Albany, Ohio -- A team of Chinese professionals traveled to a residential treatment center in southeast Ohio to learn treatment techniques for dealing with Falun Gong, a controversial spiritual movement. Five members from the Bejing-based Chinese Anti-Cult Association visited the Wellspring Retreat & Resource Center this week.
The center, 80 miles southeast of Columbus, is promoted as the only accredited residential-treatment center in the country for former cult members.
"We are very eager to learn from their experience in the transition of cult members. We feel that cults are a global problem," said Wang Yusheng, director general of the China Science and Technology Museum and vice president of the anti-cult association, which helps rehabilitate former cult members.
"I'm sure I will return home with a lot of new ideas about how to do our job better," he said.
Falun Gong combines Taoist and Buddhist ideas with exercise and meditation, and claims millions of followers. Li Hongzhi, who now lives in the United States, started the movement in 1992.
Practitioners describe it as an ancient, peaceful practice that improves physical and mental health. Critics call it a cult and portray its leader as an extremist. The Chinese government has outlawed the movement.
Wellspring founder and director Paul Martin, a psychologist who is a former cult member, said what some view as a religion, others call a cult.
"What we deal with here are groups that are destructive, that are very, very pathological. It's a con," Martin said.
He called the visit by the Chinese a "significant opportunity to advance the field of cult awareness."