The Holic Group’s Treatment of Members with Mental Health Problems (2009)
Here, the author of the previous report depicts her experiences again in a detailed way, concerning how the group handled her mental health problems.
Does mental health play a role in the Holic Group?
People with mental health problems are admitted into the Holic group. They are actually one of the target groups of the Holic Group, because these people are usually less rooted in terms of their life circumstances and their own relationship to God, to whichever extent that might be present.
During my time [in the group], there were several psychologically challenged “siblings” in the group, both in the German locations as well as in other countries (in the Holic Group, we met regularly, or we knew about each other by means of emails, i.e., the local branches [knew] about each other).
What moved you to join the group?
I myself, with my mental health problems, was admitted to the group after I was recruited. I had been a Christian for many, many years, but I wanted more of God. This was my motivation to join the group. Among other factors, I longed for healing from my serious illness. I also wanted to put my many gifts, with which God has blessed me, into service. I wanted to take life as a Christian very, very seriously.
The group got a hold of me (won me over) by means of the command of brotherly love, which Jesus certainly gave (John 13:34-35: “I’m giving you a new commandment: Love one another. In the same way that I have loved you, you must love one another. Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other.”) I “recognized” that, in the congregation which I attended, brotherly love was not lived out as Jesus commanded it. They explained to me how Jesus intended that a person should love his brothers. And [they] let me draw the conclusion that among them the command of brotherly love was lived out, and that whoever doesn’t do this is not a Christian. And I certainly wanted to be a Christian. In the course of this, they denied that my entire congregation could be Christian, which is to say, my congregation thereby became the target of missionary work.
How did your first few weeks in the group go?
Well, in the Holic Group they agreed very quickly about me that I had not been a Christian at all until then, and only at that point in time had been converted. I was also baptized (again), because my [previous] baptism of faith was meaningless for them. As I thoroughly described previously, so it was for me: I had been a Christian for a long time already, but as a Christian, and in life [in general], rather unstable and insecure.
Well, [as a] newly-minted “sister,” – within a few days, to be precise, after my “baptism,” I got on a [tread] mill, and I wouldn’t get off of it during the time of my membership in the Holic Group. I was now instructed in Biblical teachings, but only in the Holic style, mind you. Among other things, they admonished me to use my time as well as possible (to speak with the oldfashioned Biblical word: “to redeem [the time]” [Ephesians 5:16]). One consequence of this was that I placed myself under enormous pressure from that point in time onward. With the consequence that, within the first few weeks in the group, I broke my foot. Because of the great stress, I overlooked a step on the stairway while carrying a heavy burden. Even this was, finally, piled onto me as my own fault, because I didn’t have a “good attitude” when I tripped (I was simply in a situation of being overextended).
How did they specifically deal with a psychological condition in the group?
As one already sees by what I’ve written above, people with mental health problems were essentially treated like healthy people in the group. At least it was attempted to lead them into a lifestyle which was increasingly like that of a healthy Holic member. They really wanted to see to it that a mentally ill member (very fundamentally) saw a sin as the cause of his disability / illness.
Psychotherapy, too, was seen as a sin. Because this would influence the management of the life of the patient, and [because] the patient would open himself to the world through this [therapy]. And the opinion that the Holic Group could not help the affected brother / sister might be expressed in this [therapy].
Is every type of medical intervention forbidden to the mentally ill [member]?
Mentally ill Holic members go to a specialist (psychiatrist), who then prescribes medications for them. But psychotherapy is seen as a sin. I, too, went to the specialist. But I always discussed my visits to the physician with a “sister,” so that I didn’t sin, or eventually be judged as sinning. Once – the conversation got around to something personal – I told my physician about my doubts, whether my friends (i.e., my “siblings”) actually loved me. At this, the physician gave me her personal phone number for any emergency. This was later blamed on me in the group, why the physician gave me her private phone number (for a long time, I couldn’t remember the reason). This might make it seem as if the Holic group couldn’t help me – what pretentiousness! This situation was one of the reasons for my later expulsion.
How did this surveillance by the group affect your relationship with the physician?
It is also the case, that a Holic member is not allowed to develop any confidential relationship with his physician, especially his psychiatrist. This physician belongs to the “evil world,” and a confidential relationship would be a sin. For this reason, the physician is not allowed to learn anything about the group’s activity. (Especially about that which made the affected member acutely ill!) Members are only allowed to process things in the group. After a time of illness, this [processing] occurred primarily with a view toward which sin(s) by the affected member made this “brother” / “sister” ill. That’s the way I experienced it, anyway.
