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 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 Exton, 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

As a gay son of a Pentecostal minister, I understand the pain of spiritual/religious wounding. Although this a relatively new focus area for psychotherapists, I feel like I have been doing this work my entire life. I help clients not only deconstruct negative religious beliefs but also reconstruct a new philosophy of living based on their values and humanistic principles.

— Lee Kinsey, Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Boston, MA

As a survivor of spiritual abuse and religious trauma myself, it is very important to me to offer a safe, trauma-trained space for fellow survivors.

— Beth Zumwalt, Licensed Professional Counselor in Chattanooga, TN

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 Oregon City, OR

Sex, intimacy, and connection are natural and essential parts of our lives and humanity. Unfortunately, many of us have experiences and receive messages from our family, church community, and culture during childhood and in our teen years that damage our overall sexual experience, knowledge, and attitudes. The results can stay with us into adulthood and may include shame, guilt, fear, trauma, and a life closed off from emotional and/or physical intimacy. Therapy can help to heal these wounds.

— Stacey Wright, Psychotherapist in Tucker, GA

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

As the founder and Clinical Director of the Center for Healing Religious Harm, helping people heal from abusive religious systems, abusive religious leaders, or harmful theology/beliefs has been the focus of my counseling practice and my research. I focused my entire dissertation on this topic, and continue to train counselors, religious leaders, and clients on the healing process.

— Paula Swindle, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Supervisor in Hickory, NC

One of the most common answers the authors of Escaping Utopia received when asking cult survivors what would have helped was, "to be able to find a therapist or helping professional who had familiarity with or at least some knowledge of the aftermath of life in a cult.” Whether you grew up in a cult or a church or religion that used cult-like tactics, the damage of indoctrination runs deep and it's crucial to find a therapist who understands that. I have spent many years becoming that therapist.

— Matt Veader, Therapist in Baltimore, MD

Spiritual Abuse and Religious Trauma can manifest in complicated ways, yet often it’s riddled with guilt/shame that feels inescapable. It can often look like the nuanced shift of a deconstruction, where you can no longer accept what you used to think as true. This can lead to a whirlwind of trying to figure out who you are and who you want to be. Also someone who has worked in various Church settings and holds a M.Div, I’m able to hold space for the subtleties religious trauma demands.

— Russell Baxter, Counselor in Nashville, TN

I have experienced religious trauma. This is an often misunderstood and overlooked kind of trauma in the mental health field. Thankfully more and more therapists are realizing the impacts of religious trauma. My own experience allows me to offer a unique perspective to support other folks that have experienced religious trauma. You are not alone and it is possible to heal and build the life you want.

— Sare Rane, Clinical Social Worker

Spirituality can be the rock that holds us through all forms of storms, or it can be the rock that beats us down into a pulp of nothingness. I love working with clients who are ready to deconstruct and reconstruct their belief systems into their personal relationship with a power greater than themselves. It is highly vulnerable and always life-changing work with immeasurable rewards.

— Rebecca Short, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist

Having grown up in a church that was not always the healthiest, I have a passion for those who have been hurt by religion. I utilize empathic listening and compassion with cognitive behavioral therapy focused on facing the trauma and abuse experienced to help others heal from these issues.

— Rebekah Shaulis, Licensed Professional Counselor

I received my psychology training at a Christian seminary, where I am also pursuing a MA in theology. I believe my awareness of spirituality and religious issues can help you heal from your spiritual abuse in a unique way.

— Helen Jun, Psychotherapist in Santa Monica, CA

I work with individuals who were raised or influenced by a specific religion/spirituality and have realized that they no longer subscribe to those beliefs. These individuals often have lingering guilt and shame, internalized messages they no longer believe, ostracization by family and friends, and difficulty reconciling what they were taught and what they no longer know to be true.

— Jennifer Richards, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate in Bloomington, IN