Psychiatric testimony in "cult" litigation

Bull Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 1987;15(2):205-10.


Changes in political or religious beliefs among POWs and hostages have often been attributed to "brainwashing" or "coercive persuasion." The cases reported have usually involved people held involuntarily. Since the publication of DSM-III, the authors have noted frequent usage of the term "atypical dissociative disorder" in civil lawsuits by plaintiffs seeking damages from groups or cults they joined voluntarily. The effects of "psychological captivity" are claimed to be comparable to the effects of involuntary participation in instances of kidnapping or being taken prisoner. The authors suggest that voluntary and involuntary activities are fundamentally dissimilar and that the use of DSM-III is problematic in these cases.

MeSH terms

  • Expert Testimony / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Forensic Psychiatry
  • Humans
  • Persuasive Communication*
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Religion and Psychology*
  • Social Conformity*
  • United States