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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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

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

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

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

Sydney understands that some organizational structures within our communities have been harmful to their survivors. Sydney aims to understand your unique experience within these systems in order to help you heal and move in the direction of recovery & resilience.

— Sydney Micheletti, Associate Professional Counselor in Athens, GA

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

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 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

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

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

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 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

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

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

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

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