Spiritual Abuse and Religious Trauma

Spiritual abuse describes the experience of and subsequent damage from being manipulated and controlled by a spiritual leader or community and is often linked to cults and high-control groups. Religious Trauma Syndrome is a more recent term coined by Dr. Marlene Winell which can be defined as, “the condition experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination.” Her work with religious trauma survivors paved the way for much of the discussion we see happening online today, especially in #Exvangelical circles. If you are a spiritual abuse and/or religious trauma survivor and you’re looking for a place to heal, reach out to one of TherapyDen’s knowledgeable and compassionate specialists today.

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I specialize in Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS), religious abuse or trauma, and/or Adverse Religious Experiences. This can be in a high-control religion or spiritual community, temple, organization, or cult.

— Kelsey Laulainen, Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, WA

I work with people who have been negatively and sometimes traumatically impacted by religious beliefs and indoctrination. Many people struggle with breaking away from a controlling religion, movement, or dogmatic tradition that had previously been a crucial part of their identity and sense of meaning or purpose in life. In addition to trauma from the religious beliefs themselves, many people suffer additional trauma when breaking away due to the loss of church community and support system.

— Jennifer Laurenza, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor in Lakeville, MA

Religious trauma is real. One of the reasons why I’m passionate about helping people who have suffered religious traumas is because of my own experiences with them. After having spent almost my whole life in a religious system I have worked with enough people to have seen the pain that religious people, systems, and beliefs can cause. Counselors who did not grow up being a part of religious systems may be unable to fully understand and really grasp this kind of trauma.

— Josh Foster, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor in ,

I am a part of a group of helping professionals through Release and Reclaim (founded by Marlene Winell, Ph.D) focused on supporting those who are experiencing Religious Trauma Syndrome, or other difficult symptoms stemming from fundamentalist or dysfunctional religion.

— Christine Chenitz, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Kennett Square, PA

Spiritual and religious abuse can be incredibly destabilizing. The process of healing from these wounds can be ongoing, yet it offers a unique opportunity to deconstruct and externalized imposed beliefs, develop your own identity, connect with your intuition, reclaim an authentic spirituality or navigate questions about meaning and purpose, and restore self-trust and discernment. I support clients who are in the rebuilding phase after religious, spiritual, or cultic abuse.

— Jackie Turner, Marriage and Family Therapist Associate in Portland, OR

Let's face it, spiritual abuse and religious trauma happen in every religion. While I come from a Christian background, I recognize that that faith itself can be traumatic for some. Sexual abuse scandals among Christian denominations are widespread and now, more than ever, is a time to reach out if you've experienced trauma in this way.

— Diana Dunigan, Licensed Professional Counselor Associate in Fort Worth, TX

Growing up in a conservative religious community was challenging. I know what it’s like to internalize messages that I had to be, believe, act in specific ways in order to be loved and accepted. I attended Christian affiliated higher education, including seminary for my psychology graduate training. I know the lingo and understand Christian culture. I use specific trauma treatments, including EMDR and IFS, to help those who have experienced spiritual abuse and religious trauma.

— Dr. Nikki Blakesley, Clinical Psychologist in Colorado Springs, CO

Throughout my education, I have spent a large amount of time studying numerous religions and their subsequent mental health impacts. Combined with my own lived experience of deconstruction, I help clients wrestle with religious doubt and recognize the impact of religious trauma in their daily lives. Whether clients choose to stay in or leave the religion of their origin, I use my knowledge to provide a supportive environment for deconstruction, healing, and redefining spirituality.

— Zach Verwey, Licensed Professional Counselor in Denver, CO

I have lived and professional experience with this topic. I am skilled at assisting clients with re-authoring their relationship with themselves and overcoming guilt and family issues often associated with religious and spiritual trauma.

— Easin Beck, Marriage & Family Therapist in Phoenixville, PA

In my work with LGBTQ+ individuals and other folks, I've all too often encountered their experiences of spiritual abuse and religious trauma. I work with these clients towards exploring the harm caused by these types of experiences, which is often deeply impactful and alienating. I support these clients in a recovery process at their own pace and believe that re-connecting to spirituality in a personally meaningful way is important in reclaiming their sense of self-worth and autonomy.

— Ben Hearn, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor in Cincinnati, OH

My work with folks leaving religion or seeking to escape and/or heal from religious trauma is grounded in my own experiences doing the same. Leaving religious community comes with so many impacts, including disrupting our identity, losing our support systems and community, changing our relationships with ourselves and with others, and many more. In addition, many of my clients have also had trauma from their religious communities and/or leaders, especially around sexuality & gender. I can help.

— Jamie Steele, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Washington, DC

I am a member of the international cultic studies association and have studied the subject extensively as well as having attended trainings on spiritual abuse and religious trauma. I also have lived experience as a survivor of both.

— Greta MacMillan, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Madison, CT

Spiritual abuse is an issue very close to my heart, given my own struggles related to religion. One obstacle to recovering from religious trauma is that it sometimes isn't enough to know that you believe something different now. Sometimes our bodies don't care what we believe, and continue to hold on to pain. As an Internal Family Systems therapist, I can help you to connect to your nervous system and work through the parts of you that hurt somatically. This work will go at your own pace.

— Brian Jones, Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, WA

Many of my clients have experienced trauma at the hand of organized religion or in a relationship where spirituality was used against them. I've worked with clients to process the effects of purity culture, rejection of their sexual or gender identity in the name of religion, life after leaving a cult, and sexual abuse within the church.

— Katie Rose, Licensed Professional Counselor Associate in Westmont, NJ

Work with clients to help them to explore spiritual or religious trauma, impact of that abuse in their understanding, acceptance and loving of themselves & in their relationships to others; support their explorations of their own spirituality & their relationship to Universe, (i.e. God, Source, Creator, Universe, Divine) by helping clients to unpack distortions that have hinder their knowing of their innate worth to bring about healing and wholeness as they would define it.

— Linda L Vance, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist

It takes a lot of courage to walk away from a religious community you've been conditioned to trust, knowing full well you'll be alienated & ostracized immediately when you choose to walk away. Spiritual abuse & religious trauma survivors know how destabilizing these experiences are and how lost one can feel as a result. If you're looking for someone who understands, I'd be honored to hold space for you and provide you the tools necessary to thrive in your new life.

— Dwight Bejec, Licensed Professional Counselor in Warrenville, IL

Spirituality and religion can be a lifeline and an important foundation for many, but for some carries the weight of trauma in the form of abuse. When we are able to break out of a controlling or unhealthy spiritual environment, many times our worlds are turned upside down. We are disconnected from friends and family and the very ideas we once held as truth. I work to connect my client's back to themselves.

— Robin Roemer, Associate Marriage & Family Therapist in Los Angeles, CA

I have years of experience working with those who have been part of religious communities that have impacted them negatively. Much like other forms of trauma, these experiences can leave us feeling negative about ourselves and also the world around us. I work with clients to help heal from the complex impact of religious trauma and spiritual abuse.

— Caitlin Kiley, Licensed Mental Health Counselor