Alumnus inspired to help those who leave unhealthy groups

November 2, 2016

Lisle, Illinois ~ For the first 25 years of his life, Steve Guziec felt trapped as a member of a Bible-based religious group that believed the end of the world was around the corner and a college education was the tool of the devil.

Now with a Master of Science (M.S.) in Clinical Psychology from Benedictine, he’s helping others like him to break free from the grip of similar unhealthy organizations.

It isn’t easy for people to leave these destructive groups. They may have cult-like characteristics, often shunning former members from family and friends. Those who do manage to leave of their own volition may also lack financial and psychological resources to seamlessly transition into mainstream society.

Today, Guziec is still ostracized by friends, family and the entire organization in which he was raised.

After parting ways, he sought mental health counseling. However, he had problems finding someone who could help unravel some of the things that had happened to him. He saw three different professionals, but left each meeting feeling more desperate than the last.

“I had no social support system,” Guziec said. “I didn’t know how to make friends and be social with people who weren’t in the group with me.

“Finally, I was able to find a psychologist who was able to help me,” Guziec said. “I was one of the lucky few, so I decided to change that and enter into the field to help others like myself so they wouldn’t have to go through the same difficulties I did in finding a path to a healthy life.”

Guziec made big strides in his own recovery, but had to completely rebuild his sense of self and purpose.

“As a person born into one of these organizations, I had to find out who I was and what I believed,” Guziec said. “This is still a journey I’m on because for 25 years I was told how to think, act and be.”

After working in the coffee and health insurance industries for several years, he decided it was time to pursue his true calling.

To do this, he disavowed one of the rules he once lived by, enrolling as an adult student in a bachelor of business administration program. After earning a degree, he pursued graduate studies at Benedictine and earned an M.S. in Clinical Psychology in 2014.

“I looked at more than 40 schools because I was seeking a program that would foster this very specific focus,” Guziec said. “BenU didn’t reject my field of study and was open to me finding my own path in working with this population. BenU’s openness and commitment to diversity made it my No. 1 choice for graduate school.”

At Benedictine, Guziec found a supportive network of faculty and staff who encouraged him to pursue an independent focus on former members of cult-like groups.

While Benedictine’s program doesn’t offer programming on caring for this specific group of people, the Clinical Psychology curriculum is rooted in the Rogerian approach, which emphasizes the concept of client-centered therapy with the counselor providing a warm and supportive environment to better facilitate a client’s self-exploration. This practice helps to validate the pain and confusion a person might have experienced, Guziec said.

After graduation, Guziec became a mental health consultant for Freedom of Mind Resource Center and a licensed professional counselor for Behavioral Health Providers in Sycamore, Ill.

“Benedictine’s program has a strong ethical component which has helped me greatly to ensure my clients are put first in a healthy, ethical manner,” Guziec said.

While it is hard to determine an exact number, approximately 20-30 million Americans are believed to be associated with organizations that control a person’s behavior, thoughts, emotions or access to information. In Sycamore, a small town of 17,000 people, Guziec has worked with people from four different groups that meet this criteria.

In addition to running a private practice, Guziec is a senior supervisor at Health Care Service Corporation, a provider of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, and is the CEO of Sunshine After the Fog, a resource for victims of cultic and coercive groups.

He is also a nationally certified counselor and member of the International Cultic Studies Association.

Guziec’s wife of six years, Christal (Mouery) Guziec, is also a Benedictine alumna, M.B.A.’09, and they have a 2-year-old daughter.

In the future, he hopes to teach at the college level, helping more professionals learn how to work with people and the issues they face after leaving an unhealthy organization.

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Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls more than 5,000 students in 59 undergraduate and 23 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the seventh consecutive year in 2017. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, admissions@ben.edu or visit ben.edu.

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