FOR THOSE who have been perplexed by all those people who have flocked to the Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon, we now have some glimpses of them from the world of psychiatry.
With the blessings of Unification Church leaders, a team of four psychiatrists and psychiatric researchers studied a representative sample of 237 followers of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, matching them against a comparison group in the population at large.
They found, for example, that more of the Moon followers said they had serious psychological and emotional problems before their conversions, and that more of them than in the general population sample said they had used hard drugs in the past.
Though Unification Church converts have found some relief from their psychological problems through immersion in church activity, their emotional well-being is at a lower level than that of the general population group, the researchers found.
At least 90 percent of the Moon followers had dabbled in one of the Eastern religions or in fundamentalist Christianity beofre joining. Once converted, 80 percent want everyone to adopt the same religious beliefs, and 86 percent think the rest of the world should "avoid thinking about sex," as they say they have done.
High on Hallucinogens
THE STUDY, reported in the February issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, described the followers interviewed as 91 percent unmarried, 89 percent white, 61 percent male and with a mean age of 24.7 years. Most had been members of the Unification Church for at least 18 months.
Before joining, nearly half (42 percent) had been in school at least halftime. But after joining the church, the researchers found, "members tended to leave school; only 25 percent of the members completed college, although . . . 58 percent had begun."
The 216-item anonymous questionnaire administered to the church members - a questionnaire that their leaders instructed them to answer fully and frankly - probed their psychological well-being at four different points: in the "most symptomatic period before contact with the church"; immediately before contact with the church; right after conversion, and in the two months before the study.
The researchers found that 39 percent of the members studied "felt that they had had serious emotional problems in the past." These problems were serious enough for 30 percent to have sought professional help and for 6 percent to have required hospitalization.
"Their responses yielded neurotic distress scores [the technical name of this portion of the test] that were significantly higher before joining than at the time of the study," the researchers reported. "Even though they reported a decline in neurotic distress over the course of membership, their current emotional well-being . . . was lower than that for the matched camparison group."
The researchers found that Unification Church members reported considerable drug use in pre-conversion days. Nearly one-fourth "said that they had had serious drug problems in the past, and the portion who had ever used drugs of abuse was higher than for a comparable national sample [for example, use of hallucinogens was 45 percent versus 14 percent]."
"Connection With God"
THE PICTURE of their entrance into the church, painted by these active members in the sample studied, differed little from accounts given by often hostile ex-members:
"Conversion usually occurred during a series of church-run workshops . . . a 1-day workshop followed immediately by a 2-day workshop and then a 7-day workshop. The workshop day runs from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and includes lectures and group discussions related to religious issues, as well as sports and entertainment that are sometimes related to religious themes. Virtually the entire day, including meals, is spent in the immediate company of workshop and church members. Initially, participants are often not aware that the workshop is associated with the church."
But while ex-members and other Unification Church enemies routinely tell of strong psychological and sometimes physical coercion being exerted, the active members reported no such tactics in the study.
Once in the church, members take their commitment seriously. According to the researchers, the sample studied "spent almost all of their nights in a Unification Church residence. Commitment to religious principles was also "very high," with threefourths of the members expressing strong feelings of a "close connection with God."
An even greater proportion - 76 percent - felt strongly that they should avoid thinking about sex "very much" - a basic tenet of the Church. Only 11 percent said they had held this view of sex before joining the church.
More than half said street proselytizing and peddling merchandise to make money for the church were their principal jobs, at which they spent an average of 67 hours a week - better than six 11-hour days a week, if they took Sundays off for prayer, study and worship.
Incidence of Illness
THE MEMBERS' zeal, the researchers reported, is "reflected in most members' [80 percent] strong feeling that people who were not members of the church should 'adopt the same religious beliefs that I do'", a stance sharply at odds with the conviction of most main-line Protestants, Catholics and Jews that there is more than one path to heaven.
Most of the members recalled highly positive feelings associated with their conversion experience - "cheered up," "a great deal of respect for another person," or "an appreciation of the reality of God." But for as many as a fifth of the members studied, the conversion experience was a downer, bring unhappiness and distrubing sleeping and eating habits. For 12 percent of them there was a feeling that they were "under someone else's influence."
Overall, however, the researchers found considerable correlation between them members' religiousity and their general feeling of well-being.
"The average convert apparently experience emotional distress before joining," the report concluded, with the study results reflecting "somewhat great distress than those of a likeaged comparison group. The likelihood of a higher incidence of psychiatric illness in this population is indicated by the high percentage of those who had sought prior professional help and hospitalization for emotional problems. Affiliation with the Unification Church apparently provided considerable and sustained relief from neurotic distress. Although improvement was ubiquitous, a greater religious commitment was reported by thjose who indicated the most improvement."
The study was done by Dr. Marc Galanter, associate professor of psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Dr. Richard Rabkin and Alexander Deutsch, who hold similar positions at the New York University School of Medicine, and Dr. Judith Rabkin, research scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. CAPTION: Picture, no caption, UPI