Have you ever experienced religious trauma? Would you want to start to work through religious trauma with your clients? What are some basic questions you can ask to get that conversation moving?
In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok speaks about treating religious trauma with Susanna Guarino.
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Meet Susanna Guarino
Susanna Guarino is an LMHC in private practice licensed in NY, RI, FL and AZ who specializes in religious trauma, spiritual abuse recovery, and couples therapy. She works with clients who have been harmed by high-control groups or narcissistic leaders who sought power and control by manipulating and shaming followers rather than helping them. She also works with adult survivors of purity culture. Susanna offers individual, couples, and group therapy online and in-person in Rochester, NY.
In This Podcast
- What religious trauma is
- What might happen when a group controls behavior
- Have you had these experiences?
- Common symptoms of religious trauma in clients
- Susana’s advice to private practitioners
What religious trauma is
The conditions for religious trauma are created when a group or leader uses religion in order to control other people, to create obedience, [and] amass power for themselves, rather than helping people or spreading more love in the world.Susanna Guarino
Religious trauma is not specific to any one type of religion and can occur within any.
Additionally, not everyone within these conditions might develop a trauma response.
However, a trauma response is still frequent when it comes to people in power in religious spaces abusing their influence because people often have intimate friendships or moments of emotional vulnerability within those religious spaces.
If there is an abuse of power within an environment where people may have stepped forward, to be honest or vulnerable, that hurt can strike deeper.
What might happen when a group controls behavior
If an organization or group is trying to control individual people’s behavior using shame and fear to manipulate them into doing things that they do not want to do, that is dysfunctional.
If you are staying up all night meditating because you’re really into it and that’s what you want to do, great. If you were sort of pushed to stay up all night and they won’t let you sleep and you were up for seven nights in a row … that’s more like the behavior of the control.Susanna Guarino
The above quote is a more extreme example, but it illustrates the point being made. Are you doing what you want to do, and what connects you more to your religion and spirituality?
Or are you being made to do something that feels offish, unnatural, or even harmful to yourself in the “name” of your religion, or by the encouragement of a leader?
Have you had these experiences?
If you, as a therapist, have had experiences of religious trauma in the past – and you feel okay doing it – then you can add this as a lens to the patients that you are currently seeing if they are within some religious groups.
Although, if you are a therapist that has not had these experiences yourself, you can still help your clients but be more aware if it is not an experience that you have also shared.
I think therapists who have had their own experiences of this are often more aware and keyed into it than therapists who [haven’t]. So, for therapists who don’t have experience in a religious controlling group, it can be important for them to pay close attention to the signs of that in their clients.Susanna Guarino
Be curious about your client’s religious and spiritual histories. Ask people gentle questions about their histories, as part of your intake even.
Common symptoms of religious trauma in clients
- Issues with physical intimacy with a romantic partner
- Bad, low, or no self-esteem
- Perfectionism or fiercely self-critical
- Trust issues
Susana’s advice to private practitioners
There is a lot more to learn! Spiritual trauma is more widespread than people may realize, and folks maybe need help without realizing it, until you speak to them about it.
Sponsors Mentioned in this episode:
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Useful links mentioned in this episode:
- Visit Good Earth counseling and see Susanna’s Alma and Psychology Today accounts.
- Check out practiceofthepractice.com/invite to join Next Level Practice
Check out these additional resources:
- Why Spending Time Checking in with Your Clinicians in Your Group Practice is the Best Use of Your Time with Carly Fleming | POP 891
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Meet Joe Sanok
Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.
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