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Traversing the Cultiverse

Nearly a decade of the Centrepoint Restoration Project

I started the Centrepoint Restoration Project back in 2015 in response to anger. I was grappling then with an expanding understanding of the depth of harm that happened to children at Centrepoint. Over these subsequent years I have heard many stories of heartbreak, and injustice, from extraordinary people who have found a way to put unresolved and unrestored traumas from their childhood or adolescence behind them. As someone told me recently, "These stories stay with you, and they change you forever." I have been changed by listening to child survivors of Centrepoint tell of abuse, neglect, indoctrination and gaslighting. I started the Centrepoint Restoration Project with the goal of trying to advocate for truth and repair for those harms, accounts which have been covered over repeatedly by tales from others (who had not experienced such harm) of how wonderful life had been there for them. I struck this dichotomy over and again - the competing narrative of whose story of the past deserved to be heard. For some people, my insistence in bringing the stories of harm to the spotlight has been very welcome, and for others it has not been welcome. My repeated reminding of the past harms has been irritating, tedious, or aggravating even. The conflict between these two positions has been challenging to navigate.


In the last two years I have moved away from a narrow focus on the traumas and injustices of the Centrepoint Community. Through widening out my focus I have come to see that Centrepoint was in so many ways not very special after all, though the impacts on me and many others were considerable and far-reaching. Its leader was not gifted, or special, or spiritual - he was a sociopath and a charlatan. The coercively controlling tactics which were used to keep people in line and in the group were not original though they were strategic - they came straight out the textbook from the Cookie-Cutter Messiah School. The people who fell for Bert Potter's ideologies and believed him to be transcendent were not fools or gullible - they were simply human and hardwired for trust, meaning and belonging. These qualities were systematically exploited in members, by a conman who sold them his distorted dream. Once sold, he used trust in the dream to camouflage his harmful abuses, all the while creating a safe place for predators. After it all ended... well, there was nothing new there either. The fact that so few of the adults who enabled or participated in harm have failed to make amends, stand up for the truth of the horrors, and repair what they allowed to happen to their children... well, that's fairly unremarkable too. Very few people are actually brave enough to truely repair the harm they have caused to others, particularly when facing that harm means examining the lie they built their life upon.


When you start to listen to the stories of people across multiple different cults you realise pretty quickly how unremarkable Centrepoint was. Centrepoint is just one harmful cult group in this country, the most renown and the most notorious, but by no means the only one, and sadly, not alone in its systematic approach to harming children. In New Zealand there have been plenty of other groups with harmful or abusive practices. These have long been tolerated or ignored by society at large, and despite all the media attention some of them have received, this has been pretty easy to do. Despite the high profile of charismatic narcissists in New Zealand like Bert Potter, Neville Cooper (aka Hopeful Christian), and Brian Tamaki, and the media and legal attention which have followed the actions of such figures, nothing has really changed systemically in New Zealand over the decades to make it harder for such figures to exploit and harm New Zealanders with impunity. There is no one in the New Zealand government with the task of monitoring and investigating culty groups, and no agency tasked with providing safety and reintegration support for people who leave cults. There is no network of cult-informed therapists or avenue to finding one for those who manage to escape a cult group and need help to psychologically and spiritually deprogram. There is no one to take your concerns to if you or a loved one have been harmed by a group. There is no public awareness of coercive control, no laws to prevent a group coercing a member's basic human rights away from them, and there is no routine education on this topic in institutions such as schools, university campuses or social service agencies. There is no routine training for professionals on group coercive control and hence doctors, lawyers, judges, therapists, policy makers, social workers, police officers and teachers are ill-equipped to recognise a person psychologically enslaved by a group.


There is a national ignorance on this topic yet there are plenty of groups with very harmful sociological practices who have darkened our shores; Scientology, the International School of Temple Arts, Destiny Church, the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Pascha Centre, the Two by Twos, Camp David, the Family International aka Children of God, Gloriavale, and Shincheonji - to name a few. I've been putting my ear to the ground in the last few years, I've been asking people to tell me what they have experienced, and I am hearing more and more of those stories that stay with you for a very long time.


So, while I run this website, and I have done so for coming up to a decade, my focus has changed. The Centrepoint Restoration Project has been a rewarding experience, but these new stories that now sit with me have changed me again. There are many harmful groups in this country that were started with wonderful ideals, were built to be utopias, and yet they destroyed, or are still destroying, the lives of many of their followers - particularly the lives of the children. In response to seeing this wider reality and the public health crisis that is the downstream effect, I have teamed up with a group of others with passion in the cult prevention space to invest in public and professional awareness-raising around high-control group harm. While the events of Centrepoint will always remain deeply meaningful to me, what is now my focus is being part of a movement in this country working to prevent more children being harmed by such groups. I have moved into an area of work which is focused on changing a social and political landscape which currently allows these groups to thrive unchecked. 30 years ago it was Centrepoint that everyone was horrified about. Now it is Gloriavale. What group will it be in 10 years, 20 years or more, and will society have changed at all along the way to make it harder for these groups to exploit vulnerable people?


