Spiritual Safe Haven Network

Helping people who have experienced spiritual abuse
"Breaking the Chains" - Christine Cole
The Spiritual Safe Haven Network (SSHN) consists of individuals and religious institutions (churches, synagogues, campus religious organizations, etc.) that want to offer those who have experienced spiritual abuse a "safe haven" providing spiritual solace, information, and community.

Spiritual abuse results when individuals are deceived and or otherwise manipulated in ways that cause detrimental changes to core elements of the self, including their relationship to God, religious/philosophical beliefs, self-determination, and the capacity to think independently. Though often associated with cultic groups, spiritual abuse may also occur in mainstream denominations when pastors or others misuse their authority or when individuals violate the ethical boundaries of proselytizing or other kinds of influence situations.

In 2008 the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) conducted a survey of mostly former cultic group members. There were 224 respondents. Eighty respondents (42%) sought help from mainline religious organizations. Thirty-two persons (40%) found these services not at all helpful, 17 (21%) rated the services as helpful or very helpful, and 31 (39%) rated the services as somewhat helpful. These findings suggest that religious organizations can be useful resources for the spiritually abused, but most organizations need to learn more about this population in need.

In the Spring of 2016 ICSA conducted a pilot study of 4 churches in order to assess prevalence of and attitudes toward spiritual abuse.  Additional research will be conducted in the future.

Creating a safe haven for those who have been spiritually abused requires that interested individuals, at minimum:
  • understand enough about spiritual abuse and the ethics of influence to "do no harm," and
  • are aware of sympathetic experts in counseling, as well as social and health-care resources to whom they may refer those who have experienced spiritual abuse.
This Website provides resources designed to educate
  • those who have experienced spiritual abuse and
  • individuals who want their faith communities to be safe havens for spiritually abused persons.
The Website also provides resources for faith communities interested in teaching their congregations, youth in particular, about spiritual abuse and cultic dynamics of influence and control.

Feel free to send us your personal story (mail@icsamail.com), whether as a one-paragraph "testimony" or something longer. Sometimes personal accounts give life to abstract ideas. Put "safe haven testimony" in the subject line. We will post those that we believe help to illuminate concepts advanced on this Website.


SSHN is a program of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), a global network of people concerned about psychological manipulation and abuse in cultic groups, alternative movements, and other environments. ICSA is tax-exempt, supports civil liberties, and is not affiliated with any religious or commercial organizations.

ICSA's mission is to apply research and professional perspectives on cultic groups to educate the public and help those who have been harmed. 

ICSA conducted a Research survey that gave impetus to the development of the SSHN.

ICSA runs a variety of conferences and workshops, where one can meet experts, helping professionals, former group members,families, and others.