While we hope you feel liberated after leaving a harmful belief system, there is nothing wrong with you if you find yourself also struggling with feelings of devastation and anger. You might be grieving someone you don’t believe in anymore. Maybe you’re terrified of going to a hell you’re not even sure exists. You might feel enraged, abandoned, and lost. These feelings are normal. They're often symptoms of Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS).
Slowly but surely, mental health professionals are becoming more familiar with Religious Trauma Syndrome. RTS is not yet officially recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Dr. Marlene Winell would like to change that. The ex-Pentecostal turned psychologist says, “We have in our society an assumption that religion is for the most part benign or good for you. Therapists, like others, expect that if you stop believing, you just quit going to church, putting it in the same category as not believing in Santa Claus… Therapists often don’t understand fundamentalism, and they even recommend spiritual practices as part of therapy."
Does that sound like the last thing you need? We're happy to say there is a growing network of secular therapists and peer groups you can turn to for support.
If you need immediate emergency assistance, please call 9-1-1. You can also visit the emergency room of your nearest local hospital.
You might be thinking there is no point to life anymore. That without your faith or community, life is meaningless. Starting over can seem cripplingly overwhelming. Though the hotlines below may not yet be familiar with Religious Trauma Syndrome, they are familiar with depression and desperation. If you're thinking of ending your life, don't hesitate to give them a call. Help is available.
International Suicide Hotlines ~ A compiled list of international phone numbers for when you're feeling hopeless.
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 Syndrome. You can also search Resources by Belief System. 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 destructive groups, see Cults.
Clinically Licensed Mental Health Professionals
Journey Free ~ The term Religious Trauma Syndrome was originated by Dr. Marlene Winell, Ph.D., who maintains a therapeutic practice leading an online support group and weekend retreats for those looking to rebuild their lives after religion. Book a session with her over phone or Skype, or visit her office in Oakland, CA.
The Secular Therapy Project ~ Find a therapist without a spiritual agenda. Recovering From Religion has a growing database of non-religious mental health professionals who use evidence-based approaches to counseling.
Recovering from Religion ~ One of the largest resource sites of its kind, it's a must-visit for both the religious who still value their faith and the non-religious seeking secular help. See their vast list of mental health and crisis information, find a local support group, or listen to their podcast.
Room to Thrive ~ Brian Peck, LCSW, understands religious trauma firsthand. He now 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.
OCD Online ~ Do you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? Did you know that up to 50-60% of OCD sufferers with a religious background battle Scrupulosity, a spiritually preoccupied manifestation of OCD? Learn more about Scrupulosity in this video featuring Dr. Steven Phillipson, Ph.D., the NY-based psychologist who specializes in Scrupulosity and also offers therapy sessions via Skype and phone.
The School of Life ~ The London, UK-based organization most famously known for its delightfully animated philosophic videos also offers psychotherapy with a secular-based approach. You might know its founder Alain de Botton from his books, or his Ted Talks video called "Atheism 2.0." All The School of Life Psychotherapists are registered and offer in-person or online sessions.
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.
Jim Moyers, MA, MFT ~ This therapist understands Religious Trauma Syndrome. As a former Seventh-Day Adventist, Jim has a particular interest in helping others who come from fundamentalist backgrounds and currently serves the San Francisco Bay Area. See Jim's list of resources for ex-fundamentalists and former cult members.
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."
Spiritual Abuse Resources ~ SAR offers helpful information for individuals recovering from what they call Post-Cult After Effects . They also provide resources for concerned loved ones, as well as guidelines for both religious professionals, whom many ex-cult members turn to for safety, and mental health professionals, who can sometimes be ill-equipped to understand or help those fleeing spiritual abuse.
Coaches and Support Counselors
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.
Free Hearts, Free Minds ~ If you have a Muslim background, you face the additional dangers of apostacy when you question or leave your religion. Ex-Muslim Jimmy Bangash is the EFT-certified life coach at Free Hearts, Free Minds, devoted to helping other apostates transition out of Islam.
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.
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.
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. OCDLA.com is another resource for learning more about Scrupulosity, and they too offer phone or Skype sessions as well as in-person therapy sessions in Los Angeles.
Want to connect with others rebuilding their lives after leaving faith and harmful ideology? Sometimes just talking with someone who understands what you're going through is one of the most healing things you can do. The following websites feature growing on-and-offline communities.
Grief Beyond Belief ~ This self-described faith-free support network is just that: a safe place for those grieving the loss of a loved one to turn to for comfort from those who won't tell them everything happens for a reason. Their secular grief library is full of heartfelt stories from other nonbelievers.
Secular Organizations for Sobriety ~ Many who struggle with substance abuse also struggle with finding help outside of faith-based organizations. SOS wants to fix that. Find or start a meeting near you, or find an online support group (includes secular groups for eating disorders and more).
Faith to Faithless ~ This UK-based nonprofit was founded by ex-Muslims who wish to give a voice to minority-within-minority groups like other ex-Muslims, ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, and ex-Mormons. They offer guidance for those looking to "come out," resources for those escaping honor based violence, and more. Check out their videos.
The Secular Directory ~ From helping you find local atheist or humanist groups in your area to offering an extensive list of non-faith-based resources for everything from grief counseling to secular parenting, head here for all things secular.
Sunday Assembly ~ Are you a former believer who misses the community of church? This worldwide organization hosts fun, non-religious get-togethers for fellowship to just celebrate life, regardless of your beliefs or non-beliefs.
The Clergy Project ~ Are you a former or current clergy member who no longer holds supernatural beliefs? If your answer is yes and you could use the compassion and help of other religious leaders leaving both faith and profession, apply to join this online support community.
Black Nonbelievers ~ With active groups in over 12 states, this community of self-described "Blacks (and allies)" aims to promote a sense of festive fellowship for the minority-within-a-minority of faithless African-Americans and other Blacks. Check out their blog!
Hispanic American Freethinkers ~ Advancing Latino culture through science and reason, this group hosts meet-ups in Washington, D.C. Check out their blog or get involved by attending one of their events.
The School of Life ~ Do you like reason-based philosophy instead of faith-based teachings? The School of Life's enchantingly educational videos and thought-provoking articles provide a humanist approach for lovers of learning who seek self-growth outside of spiritual settings. Founded by Alain de Botton, Ted Talks speaker of "Atheism 2.0."
The Friendly Atheist ~ Here at Dare to Doubt, we're not afraid of the A-word. Though we welcome all in various stages of belief, if you've already decided faith in anything is not for you, the videos, blogs, and podcast of the Friendly Atheist will keep you engaged.
Skeptic Meditations ~ This site explores the hidden dark side of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. Its founder, a former monk of Self Realization Fellowship Monastic Order (founded by yogi and author Paramahansa Yogananda), pens thoughtful critiques of "enlightenment" and gurus, and also sheds light on adverse effects of yoga and meditation.
We have tried to make finding help simple and straightforward. For this reason, the resources on this page are not an exhaustive list. If you'd like to be added to our resource network, please contact us!