On Monday morning clients meet one of our counselors for an “Intake Session.” In the afternoon on Monday they complete a series of psychological tests and surveys. The “standard” program then begins on Tuesday morning. After breakfast at their hotel, clients typically see their counselor for two 45 – 50 minute sessions, and after lunch on their own (or at our Center if the optional lunch meal option that has been pre-paid was chosen) they participate in educational workshops. An afternoon refreshment break is offered during the workshop break. After their morning counseling sessions and at the end of that day’s workshop, clients have free time to take advantage of the library of books and DVD’s.
Evenings and weekends are free for rest and relaxation or to engage in the many recreational or cultural activities that are found in the Montgomery area (see the tab “Scheduling” for some ideas for local activities). Clients may also have assignments by Miriam’s Villa counselors they can work on. Counseling sessions and workshops begin again on Monday of the second week. The two-week program generally ends at noon on Friday of the second week. The program schedule is flexible and can be modified for those who desire more assistance.
For those coming directly from an intervention to Miriam’s Villa, their admission process and beginning schedule is a little different. Contact our office to discuss arrangements for these admissions with as much advance notice as possible.
“How do I know that Miriam’s Villa is not a cult or abusive organization?!!”
You don’t …unless you do some homework. You can begin to explore the cult phenomenon on your own at your local library, the internet or bookstore. Check out www.ICSAhome.com . You will find that recognized experts highlight common elements of cult dynamics. We believe you’ll find us saying the same things here on our web site and in our other informational materials as the other experts.
You might also note that our staff has been featured in national and international media outlets and that our counselors are licensed and members of multiple professional associations. We encourage you to take the time to check us out! We understand how important it is to earn your trust!