So a psychological problem was understood to be a consequence of a sin?
Once I was less acutely ill, obtained a higher dosage of medication, and repented from an alleged sin, then a “sister” (who saw herself as responsible for me, [because] she was a hardliner) said to me: “well, then you can reduce your medications again.” This same “sister” figured that she was knowledgable about medications, so I sometimes turned to her if I thought that I needed an increased dosage. (She is an occupational therapist, and in the course of her training did a clinical [internship] in a psychiatric ward in forensics. I know from her that she thought all the patients there were malingerers who simply didn’t want to go to an actual prison.) She considered herself to be responsible for me from the very beginning, [and] I stumbled into a very negative dependency upon her. Sadly, I didn’t resist that from the beginning.
What did the group recommend as help for a psychological illness?
Whoever was psychologically ill, was – as stated – urged to struggle to lead an ever more normal life (according to Holic standards). The most important thing for the Holic group is giving one’s own life to the siblings in the faith (the so-called brotherly love). This means that it is expected of a “brother” / “sister,” that she or he set her or his own wishes very thoroughly behind spiritual demands [of brotherly love as defined by the group]. The other “brother” / “sister” was to be regarded more highly than oneself. One example: an older “sister” moved back into my community and needed a quiet place to sleep. Normally we shared a room, [with] several “sisters” – or “brothers.” Until then, I slept in a quiet room, and the others were of the opinion that this factor of quietness was not so important for me. So it was expected of me, that I give up my bed for this sister and move into another room. This exact thing really happened to me, shortly before my expulsion. The needs that an individual member was allowed to have were decided by the group. It was naturally not said that way, but it was so.
Precisely those things which are so important for a psychologically challenged person – that he learns to pay attention to himself, to develop his own will, to learn to perceive and act on his needs, etc., to develop himself (only in this way can one, finally, love his neighbor, too) – those things are seen in the Holic Group in many ways as a sin, and as extremely egotistical. To this extent, the Holic Group is essentially poisonous for a person with mental illness, even if they give a certain sense of structure, which can affect a person in a stabilizing way. To want to make something of his life is “egotistical” and therefore a sin. If a person continues in this and doesn’t want to repent, then expulsion will certainly await him.
Well, given the background of the demand for commitment and brotherly love, as the Holic Group understands these things, a powerful exploitation occurs at the hands of the group, too. This especially [happens] to the “weaker” siblings. So I was urged, having started in the quarters of the Stuttgart group, to take on the tasks of a homemaker more and more (I had [initially] offered to do [a limited amount of] such [tasks]). Finally I was working five hours per day there, Monday through Friday, but without any compensation. Because of my psychological illness, I lived [on money] from the government. I still couldn’t work normally. Despite that fact, in the meantime I view this as not appropriate. “The taxpayer is paying.” The group urged me to strive for the ability to work by [taking on] mini-jobs. I indeed wanted to become able to work. But this all happened under duress, not voluntarily, so that now, as I write this, I must acquire anew the ability to work, because precisely this extreme duress left its residual effects on me. Whether one has a desire for something counts for nothing in the group, but rather, whether you can do it. It is indeed also expected that a person continually overcomes himself. A bit sarcastically: isn’t that wonderful?
In the course of an expulsion, was any consideration given to a person’s psychological constitution?
The fact that I was not of one accord with the Stuttgart group regarding [my] taking up a mini-job played a role in the group finally, after three years of membership, expelling me. How they affected me, as a psychologically challenged person, by expelling me, didn’t interest them. One of the few sentences which they exchanged with me after completing my expulsion was one said to me by a now former “sister.” Ironically, after they’d told me that they wanted me to move out [of the apartment] promptly, [she said] that I had to become independent. But they’d made me thoroughly dependent, and I didn’t trust myself to resist it, or I didn’t know how.
How did your life go after the expulsion?
Well, the expulsion showed itself to be extremely healing for me. I understood that the Holic Group isn’t that which it pretends to be, and that God is a very wonderful God in a quite practical way. I actually did become independent eventually. My life prior to my time in the group had been marked by lots and lots of therapy, and a continual dependency on other people, especially on therapists. I went through a difficult time, but God has made something very good out of it. And for this reason, I am very thankful to him in everything which He now is rehabilitating in me.
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