Spiritual Safe Haven Network

"There is beauty in my mind now" by Ava Lynn Williams.. The artist's work is published in ICSA Today 4.2, 2013, along with the story of her spiritual abuse experiences.

The Spiritual Safe Haven Network (SSHN), like Spiritual Abuse Resources, is a program of ICSA.

SSHN consists of individuals and religious institutions (churches, synagogues, campus religious organizations, etc.) that want to offer those who have experienced spiritual abuse a "safe haven" providing spiritual solace, information, and community.

The misuse of spiritual authority is the core of spiritual abuse.

Spiritual abuse results when individuals are deceived and or otherwise manipulated in ways that cause detrimental changes to the manipulated individual. Spiritual abuse is especially acute when it harms core elements of the self, including a person's relationship to God, religious/philosophical beliefs, self-determination, and capacity to think independently. Though often associated with cultic groups, spiritual abuse may also occur in mainstream denominations when pastors or others misuse their authority or when individuals violate the ethical boundaries of proselytizing or other kinds of influence situations.

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In 2008 the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) conducted a survey of mostly former cultic group members. There were 224 respondents. Eighty respondents (42%) sought help from mainline religious organizations. Thirty-two persons (40%) found these services not at all helpful, 17 (21%) rated the services as helpful or very helpful, and 31 (39%) rated the services as somewhat helpful. These findings suggest that religious organizations can be useful resources for the spiritually abused, but most organizations need to learn more about this population in need.

In the Spring of 2016 ICSA conducted a pilot study of 4 churches in order to assess prevalence of and attitudes toward spiritual abuse. Additional research will be conducted in the future.

Creating a safe haven for those who have been spiritually abused requires that interested individuals, at minimum:

  • understand enough about spiritual abuse and the ethics of influence to "do no harm," and
  • are aware of sympathetic experts in counseling, as well as social and health-care resources to whom they may refer those who have experienced spiritual abuse.

This Website provides resources designed to educate:

  • those who have experienced spiritual abuse and
  • individuals who want their faith communities to be safe havens for spiritually abused persons.

The Website also provides resources for faith communities interested in teaching their congregations, youth in particular, about spiritual abuse and cultic dynamics of influence and control.