2018-09-20 A Twisting of the Sacred: The lived experience of religious abuse
A Twisting of the Sacred: The Lived Experience of Religious Abuse
Paula J. Swindle
September 20, 2018
Multiple counseling organizations, including the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP, 2016), the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics (2014), and the Association for Spiritual, Ethical, and Religious Values in Counseling (ASERVIC) competencies endorsed by the American Counseling Association, emphasize the importance of religion/spirituality in the worldview of many clients. The counseling literature has reflected a “burgeoning groundswell of interest in spiritually sensitive counseling” (Cashwell & Watts, 2010, p. 3). Although the literature continues to evolve to guide counselors when a client’s religious involvement is positive and supportive, very little information is found in the scholarly literature to inform counselors when clients present with negative religious experiences, particularly on the end of the spectrum that may be considered religious abuse (Ward, 2011; Wood & Conley, 2014).
The purpose of this study was to address the existing gap in the current research literature on the lived experiences of those who have experienced religious abuse in order to provide empirical grounding to this phenomenon and to aid counselors in working with clients with a history of religious abuse. Seven participants who self-identified as experiencing abuse with a Christian religious setting in the United States shared their lived experiences via semi-structured interviews. The research team summarized common themes and experiences using the methodology of Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). The ten common themes that emerged across the interviews were: Emotional Trauma, Betrayal, Rules Prioritized Over People/Devalued, Abuse of Power/Use of the Sacred to Control or Manipulate, Spiritual Transformation, Isolation, Healing, Gender Bias/Discrimination, Stigma, and Victim-Blaming. After developing the themes through the IPA process, the Traumagenic Dynamics Model (Finkelhor & Browne, 1985) was used to provide a lens to examine this phenomenon, in an effort to begin to build a conceptual framework for the experience of religious abuse to inform counselors, supervisors, and counselor educators
Dr. Paula J. Swindle is an Assistant Professor of Counseling at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina. She received her BA in English from Wake Forest University, her Master’s degree in Community Counseling from Appalachian State University, and her PhD in Counseling and Counselor Education from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She has more than 20 years of experience in the counseling profession. Her research interests include counseling and spirituality and counseling in medical settings.