Course Case Studies

Understanding and Treating Spiritual Abuse

Course #76702 - $20 • 5 Hours/Credits

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  • Participation Instructions
    • Review the course material online or in print.
    • Complete the course evaluation.
    • Review your Transcript to view and print your Certificate of Completion. Your date of completion will be the date (Pacific Time) the course was electronically submitted for credit, with no exceptions. Partial credit is not available.
Learning Tools - Case Studies

CASE STUDY 1


Client D grew up in a strict Baptist home. Her father was a Baptist minister who died when she was very young; her mother went on to remarry another Baptist minister. One of the teachings rigidly instilled in her developing mind was that she would "go to hell" if she had sex before marriage. So, after she chose to have sex with her boyfriend when she was 19 years of age, she felt that because she was doomed anyway, she might as well go all the way with her "sinning." D clearly identifies that this belief of being damned was a major factor in her developing sexual addiction and eventual dependency on food, alcohol, and cocaine. When she presented for treatment at 40 years of age, a significant belief that blocked her successful participation in treatment was, "I am unworthy of getting better because I am undeserving of God's love." In reflecting back on her treatment experience, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy was needed to help her work on deservability issues, which were instilled by a spiritually abusive upbringing.

Learning Tools - Case Studies

CASE STUDY 2


Client J is a woman, 35 years of age. During a counseling session, J relates a key negative belief she received in childhood and internalized: "I am Satan's child." This belief was given to her by her father, a man whom she genuinely loved, in his attempt to "save her soul." Another negative message she received, one that accelerated her addictive responses, was that if she did not follow God's laws as written in her father's denomination's interpretation of the Bible, then the people who were close to her would be taken away. This message was relayed when she was 19 years of age, after her high school guidance counselor, a woman to whom she was very close, died unexpectedly of complications of pneumonia. Her death affected J very much, and her father's response to it was that her death was God's "warning sign" to Client J. Her father said that if she did not "straighten up" her ways (which meant getting back to church, an activity she abandoned when going to college), then God would begin to remove more people from her life, starting with her brother and mother. These words were very damaging, setting off a deep depression that lasted years.

Learning Tools - Case Studies

CASE EXAMPLE

Consider the case of Client E [24]. Several years ago, E presented for treatment services related to unresolved sexual trauma. She knew that she had PTSD, although the religious themes connected to her PTSD did not come to light immediately. One day, E declared, "There is something in me that is inherently spiritual. I want to be spiritual, but I resist, probably because of what happened to me growing up."

This statement may be viewed as a trigger. When a person say things like "I'm inherently spiritual, but…," or talks about wanting to do spiritual things (e.g., yoga class, church) without taking steps to do these activities, it is a sign that spiritual abuse may exist and should be explored further.

Upon questioning, E revealed she was raised in an Evangelical home with a strictly religious father and an alcoholic mother. She was sexually assaulted by another student at her father's church school as a pre-teen, and the school did not care to address it. In addition, she was sexually assaulted at one of her mother's AA meetings as a teenager, which understandably gave her a very low opinion of going to meetings in the community, even after she developed an issue with cannabis abuse in adulthood. E realized she was a lesbian during adolescence, and her father condemned her to hell when her same-sex desires came to the surface. For E, anything connected to God or religion had become equated with pain. Although she expressed interest in trying activities like yoga or meditation, Eastern practices that she knew would be more agreeable with her temperament, she resisted.

After being educated about the reality of spiritual abuse, E had no problem identifying as a spiritual abuse survivor, in addition to being an emotional abuse survivor. The next step was determining how to move forward with this knowledge.

CASE EXAMPLE

Let's return to Client E, the young woman discussed in a previous section. E knew immediately that she desired to be spiritual, but any time she tried, the images and early memories from her negative experiences at home and in the church blocked her. Although it became clear that reprocessing some of these memories would be an important part of her treatment, it was also critical to first build on the positive cognition, "There is something in me that wants to be spiritual."

Her counselor begins working with E on using some standard breathing, lightstream visualization, and muscle relaxation techniques. These helped her to achieve a sense of visceral calm and ease sitting in the office. Upon relaxing, the counselor asks E to keep an open mind to the spiritual realm and invites her to notice what emerges in terms of a spiritual figure or a spiritual source. Almost instantaneously, E smiles. She reports that she began to see a little creature that looked half like the character Yoda from the Star Wars movies and half like Mr. Miagi from The Karate Kid movies. The counselor prompts E to stay with that image and notice what happens. With a continued smile, she explains that he was playing a drum, and when he stopped, he invited her to come and sit with him and the two of them talked about all things related to life. As she stays with this experience, she reports feeling a sense of total love and acceptance. Clearly, this figure is a Higher Power that worked for her. As a take away, her counselor encourages E to continue working with this image on a daily basis. He also suggests that she begin by working with her breath, as she had in the office, and then allow the image to come up and notice what happens the longer she stays with the image. This technique is one that allows her to keep building her relationship with her Higher Power and her newfound spirituality.

  • Back to Course Home
  • Participation Instructions
    • Review the course material online or in print.
    • Complete the course evaluation.
    • Review your Transcript to view and print your Certificate of Completion. Your date of completion will be the date (Pacific Time) the course was electronically submitted for credit, with no exceptions. Partial credit is not available.