When I was in a cult, I ignored anything with the word “cult” in the title–I thought it didn’t apply to me. However, as soon as my cult broke apart, I eagerly sought resources on the topic of spiritual abuse.

Through trial-and-error and much Googling I found websites, books, and organizations which met my need for knowledge and helped me make sense of the last twenty-five years.

All of the resources on this page have helped me. But if someone asked me to pick only 15 books to help them chart a course from spiritual abuse to spiritual health, these are the 15 I would pick, in the order I would read them.

Steve’s Top 15 Recommended Resources for People Recovering from Spiritual Abuse:

  1. Broken Trust: A practical guide to identify and recover from toxic faith, toxic church, and spiritual abuse by F. Remy Diederich (this title available from Amazon Sept. 18, 2017)
  2. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen
  3. Twisted Scriptures by Mary Chrnalogar
  4. The Heresy of Mind Control by Stephen Martin
  5. Churches that Abuse: Help for Those Hurt by Legalism and Authoritarian Leadership by Ronald Enroth
  6. Coping with Cult Involvement by Livia Bardin
  7. Spiritual Abuse Recovery: Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness by Barb Orlowski, D.Min.
  8. To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future by Dan Allender
  9. Leading with a Limp by Dan Allender
  10. “Spiritual Authority” by Hal Miller (an article @ http://www.home-church.org/scc/authority.html )
  11. The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in American Society by Arthur J. Deikman, M.D.
  12. Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
  13. Families Where Grace is in Place by Jeff VanVonderen
  14. Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve by Lewis B. Smedes
  15. When God’s People Let You Down by Jeff VanVonderen

Below are the full lists of resources in various categories. Please add your own suggestions in the “Comments” section at the bottom.

Websites and Clearinghouses:

  1. Provender http://pureprovender.blogspot.com/
  2. “Under Much Grace” by Cindy Kunsman http://undermuchgrace.blogspot.com/
  3. F.A.C.T.net http://www.factnet.org/
  4. International Cultic Studies Association http://www.icsahome.com/
  5. Church Exiters http://www.churchexiters.com/
  6. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry www.carm.org
  7. Please note all of the blogs and websites in my “Blogroll” on the right.

Groups/Organizations Who Deal with Spiritual Abuse in Some Capacity:

  1. Wellspring Retreat Center, Albany, Ohio http://wellspringretreat.org/
  2. International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA): http://www.icsahome.com/
  3. Hope for the Heart, Plano, Texas http://www.hopefortheheart.org/
  4. Clergy Recovery Network, Joplin, Montana http://www.clergyrecovery.com/
  5. Christian Recovery International http://www.christianrecovery.com/ and especially Spiritual Abuse Recovery Resources http://www.spiritualabuse.com/
  6. Healing Spiritual Abuse http://www.healingspiritualabuse.com/ (Brandon Santan, Ph.D., is the primary counselor. He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee but also does phone counseling.)
  7. Mending the Soul Ministries

CDs/DVDs on Spiritual Abuse:

  1. “Wounded by Shame, Healed by Grace” 12 CD set by Jeff VanVonderen. Available here.
  2. “Breaking the Silence on Spiritual Abuse” 10 CD set by Jeff VanVonderen. Available here.

Books on Spiritual Abuse:

  1. Churches that Abuse: Help for Those Hurt by Legalism and Authoritarian Leadership by Ronald Enroth (this book is available for free online here). Here is a PDF of Quotes from “Churches that Abuse” by Ronald Enroth
  2. Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton
  3. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen
  4. Twisted Scriptures by Mary Chrnalogar
  5. Coping with Cult Involvement by Livia Bardin (the best book I’ve read about intervention and how to communicate with a loved one in a cult)
  6. Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships by Madeleine Landau Tobias and Janja Lalich
  7. Breaking Free: Rescuing Families from the Clutches of Legalism by David R. Miller
  8. Biblical Counseling Key on Spiritual Abuse by June Hunt (Available through Hope for the Heart Website)

The Psychology of Spiritual Abuse:

