How to become a religious trauma therapist

Deborah C. Escalante

A Trauma-Informed Approach to Religious Trauma

The Religious Trauma Institute was co-founded by Dr. Laura Anderson, and Brian Peck, LCSW, in collaboration with a growing community of clinicians who are passionate about bringing a trauma-informed approach to religious trauma.

In 2020, we launched the Collaborative Research Group for graduate students and researchers studying religious trauma.

We’ve hosted several informational workshops for religious trauma survivors including: Religious Trauma and the Nervous System, Religious Trauma and Race, Religious Trauma and COVID19, and a 10-part series on Religious Trauma and Politics available for free on our online course platform.

We’re excited to offer mental health professionals a series of clinical trainings, consultation groups, assessment tools, treatment resources, and a supportive professional community.

We’ll be releasing an expanded version of our website soon with additional resources for religious trauma survivors, mental health professionals, researchers, and advocates.

Sign up below to receive updates via email!

Find a Trauma Therapist

As a licensed therapist in Boise, Idaho, I offer online therapy to Idaho residents and trauma-informed coaching to folks around the world.

The following directories may be helpful in finding a therapist in your local area.

Therapist Directories

Religious Trauma Therapist Directory

A directory of therapists who understand and work with religious trauma, hosted by the Reclamation Collective.

Secular Therapy Project Directory

A directory of therapists who approach their work from a secular perspective. Listed therapists may or may not have experience working with religious trauma.

Therapy Den Directory

A progressive and all-inclusive therapist directory. Listed therapists may or may not have experience working with religious trauma.

Therapy Tribe Directory

A therapist directory and free health and wellness services. Listed therapists may or may not be familiar with religious trauma.

Psychology Today Directory

As the most popular therapist directory, the number of options can be overwhelming. Listed therapists may or may not have experience working with religious trauma.

Somatic Experiencing Directory

A directory of trauma therapists who work from a somatic orientation. Listed therapists are trauma-informed, however they may not have experience with religious trauma.

NARM Directory

An international directory of therapists who use the NeuroAffective Relational Model for complex trauma. Therapists may or may not be familiar with religious trauma.

Counseling

Feeling abandoned, lost, and angry can lead to depression in many who leave their spiritual communities. There are mental health professionals with experience treating these unique symptoms of religious trauma and Religious Trauma Syndrome. You can also search Resources by Belief System. 

BACA JUGA:   Healing From Trauma: A Journey Of Time And Resilience

The following organizations and mental health professionals have made it their mission to help people recover from harmful religion, toxic spirituality, and abuse committed in the name of ideology. For therapists with experience specific to those who have left extremist and/or high-control groups, see Cults.

Holding Hands

Clinically Licensed Mental Health Professionals

Room to Thrive ~ Brian Peck, LCSW, understands religious trauma firsthand. He is one of the co-founders of the Religious Trauma Institute and specializes in helping former believers navigate their deconversion by offering online therapy sessions as well as in-person visits from his office in Boise, Idaho. Check out his budget-friendly Deconversion Clarity Package designed with you in mind, and learn more about his approach on his blog.

Laura Anderson, LMFT ~ Laura is a therapist who specializes in spiritual abuse, religious trauma, and healing from purity culture. She is one of the co-founders of the Religious Trauma Institute and also helps people get out of abusive or domestically violent relationships. Check out her extensive resources or book a session with her in Tennesee or from anywhere online! She is secular and faith-friendly.

Reclamation Collective ~ Holding space for folks navigating religious trauma, spiritual abuse, and adverse religious experiences, Reclamation Collective aims to connect you with trauma-informed therapists (most of them offer virtual sessions) and a slew of online support groups. This advocacy community is founded by two licensed therapists who have firsthand experience with religious trauma.

Rachel Bernstein, LMFT ~ Looking for a mental health professional to talk with about your experiences in a cult or other high-demand group? Rachel has spent over 27 years been helping people who have left cults. If you’re in Los Angeles, set up an appointment with her. If you’re not, you can still check out her podcast IndoctriNation where she covers, “…cults, manipulators, and protecting yourself from systems of control.”

Hope Valley Counseling ~ UK-based Dr. Gillie Jenkinson, Ph.D. specializes in post-cult counseling and working with survivors of spiritual and sexual abuse. She offers distinct approaches for the different needs of first and second-generation former cult members. If you’re outside the UK, you can still work with her by Skype or phone.

Coaches and Support Counselors

Jamie Lee Finch, Certified Integrative Health Coach ~ “Your body is your best teacher,” says Jamie. “I’m just here to introduce the two of you.” If you were taught to deny your body or to view your body as a source of sin and shame, Jamie is here to help you unlearn toxic messages and relearn how to connect with the wisdom of your Self. Read her book You Are Your Own: A Reckoning With the Religious Trauma of Evangelical Christianity and check out her online membership group, The Coven, for sex and body-positive support and self-love!

