Spiritual Abuse and Talking to Professionals— Counselors, Pastors, Theologians


Spiritual Abuse and

Talking to Professionals—

Counselors, Pastors, Theologians 


Having the availability of professionals in various fields is a wonderful resource to have.  We all need professionals with various skills since life is complex and there is a chance that when things break down, we do not have the knowledge or wisdom to deal with it.  Knowing ‘who’ to call when the need arises can fast forward pertinent needs, whether they are physical, mental, social, or spiritual.  Many people have had the interest to go deeper with their interests by getting professional training.  They use their career choice to benefit others in their church and the larger community.

I have a number of friends who studied hard and got their counseling degree.  They have a special passion to help people to move forward from brokenness to health.  Their skills are a wonderful addition to the pastoral skills needed in a church setting.  A number of counsellors take extra courses and gain specific knowledge in areas of interest so that they can further aid people who come to them for help.

In a church of any size, there is usually more pastoral care that could be given to congregants in most church families.  Having the resources of nearby counselling groups can be an enormous help to any church ministry team.

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This following section is divided into three categories of Talking to Professionals:  talking to Counselors, talking to Pastors, and talking to Theologians.

Talking to Professionals—


What Worked for Others

When it comes to the topic of spiritual abuse and recovery, the question for many people is: 

          Do I need a professional counselor? 

Another question might be: 

          When should I seek out a professional counselor? 

The basic answer is: 

          For most people, this is an individual choice.


The Participants in my doctoral study provided a wealth of knowledge and experience when it came to how they coped after spiritual abuse in their church.  There were many who sought the help of a professional counselor.  Maybe some of their reasons and/or the results that they have chronicled may be of help to those who are looking for answers for themselves.

The following are comments made from the vantage point of each participant:

“My main means of processing was in weekly sessions with a psychiatrist.  For a few months I also attended a Bible study for women who had difficulty with their image of God because of problems with previous authority figures–particularly male, run by a friend who was also the director of a safe house for battered women.

It was very, very helpful as it was a relatively safe place to honestly explore (vent!) how we really felt about God and contrast that with what the Scripture actually said about the nature of God.”

“I have mentioned my counselor; he was such a great minister.”

“On the positive side, I’ve never regretted my decision to leave.

“Christian Counseling did help me to:

1. Recognize I was angry: “I’d like to lock him up and throw away the key.” “I think you are quite angry.” “What me, angry, whatever gave you that idea?” “Well, that was quite an angry statement.” “Nah!” “Let’s make another appointment for a couple of weeks’ time . . .”

2.  Allowed myself permission to be angry.  I didn’t want to give them another stick to beat me with.  I’d left, but they were still condemning me in my head.  I think I figured the rest out on my own (with God).”

“I also sought pastoral counseling (MS in clinical psych and PhD in pastoral counseling and bereavement specialist) for six months.”

“I sought legal, professional Christian counseling, and advice of mature respected Christians.”

“I went to counseling for the abuse from my father.”

“I immediately sought out the counselor who had been brought into the church by the Senior Pastor to do a staff intervention in spring of 2003.  The counselor had seen first-hand what was going on and I felt I could trust him to understand.  His insight and support for me and my whole family was immeasurably valuable.  I see him as God’s provision in a very painful time.” 

“God provided a gentle and incredibly patient psychiatrist who had grown up in the same denomination as I had who helped me to hang onto a little seed of faith.  I had problems with my image of God as male authority figure, but I could relate to Jesus as a brother who had suffered everything I had and understood.

I honestly believe that man saved my life.  He gave me minimum medication and addressed other physical problems.  He didn’t quote Scripture; he didn’t pray with me.  He just listened.  I was so broken it took well over a year for me to make eye contact and I jumped if he so much as shifted his weight in his chair.  It took him a long time to earn my trust.  For some months I clung to his faith.”

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Need a Good Counselor?

When looking for a professional counselor, it is important to find one who understands spiritual abuse.  Some counselors understand trauma and/or cult-like influences.  These are necessary skills to have in order to help those harmfully affected by spiritual abuse.

