Archive of ‘Austin Family Counseling’ category

Do You Suffer from Religious Trauma?

When you hear the words “religious trauma,” what do you think of? You’re maybe thinking something along the lines of Catholic priests and altar boys. And while that’s certainly one of the most egregious examples of religious trauma, it can be much subtler than that. 

In 1993, Marlene Winell, a psychologist and former Christian fundamentalist, coined the term Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) to specifically refer to “the condition experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination.” The definition has been expanded and now includes spiritual trauma for those who may not have identified with a specific religion (e.g. cults). 

You may be thinking, my religious upbringing wasn’t that bad. And you may be right. But you may want to think about if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms of RTS:

  • Confusing thoughts and reduced ability to think critically
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Feelings of depression, anxiety, grief, anger, lethargy
  • A loss of a community (family, friends, romantic relationships)
  • Feeling isolated or a sense that you don’t belong
  • Feeling “behind the times” with cultural happenings
  • Experiencing significant shame, guilt and/or low self-esteem
  • Addictive or compulsive behaviors
  • Sexual difficulties
  • “Black and White” thinking (e.g. something is either good or bad; no room for “grey”)
  • Perfectionism
  • Inability to tolerate the distress of participating in any kind of organized religion and avoidance of religious environments, people, and reading material.
  • And many other symptoms of PTSD including nightmares, flashbacks, dissociation, emotional difficulty, etc.

RTS might show up for you in your relationships with others and yourself. For example, you may struggle with being in a relationship with someone from a different religion. Or, you may beat yourself up after doing something that would have been considered “bad” or “evil” in your religion or your family of origin. You may feel uncomfortable being your authentic self in front of loved ones. If you are experiencing this, you are not alone.  

Most people don’t come into therapy to deal with their religious upbringing, but depression, anxiety, relational concerns, etc., may have been how your body has learned to deal with trauma. 

One of the benefits of recovering from religious trauma is that you get to choose whether you practice your faith. (In fact, the freedom to choose your own path in life may be the greatest benefit of all.) You may develop a different, healthy relationship with religion, or you may decide to leave religion behind. You may learn to create or join a community that serves your needs, rather than changing yourself to fit the community. You could develop ways of connecting with something greater than yourself without feeling guilt or pressure to behave a certain way. 

But it may be necessary to work through the trauma to tap into any spiritual growth. 

If you are struggling with religious trauma, you may want to consider speaking with your therapist about it. Research suggests that talk therapy can be one of the best ways to work through religious trauma.

When heroes need help

firefighters in action

byMaria Vanillo, M.S.

My father has been a first responder for over 30 years. His profession has come with numerous sacrifices both he and our family have made. From sleepless nights to difficulties with facing everyday stressors, we all struggled. I learned how difficult it is to ask for help, the misconceptions of receiving assistance, and the ripple effect a problem can have when it goes unsolved.

5 Steps to Asking for Help

Acknowledge there is a problem.

When it comes to family matters’ there is a false belief that a single person is to blame for all the negative aspects of our lives. Therapists who work from a family systems perspective believe that an occurring issue is not because of an individual but the family unit as a whole. Both positive and negative behaviors, thoughts, and emotions are reinforced within families. The negative beliefs loved ones have passed down about mental health, asking for help, and the misconception that vulnerability is a weakness is hurting us. Just because these thoughts are loud and feel true does not make them correct.

Identify safe individuals to speak with.

Finding helpful resources can be frustrating. To find a counselor that suits your needs searching Psychology Today or Inclusive Therapists allows you to specialize your search for a mental health professional. You can also speak with your primary care physician to ask about local referrals and support groups. 

Be vulnerable and share what is happening.

Once you have found a clinician you trust, SHARE! Share your thoughts, from fears of what therapy is to what brings you joy. Clinicians are not mind readers and are not making attempts to declare insanity. We ask questions to understand what is happening in your life and provide resources that best suit your needs.

Give yourself grace when working on steps to solve the problem.

It can take years for someone to reach out for help. It takes time for a clinician to provide tools to help you solve the problem. 

Set boundaries.

If you are not ready for the world to know you’re in counseling, that is okay. Voice your concerns to your clinician. They can help you create boundaries when discussing personal matters with others. Privacy is of the utmost importance when conducting sessions. What is shared and what is kept confidential will be discussed during the first session with your clinician.


  • You are not alone, and many people are struggling with the same problem you face.
  • Talking to a mental health professional does not make you a burden.
  • Ignoring the problem does not fix it.
  • Not asking for help is scarier than receiving it.

Written by

Maria Vanillo, M.S., LPC-Associate, Supervised by Molly McCann, M.S., LPC-S

Meet Maria!

Therapy is a long-term Investment

Are we there yet?

I remember going on family vacations when I was younger. The excitement between my three sisters and I would build for weeks. Finally, the day would arrive, and we were off. Pretty soon the questions would begin. Anyone who has traveled with children (or some adults) has heard these questions. “How much longer?” “Are we close?” “Are we there yet?” Depending on how long the drive was, there could be many variations of these questions, and they would be asked numerous times. This was usually when my parents remembered why we had flown instead of driven the year before.

The journey.

The journey of therapy has some similarities to our family road trips. Appointments are made with anticipation of feeling better. You may feel depressed, anxious, or could be dealing with a specific issue that is interfering with your life and your happiness. You are seeking help and a new perspective on life. Some clients come to therapy primarily to reduce the symptoms they are struggling with, and, there are some that want help discovering the issues that may cause those symptoms. 

How long is this going to take?

You finally make it to your first session. A common question that is asked is, “How many sessions will this take?” or “What’s the estimated time frame for this issue?” Moving into sessions two, three and four, people start asking, “How much longer will I need therapy?” “Is there something I should be doing on the side to expedite this process?” “Can you suggest any books or seminars that may cut off a few sessions?”

We live in a time where convenience, speed and efficiency are desired and expected. Expedited shipping, fast food, same-day delivery, express lane – we want everything fast. I just did a Google search for “Austin.” As soon as I hit the enter key, an entire selection of sites appeared. In fact, I received a notice telling me that Google had provided about 12,230,000,000 results in 0.84 seconds. Nearly instantaneous results have become our normal, which makes the process of therapy seem abnormally long.

To go fast, we slow things down

Jonathan Shedler said, “Psychotherapy is about slowing things down—so we can begin to see and understand the patterns that otherwise happen quickly, automatically, without reflection or awareness. (American Psychologist: 2019) When my family took road trips when I was a kid, so much more happened along the way than just getting to our destination. While it may have been  faster to fly, we certainly learned more about ourselves, and made deep, lasting memories during our drives in the car.

Similarly, accelerated therapy is not expeditious. Slower is faster. Attempting to race through therapy may work for a time. But when we don’t take the time to look deeply into the issues at play, it usually results in coming back to therapy again, perhaps with more issues the next time. There is no express lane for restructuring years of harmful learned behaviors, barriers that were built for safety, non- effective coping mechanisms, or destructive narratives that we believe and live out. It takes years to build unhealthy beliefs and patterns of behavior. It takes time to discover them and unlearn them.

Therapy is an investment of time, money, and effort

Therapy is an investment in a better life. It takes time, money and effort. Those who are willing to exert patience, fervent determination and hard work are the ones who experience a positive return on the investment. You are worth it.

Written by clinician Lorri M. Frasier M.A., NCC,  LCDC – Associate, LPC-Associate

supervised by Dr. Kyle Miller, LPC-S

Meet Lorri!

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