Religious and spiritual trauma is often an overlooked experience that enormously impacts generations. As more and more humans decide to leave organized religions or join cults, we are understanding the effects of those experiences as traumatic and adverse. Listen to Cassidy DuHadway, LCSW, discuss adverse religious experiences and how they lead to foundational belief systems that present as complex trauma. Concepts of religious messaging, shame, enmeshment, attachment, and negative spiritual experiences will be explored. Find out how EMDR therapy can help heal those impacted.
- Spiritual Abuse Screener – Dan Koch
- Religious Trauma Inventory – Anna Clark-Miller
- Spiritual Abuse Questionnaire
- Religious Trauma Quiz
- Adverse Religious Experiences Questionaire by Rebekah Drumsta
- Religious Trauma Institute
Cassidy DuHadway’s handouts about religious trauma, including a book list and all the links above, are here.
- EMDRIA Online EMDR Therapy Resources
- EMDRIA Client Brochures
- Focal Point Blog
- EMDRIA Practice Resources
- EMDRIA’s Find an EMDR Therapist Directory lists more than 15,000 EMDR therapists.
- Follow @EMDRIA on Twitter. Connect with EMDRIA on Facebook or subscribe to our YouTube Channel.
- EMDRIA Online Membership Communities for EMDR Therapists
Musical soundtrack, Acoustic Motivation 11290, supplied royalty-free by Pixabay.
Kim Howard 00:04
Welcome to the Let’s Talk EMDR podcast brought to you by the EMDR International Association or EMDRIA. I’m your host Kim Howard. In this episode we are talking with the EMDR certified therapist and consultant. Cassidy DuHadway, about EMDR therapy for religious and spiritual trauma. Cassidy is located in Heber City, Utah. Let’s get started. Today we are speaking with EMDR certified therapists and consultant Cassidy DuHadway to talk about EMDR therapy for treating religious and spiritual trauma. Thank you, Cassidy for being here today. We are so happy that you said yes.
Cassidy DuHadway 00:38
Of course, Kim. I’m so glad to be here and to be talking with you again today.
Kim Howard 00:42
So can you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an EMDR? Therapist?
Cassidy DuHadway 00:46
Yeah, so I am a therapist for Utah. And I’ve lived in Utah for a long time. And when I was working with community mental health I was working with, I was working in the school systems with teenagers and I was working in drug court and the go to therapy right now or has been in Utah is just CBT. And it just felt like there’s only so much you could do and you just kept getting blocked and blocked and blocked, right. And one of my peers went got trained in EMDR, and came back and was super excited about it. And so I started begging to get trained in EMDR. Because I worked for community mental health, it took a couple of years, right? They’re like, we don’t want to pay that. But I finally got trained in 2015 with HAP. And then I kind of just fell in completely because the same time I was getting trained, I started my own EMDR healing journey. And it just created such an impact for me, I was able to bring that experience and that love of healing and EMDR to my clients. And so we were really able to take that journey together as I was learning how to do EMDR. So…
Kim Howard 01:54
it’s a great story. Thank you. Yeah, what’s your favorite part of working with EMDR therapy?
Cassidy DuHadway 01:59
My favorite part is seeing the magic of the shifts, right? Like this thing where we go in and we do all of this work with EMDR. But it’s all this underlying on your needs work. And then changes happening that they don’t have to practice or set goals for. It just shifts their sense of self in a way that they show up differently. And it’s just it’s so powerful for people.
Kim Howard 02:23
Thank you. That’s a great answer. Yeah, we hear that a lot on this podcast. And I read on our social media accounts. And I hear the same thing as well. People will say EMDR saved my life or EMDR changed my life. And so it’s really good to hear that testimony is coming from people who have used it. So that’s a common theme that we hear. Yeah. Good to know. What successes have you seen using EMDR therapy for treating religious and spiritual trauma?