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Life After God ~ Former pastor Ryan Bell started this site after an experiment with atheism left him unable to reconcile his beliefs with his truth. He now runs a regular podcast and blog, and his organization offers coaching and consulting services for those transitioning out of faith.

Free Hearts, Free Minds ~ If you have a Muslim background, you face the additional dangers of apostacy when you question or leave your religion. The licensed therapists and coaches at Free Hearts, Free Minds are devoted to helping other apostates transition out of Islam, founded by activist and author Yasmine Mohammed.

Religious OCD/Scrupulosity ~ Did you feel consumed with worry about the ”right” way to live your faith?  Were you excessively preoccupied with sin and morality? Up to 50-60% of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) who are from a religious background may struggle with Scrupulosity, a spiritually preoccupied manifestation of OCD. Learn more about Scrupulosity in this video featuring Dr. Steven Phillipson, a NY-based psychologist who also offers therapy sessions via Skype and phone. 

Divorcing Religion ~ Janice Selbie, a former fundamentalist, attained a Diploma of Applied Psychology and Counseling so she could help others cope with the losses and challenges of religious de-conversion. Her online interactive workshops are structured by the stages experienced after divorce: realizing it’s over, the realities of grief, creating healthy boundaries, identity reconstruction, integrating your losses and moving on, and finding and building your new communities. A limited number of scholarships are available. 

Post-Mormon Mental Health ~

If you’re looking for a professional counselor who understands the unique challenges of leaving the Mormon faith, book an online session with Claudine Gallacher, an ex-Mormon life coach specializing in the needs of those transitioning away from Mormonism. See her advice on how to tell LDS friends and family you no longer believe.

The Lasting Mental Health Effects of Religious Trauma

Religious trauma can have an astronomical impact on one’s mental health. Growing up with a strict set of standards and beliefs can mean that you are ill-equipped to navigate a society that operates with a different set of rules. Guilt, depression, hopelessness, and fear can be one of the many emotions you experience as you distance yourself from a religiously abusive community or environment.4

You may experience being ostracized and distanced from a close-knit community and feel the conflicting emotion of being liberated at the same time.9

8 Ways to Recover from Religious Trauma

If you’ve experienced religious trauma, here are seven ways to cope:

1. Recognize That It Has Occurred

It may be easy to make excuses for your childhood or to think that things were just different. In order to heal from your childhood trauma, you have to recognize that, while your community and/or parents may have had good intentions, they were misguided, and it led to you experiencing harm.

BACA JUGA:   Therapist specializing in sexual abuse

2. Separate Your Personal Values From Your Religious Beliefs

Find examples of individuals who do good and are caring who may not subscribe to religious or spiritual beliefs. Write down a list of values that you find important and identify which values are connected to religion.

3. Get Connected to Healthy Supports & Community

Get to know individuals that are outside of your religious community. Join a civic organization or a club. Look for ways to connect and belong to a group where the commonality is not religious beliefs.

4. Explore What You Believe & Why You Believe It

Take inventory of what you’ve been taught to believe and what you know to be true. It’s ok to identify areas where you may feel less sure and would like to do more exploration.

5. Create Healthy Boundaries in Relationships

Experiencing religious trauma can mean that you have not experienced healthy boundaries. This means that you have had decisions made for you without your informed consent and that it may feel unfamiliar to set your own standards for relationships.

6. Identify Your Hopes for the Future

Be intentional about creating a life and experiences for yourself that are outside of what you experienced as a child. Make a bucket list and start taking small steps outside of your comfort zone. Foster relationships with individuals who have different perspectives and backgrounds than you.

7. Seek Support Through Therapy

Finding a therapist can feel like a daunting process and it may seem unlikely to find a clinician that specializes in religious trauma. However, a trauma-informed therapist that specializes in Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) can be a great starting point for getting additional support. A few therapy techniques to explore that have proved helpful for recovering from trauma include EMDR and somatic therapy.

Slade suggests that, “The most effective treatment options will, of course, depend on the individual and the type of religious trauma. However, at the Global Center for Religious Research 2021 International eConference on Religious Trauma, multiple speakers highlighted the effectiveness of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, entheogenic (psychedelic) therapies, and somatic therapy. In each case, though, there was an emphasis on people connecting to a larger community of trauma survivors, as well as recognizing the link between traumatic experiences and their adverse effects on the physical body’s nervous system.”

8. Know That You’re Not Alone

Slade adds, “We are coming to learn that religious trauma is much more pervasive and universal than previously thought. An important tip for someone working to heal from religious trauma is to remember that you’re not alone in your pain. The continued experience of trauma later in life is not a reflection of your personal coping skills or your strength to overcome the past. You are not your trauma.”

Final Thoughts on Dealing With Religious Trauma Syndrome

The process of leaving a religion can be complicated and it looks different depending on the individual. You may doubt yourself and doubt that you’re doing the right thing. However, connecting with individuals who have had a similar experience, as well as a therapist, is an excellent step in making healthy decisions for your mental and emotional well-being and creating a new future for yourself.

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