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Meet Esther Ruth Friedman of GSR: Healing Arts in North Reading

Today we’d like to introduce you to Esther Ruth Friedman.

Esther Ruth, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am a licensed Mental Health Counselor with a Masters in Expressive Art Therapy. I am starting a private practice specializing in helping former cult members recover, and I was inspired by my own surreal misadventure into and out of a high-demand group.

My story began with an incident in 2006 that at the time seemed innocuous. I was in a crappy mood, while standing in line at Whole Foods in Cambridge, when a friendly woman engaged me in a lively conversation. Her husband joined the conversation, soon we were chatting it up. They introduced me to their two children. Upon leaving the store, she said, “This was fun! Let’s get together.” We exchanged phone numbers (well, she gave me a voicemail box number, but I didn’t know that at the time). We went out for coffee, took walks, and visited the MFA for several months. Eventually, she introduced me to other “friends” and then to a group.

I trusted the wrong person in a vulnerable moment. Five years later, I left a cult. Since no one joins a cult, no one identifies that they’re in one until they leave. My post-cult review led to a number of things: a very sharp antennae for the hallmarks and red flags that are at play in all cults; insights into human nature, our emotional and social needs and what happens when they are not met – how unmet needs make us vulnerable to confidence games. Finally, the strategies used by such groups to change the way its members think, feel and act; in effect, cults commit identity theft, emptying a person of authentic self, to be replaced by a deployable agent who will contribute to an unstated greedy, power-hungry agenda.

I used my Master’s level education in the expressive art therapies to heal myself, through writing a blog – Cult Confessions, songwriting, and creating a ridiculous mini-musical (still in process) about this surreal five –year misadventure. In June, I released the soundtrack of this musical-in-progress on a CD called Cult Confessions. I am also in the process of writing a book that uses my memoir to outline the process of cultic indoctrination, strategies to counter such indoctrination, and offers a road to recovery. Creating GSR: Healing Arts, my private therapy practice, was the logical next step.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I meandered through the first three decades of adulthood, never sure of my direction. I bumbled into a group that turned out to be a cult, I let this cult lead me by the nose into a quandary at which point I realized that if I didn’t learn to trust myself, I’d be in trouble. So, it certainly was not smooth, but things that are worthwhile are never easy.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about GSR: Healing Arts – what should we know?
I call my practice GSR: Healing ARTs. The initials stand for Gentle Souls Revolution and the counseling I do is based on the principles and practices of the Expressive Arts Therapy, which focuses on the importance of compassion and empathy – it’s built on humanistic tenants that all humans deserve every opportunity to live up to their greatest potential. It is client-centered, meaning that I focus on affirming and empowering the client through employing the creative arts to explore their experiences and express emotions, thoughts and beliefs surrounding the story.

I used the arts to reclaim the narrative of my experience, telling the story through my perspective and, in the telling, reclaiming my voice, my identity and my life. This is led me into writing the show, the book and recording a CD. The thing that I’m most proud of is how I let go of my fear of the stigma, the wrath of the group, the victim blame and shame, which is, unfortunately, so prevalent in society. I refused to carry secrets for this group and found that when I let them go, I returned home to my true self. Ultimately, that has been the most empowering part and I feel that the recovery I gleaned from it can be extended to other ex-cult members.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Most of my help came from friends and family who’ve been cheering me on. I do have one friend– a lawyer — who advocated for me when the cult tried to drag me into a legal drama. Thanks to him, I now have pro bono counsel from a global firm. But that’s a longer story for another day. I do need to give my husband, Chris Lavancher, big kudos for hanging in there, despite my weird behavior, the cultic backdrop and all other related weirdness.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Chris Lavancher
Doug Kwartler

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