Cassidy DuHadway 02:49
Yeah, so this is where it gets a lot more complex, I think a little bit. So a lot of times with religious and spiritual trauma. Most when I started working with religious and spiritual trauma, and people didn’t come to say, I want to work on this thing. They were coming in with like these big white pieces, and like I have trauma, but like, I don’t know what all these things are. And when we really got down to the basics, and what was going on, is underneath what was going on was this on your lying, kind of sense of lack of a sense of lack of worth, love, and belonging. And that underlying piece was connected to their religious upbringing and their religious story and their, their deeper cultural pieces. And so the successes I have seen are the humans that walk into my office, and they move from this, I am worthless, I have to earn my worth. My value is only in being this type of woman, or mother to knowing their inherent sense of love and worth and belonging, and showing up in that power and showing up in that way. It’s incredible to see, it’s just incredible to see somebody walk from not knowing that they have a sense of self and their own sense of worthiness into that power, and changes their lives.
Kim Howard 04:12
Do you normally work with a lot of women is is your in your practice…are the majority of your clients, women? Are they men or is it a good mix between the two?
Cassidy DuHadway 04:21
It kind of goes back and forth. I typically work with mostly women in my practice, especially with religious trauma. as I become more specialized in religious trauma. I’ve worked with more men that come in specifically looking for some of those pieces. Yeah, so it’s it’s a good mix, but I’m probably still like probably 70/ 30%.
Kim Howard 04:41
So are there any myths that you would like to bust about EMDR therapy for treating religious and spiritual trauma?
Cassidy DuHadway 04:47
Yes, first of all, religious trauma is not just about cults. Right, and it’s not just for people that have left a religion. So religious trauma is for anyone And that has experienced some sort of trauma within a religious or spiritual setting, not just as a specific way it looks. And so again, it’s like trauma, it’s trauma, right? So it’s how we interpret that language and that experience and that family setting in that church system. It’s how we experience it over time. And yes, it is more common in cults. It’s more common in high demand, high demand religions, and it can happen in all religions. So the other the other big myth that I think is really important to talk about is healing from religious trauma doesn’t mean that you’re going to leave your religion, right? It doesn’t make you an ex of something or ex evangelical or ex Mormon. And it doesn’t mean you’re, you’re going to want to lose your belief and your higher power. So healing from religious trauma, you can do that and still maintain the practice and spiritual and religious practice that works for you, once you learn how to keep yourself safe within that system.
Kim Howard 05:58
Oh, that’s great. That’s good. Yeah, no, I think yeah, I think people would automatically presume that if they’re coming to therapy for that, that all of a sudden, that means they can’t be Catholic, or they can’t be Mormon, or they can’t be Jewish or fill-in-the-blank. And so that’s, that’s good to know. Thank you.
Cassidy DuHadway 06:13
I guess one of the it’s one of the it’s one of the fears that comes up over and over for the person, right? If I tell you about this, if I work on this, then I won’t have this connection to my higher power or to my God, right. And that’s not true. So all we’re doing is we’re healing the trauma piece. So they have choice and how they practice. And they just get to choose what that’s like.
Kim Howard 06:35
Good. Thank you. Cassidy. Are there any specific complexities or difficulties with using EMDR therapy for this population?
