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Thu, 08 Sept



High Control Groups

High Control Groups - what they are, how we can stop them, and how we can reduce harm

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High Control Groups
High Control Groups

Time & Location

08 Sept 2022, 10:00 – 16:00

Edinburgh, 16 St Mary's St, Edinburgh EH1 1SU, UK

About The Event

About this event

Please note that there is the option to attend online or face-to-face.

Increasing numbers of people are leaving high-control groups (commonly referred to as cults). Given worldwide recent developments and investigations of some of these groups, e.g. the Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in England and Wales and similar inquiries set in countries including Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, paired with clear evidence that leaving a highly controlled religious environment can impact psychological wellbeing, ‘Religious Trauma Syndrome’ (Winell, 2011), it is important that professionals have knowledge about the lived experience of former members and an understanding of the social environment which they previously inhabited.

Various forms and sizes of high-control groups and relationships exist, spanning from one-to-one high-control relationships, for example domestic abuse, to religious high control groups and secular groups, such as political or commercial groups.

The focus of this course lies predominantly on understanding religious high control groups, however other types of groups will also be considered.

The course focuses on how we can identify these groups and understand the spectrum of control, what we can do to minimise the harm they cause, and how we can support people’s recovery from coercive control. The course will also offer insight into preventative actions that can be taken to promote healthy relationships and reduce risk factors relating to recruitment into high – control groups and relationships.

The course will include personal accounts from survivors and a Q&A session, where attendees can answer questions directly to survivors of high control groups. Some discussions may be upsetting or triggering for people, particularly for those with personal experiences.

Presenters Profiles

Julia Gutgsell (BSc, MSc) is a criminologist with additional professional background in supporting people in the health and social care sector. Her dissertation on high control groups and relationships was awarded with the Jeanine Seghers prize in 2017, a prize rewarded to original and innovative research. Julia has most recently been involved in co-authoring a research paper for a core participant group of ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses for The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (England and Wales). Her main interest lies in understanding how former high control group members recover and (re)claim personal autonomy post-exit.

Lisa Kohn was a member of the Unification Church (the Moonies) from the age of ten until her early adulthood. Her memoir, to the moon and back: a childhood under the influence, which was published in September 2018, details her experience in the Church as well as her difficulties in leaving the Church. Both with her memoir and with her work as a keynote speaker, leadership consultant, and executive coach (, Lisa works to bring to others the tools, mind-shifts, and practices she’s found that have helped her heal, as well as the hope and forgiveness she’s been blessed to let into her life. NOTE: If you are an Early Bird delegate, you will have a choice between a free autographed paperback of Lisa's memoir, to the moon and back: a childhood under the influence, or an electronic copy. Delegates who make their booking after the Early Bird period will only be entitled to receive a free electronic copy.

Nick French was born in Scotland and moved to England whilst still a toddler. His mother, now divorced from his father, joined a high control group. and Nick was raised in it from the age of 6. A survivor of sustained CSA by the time he was 15, he too dedicated himself to the group believing that it would give him the help he was needing. He returned to Scotland in 1989. Leaving the group many years later, he finally went to the police and saw his abuser sent to prison. Today he is an activist and whistle-blower about the group he was in and was part of a core participant group for The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (England and Wales). He also volunteers his time to assist those who are exiting or have exited the high control group he left in 2011.

Paula Greenlees is a PhD researcher in psychology at The University of Edinburgh. She uses Discursive Psychology to look at language in high control settings. She is interested in language use in relation to identity and explores how it shapes the social world for individuals within these types of groups. She also looks at how group members construct their talk to build positive identity when in interactions with the public.

In relation to her research interests, Paula recently assisted a core participant group of ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses with document preparation for The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (England and Wales).

Verity Carter was born in Scotland into the cult known as The Children of God (currently The Family International). Verity travelled extensively within the cult, grew up segregated from society, and suffered abuse on all levels until she escaped at 15 years old in 1995. In recent years, Verity has featured in the docuseries 'children of the cult' and has been involved in two successful court cases against cult members. Verity is an activist for justice and is working with other survivors to try and get more cases to court and to promote awareness of the dangers that children especially are exposed to within high demand environments.


Morning 10-12:30

• What are high control groups?

• How do we identify them?

• Are all high-control groups equal?

• Recruitment and retainment of members

Lunch 12:30 - 13:15

Afternoon 13:15-16:00

• Life in a high-control group

• Exiting high control groups

• Recovery from high-control groups post-exit

• Risk factors and prevention

• Q&A with survivors

Who is this workshop aimed at?  Mental health professionals / Social workers / Government and local authorities / Community Support Groups / Teachers

For more info and to book this training offered by Greenwood Events, head over to Eventbrite

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