The average follower of the controversial Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon "was apparently in emotional distress" prior to joining Moon's Unification church, according to a psychological study of 237 "Moonies."

The study, which had the cooperation of the leadership of Moon's organization, reports that 39 percent of those surveyed assessed themselves as having had "serious emotional problems" prior to entering the church.

Additionally, 30 percent had sought "professional help" in solving their problems and 6 percent had been hospitalized for them, according to Dr. Marc Galanter, director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

The study released here yesterday at the 101st annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, also reports that 23 percent of the Moonies said they had had "serious drug problems" in the past "and the proportion who had ever used drugs of abuse was higher than for a comparable national sample."

For example, 45 percent said they had used hallucinogenic drugs, while only 14 percent in a comparable national sample said they had.

The study of the Moonies were carefully constructed, with researchers first devising a set of sample questions that was tested on a group of 20 church members and then refined and computerized. The research team, led by Galanter, also administered the test to a sample group of non-Moonies, of the same age as the Moonies, in Dayton.

Ninety-one percent of the Moonies who participated in the study gave answers that indicate they think they suffered much less from neurotic distress immediately after joining the sect.

"Conversion apparently provided considerable and sustained relief from neurotic distress," according to the study, and those reporting the greatest relief also recorded as having the strongest religious convictions.

Contrary to reports by some Moonies who left the movement voluntarily or were "deprogrammed," "the conversion period to the movement). . . was recalled in a predominatly positive way" by those in the survey group, all of whom were interviewed and tested in the New York City area, but who came from all parts of the country.

In that regard, 67 percent of the Moonies felt "a great deal of respect for the other person," 43 percent felt "cheered up," 48 percent felt "close or intimate with other people" and 76 percent said they felt "appreciation of the reality of God" all immediately after the conversion.

However, about 20 percent reported that following the conversion they experienced feeling "'a lot or 'very much' more than usual 'conflict or unhappiness, disruption of sleeping and eating habits and feeling they were under someone else's influence,'" the study said.