Cassidy DuHadway 06:42
Yes, is the answer to that question, right. So like Kim, when we when we kind of look at it with religious and spiritual trauma, there’s some working definitions out there that people are trying still trying to figure out how to define but really, it’s it’s a type of developmental and attachment trauma. And so we’re going to be working with some of those same complexities, right? So there’s some higher rates of dissociation. There’s beliefs and behaviors that have been taught, through their developed development that actually prevent healing, they prevents moving beyond a thought like, for example, in several religions, you’re not, you’re taught not to ask questions, right, which actually teaches you from doing any sort of critical thinking, which you’re then taught how to stop yourself from doing critical thinking or asking questions. So it’s a thought stopping technique that becomes so normalized in your behavior, you don’t even know that you’re doing it. So recognizing it, or learning how to recognize that with your clients as a therapist is a little bit tricky. Because it’s going to happen so fast, you’re not even going to see them in the thought stopping place. So that’s one that really happens a lot. The other one is going to be about emotions. So lots of religions, and those of us that have expressed religious trauma, we have beliefs, dissociative experiences, we have behavioral practices, around turning off blocking or shutting down the emotions that we’ve had from the very beginning, because most of its generational too, right. So we learned that we saw each got passed on all those things. And so we ended up having almost we all we have a blocking belief system or a phobia of emotions, right. So we have something about emotions, I as a girl in this religion only get to be quiet and nice and not have any of those other evil emotions or emotions connected say to say, and then men can’t have some of those emotions either. Like anger is also connected to other things. And so those beliefs, our emotions all stopped us a lot in that space.
Kim Howard 08:53
Good clarification for people for the audience. So I used to ride the commuter train, when I lived in the D.C. area. And a friend of mine on a train – we would get into lots of different discussions. And one of the things he told me one time was that the biggest mental illness in the world is organized religion. And I thought, holy cow, I think he hit the nail on the head. And I’m I was raised Catholic, and I still practice, but I can see, because I sent my kids to Catholic school for five years for my son, and three years from my daughter. I can see how the dogma impacts children and teenagers and adults. And I think there’s a difference between worshiping your higher being and accepting the dogma that’s associated with whatever organized religion you’re a part of. Unfortunately, we as humans don’t tend to separate that out.
Cassidy DuHadway 09:52
No, and we’re taught not to.
Kim Howard 09:54
Cassidy DuHadway 09:55
We’re, we’re taught that it’s just part of the religion. It’s just part of the spiritual practice, right, without ever saying, oh, wait a second, like this thing about the clothes I’m supposed to wear? Is this something I really want to believe? Or do I just have to step into this? Because this is what I have to do? Yeah. Yeah, I absolutely think that. So there’s another really interesting thing that happens too when it comes to this, like when you’re working with clients, and it’s called spiritual bypassing. And you’ll hear clients, and therapists, actually, when you start talking about religion and belief systems, they’ll use language that dismisses their pain and almost allows the suffering, right. So and it’s just a way to bypass what’s really going on for them, right? So just the positive and everything will be fine. Right? Like, just just know that it’ll be okay. It happened for a reason, right? God knows what’s going on, and you’ll understand it later. And that just bypasses the impact of what’s going on for somebody, which doesn’t allow them to process their emotions and process their story.
Kim Howard 11:05
Yeah, how do you practice cultural humility as an EMDR therapist?
Cassidy DuHadway 11:10
Slowly over, over and over and over again. No, I mean, cultural humility, for me, it really is understanding that I am not the only culture out there. And I only know my experience. And so I have to learn and listen. So I have to do my learning, I have to understand other cultures, like other religions, I’m working with other experiences of somebody in that religion, but then I also have to listen and learn how the person in front of me, um, you’re struck by the experience as well, right. So I have to do my own learning, as well as that with them in that. And then the biggest piece that I try and engage with as often as possible is understanding the power dynamic, and really exploring what that looks like. For me, as a therapist, that gives me a role of a power in a therapeutic relationship. And so I have to address it over and over and over again, because just because I name it out loud, doesn’t make it go away. Right, so I have to address it. And then when I’m working with religious trauma, specifically, one of the things that often happens with religious trauma is people are trained to not trust self and to trust a power that’s outside of themselves. So they have a patriarchal figure, and they have a leader in their church that they have to trust their word over my word. And when you start working through religious trauma, they start looking for that power person outside of themselves. Right? So often, it flips to the therapist, oh, I have to get the therapist this because now the therapist is a higher power outside of me. So I have to engage in that a lot and name it and I’m really trying to keep that switch from happening. How did you start to specialize in this area? I don’t think we touched on that.
