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 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

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

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 , FL

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

I provide support to folks who have experienced spiritual abuse or religious trauma, as well as those who have been wounded within spiritual systems. This may include processing the events, helping you to understand your experience and reactions. In therapy, I may also use trauma-informed methods to decrease the ongoing impact of symptoms. We may also explore what, if any, spiritual path makes sense for you right now.

— Michelle F. Moseley, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor

I myself have a history of religious trauma and spiritual abuse. I have been through a lot of my own therapy and healing in this area. I would love to partner with you on your healing journey through spiritual abuse/religious trauma to regain a sense of empowerment and self-identity in your life.

— Caroline Whisman-Blair, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in , MT

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

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

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

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 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

When you come from an insulated community, it's hard to recognize when violence is happening, let alone call it out when it happens. It doesn't matter what culture or religious community you come from--violence and abuse of any form is wrong. It's not your fault, and regardless of what people say, it is NOT your fault. You broke out of your community--a very hard thing to do, and you're coming to therapy, which is a great first step. Let's help you realize your life outside of your community!

— Tracy Vadakumchery, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor in New York, NY

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

As a Chaplain, I understand that a religious framework can be protective and healing. And, I also know that such systems have the ability to disenfranchise, shame and cause injury to those suffering. I have wrestled with my own Faith system and know it takes a support system to allow you to be curious, explore and ultimately find a more durable belief system that does not cause harm, whatever that may be. This can be scary and feel lonely. I am here for you and can help you on the journey.

— Sean Burson, Therapist

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

My Masters had a heavy emphasis on Theology and spiritual abuse. I also have lived experience from this background and a special understanding on how it can deeply impact the LGBTQIA+ community.

— Jey Youngberg, Therapist

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

Having grown up in a very religious household where I struggled to understand or believe what was being taught, I can understand the degree to which that can affect you.

— Shelley Lunn, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Spokane, WA