Religious trauma is an issue that often goes unnoticed and unrecognized. Unfortunately, this issue is so pervasive among LGBTQ+ people that it can often be disregarded or overlooked as a source of distress for those suffering from its effects.
It’s essential to recognize and address religious trauma to preserve the mental health, well-being, and happiness of those who experience it.
What is Religious Trauma?
Religious Trauma can be caused by a variety of experiences, such as rejection from family or religious institutions due to one’s sexuality or gender identity and even physical or emotional abuse in the name of religion. Unfortunately, this type of trauma can lead to severe psychological distress and can have long-term effects on an individual’s mental health.
A few examples of religious trauma include:
-Someone being outed by parents or peers to religious leaders with out consent, often with the intent of “saving” them or in the hopes of shaming them into “changing” their sexuality or gender identity.
-Religiously oriented conversion therapy or other “medical” or “therapeutic” interventions intended to change someone’s sexuality or gender identity.
-Being subjected to religious rituals (such as exorcisms or baptisms) performed to eliminate someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
-Being told being LGBTQ+ means that you are possessed by demons or are an agent of the devil
-Being told you are personally accountable for unfortunate events such as sickness or accidents attributed to divine retribution by God by being LGBTQ+
Although the most extreme examples of LGBTQ+ discrimination are more visible, it is essential to remember that many individuals with religious trauma experience silent suffering for years, at times not seeing the impact of religious trauma on their lives.
During childhood, when a person forms their identity and establishes relationships with others, religious trauma can be particularly damaging. Even if they conceal their identities, they continuously hear how those who identify as LGBTQ+ are considered sinful and immoral.
Developing Resilience Against Religious Trauma
The first step to building resilience against religious trauma is recognizing and acknowledging its impact on your life. It can be difficult to do this as it requires facing painful memories and feelings of shame, guilt, confusion, and fear. However, understanding the full scope of religious trauma can help LGBTQ people take steps toward healing and building resilience.
The next step is to begin forming a supportive community of individuals who understand the unique challenges of religious trauma. This can be done through online support groups, qualified therapists, or even just finding friends with similar experiences.
If you’re not feeling ready to try a group or therapy, finding other’s on social networks like TikTok, Reddit, or YouTube who share their stories can alleviate some of the isolation felt in the face of religious trauma.
If you think you might have religious trauma, here’s how to find a qualified LGBTQ+ therapist.
If you think the religious trauma in your life might be affecting your mental health, finding an LGBTQ+ therapist that meets all of your needs is essential. Many good therapists out there may not be qualified to work with someone with religious trauma, however, many people who are trained in both LGBTQ+ mental health and trauma treatment are great options.
Here’s what to look for in a therapist for religious trauma:
-Experience and knowledge about LGBTQ+ culture
Although it is often desirable to have a therapist who shares your identity, finding one can be difficult due to provider shortages. Consequently, when looking for an LGBTQ+ affirming therapist, make sure they possess the appropriate training and knowledge. Make sure to inquire about the therapist’s particular training and comprehension of LGBTQ+ matters. When asking this question, they should be able to provide clear and comprehensive answers such as the number of years of experience working with LGBTQ+ people or specific training they have taken.
-An understanding of religious trauma:
It’s important that your therapist understands the specific nuances of religious trauma as they are unique. A competent therapist can recognize how religious trauma can manifest itself in a variety of symptoms, such as anxiety, shame, guilt, mistrust of authority figures, difficulty with religious holidays etc., and know about evidence-based treatments that are best suited for you. Though most trauma treatment approaches don’t address religious trauma exclusively, many can be extremely useful such as Emotionally Focused Therapy, EMDR, and Internal Family Systems.
– Openness to share about their spiritual convictions and backgrounds.
In general, therapists tend to withhold their personal beliefs regarding politics and religion in their work with people. This is often appropriate; however, when a therapist works with those suffering from religious trauma, sharing and talking about spiritual or religious convictions can be instrumental in forming an environment of safety for therapy.
Whether you prefer a therapist of a similar faith background, someone with an accepting approach to all faiths, or no religious beliefs at all – the most important consideration is finding a therapeutic setting that will make you feel safe.
Even though it may feel awkward, asking a prospective therapist if they are willing to share their religious background and beliefs is an imperative part of understanding if they are capable helping you recover.
A healing therapeutic space cannot be effective if the therapist has negative religious convictions toward LGBTQ+ people while still claiming neutrality on these matters.
Avoid any therapist who claims that they can alter an individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation – this is called “conversion therapy” and it not only violates the law but causes significant psychological harm.
Finally, don’t be scared to switch therapists if needed. If you have chosen a therapist who is not meeting all of your needs, or who is not offering the support that you require, it’s okay to leave and find someone else who can.
If you’re struggling with religious trauma, know that you are not alone. This is a real and valid form of trauma that can have long-lasting effects on your mental health. Resilience against religious trauma is possible and there are people who can support you through it. When looking for help from a therapist, make sure to find one with experience in LGBTQ+ culture and religious traumas. You deserve to receive care from someone who understands what you’ve been through and how it has impacted your life.
If this blog resonated with you and you’d like to learn more about how I work with LGBTQ people in California and Illinois read more about therapy for the LGBTQ+ community here.