Cult membership as a source of self-cohesion: forensic implications.
T. B. Feldmann and P. W. Johnson,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law
23(2): 239-48, 1995.
The study of cults and the types of individuals drawn to them has long been of interest to
psychiatrists. Although many studies have been done on personality types and psychopathology in
cult members, no consensus has emerged. Studies of psychopathology in cult members have viewed
these individuals as having either no significant impairment, displaying elements of character
pathology, or being severely impaired. The result is that no clear theoretical framework has been
developed to explain cult membership. Psychoanalytic self psychology, as developed by Heinz
Kohut, can provide such a framework. The cult may be understood as serving a number of functions
for its members, all of which are designed to restore self-cohesion. Such a formulation implies a
degree of self, or narcissistic, pathology in many cult members. This article reviews the literature on
cults, offers a self psychology formulation to explain the function that cult membership serves for
narcissistically vulnerable personalities, and describes forensic applications of these principles.