You may be interested to know about some of the projects I am working on to advance this intent, as these may interest you personally.


Cult Chat Podcast

In mid 2023 I started the Cult Chat radio show/podcast. Cult Chat is a fortnightly show about cult activity in New Zealand, designed to educate the public about cultic harm. It runs on community access radio stations across New Zealand and also on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and YouTube. I host this show with two others - Liz Gregory of the Gloriavale Leaver's Support Trust, and Lindy Jacomb of the NZ Olive Leaf Network.

Both these women, and the groups they run, help people trapped in high-control or cult groups to leave successfully, and to find their feet. Together on Cult Chat we are trying to increase awareness about what cults really are, because all three of us understand how cults have, or do, operate in New Zealand. Our vision is a more compassionate and cult-aware New Zealand for people who have come out of cults and a more cult-informed workforce to enable people harmed by cults to get what they need. We are releasing our 24th episode this week, and we are getting positive feedback especially from workers in government agencies, therapists and health professionals. These groups of people are the ones who end up working with people in cults, or leavers of cults, and we are thrilled that they are listening because they are the ones in a position to make a difference.



I am wondering if you have listened to Cult Chat, and if you have, what are your thoughts about it from the perspective of a former member of Centrepoint? Would you, or someone you know, be interested in being a guest on the show?


Building a cult-informed therapy network in New Zealand

The most frequent comment I have heard from former Centrepoint people is the difficulty in finding a therapist who understands, the difficulty trusting a therapist because of how therapy was used as a form of control at Centrepoint, and the frustration with therapists not understanding the cult context. Well, exciting news! I am part of an initiative to build a network of cult-informed therapists in New Zealand who have experience with cult leavers, are building their understanding of the cult context and are seeking training in specific cult recovery methods. These therapists are committed to growing their knowledge, and would like to see more clients with a cult history. In addition, we are supporting an internationally recognised cult educator to come to New Zealand this year to provide professional training for our therapists, specifically on the special needs and context of cult leavers. This is extremely exciting and I hope will lead to more available and better quality therapy for cult leavers.


Have you been to a therapist previously whom you'd recommend, who has an interest in growing their understanding and awareness of cults, in order to better meet the needs of cult leavers? Is your therapist someone you think might be interested in joining a cult-informed professional peer network? I would love to get the name of your therapist if you have found working with them beneficial, in order to include them in this training opportunity, if they are interested. Are you, yourself, a mental health professional who would be interested in this training opportunity? Please contact me.


Decult Conference 19-20 Oct 2024

This year Christchurch will host the first ever cult awareness and prevention conference in the Southern Hemisphere.

This conference will bring together survivors of cult groups, international experts in the field, and professionals with an interest in growing their skills in this area. So far there is a lot of interest in this event from some high profile, internationally recognised cult educators and researchers and survivors. Decult will be open to anyone, from cult leavers, to their family and friends, educators, health workers, police, teachers, agency workers and all the way through to the interested public. I’m excited about it, because it will further spread the message about how to cult-proof your life, how to support leavers, and it will raise the profile of the problem that New Zealand has with cults. It will also be an opportunity for leavers/survivors of groups to gather and meet one another in a safe facilitated environment, to share their experiences, and find support from each other.



Would you be interested in attending Decult in October 2024? You can keep an eye on developments over the next nine months or so by checking out the website or by signing up to the newsletter at www.decult.com.


Increasing Cult Awareness Amongst Health and Social Service Workers

Unfortunately when I was at Centrepoint, during the period that children were being most flagrantly abused, doctors, therapists, teachers and other frontline workers did little to intervene. In fact a number of doctors and therapists in the community used their influence and power in the control structure to manipulate and contribute to the harm. Their role in the group was considerable, and their positions at Centrepoint meant that at the time, and still to this day, many Centrepoint people feel unable to have a trusting relationship with therapists or doctors because of this history of an abuse of the therapeutic trust relationship.


Now that I am a member of the helping professions, I am determined to increase awareness amongst health workers about group coercive control so that when a child or adult in a cult (or a leaver) comes into contact with a frontline healthcare worker, the clinician will be more skilled at recognising that the person is in (or has left) a high-control group and can respond in a cult-informed and trauma-informed way. I am currently developing a clinical pathway for New Zealand clinicians to support their care of people in coercively controlling groups. I am developing these guidelines in collaboration with health professionals in New Zealand and overseas, and survivors of cults in New Zealand. This guidance will be the first of its kind in this country.


Would you consider talking to me about the experience you had in the New Zealand health system, with doctors, nurses, and therapists both during the time you were at Centrepoint, and then after you left, so that your experiences can inform the development of this clinical resource?


The Future

These projects are time consuming, and fill the majority of my free time - when I'm not working in my clinical medical role, managing family life or out on my bike. As such, for the time being, there is likely to be much less activity on this site, though I will still respond to emails, and do the minimum needed to keep the site up to date.


Maybe some of this is of interest to you, or maybe none of it is. Either way, if you’ve got this far, thanks for your time and I hope you and your whānau are well and thriving wherever you are.


Ka kite ano

Caroline

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