  1. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV), the section on personality disorders helps explain numerous cult leaders.
  2. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in an Age of Entitlement by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell (for some of my favorite quotes from this book, click here)
  3. Biblical Counseling Key on Manipulation by June Hunt (Available through the Hope for the Heart website)
  4. Biblical Counseling Key on Co-Dependency by June Hunt (Available through the Hope for the Heart website)
  5. The Heresy of Mind Control by Stephen Martin
  6. The High Cost of High Control by Tim Kimmel
  7. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. You can read a summary PDF here.
  8. The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in American Society by Arthur J. Deikman, M.D.
  9. Why Is It Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism by Sandy Hotchkiss
  10. “Sacred and Profane: How Not to Negotiate with Believers” by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker, March 31, 2014
  11. “Tales of the Tyrant” by Mark Bowden in The Atlantic, May 2002. Shows the narcissism and control of Saddam Hussein. The principles and behaviors of totalitarian leadership cross over into cults.
  12. Journey to Waco: Autobiography of a Branch Davidian by Clive Doyle. This is the only book I’ve read in the genre of cults and spiritual abuse in which the author continues to profess belief in the cult leader. Doyle survived the destruction of the Branch Davidian compound in 1993 and continues to believe that David Koresh was an incarnation of God. This book is a trip into the mind of a person still under the sway of a cult leader. For that reason it is both fascinating and tragic.
  13. “Born or Raised in High Demand Groups: Developmental Considerations” by Leona Furnari
  14. “Pastors with Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder” by William E. Krill, Jr., L.P.C.
  15. “Responding to the Narcissistic Personality Disordered Pastor” by William E. Krill, Jr., L.P.C.
  16. “Frequency of Narcissistic Personality Disorders in Pastors: A Preliminary Study” by R. Glenn Ball and Darrell Puls

Recovery from Spiritual Abuse:

  1. Broken Trust: A practical guide to identify and recover from toxic faith, toxic church, and spiritual abuse by F. Remy Diederich (this title available from Amazon Sept. 18, 2017)
  2. Recovering from Churches that Abuse by Ronald Enroth (this book is available for free online here)
  3. Soul Repair: Rebuilding Your Spiritual Life by Jeff VanVonderen
  4. Healing Spiritual Abuse: How to Break Free from Bad Church Experiences by Ken Blue
  5. More Jesus, Less Religion: Moving from Rules to Relationship by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton
  6. To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future by Dan Allender (For some of my favorite quotes, click here)
  7. Tired of Trying to Measure Up by Jeff VanVonderen
  8. Spiritual Abuse Recovery: Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness by Barb Orlowski, D.Min. Check out her website here.
  9. The Cult Help and Information website has a helpful series of articles on recovery from cults. Click here to access them.
  10. Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb
  11. 1,000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I can’t think of anything more healing than gratitude. Thanks can transform trauma.
  12. When God’s People Let You Down by Jeff VanVonderen
  13. Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse by Michael D. Langone (editor)
  14. Starting Out in Mainstream America by Livia Bardin. Resource for people exiting a cult who need to learn basic skills for living.
  15. reFOCUS: Recovering Former Cultists’ Support. Website here.
  16. “Coping with Post-Cult Trauma” by Margaret Thaler Singer.
  17. “The Role of Critical Thinking in Recovery for Ex-Members of Destructive Groups” by Hal Mansfield.
  18. “Coping with Traumatic Triggers” by Carol Giambalvo
  19. Thawing Out, a blog about Spiritual Trauma Recovery

Memoirs of Spiritual Abuse

  1. Banished by Lauren Drain and Lisa Pulitzer
  2. Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres (Trigger warning: This is not a pleasant read. Julia suffered every type of abuse. She tells her story in graphic detail. Nevertheless, Julia helps explain why someone who feels powerless will stay in an awful environment because they feel they have no better option.)
  3. I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult by Wendy J. Duncan
  4. I Fired God by Jocelyn Zichterman. Caveat: I did not read this whole book. I mostly focused on chapters 4 and 5 which talk about some of the concerning doctrines and practices of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church. I think these chapters are quite accurate. However, there are other commentators who believe that Jocelyn has credibility issues. I don’t know whether to believe them or not.  I would classify the IFBC as a denomination which has some serious issues related to spiritual abuse, but I would not classify the entire denomination as a cult. Individual churches and families within this extremely conservative movement may vary. Some may be cult-like. Jocelyn’s birth family sounds horrendous. At any rate, this book provides some insight into the IFBC.
  5. Girl at the End of the World by Elisabeth Esther. Life in a fundamentalist cult, and how hard it is to leave. Also, the healing journey and PTSD.

