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Cult Education and Recovery

Carli McConkey The Cult Effect

Carli McConkey

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VICTORY - Lakaev v McConkey No. 2093/2018

I am thrilled with the result of winning judgment in my favour in the Supreme Court of Tasmania. I fought this defamation court case for 5.5 years (as well as being sued by the plaintiff for three years previously). This is a victory not only for myself and my family, but for all the survivors of this cult and their families and loved ones. Justice Estcourt AM described Lakaev as an "arrant Liar" and ruled her a "cult leader", "criminal", "violent extremist", and "unfit to practise as a psychologist"...



I lost over 13 years of my life in the destructive doomsday cult, Universal Knowledge (formerly known as Life Integration Programmes), run by cult leader Natasha Lakaev (now a registered Clinical Psychologist with AHPRA, Australia's psychology field regulator) from the age of 21 to 35 and escaped with my three children in January, 2010.

I say 'escape', because I was threatened by Lakaev that if I left, she would report me to the Department of Child Safety (DoCS) as an abusive mother, sign off as a Psychologist, and have my three children taken from me.


I was indoctrinated to believe that Natasha Lakaev was a reincarnation of Jesus Christ, the Queen of Atlantis, and "one of 12 on the Intergalactic Council of the Universe". She prophesied that the world would end in an Armageddon scenario around 11:11:11 (later 12:12:12) and said there would be few survivors apart from herself and her group and that we and our children would only survive if we remained with her. 

This may seem odd and bizarre and you may think that I must have been crazy to believe in such nonsense. However, I consider myself to be a normal, everyday person who is intelligent, and yet I found myself in this situation.

From a young age, every week at Mass in the Catholic Church I was told: "Jesus will come again". 


After initial 'love bombing' and mind control techniques had been utilised, when this manipulative and persuasive personality presented herself as a reincarnation or 'shaft' of Jesus Christ and preached that the world as we know it would end, these concepts did not seem so far-fetched in my mind.



People do not 'join' cults. Individuals or families in vulnerable stages of their lives are recruited via coercive and deceptive methods to become involved with a seemingly legitimate group or movement.

Cultic extremist ideology can manifest via any of the following and more:

  • a 1:1 relationship (family member, partner, friend, boss)

  • extremist off-shoots of institutional religion including Christianity, Islamism, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism

  • new religious movements

  • New Age spiritual groups

  • Eastern meditation groups

  • personal development companies

  • political movements

  • pyramid schemes

  • step programs

  • online influencers

  • 'fake' news or conspiracy theories

  • social groups, clubs, eg. yoga, gym, dance

  • terrorist groups


  • while searching for meaning, purpose, and belonging

  • when recovering from childhood or adult trauma

  • after the loss of a loved one

  • when coping with a chronic or terminal disease

  • after leaving the parental home for the first time

  • while at university where students are idealistic, trying to make new friends and willing to try new things

  • while unemployed, looking for a job

  • after a divorce or relationship breakup



Cult leaders generally display the traits of a charismatic Narcissist, with an Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic or Paranoid Personality Disorder.(2)(3) Therefore, it is very easy for unsuspecting bystanders to be susceptible to their coercive persuasion/undue influence.  


Cults use Mind Control or Thought Reform techniques to retain their followers including:

  • initial 'love bombing'

  • long hours of indoctrination/repetition of the group's specific ideology

  • hypnosis - excessive meditation, chanting or singing

  • loaded language

  • group think

  • peer pressure

  • communication control

  • sleep deprivation

  • food deprivation

  • excessive exercise

  • physical exhaustion through mindless activity and overwork

  • isolation

  • monitoring movements

  • controlling access to money and resources

  • controlling relationships

  • phobia induction

  • shaming, humiliation and shunning

  • psychological manipulation

  • verbal abuse

  • threat of harm/instilling fear/punishments

  • physical violence 

  • proselytising an ‘end of the world’ Armageddon ideology


Members are separated from their family and friends and social support network. Before they realise what is happening, the group's indoctrination is ingrained in their psyche through sophisticated thought reform and they are no longer able to think critically.

Cult members are then trapped in a 'prison' with or without walls, until they 'wake up'; are expelled/ex-communicated; are de-programmed or de-radicalised via intervention; or get to a point where their current circumstances are so bad that losing their salvation or the prospect of death is a better alternative (as was the case with me). ​

Myself and scores of others were abused by Natasha Lakaev, who used mind control to yield power, money, sex, and glorification within a high demand group.

I wish to help educate family and friends of current and former cult members, so that they are better able to understand the process of mind control and support their loved ones through recovery.

I hope that sharing my story, personal insights and triumphs, will also help support fellow ex-cult members and prevent others from becoming involved in these dangerous groups.



The Oxford Dictionary definition of a ‘cult’ is:


“A system of religious veneration and devotion directed towards a particular figure or object.”



The Oxford Dictionary definition (‘extended use’) for a ‘cult’ is:


“A collective obsession with or intense admiration for a particular person, thing, or idea.”



