spiritual abuse

Therapy for Religious Trauma in NYC

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What is religious trauma?

We specialize in therapy for religious trauma in NYC

Religion can be a challenging subject. Some find comfort in it, subscribing to orders and doctrines to guide their thoughts and their actions. Others do not deem it important, content with keeping it out of their lives.

For some, however, religion can be a source of trauma, whether caused by a religious institution, family affiliation, or the community surrounding it. Religious trauma, also called religious trauma syndrome, may not be an official diagnosis in the DSM-5 (the manual used by mental health professionals to identify and diagnose conditions), but that doesn’t make it any less real.

Religious trauma can result from a variety of factors, leading to situations such as:

    • Leaving a religious community and losing the relationships you formed within

    • Politics within the community

    • Constant disapproval of feelings or independent thinking (e.g. being dismissed, gaslighted, or shamed when you disagree with authority figures)

    • Compromised trust or betrayal on behalf of someone you thought you could trust

    • Physical or sexual abuse perpetuated by someone with authority or high standing within the religious community

    • Being criticized, shamed, or mocked for your beliefs or practices that may or may not deviate from the norm (whether by people outside or inside of the community)

    • Authority figures using religious doctrine to control others financially, emotionally, psychologically, physically, etc (e.g. using religious beliefs to control what clothes you wear, who you can date, what jobs you can have, how you interact with other people, etc.)

    • Being forced, coerced, or guilted into participating in activities you don’t want to participate in (e.g. being forced to give money or share resources “for a cause”)

    • Having your feelings or identity (e.g. sexuality) invalidated and labeled as “demonic,” “sinful,” or “a result of weak faith”

    • Being subjected to physical and or psychological abuse simply due to your sexual identity (e.g. conversion therapy, family members disowning you)

    This isn’t an exhaustive list. Religious trauma is an informal and broad term — it can arise from various situations (or a combination thereof) and can happen in any religion. A toxic religious environment can feel inescapable, especially because leaving often means denouncing your current life.

    Regardless of how toxic your environment may be, it still includes your entire life and everyone you know. Giving up that support and starting over from scratch can be a frightening prospect, and oftentimes it leaves vulnerable people stuck where they are.


    What Does Religious Trauma Feel Like?

    Experiencing religious trauma can leave you feeling adrift and unsure. If your community doesn’t tolerate individual questioning, you may experience extreme anxiety over your doubts.

    It’s normal to feel conflicted about experiencing religious trauma. What isn’t normal, however, is experiencing religious or spiritual abuse. Your religious community is meant to be a place of safety, support, and spirituality — you don’t have to tolerate abuse or neglectful treatment from others.

      If you’re unsure if you’re suffering from religious trauma, here are some symptoms you may be experiencing:

        • Low self-esteem and self-worth (e.g. feeling guilty or ashamed for questioning your religious beliefs, being unable to trust your judgment or intuition, being ashamed of your body, etc.)

        • Feeling conflicted, ambivalent, angry, anxious, depressed, and/or guilty due to questioning your community, upbringing, people, teachings, and ideologies that previously brought comfort

        • Depression and anxiety

        • Being afraid of voicing your opinion or questioning what you’re taught

        • Being excessively critical of yourself and others (e.g. judging actions based on your religious beliefs and a fear of repercussion for violating said beliefs)

        • Not sharing or taking measures to conceal aspects about your life or yourself out of fear of others uncovering the “real” you

        • Being unable to say “no” to others out of obligation or guilt

        • Feeling jumpy or constantly on alert

        • Questioning your identity or feeling lost or without a sense of purpose (e.g. What does it mean for me if I no longer identify as a religious person or with this specific group?)

        • Feeling lonely and isolated, even when surrounded by others 

        • Feeling uncomfortable in social settings, or as though you “don’t belong”

        • Feeling like you’ve been left behind (e.g. thoughts like “Other people are already getting married and starting a family but I’m still far behind.”)