For example, a colleague, Dr. Brandon Santan, is a counselor who has made spiritual abuse and recovery a priority.  Brandon’s vision is twofold:

1.  To help people who have been victimized by bad church experiences.

2.  To teach counselors how to deal with spiritual abuse issues in counseling.  We believe that spiritual abuse is an underlying issue for most of the issues brought to the counseling office. We believe that when spiritual abuse is addressed, the other issues will be easier to deal with.  Our long term goal is to launch a complete institute to teach and heal spiritual abuse issues.

Brandon offers understanding and support:

“There is much shame, guilt, anger and confusion surrounding spiritual abuse recovery and many people suffer in silence having nowhere to turn and one to talk to.  People who are struggling spiritually and who are hungry for answers and healing have few places to turn since the one place they should be able to turn to was the very source of their abuse.” *


Brandon describes the broad scope of spiritual abuse:

“Spiritual abuse is often thought of in narrow terms based on a person’s unique experiences.  I’ve come to understand it in a broader context based on my work with many people who have suffered spiritual abuse in one form or another.  Terms such as spiritual deception, toxic religion, toxic faith, bad church experiences, spiritual terrorism, church abuse, religious abuse, etc., are all synonymous terminology and are often used interchangeably with the idea of spiritual abuse.” *

(* http://www.healingspiritualabuse.com/what-is-spiritual-abuse)

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Talking to Professionals—



Although so many Christians have been wounded by pastors, there are a considerable number of pastors who reach out to hurting people.  Their godly and caring life and ministry is a reflection of the Lord whom they serve.  Many of the spiritually abused sheep find solace under the care of a loving pastor.

Those in my study were no exception.  Many found that talking to a pastor who cared, brought help and security, at a time when they needed it most.

The following are what these people encountered:

“Sharing with my father, who himself is a retired Pastor/ Chaplain, has been a great source of accountability and clarity.  His counsel has been wise.  His compassion and care have helped me greatly.”

“We sought counseling with a different pastor.”

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Talking to Professionals—



As stated above, although so many Christians have been wounded by pastors, there are a considerable number of other pastors who reach out to hurting people and their life and ministry intersects with theirs and points them to Christ.

Someone had contacts with theologians in their context.  This proved to be a good fit for them at their time of recovery.

“After a time of rest and recovery, I was invited into the Doctor of Ministry program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and through the excellent people there I was able to enjoy fellowship and see my heart mend.  Getting my doctorate was the best ministry and medicine I have ever experienced.”

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Finding a professional who loves Jesus and who seeks to minister to those wounded by spiritual abuse works for many people.  As stated before, some people go to secular counselors because they are now wary of Christian counselors.  This can also work for many individuals.

There is something about a professional that requires a good fit.  Both the client and counselor or minister need to affirm that they can work together and can relate well in an effective way over an agreed upon period of time.

Choosing a counselor, minister, or theologian to help process one’s situation requires checking out who is available in their particular area.  The choice of a good helper will depend on the fact that they understand how devastating spiritual abuse can be in someone’s life.  It would be good to get referrals, if possible.

It is important to decide on a period of time that would work best for both client and professional helper, as well as decide how often their visits might be scheduled.

Finally, the choice of a professional to help in a time of need rests with the individual.  There are times when individuals and couples need the help of someone who is trained and who can walk them through a regime of hope and health.  There are many benefits from keeping a regular time with a helper over a period of time.  The choice is up to you.

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For Further Reflection

There are many Scriptures which point to the counsel that the Lord provides his people. 

The Psalmist took strength by consulting God’s Word and trusted that God would guide him as he continued to read and meditate on it.

You are my hiding place;

you will protect me from trouble

and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;

I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

                                                                           Psalm 32:7-8

Though rulers sit together and slander me,

your servant will meditate on your decrees.

Your statutes are my delight;

                       they are my counselors.   

                                                    Psalm 19:23-24

The prophet, Isaiah, confirmed that Jesus Christ would be titled ‘Wonderful Counselor’ since the Spirit of the Lord would rest upon him.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called 

Wonderful Counselor,

Mighty God,

Everlasting Father,  

                                                        Prince of Peace.  

                                                                                           Isaiah 9:6

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—

the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and of might,

the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—

and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,

or decide by what he hears with his ears;

but with righteousness he will judge the needy,

with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.

                                                                                              Isaiah 11:2-4a

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© 2012   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.