Exit counseling is the counseling model most often utilized when meeting with those who contact me for help. They typically find themselves in an spiritually abusive situation and want to get out of one, or they have already removed themselves from the abuse but have many questions regarding what happened to them and why. Exit counseling is similar to, yet distinct from, cult deprogramming, as Dr. Michael Langone, a psychologist who specializes in cultic groups, explains.
Exit counseling is a voluntary, intensive, time-limited, contractual educational counseling process that emphasizes the respectful sharing of information with members of exploitatively manipulative groups, commonly called cults. Exit counseling is distinguished from deprogramming, which received much media coverage in the late 1970s and 1980s, in that the former is a voluntary process, whereas the latter is currently associated with a temporary restraint of the cultist.
Often, concerned family members initiate the first call for help regarding a loved one involved in an abusive organization. These family members play an important role in helping the abused individual seek help or meet with a counselor. Exit counseling is primarily an educational process whereby the counselor provides information to the abused individual that he or she would not otherwise be exposed to. The goal in this counseling is to facilitate a process whereby the abused individual’s judgment is restored and their self-efficacy (their ability to choose) is increased. The aim of this approach is to empower the individual to exit the abusive organization based on their own volition—not to pressure them into leaving the abusive group. In biblical terms, this kind of counseling which is focused on information is similar to the hope and promise of Scripture’s assurance that “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Indeed, I have witnessed the power of this simple truth prevail in the lives of many who previously were crippled by profound spiritual abuse, manipulation, and/or coercion. I hope those who currently suffer from spiritual abuse, or have a family member affected by abuse, always remember that there is powerful hope, encouragement, and liberty in God’s word, the Bible.