Valerie Tarico: Many people seem to walk away from their religion easily, without really looking back. What is different about the clientele you work with?
Marlene Winell: Religious groups that are highly controlling, teach fear about the world, and keep members sheltered and ill-equipped to function in society are harder to leave easily. The difficulty seems to be greater if the person was born and raised in the religion rather than joining as an adult convert. This is because they have no frame of reference – no other “self” or way of “being in the world.” A common personality type is a person who is deeply emotional and thoughtful and who tends to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their endeavors. “True believers” who then lose their faith feel more anger and depression and grief than those who simply went to church on Sunday.
Tarico: Aren’t these just people who would be depressed, anxious, or obsessive anyway?
Winell: Not at all. If my observation is correct, these are people who are intense and involved and caring. They hang on to the religion longer than those who simply “walk away” because they try to make it work even when they have doubts. Sometimes this is out of fear, but often it is out of devotion. These are people for whom ethics, integrity, and compassion matter a great deal. I find that when they get better and rebuild their lives, they are wonderfully creative and energetic about new things.
Valerie Tarico and Marlene Winell, Raw Story, Religious Trauma Syndrome: Psychologist reveals how organized religion can lead to mental health problems, September 9, 2019
Books by Valerie Tarico
Books by Marlene Winell