The Ultimate Challenge: A revolutionary, sane and sensible response to ritualistic and cult-related abuse by Gayle M. Woodsum is an extraordinary book filled with a plethora of information. For all the ritualistic and cult-related abuse victims and survivors who have ever hoped to see their realities reflected in print, and for anyone trying to help victims and survivors who has looked for unconventional guidance, your wishes have been met. This publication is a brilliantly written and designed text, which includes a socio-political, feminist perspective regarding the identification and concept of abuse; practical, helpful information and guidance; and survivor commentary. Woodsum writes from a wealth of experience - her own and that of thousands of victims and survivors with whom she has worked over a period of nearly two decades. Unlike so many other books on this sensitive topic, The Ultimate Challenge does not sensationalize or dramatize abuse. Rather it grounds readers in the factual reality of this horrific practice. It neither exploits victims and survivors nor triggers readers by filling pages with graphic details. Instead it provides a framework for understanding abuse as a powerful tool of control and oppression. The comments of victims and survivors, which are so naturally woven within the text, emphasize the knowledge, courage, creativity and perspectives of individuals as they reflect upon the realities of their lives - the pain, the struggles, the hopes and the freedom.
The Ultimate Challenge is extremely well organized and sequentially addresses a vast array of issues affecting victims, survivors and those people trying to help and support them. It is concise and to the point but by no means simplistic. The reader moves fluidly through chapters and subheadings gaining increased understanding with each page. The book begins with a view of incest and ritualistic and cult-related abuse as part of a continuum with excellent explanations of denial and silencing; the purpose of abuse; how offenders get away with these atrocities; how levels or degrees of sophistication affect victims and survivors; and how the types of abuse along the spectrum are similar and different. Woodsum identifies components of ritualistic and cult-related abuse and dispels generally accepted myths that are pervasive in the media and in the minds of individuals. She provides invaluable information regarding the detection and recognition of abuse along with a list of indicators. However, in this section, as throughout the book, Woodsum repeatedly states that each victim's history is different, and it would be not only a disservice to victims and survivors, but in fact harmful, to treat them all the same or make assumptions based upon generalities. So no list of indicators is complete or applicable to every victim/survivor. Nevertheless, the list is extraordinarily helpful when trying to assess one's own history or the possible abuse history of a friend or client.
The chapters regarding brainwashing and programming are extremely informative and provide profound insight as to how triggers and programming messages function to control victims. The guidance offered for dismantling programming, once again, does not adhere to a "prescribed" method, but instead offers suggestions and assistance based upon the information one has about an individual's history. Physical, emotional and mental aspects of breaking programming are included.
The complex issue of memory constitutes its own chapter. Woodsum addresses a myriad of related aspects ranging from having or not having memories to what constitutes memory (dreams, smells, sounds, etc.) to how to cope with memories. In addition, she takes a look at a variety of therapeutic techniques and conventional medical diagnoses and offers her unique perspective on these topics. Throughout the book, but especially recognizable here, is Woodsum's profound respect for and recognition of the voice and self-knowledge of victims and survivors. She expresses with clarity and conviction her political perspective regarding how institutions and the individuals within them can further oppress victims and survivors and reinforce programming through their words, behaviors and the environments in which they operate. Woodsum does not hesitate to confront the most entrenched practices or accepted theories in her efforts to do what is best for victims and survivors.
The Ultimate Challenge contains excellent information regarding assessing for safety and current victimization and the complex issues surrounding children, partners, friends and family when attempting to break free of ritualistic and cult-related abuse. The chapter entitled "Personal Freedom Work" is full of valuable, practical suggestions and guidance, and the ultimate goal of relocation is addressed in detail. Throughout The Ultimate Challenge helpful, appropriate guidance is provided for people trying to help victims and survivors. In addition, Woodsum has included a chapter specific to the needs and concerns of professional helpers, which I believe therapists will find to be an invaluable resource.
Throughout the text, Woodsum offers factual information, feminist analysis, examples which support her perspective, and guidance. She does not advocate any one prescribed method of healing and breaking free, but consistently recognizes the unique needs of victims and survivors, their incredible strengths, and the quintessential notion that they must be validated, empowered and respected. As a survivor reading The Ultimate Challenge, I felt empowered, honored and respected while simultaneously feeling an indescribable sense of hope for the future. Given my/this history, to see one's life reflected on the printed page is more profound than words can ever describe. Woodsum echoes my sentiments and belief that, as survivors, we are not "damaged goods" but instead creative, strong, courageous individuals capable of actualizing our dreams in spite of an abusive past. Thank you, Gayle Woodsum, for this powerful message which I hope will reverberate throughout the minds, homes and workplaces of victims, survivors, social workers, therapists, law enforcement officers, medical professionals, court officials, teachers, daycare providers and anyone else who has ever hoped for a world free of abuse and violence. To each and every one of you, I highly recommend The Ultimate Challenge.