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Religious Trauma Syndrome: How Some Organized Religion Leads to Mental Health Problems

March 27, 2013

This article is very important for the mental, emotional and spiritual health of many sincere people. It is also important for everyone, leaders and lay people, religious and non-religious. The discussion here is one that impacts us all, directly or indirectly… one we need to pay much more attention to and participate in.  Below is my own response, also posted on Valerie’s Away Point blog, to the original article. I know Dr. Tarico personally, have followed her work for years and can vouch for her deep knowledge and professionalism — Blog Host, Howard Pepper.     

My own comments on it are just below in “comments” section.



Religious Trauma Syndrome- AnguishAt age sixteen I began what would be a four year struggle with bulimia.  When the symptoms started, I turned in desperation to adults who knew more than I did about how to stop shameful behavior—my Bible study leader and a visiting youth minister.  “If you ask anything in faith, believing,” they said.  “It will be done.” I knew they were quoting the Word of God. We prayed together, and I went home confident that God had heard my prayers.

But my horrible compulsions didn’t go away. By the fall of my sophomore year in college, I was desperate and depressed enough that I made a suicide attempt. The problem wasn’t just the bulimia.  I was convinced by then that I was a complete spiritual failure. My college counseling department had offered to get me real help (which they later did). But to my mind, at that point, such help…

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 27, 2013 2:02 pm

    My response to the linked interview above with Dr. Tarico and Dr. Winell:

    There is soooo much to discuss about this topic. There is just way too little education and awareness in our culture of many issues to do with religion and with psychological/social well-being, and then how the two intertwine (or clash) at key points. Good things have been written at least since the famous William James’ work at turn of the 19th to 20th century! But they are not known to most people; and youth are especially unlikely to seek out or encounter and want to read (or even listen to, watch) good material that could prepare them to either not be as vulnerable or be able to spot quicker and leave unhealthy religion while it’s easier, or know how/where to get support if it’s tougher.

    I follow trends pretty closely and do see hopeful, helpful things in place or developing, certainly including your work, Valerie, and that of Dr. Winell. But large cultural trends as well. And actually some of them come from “within” religion (or its institutions). I wasn’t sure about this for quite a while after realizing my Evangelical belief system was fatally flawed and contained much that WAS indeed, toxic (and leaving it… in my case relatively untraumatically, largely because by then I was very psychologically and theologically savvy…. something not encouraged generally within conservative religion).

    Included in such healthy trends is the development, within “Progressive Christianity,” of more clear and consistent principles, values and “theology” (but without so much of the theo–God/supernatural–aspect). Running roughly parallel and intertwining with this has been the development of Process philosophy and theology. Much of the reason why religion has become culturally reactive and particularly toxic in the last century has to do with the polarities set up between it and science (for which not “true” science, but “scientism” and pure materialism has to bear responsibility as well).

    A great (but little known) mathematician/scientist/philosopher noted this clearly in the early 1900s… left formal mathematics to work on it, philosophically. That was Alfred N. Whitehead. His very insightful (“healthy” and balanced) system for understanding reality for modern humanity was subsequently honed into a thorough “theology” that is Christian in the sense of using Christian texts, stories and traditions but re-works the dogma and encourages things like independent thinking and care for the earth, human rights (especially feminism come the 70s and 80s), etc. (A couple links for Process and Progressive Christianity are listed to the right on this blog homepage. Also, the Wikipedia article on Process theology is well done and helpful, listing lots of resources.)

    An additional highly recommended source is Integral Institute and the related agencies of Ken Wilber and Interal Life, one of them being “Integral Christianity”.

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