Kim Howard 12:51
No…in religious trauma? Yeah.
Cassidy DuHadway 12:56
So I grew up in in the LDS[Latter-Day Saints] church, and I never belonged, I never fit. And I left about 20 years ago. And as I got into my own construction process and my own understanding of self, I had to work through some of these trauma things. But then really, as a therapist, as I started just working with women in Utah, I found that a lot of the work that I was doing was connected to their religious trauma story and more so in that underlying sense of worth, and who they have to be and what their roles are as mother and partnerships. And so because of my experience with the with the language and the religion itself and my understanding of it, I was able to step right into working, I get that deeper level. And then I kind of I have ADHD, so I also hyper focused on it for a little while, and like read all the things and get all lots of different trainings. And and and so it’s been really fun to do it that way as well. Yeah,
Kim Howard 13:54
That’s good. Thank you for sharing that. Like I said earlier I am I am Catholic, but I feel like I’m a little bit of a renegade Catholic because I don’t. And anybody who’s Catholic out there is probably going to chastise me for saying this, but I feel like um, I don’t agree with everything that the Catholic Church stands for. And I don’t I don’t…I have this issue with a group of men running the church without input from women within the church in terms of leadership and, and roles and power dynamics and all of that I don’t have a problem with men in power. I mean, I love all of the men in my life. It’s It’s just that I feel like there should be other voices at the table. And I feel like excluding half of the world’s population, and what you’re doing and how you’re doing it is not right. And so we didn’t necessarily raise our children that way. In terms of not asking questions and figuring stuff. I mean, my kids don’t have any issue asking questions. themselves. Let me tell you even though they went to Catholic school, neither do you mind. Yeah, there are none of that that shy and retiring thing that’s not happening in the Howard household.
Cassidy DuHadway 15:10
I see because often with when we start to look at like abusive spiritual systems, one of the biggest pieces we see in the system that that causes the abuse is that patriarchal overlay, the control is the control and the power. Epic, does it. It’s, it’s exclusionary to others. And it also feeds into the like, like the Queen Bee feminism, right? Like, a little bit of like, there’s only one female that can be empowering, everybody else has to be under that, versus like being inclusive and allowing all voices to be present. And flat, like flattening the ladder.
Kim Howard 15:49
Right, right. It’s a different system. Yeah, yeah, exactly. So.
Cassidy DuHadway 15:53
And like I said, I work with a lot of women and the women that I work with, like, it shows up throughout their whole life because of this system. Right? It shows up in their partnerships. It shows up in their parents, in their grant, you know, in raising their children, it shows up at school. And, and they don’t, they’ve been taught not to have a voice they’ve been taught not to speak not to be loud. And so learning how to do that just takes so much work.
Kim Howard 16:19
Yeah. So when my, my kids went to Catholic school, they were young, my son started in kindergarten, and we left after fourth grade, and my daughter started in kindergarten and what the second grade, the kindergarteners all would wear, just basically shorts and a T shirt, because they’re they’re five and six, I mean, to get everything dirty, right? So you don’t want to invest in a huge uniform for them. But as the kids get older, you know, they would the girls in the winter, would normally wear those plaid skirts, like all Catholic schools. And so they had this rule that your skirt couldn’t go above your fingertips, you know, and or when you’re kneeling in the kneeler. In church, it had to touch the kneeler. And I’m thinking, I mean, I understand you don’t want to show up in some, you know, clubs skirt, this is not a club. This is a school. And I totally understand that. But I was like, that’s a little extreme. I mean, I just, you know, I mean, I understand you want to be appropriate, but I was like, oh my god, I just roll my eyes, you know, because I just thought it was it was just ridiculous. And it was a way as you said, to control the female population of the school, and like them, go and why whatever what they’re supposed to do with the rules in it. Yeah. So anyway…
Cassidy DuHadway 17:30
And it teaches women, right, like in a lot of religions, they specifically teach women that their bodies are responsible for men, right? That they are responsible for men’s thoughts, how they dress is responsible for other people. And so it leads into a whole different piece of religious and spiritual trauma, like purity culture, right? So that leads into purity culture, and it leads into that worthiness culture where I have to only look a certain way, right? And then and that leads into eating disorders and working out and like other really, really big problems that a lot of women and teenagers and men are dealing with.