        • Avoiding people, places, or activities that remind you of traumatic memories

        • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy

        • Strained relationships with your family and friends

        • Hostility or dismissiveness towards others not within the same religious community

        As experiences are unique to an individual, there are no hard and fast rules for what constitutes a symptom of religious trauma. In some cases, religious trauma presents similarly to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or Complex PTSD. If you feel like these symptoms are holding you back from fully expressing yourself and genuinely enjoying your daily life, therapy for religious trauma in NYC may help.


          NYC Therapists Who Specialize in Therapy for Religious Trauma

          Connecting with the right therapist is the most important factor in your search. We’re here to help you find a great match.

          What Does Therapy for Religious Trauma Look Like?

          How Therapy Can Help Religious Trauma.

          A therapist who specializes in concerns related to religious trauma can offer personalized support and professional guidance in your healing journey. Therapy can take on many forms — for example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can focus on identifying and addressing your negative thought patterns and behaviors, while Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can help you reprocess traumatic memories and make them less overwhelming.

          Spiritual counseling and existential therapy can help you explore the role of religion in your life, and figure out how to reconcile your beliefs with your chosen path forward. For some people, making sense of their religious beliefs and spirituality with the guidance of a trained progressional is immensely healing. Your therapist can work with you to identify your goals and the therapeutic approach you’re most comfortable with.

          It can be difficult to confide in a stranger.  Our trained NYC therapists provide a safe, judgment-free space where you can begin unpacking uncomfortable emotions with personalized support. Healing from trauma takes time, and the compassionate support of a professional and trusted therapist can make the journey easier.

          What If I’m Not Ready To Start Therapy?

          Religious trauma can be a difficult topic to explore, especially when it’s tied to a space you once found comfort and social connection in. If you’re not yet ready to start therapy for religious trauma in New York City, it’s perfectly understandable. Here are a few resources that can help you feel better today:

          • Find community: For some, the loss of community is one of the most difficult parts of leaving a religion. If you feel lonely or isolated, consider seeking other local communities that you can join, whether at a volunteer organization, your job, your school, the local government, etc. You can also seek out support groups and helpful resources for others that have experienced religious trauma, such as Dare to Doubt and Recovering from Religion.

          • Explore new beliefs: If you take comfort in the thought of a higher power watching over you, it can be frightening to question your beliefs and leave your religion. You can always begin exploring new beliefs that don’t compromise your identity, thoughts, or emotions. 

          • Start on some inventory work: A personal inventory, which involves taking stock of your values, relationships, qualities, and so on, is a helpful way to understand who you are and how your trauma has affected you.

          • Practice sensate focus: If your beliefs made you fearful of being intimate with a partner, practicing sensate focus can help you gain control over your feelings over time. It’s meant to differentiate between touching and being touched and begins with non-sexual touching, eventually building up to sensual intercourse. 

          Are you struggling to heal after religious trauma?

          We can help.

          Religious trauma can be difficult to work through on your own. We offer guided, non judgemental support and the tools you need to begin healing. Reach out today for a complimentary consultation with a therapist that specializes in therapy for religious trauma in NYC today.


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          Alyssa Digges, MA
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          Amy Schell, LMHC
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          Ariel Zeigler, Ph.D
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          Begoña Núñez Sánchez, LP
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          Carole Taylor-Tumilty, LCSW
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          Caryn Moore, LCSW
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          Christina Mancuso, LCSW
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          Courtney Cohen, LMHC
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          Daniel Rich, LMHC
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          Elena Beharry, Psy.D
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          Eliza Chamblin, LCSW
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          Fanny Ng, Ph.D
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          Gary Brucato, Ph.D
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          Gavin Shafron, Ph.D
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          Janel Coleman, LMSW
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          Jen Oddo, LCSW
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          Jessa Navidé, Psy.D.
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          Joanna Kaminski, LMFT
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          Josh Watson, LMSW
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          Justin L.F. Yong, LMHC
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          Karen Kaur, Ph.D
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          Kristin Anderson, LCSW
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          Logan Jones, Psy.D
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          Lucas Saiter, LMHC
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          Monica Amorosi, LMHC
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          Nicole Maselli, LMHC
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          Peter Gradilone, LMSW
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          Regina Musicaro, Ph.D
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