SYCAMORE – Steve Guziec of Sycamore not only is a therapist and licensed professional counselor with Behavioral Health Providers P.C. in Sycamore, but he also is an expert on cults.
Guziec was raised in a cult and left when he was 25 years old. Through therapy and counseling, he now helps cult victims regain their sense of identity after they have left their group.
Behavioral Health Providers opened in Sycamore in November 2015. In the practice, Guziec helps victims from DeKalb County and throughout the state. He is the main referral source for the International Cultic Studies Association and other cultic recovery groups. He also runs a podcast, www.sunshineafterthefog.com, to help victims of cultic and coercive groups.
Guziec explained that not all cults use pentagrams and animal sacrifices in the forest during the middle of the night. Current cults may seem glamorous, flashy and full of attractive young people from the outside. On the inside, members are emotionally, mentally and physically abused. If members of a cult attempt to leave, they are ostracized by their group, shunned and ignored as if they do not exist.
Guziec met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss the dangers of cults, why people join them and how cults can- and do- exist in your neighborhood.
Milton: What do you do as a therapist and counselor?
Guziec: I am involved with psychotherapy, when people talk about their outlying problems. I also work with people who have left cults. I consider it life-coaching, centered around how to exist outside of the cult. Inside the cult, you have an identity, but outside of it, you have no identity. You have to learn how to do things, like get a job, insurance and a driver’s license.
Milton: What do you do during your therapy sessions?
Guziec: Whether it’s domestic violence or if you’re leaving a cult, my clients – we call them clients, not patients – were victimized. Abuse is abuse, and it’s not OK. During a session, we talk about feelings and analyze what’s going on. I try to get through the barriers the cult has built up. I ask them what do they want to be, and we talk about how to get there. It’s part of the healing process.
Milton: How did you become a therapist for cult victims?
Guziec: I was raised in a cult, until I was 25. When I left, I lost everything. I went through a divorce, lost my job and attempted suicide. I was in a coma for a day or two. I went to a psychologist who misdiagnosed me as bi-polar, and then I found a therapist. I started taking classes at Robert Morris University. One Saturday, talking to my world religions professor changed my life. He asked me why I didn’t work with people, and help people who have gone through similar experiences. That Saturday changed my life. Before, I was lost. I didn’t know who I was or what to do. I then realized what I had to do, what I wanted to do. I received my master’s degree from Benedictine University, and my undergrad from Robert Morris University. In the fall, I will be going back there to teach undergrad psychology.
Milton: Why would a person join a cult?
Guziec: Cults look for people who are at an emotional point in their lives, people who are in college or have recently had a death in their family. They look for highly educated people with high intelligence that are middle-aged or younger. College kids are prime candidates because they are young, intelligent, able-bodied and are willing to help people. Cults often actively pursue you, trying to get your interest. Then, they find your weaknesses and exploit them.
Milton: What is it like to join a cult?
Guziec: At first, it’s love bombing, an initial high. They give you constant praise, and you feel wonderful. Then, they say, “Join us, or we won’t continue this validation or praise.” Then, you start to make certain life changes, by dressing, eating or talking a certain way. There are small changes here and there, and soon you are dependent on the group. It’s a slow process. You are removed from your family, friends and familiar items. You lose your old identity and gain a cult identity, but not necessarily a new name. Some cults rename, but that was more popular in the 1970s. Now, cults have evolved and are more mainstream.
Milton: What are negative aspects of joining a cult?
Guziec: Your identity is all conditional. You have to eat how they eat or you are punished. It’s very authoritarian, “do this or else.” You are physically, mentally and emotionally abused. You want that praise and to feel good about yourself, and you will take the abuse to get it again. In a regular group, you have a healthy relationship. If you say you’ll leave the group, it’s not a big deal. In a cult, if you say you’ll leave, a big wall goes up. You’re then an outsider and are shunned. Outside of the group, you would not exist.
Milton: Are there different types of cults?
Guziec: There three different types of cults: religious, political and multi-level marketing businesses or corporate. Religious cults are not only satanic, all religious movements have them. Cults never say that they are a cult. It can be one-on-one domestic violence or a group of 20 to 30 people, 200 to 300 people or a huge international group.
Milton: What happens when you question the group or consider leaving?
Guziec: About 3 million people come out of cults every year, people that have been victimized. More than half a million people leave one of the largest mainstream cults every year. If you are born in the cult, when you leave, you lose your family. You’re considered a heretic or apostate. I remind people that you choose to leave the organization, not your family. I have them read “Boundaries” by Townsend and Cloud. Cults violate our boundaries and tell us who can come and go into our yard. We have to see how we define ourselves as individuals, how we define right and wrong.
Milton: What happens when you leave a cult?
Guziec: When you leave a cult, they say you lose your rights as a human. But you are still a son or daughter, sister or brother, and they’re still your family. I recommend sending a text instead of calling your family. For them to know that you have a healthy, productive life outside of the group challenges their dogma. They say that when you leave their group, all the positivity and happiness will go away. In the group, life is great, but outside of it, you’ll turn into a drug addict, alcoholic or become promiscuous. They think your success is not because of you, but because of the group. To them, you don’t have the right to be happy, or can’t be happy, without them.
Milton: Why do you think it is important to help cult victims?
Guziec: I like helping people. Our practice is the only one in the area offering this type of specific therapy. It’s a huge need, victims are largely misunderstood and they are often misdiagnosed. I understand a lot of what they’re going through, not having family or friends. Cults and cult victims are found throughout the US, even here in Sycamore, in our own community.