Kim Howard 18:07
Yeah. And so when I when we send our kids there, I mean, we set them there for a few reasons. But what I found really interesting, our experience overall and it in it’s it’s every culture is different within every school system. But what I found was the level of meanness that you I’m like, this is the Christian school, right? This is based on the principles of Christ. And you’ve got these kids who were just mean…most of it. Most of the time, it was girls, not not, not not all the guys, but most the time, it’s the girls being mean to each other. And one of the girls who used to babysit my children said, you know, their whole family went to school there. And she said, Oh, yeah, girls could tell me that I couldn’t be part of their friend group because my hair was too dark. And she had black hair. And I was like, what? Yeah, hair was too dark. I mean, where does this come from? You know, what? Well, you know what it comes from the parents, because I used to see it and carpool line and see how everything was like cliquish, or, you know, the whole the poor mothers that have, you know, five kids under the age of nine, and she’s a stay at home mom, and she’s running herself ragged, you know. And so it makes things and I think, and I have a conversation with this one woman, they were remodeling their kitchen, and she had five kids and her son was friends with with my son, and something, some conversation about the faucet and the sink. And she goes, Well, I want A and my husband wants B, so I think we’re gonna go with B and I said, it’s your kitchen, isn’t it? Yeah, to me, I said, why? And your, your stay at home mom, right? So you’re there 100% of the time. So I think you should get the fixture that you want. And so little things like that, but I would notice that oh, this may not be the culture for me or my kids. You know, that’s how people are dealing with themselves in a relationship or in a marriage and like that, what really?
Cassidy DuHadway 19:57
It’s really hard, it’s hard to see is that internalized shame. And like if I’m taught to judge myself for all of those little tiny things in order to be worthy or to be valued by my higher power, then I’m going to start judging everybody around me too. So the judgment is a way to protect my vulnerability because I actually tell you what’s going on for me now I don’t belong and my religion with my friend groups, right? And it’s just so hard to see.
Kim Howard 20:24
Yeah, yeah, it is. Yes. Cassidy, do you have a favorite free EMDR related resource that you would suggest either for the public or other EMDR therapists?
Cassidy DuHadway 20:33
I was actually thinking about this. And I’ve been trying to figure out the best way. But I think for understanding religious trauma, one of the best ways is actually just the social media, because people are out there talking about what it’s like, what their experience is like. And you can learn in here lots of different people’s experiences in religion, and that can give you a better understanding of it. The other piece of it, though, that I there’s a couple places that I’m gonna send you that are religious base, because there’s not a lot of the combination of religious and EMDR stuff. But Rebecca Drumset, and Kenzie Gideaon both have quizzes and inventories that a lot of my clients that are online that just normal people can take and see like, do I have adverse religious experiences do I have do I think I have religious traumas, that’s a really easy way for people. And then for clinicians, there’s, there’s a religious abuse inventory, and a trauma inventory by Anna Clark Miller, and a spiritual abuse questionnaire by Katherine Keller that are really good as well. And then I have some just some handouts and some information about EMDR and religious trauma on my website that I’m happy to share with everybody. Right. So yeah.
Kim Howard 21:41
Yeah. And those other resources that you listed, if you would just shoot me an email? I will, I’ll give you those. Yeah. And then I’ll link it in the podcast description, so people can just go check it out for themselves.
Cassidy DuHadway 21:51
Kim Howard 21:52
That’s great. Thank you. What would you like people outside of the EMDR community to know about EMDR and religious and spiritual trauma?
