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 grew up in Christian communities that were not safe spaces for those perceived as different. Scripture was weaponized to keep people in line instead of build them up. Any assistance came with strings attached. If you have ever been told "when your close to God things like this don't happen" I can understand. Your faith is very personal and it can be heartbreaking to need to disentangle your faith from the actions of a community. Whether you walk away or stay your experience is valid.

— Pyol Thompson, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor

Spirituality and religion can be important sources of support that promote greater well-being; however, many individuals have been wounded through their religious and spiritual experiences and communities. When working with religious and spiritual wounds and trauma, it is vital to have a safe space free of judgment. For over 20-years, I have worked with people from various religious and spiritual traditions struggling with spiritual woundedness, and I have also conducted research in this area.

— Louis Hoffman, Psychologist in Colorado Springs, 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

Deconstruction, deconversion, reclamation

— Hope Wood, Mental Health Counselor in Greer, SC

Unfortunately, religion likes to twist scripture to THEIR liking. What religion doesn’t understand is that that mindset pushes people away from Jesus, rather than curious. God didn’t design us to be judgmental, closed-off, or pretentious. We were only called to love.

— Noel Tola, Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern in Stuart, FL

I have experience working with and supporting individuals who have left cults, experienced abuse by religious figures, and have experienced isolation and shunning by their families and communities after choosing a different path for themselves.

— Alexandra Gulbis, Associate Clinical Social Worker

I help people leave religions that have stifled their authenticity. Many of the people I work with want to leave religion behind, but find themselves struggling with anxiety, fear, guilt, grief, and anger. I can help you process these emotions, clarify what's important to you, and set boundaries with those still in your former religion. Not only do I have professional experience in this area, I've lived this path - I was raised Catholic and left the church in my early adulthood.

— Ashley Hamm, Licensed Professional Counselor in Houston, TX

My therapeutic focus has always been religious trauma and spiritual abuse. In grad school, I focused all of my work on addressing this issue, learning evidence-based modalities, tools, and skills that help to resolve trauma in the body, mind and emotions. I am passionate about healing religious trauma, and assisting my clients in finding their unique pathway to healing and wholeness.

— Julia Krump, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Nashville, TN

Spirituality is a way that we make meaning and find purpose in the world. Yet, sometimes it is difficult to find a space that allows us to freely explore and ask hard questions. It can feel like most spaces are full of gatekeeping, legalism, perfectionism, and no authenticity. These spaces often leave us with more pain that we walked in with. Therapy can be a beautiful space to expand and explore the larger and more important questions you are asking.

— Jade Davies, Therapist

I intentionally focused my graduate school training on finding and applying researched-based healing modalities to religious trauma and spiritual abuse. I continue to focus my practice and continued trainings on addressing and resolving religious trauma. This is my central focus of practice, training, and healing.

— Julia Krump, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Nashville, TN

Religion works for many people. It also has the potential of harming a person. In my experience, I was raised in a strict, conservative home with equally conservative religious doctrine. Unfortunately, the religion believed as a gay man, I was doomed and an abomination. I believe in helping clients finding meaning in finding a spiritual path apart from religion. Over the course of my career, I see various ways clients connect to a spiritual source for inspiration, direction, and resilience.

— Randy Woodring, Licensed Professional Counselor in Dallas, TX

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

I have sat with many clients and helped them process how their beliefs, specifically in Christianity, may have harmed their ability to live fully as themselves. I help clients learn to see themselves as worthy of being fully loved and known as they are. I am comfortable working with clients that feel that they need to leave their faith, as well as clients that are deconstructing and then rebuilding their faith into something that is honoring to who they are.

— Jessica Warburton, Professional Counselor Associate in Tigard, OR

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

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

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

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

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

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 Naperville, IL