The Oxford Dictionary definition of ‘indoctrination’ is:


“The process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.”



The definition of a 'destructive cult' by Michael D. Langone Ph.D., Counselling Psychologist, former Executive Director of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), and Author of Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse (1993) is:


“A group or movement that, to a significant degree: 

  1. Exhibits great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing;​

  2. Uses a thought reform program to persuade, control, and socialize members;

  3. Systematically induces states of psychological dependency in members;​

  4. Exploits members to advance the leadership’s goals, and causes psychological harm to members, their families, and the community.”


Australian Government: "When a person’s beliefs move from being relatively conventional to being radical, and they want a drastic change in society, this is known as radicalisation. This is not necessarily a bad thing and does not mean these people will become violent." 



Australian Government: "If a person or group decides that fear, terror and violence are justified to achieve ideological, political or social change, and then acts on these beliefs, this is violent extremism."


Cult Information and Family Support (CIFS) estimates there could be around 1000 cults in Australia.


CIFS has supported individuals and families for more than 20 years from over 200 cults - these are only the groups that have been reported.


Cults are prolific. In today's world of increased isolation, a lack of a sense of meaning and belonging, and due to the widespread reach and influence of the internet, it is not unusual to have a family member or friend who has been involved in a cult or to know someone who does.

For contact details of CIFS and other support organisations in Australia, the US, UK, Canada and France, please see the 'Support' page on this website.


The Cult Effect Carli McConkey

A gripping account of the brutal impact of spiritual and violent extremism.

Carli McConkey was 21 years old when she happened upon New Age guru, Natasha Lakaev, and her personal development company, Life Integration Programmes, at the Mind Body Spirit Festival in Sydney, Australia in 1996.

What at first appeared professional and promising, became a vehicle for psychological and physical abuse.

Over the next thirteen years, Carli lost her freedom…her mind…and her family.

This book demonstrates the gradual and insidious process of mind control, gives insights into the period of recovery after escape, and shows how determination and strength can overcome adversity.

Available at selected bookstores and online at:

Book Reviews

An absorbing and informative account of an abusive Australian cult that needs to be read. 

The Cult Effect is an honest, grounded and, more often than not, terrifying recounting of a young woman's 13 year journey spent within an organisation that sought to brainwash and mind control its followers into giving their finances, labour and selves to its leader. You really get a sense of 'seeing behind the curtain' here with this account being from within the circle that is more often than not only seen from the outside.


The result is a self-reflective telling of a story that explains how young people can be tricked into organisations and made to stay in them against their will. We see that these people are not at all gullible or easily fooled. It is the cults themselves that are clever enough to twist people until they don't know which way is up.


I admit I found it hard to put this book down. It's a credit to the book that such a distressing read can be so engagingly written and yet still retain its objectivity despite how deeply the author was entwined with the events. The statement at the front that truth often is stranger than fiction certainly holds its own here... 

Henry Boffin (Goodreads)


'Carli spent 13 years in a cult – she shares the warning signs'...


Award Winning
by Sarah Steel
Episode 5:
Universal Knowledge

Lets Talk About Sects The Cult Effect Carli McConkey


​Milieu Control:

The purposeful limitation of all forms of communication with the outside world. A closed system with rigid boundaries. Communication with the inner self is also controlled, i.e. what is acceptable to think and feel. Control over diet, sleep cycles.


​Mystical Manipulation:

Teaching that the group has been specially chosen to carry out a divine purpose and the recruit has been selected to play a special role in fulfilling that purpose. Uncritical faith and trust is expected.


​The Sacred Science:

The mission of the group is considered sacred…not to be questioned. The group purports to have a body of airtight evidence to support its claims.


​The Demand for Purity:

Since the Word, Idea, Mission of the group is sacred and pure, anything contaminating it must be eradicated. Anything done in the name of purity is considered moral and just, no matter how deceptive.



An expectation of baring one’s innermost thoughts and feelings in order to purge oneself of doubts and impurities. Since the leader and Mission are perfect, anything that goes wrong is the fault of the member. Confession rituals pervade the group’s atmosphere.


​Loading the Language:

Thought-stopping clichés and jargon that compress the most complex of human problems into brief, highly reductive, definitive sounding phrases, which are easily memorised and easily expressed.


Doctrine over Person:

Convincing the subject that the group and its doctrine take precedence over any individual in the group or any other teaching from outside it. Individual boundaries are obliterated.


Dispensing of Existence:

Teaching that all those who disagree with the philosophy of the group are doomed. Use of splitting, we/they, taken to extremes.


​Modified from Andres, R & Lane, J. (1989) Cults and Consequences. Los Angeles: Commission on Cults and Missionaries.


A TEDEd Video
by Janja Lalich Ph.D. Researcher, Author, and Educator specializing in cults and extremist groups.
Professor Emerita of Sociology at California State University, Chico.



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