Cassidy DuHadway 21:59
EMDR helps us deal with some of the underlying beliefs that we’ve been given because of how we were raised or how we grew up. And I’m struggling with my sense of identity, and I’m struggling with my sense of self EMDR can help me make the huge shifts the huge moments to allow me not to have to have as big of a struggle anymore. They can help me heal those really big pieces that I just keep fighting against over and over and over again. And if you don’t have to fight against it anymore, it just makes your life easier.
Kim Howard 22:32
I really think it’s, it’s brave for anybody to come to therapy. But for someone who is grappling with their spirituality or religion, the church they belong to, or the religion they belong to, and they practice with, for them to come to therapy and say something’s not right. For them to do that. I think that’s like one step above being brave. Because, you know, we’re taught, you know, I was taught, my kids were taught, God just pray. It’ll Yeah, you know, you pray to God, it’ll all work out. You know, and I’m not I’m not trying to say that that’s not a good message for people. Because prayer can be harmful for some Yes. But to, to be used as the default for every time in your life is. Yeah, and so it’s pretty extra brave for anybody who’s listening who’s ever been to therapy and had to had to go for that. So…
Cassidy DuHadway 23:23
I think that too, and think of something else to Kim like, I think it’s, it’s important for humans to know, they get to choose what kind of therapist they want to work with. And they can choose to work with a therapist that believes what they believe, that doesn’t believe what they believe, or anywhere in between. And they can work with somebody that believes what they believe and understands trauma and understands religious trauma or not, and they get to have that choice, and they can fire their therapist anytime. If their therapist crosses that boundary, and starts just savings, that doesn’t work for them anymore. And I think we forget that as just as somebody that has a therapist, right? It’s okay, if your therapists and if it’s not working, they work for you.
Kim Howard 24:09
Yeah, and I thought we’ve talked about this on the podcast before finding the right therapist is a lot like dating.
Cassidy DuHadway 24:09
Oh, my goodness, yes.
Kim Howard 24:16
you really do have to make sure there’s a good there’s a good fit all the way around, because this person’s helping you with your mental health journey. And so if it’s not the right fit, or something feels off, or something was said that you know, is not appropriate or accurate. You gotta leave you got to find somebody new. It’s not it’s not an easy thing to do, but
Cassidy DuHadway 24:36
Because it’s like dating. It’s also like breaking up with somebody.
Kim Howard 24:38
Yeah. Right. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. If you weren’t an EMDR therapist, what would you be?
Cassidy DuHadway 24:45
Oh, my goodness, all the things I’d be everything. Entrepreneur by nature, so I probably have some other fabulous business that I’d be creating. And I’d probably be a combination of art and adventuring. I think it would probably change in fact After 10 years, so….
Kim Howard 25:01
that’s awesome. That’s great answer. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Cassidy DuHadway 25:06
I just want people to know that if you feel like you have religious trauma, trust yourself and start seeking the right therapist for you with that issue, because not all therapists understand it. Not all they’re really know how to help you. But if you have an inkling, if you have a thing that just says, oh, maybe it’s worth figuring out and exploring.
Kim Howard 25:29
It’s a good way to end the podcast. Thank you. You’re welcome. This has been the Let’s Talk EMDR podcast with our guest Cassidy DuHadway. Visit www.emdria.org for more information about EMDR therapy or to use our Find an EMDR Therapist Directory, with more than 15,000 therapists available. Like what you hear? Make sure you subscribe to this free podcast wherever you listen. Thanks for being here today
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Copyright © 2023 EMDR International Association
Howard, K. (Host). (2023, November 15). EMDR Therapy for Religious and Spiritual Trauma with Cassidy DuHadway (Season 2, No. 22) [Audio podcast episode]. In Let’s Talk EMDR podcast. EMDR International Association. https://www.emdria.org/letstalkemdrpodcast/
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