Case Studies of Cults

  1. Fair, Clear and Terrible: The Story of Shiloh, Maine by Shirley Nelson

Healthy Spiritual Leadership:

  1. Leading with a Limp by Dan Allender
  2. Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders (Word doc of my favorite quotes here)
  3. Spiritual Authority by Hal Miller (an article @ http://www.home-church.org/scc/authority.html )
  4. The Pastor as Minor Poet by M. Craig Barnes (Word doc of my favorite quotes here)
  5. Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch
  6. Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel by David G. Benner (Word doc of my favorite quotes here)

Healthy Spirituality and Relationships:

  1. Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend (Word doc of my favorite quotes here)
  2. Families Where Grace is in Place by Jeff VanVonderen
  3. The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero
  4. The Grace Awakening by Charles Swindoll (Word doc of my favorite quotes here)
  5. What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey (Word doc of my favorite quotes here)
  6. You Are Special by Max Lucado (Children’s book, but good for adults, too)
  7. The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason
  8. Understanding Who You Are by Larry Crabb
  9. Understanding People: Why We Long for Relationship by Larry Crabb
  10. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
  11. The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan (Word doc of my favorite quotes here)
  12. Safe People by Cloud and Townsend
  13. The Pressure’s Off by Larry Crabb
  14. Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh (Word doc of my favorite quotes here)
  15. Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit? by Dan Wallace and James Sawyer
  16. Empowered Evangelicals by Rich Nathan and Ken Wilson
  17. Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson.
  18. 1,000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp

Critical Thinking:

  1. Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking by Thomas Kida
  2. Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans
  3. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky
  4. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
  5. Free to Learn by Peter Gray. Gray explains how the modern educational system stifles creativity, stunts growth, and traps children in prisons where they must do what they’re told or suffer the wrath of the system. There are many relevant lessons for victims of cults or spiritually abusive churches where creativity and individuality are stifled.
  6. “Chicken and Fries”: a fabulous article by the inimitable Jen Hatmaker on the value of listening to other opinions outside of your own tribe. Please read this article.
  7. “The Role of Critical Thinking in Recovery for Ex-Members of Destructive Groups” by Hal Mansfield.

Healthy Spiritual Doctrine:

  1. A Survey of Bible Doctrine by Charles Ryrie
  2. Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer
  3. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis


  1. Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve by Lewis B. Smedes
  2. The Art of Forgiving: When You Need to Forgive and Don’t Know How by Lewis B. Smedes
  3. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. The inspiring story of Olympic sprinter and WWII POW Louis Zamperini. Zamperini came to faith while in Japanese POW camps and eventually learned to forgive his captors.
  4. To End All Wars by Ernest Gordon. It is no accident that the best books on forgiveness are narratives written by POWs. Gordon was a Scot with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders during the fall of Singapore in World War II. He endured a crisis of faith in concentration camps along the Kwai River. The example of other Christians helped turn him back to God and enabled him to forgive his tormentors. He later became the chaplain at Princeton. The movie of the same name is equally powerful.
  5. Railway Man by Eric Lomax. Another Britisher confined to Japanese POW camps along the Kwai River. Lomax also learned about love and forgiveness in the midst of unspeakable suffering. His story can help point spiritual abuse victims in a noble direction.

The Roles of Men and Women in the Church and Home:

Why this section? I’ve learned from experience that many spiritually-abusive groups have a hard-line patriarchical view which caricatures both men and women into something less than human. Christians should at least understand all of the salient issues of this debate before coming to a hard-and-fast conviction of what the Bible teaches. The books below provide all of the major points of view.

  1. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism by John Piper and Wayne Grudem.
  2. Discovering Biblical Equality by Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, and Gordon Fee
  3. Women and Men in Ministry: A Complementary Perspective by Robert Saucy and Judith TenElshof
  4. Are Women Human? by Dorothy Sayers
  5. Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership by Sarah Sumner
  6. Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals by William Webb
  7. Recovering Biblical Ministry by Women by George and Dora Winston

Observations by Outsiders about Extreme Religious Groups:

  1. In the Land of Believers by Gina Welch. Welch, a secular Jew, joined Rev. Jerry Falwell’s church in order to observe how evangelical Christians behave. This witty book shows a surprisingly sympathetic–but also exposing–look at fundamentalistic Christianity. Very perceptive.
  2. “Jesus Camp” documentary film by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing. A look inside a Pentecostal children’s camp.
  3. “Saying Goodbye to God: Haredim Apostates” by John Reed. Young, ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel break with their insular sect and have to learn how to integrate into the world.
  4. Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington. Finalist for a National Book Award, this is a fair-minded treatment of holiness snake handlers in Appalachia.
  5. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright.

