By Valerie Tarico
Americans are leaving their religions at a faster rate than ever before, and that means more are looking for help with the transition. People who are casually religious may walk away and not look back. But for others religion is at the very heart of their identity, worldview and community, and having a safe place to process doubts can be a metaphorical godsend.
“Reclaimers,” people who are actively working to rebuild their lives after a period of religious immersion, may struggle with harmful ideas and emotions from the beliefs they once held or the behavior of fellow believers. Alternately, they may find that leaving is lonely and disorienting. Marlene Winell, a human development consultant who assists people leaving their religion, coined the term Religious Trauma Syndrome to describe a pattern she saw in some clients, in particular those leaving closed, authoritarian, fear-based communities. But even doubters who don’t experience this level of distress may find themselves feeling confused, afraid, self-doubting or overwhelmed.
Since 2009, a small nonprofit called Recovering From Religion, has worked to serve this population by establishing peer support groups, organizing “Recovering Your Sexuality” classes, and providing a matchmaking service for clients seeking therapists who are committed to a secular approach. In March, Recovering From Religion launched a hotline, 1-84-I-DoubtIt, staffed by a cadre of volunteers trained in listening and crisis triage techniques. From years of daily emails and calls to their office, the staff knew there was an unmet need. Even so, they were caught off guard by the response—over 1,000 calls in the first six weeks.
In this interview, Sarah Morehead, executive director of Recovering From Religion, talks about why her work is a personal passion and about the recovery hotline itself.
Valerie Tarico: Your commitment to supporting people in religious transitions comes from your own transition, which started with you as a life-long member of the Southern Baptist Convention and ended with you as an atheist.
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