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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A majority of my training as a therapist has been aimed at becoming more competent at treating trauma - specifically PTSD and Complex PTSD. I am EMDR and IFS trained, and have pursued advanced trainings in healing spiritual trauma related to evangelical Christianity. I am committed to helping unpack the harm done by these systems and helping you work toward healing and wholeness in your life.

— Amanda Steed, Clinical Social Worker

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

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

Religious or spiritual abuse can feel like your soul has been hijacked. This type of abuse can be difficult to recognize especially if your abuser(s) are immediate family members or an intimate partner. Spiritual abuse can especially make survivors feel isolated and leave them in questioning as they experience the abuse and throughout the healing process. Although the psychological impact of spiritual abuse is severe, recovery is very possible.

— Erica Laub, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Burnsville, MN

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

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

Traumatic spiritual and religious experiences often lead to chronic shame, anxiety, fear, and unhealthy tendency to please and appease in order to feel safe, as well as a sense of powerlessness impending doom. I work to help you learn to trust yourself again and heal your nervous system. To feel safe again. To set healthy boundaries. To feel good enough. To enjoy today.

— Carolyn McElroy, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Drumright, OK

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

While for many spirituality provides a source of hope and comfort, your experience with spirituality or religion may have instilled a sense of shame, unworthiness, and fear that separation from these institutions has not resolved. Further, our families, communities, and friends may have reinforced that harmful messaging. As someone who has experienced the harmful impacts of this environment, I am uniquely qualified to address the multifaceted and often

— Jett Roberts, Licensed Professional Counselor in Dallas, TX

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 Fort Collins, CO

I work a lot with folks who have had some form of sexual religious shame and trauma. Learning how to cope, heal and thrive is an important part of the work I do.

— KIMBERLY CASTELO, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Spokane, WA

Deconstruction and working through hurtful internalized mindsets is work that I love, as well as aiding folks in the reconstruction of their spiritual life.

— Dav Monet, Licensed Mental Health Counselor

The context we develop in plays a huge role in how we come to understand and relate to ourselves and our world. Experiences of abuse and trauma exist in religious environments, and religious institutions often do not provide support for let alone acknowledge misuses of power or privilege. Taking steps to relate to yourself, others, and your world more authentically is one of the bravest choices you can make, and I understand the cost it can take to do so. But you don't have to do it alone.

— Katie Webb, Licensed Professional Counselor Associate in Austin, TX

Spiritual abuse and religious trauma, while different experiences, are often compounded by each other. I have a deep understanding of spiritual abuse as a form of child abuse and coercive control. I also have experience and understanding of the long lasting impact of religious trauma and the struggle to separate from the destructive religious beliefs or groups that knowingly or unknowingly act to control not just the victim but everyone in their circle.

— Erica Rampelberg, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor in Columbus, OH

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

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 support individuals & partners in healing religious trauma and abuse that led to harbored pain and shame. This work is rooted in redefining one's sense of self outside of oppressive ideology, and allowing oneself to be loved for who they are and not despite who they are. All facets of your identity will be welcomed and honored here. This is the foundation in which we build new relationships and connections free of oppressive power dynamics, and explore liberated relationship with spirituality.

— Candice Craft, Therapist in Nevada City, CA

I have extensive training in spirituality, religion, and multiculturalism. Navigating one's beliefs or being abused by a religious system can be exceptionally painful. I can help you navigate your own path and find a place of healing and understanding your religious trauma.

— Jen Strickland, M.A., Counselor in Charlotte, NC