Community Psychiatry’s Julian Lagoy, M.D. was featured in Health discussing the topic of High Control Groups. 

HBO’s ‘The Vow’ Refers to NXIVM as a High Control Group—Here’s What That Means

The new documentary highlights the “sex cult” branded as a self-help organization.

California-based board-certified psychiatrist Julian Lagoy, MD, describes it as a religious or spiritual movement/group with a modern origin that is loosely derived from, but not an integral part of, a dominant religion in today’s society. “In popular culture, they are referred to as religious cults and they have a negative reputation in Western society,” Dr. Lagoy tells Health.

The group leaders of these high control groups typically urge their members to cut ties with their family and friends, and donate a lot of their time and money to the group and its mission, Dr. Lagoy says. But the people inside the group don’t necessarily identify it as high control—rather, people outside the group typically identify it as such.

It may be difficult for many to understand why people join these high control groups, but the experts believe it boils down to a basic human need to feel part of something and to “fit in.” “People join these groups because they want to feel important and part of a strong community,” Dr. Lagoy says. “It’s human nature to want to be important and have a purpose in life, and many people join a high control group with the hope of obtaining that.” Of course, many people also join these groups because they like its purpose or “mission.” But typically, it’s not what it says on the tin. Women recruited to NXIVM expected a “self-development program”—not blackmail, mutilation, and starvation.

Experts warn that the negative effects of a high control group are serious and far-reaching. “These include being isolated from family and friends and subsequently suffering from a mental illness such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or anxiety,” Dr. Lagoy says. “The risk of suicide and substance use is also increased, especially after someone leaves the group—it’s at this point that they are most likely to feel guilt and shame.”

According to Dr. Lagoy’s the best way to disconnect from one of these groups is to try to reconnect with family and loved ones that were close to you before you joined. “They will be the ones who will support you most after you leave the group,” he says. He also recommends staying away from other members of the group, who will likely be very negative and try to make you feel guilt and shame for leaving.



This post is part of an article on

Share this Article