Novels that Reflect Spiritual Abuse:

  1. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Protestant)
  2. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (Catholic)
  3. Beat to Quarters by C.S. Forester. What does a Navy yarn have to do with spiritual abuse? The chapters which describe the character known as “El Supremo” provide a perfect representation of how far a spiritually abusive person can go–and how far they can fall.
  4. At Play in the Fields of the Lord by Peter Matthiessen. While I don’t recommend this book to everyone, it does show legalism and spiritual abuse at work. But I disagree with the overall premise of the book that religion is for fools or bullies. And there are some rough parts.
  5. Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis. This book was scandalous in the 1920s because it portrayed a hedonistic traveling evangelist. I disagree with its mockery of religion, but give it a nod for showing the complex psychological and social dynamics which can torture some religious leaders and abet in their spiritually abusive practices.
  6. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Narcissism, exploitation of the vulnerable, and delusions of grandeur. Whether 19th century imperialism or 21st century cults, the psychology is the same.

Movies that Reflect Aspects of Spiritual Abuse:

  1. The Apostle with Robert Duvall. With rare compassion and candor, this film treats the complex psychology of a spiritually abusive person and the people who follow him. This film will make you think.
  2. A Man for all Seasons with Paul Scofield, Robert Shaw, and Orson Welles. This Academy Award-Winner from 1966 shows Sir Thomas More (Scofield) standing up agains the immoral, charming, bullying Henry VIII.
  3. The Village by M. Night Shyamalan. Do not confuse this movie with a horror flick. It is, in fact, a drama. A small village keeps a dark secret. Can fear and lies control a population and keep them from the [supposedly] greater pain of a broken world outside their village walls? The ending will surprise you–until you realize you’ve experienced it all before. This movie is for thinking adults, not kids.
  4. Buck. Won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival. This movie isn’t about spiritual abuse, but it does tell the powerful story of a man who was abused, how that abuse impacted his life, and how his journey of recovery is ongoing yet redemptive.
  5. The Victor Marx Story. Again, not specifically about spiritual abuse, but a telling reminder of how prevalent abuse is in our society, and how God can redeem it for good.
  6. Frost/Nixon. This film–nominated for five Academy Awards–provides a great portrait of an abusive leader (Nixon) which helps show the complexity of tyrants. Nixon was brilliant, could be charming, but also controlled and manipulated everyone around him. He redefined reality, laws, and motives to accommodate his own agenda. Notice his skill in controlling conversations, making other people feel 2-inches tall, and re-interpreting his behavior to make himself look good. This film will rattle you.
  7. National Geographic: Inside North Korea. Sobering look at tyrant leaders and brainwashed followers.
  8. The Amish: Shunned, Your Freedom or Your Family a 2014 video by PBS. Excellent and nuanced. A must-see.
  9. The Big Kahuna. This movie does not deal with spiritual abuse. It does, however, address motives, authenticity, and honesty. Warning: this film has a lot of language, especially in the beginning. It earns its R for that. But the message of the movie is, I believe, worth it. Wait for it. It’s there.
  10. Philomena. Spiritual abuse by nuns threads through this beautifully told and captivating story.
  11. Mea Maxima Culpa. Child sexual abuse and systemic coverup in the Catholic Church.

7 comments on “Resources

  1. Found that Ross Institute site since your link was broken. It’s now at http://www.culteducation.com/.

    Interesting site you have here. Stumbled on to you after reading about The Church of Wells in the Texas Monthly I got today. Went to their website and saw that they are not a fan of yours, so I’ve just been exploring. I hope your efforts are helping survivors of these situations. Good luck!

  2. Have you really read all of those books above? I can tell by all your writings that you have extensive knowledge in what you are talking about. I find your website to be an excellent resource for myself and others who have endured spiritual abuse. I have shared your page on my own website for others in need to find also.

    After nearly 4 years passing people expect a person to get it over it and move on, but I still struggle with all sorts of emotions and I break down and cry a lot. I cannot afford to pay for a counselors time.

    The sooner the Lord returns and takes me away the better. I am not at all suited to live in this world full of so many evil, devious and wicked people.

  3. the movies paradise recovered and “join us” are great resources also

  4. Thank you for the depth of research. I finally have answers.

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