Overcoming Spiritual Abuse Through Healthy Spiritual Development and Education

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-6-07-49-pmby Sofia University PsyD student, Michelle Pate, MA, MBA


There are people in the world, including myself, who have been manipulated by toxic church principles of shame, fear, and contempt disguised as love. These principles create a form of mental bondage and a painful existence to those who have been programmed by their church. Getting help to identify these problems can be difficult as therapists in general tend to be secular in their belief system. Many who did not grow up in a toxic church do not understand the deep pain and shame that gets embedded in a person’s psyche.

Words like forgiveness, love, grace, soul, God, and salvation get twisted into a psychological bondage to their church rather than freedom from pain as they preach. Being traumatized in the name of God gives a person a deep sense of unease and confusion about their lives, especially if they leave their church. Suddenly they are out in the world without knowing how things work. They often are victimized again without being able to pinpoint exactly what happened.

The concept here is spiritual abuse. Therapists would do well to learn about the damage a toxic church environment can do to a person’s psyche and how to help their clients heal. Books such as “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” and “Toxic Faith” can help a client heal, but so many have been so traumatized, the very word God can trigger a host of unpleasant memories.

 God needs to be re-defined in a healthy context.


Christian researchers, such as James Fowler, Catherine Stonehouse, and Rebecca Nye, assure us that there are Christians in the world who believe in the same healthy developmental phases of the more secular researchers: Erikson, Piaget, and Kohlberg. People need to know there is a healthy way for a human being to develop spiritually so they can decipher what was unhealthy in their own upbringing.

Christian children can grow up in a maladaptive family and church environment and suffer greatly in their dealings out in society. They don’t understand what is spiritually healthy because their environment told them what they were experiencing was what God is. A therapist adept in spiritual competencies can help a client tease apart their past; the abuse they may have suffered, and what healthy spirituality looks like

Click here to read more about the trauma some Christians have gone through and some resources that may help them recover.

ITP-logo_smallAbout The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University

Since 1975, the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University has continued to be an international leader and pioneer, moving humanity forward in the areas of transpersonal research and transpersonal education. training clinicians, spiritual guides, wellness caregivers, and consultants who apply transpersonal principles and values in a variety of settings.  The Sofia educational model offers students not only a solid intellectual foundation, but an extraordinary opportunity for deep transformational growth and personal experience of the subject matter. How does Sofia University accomplish this? The university builds upon its strong, whole-person psychological foundation to give students a greater understanding of the human condition.

Learn more about our programs.


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