Could depression be partly responsible for fundamentalists

"Religious Trauma Syndrome"When religion makes you sick

"I encountered religious trauma in 2010, when I was serving as a chaplain resident ..."

Kyndra Frazier will never forget the day when she first consciously met someone who had been the victim of a religious trauma. That was in 2010, when she was working as a chaplain in a trauma hospital in Atlanta.

"And I met a young man who was 23, African American. He attempted to castrate himself. With a circular saw."

There she met a young man, 23 years old, African American. He had tried to castrate himself with a circular saw. He was a member of an ultra-conservative church, he was gay and he found it difficult to reconcile his sexuality with his spirituality.

"He was having challenges integrating his sexuality and his spirituality."

Black, gay, devout, woman

Frazier doesn't know what became of the man. But its history left a deep mark on her. And it has led her to see her own experiences in a different light: her socialization in a conservative Afro-American church in rural North Carolina, her struggles as a black, homosexual, religious woman.

Today Frazier, who is also a trained social worker and psychotherapist, works as the assistant pastor of the First Corinthian Baptist Church, a liberal Baptist congregation in Harlem in north Manhattan.

She is also the director of the HOPE Center, a non-profit center affiliated with the Church. The HOPE Center offers therapeutic help for people with mental illnesses - for people of all faiths, genders and sexual orientations.

Among them are many who have been traumatized by their experiences with authoritarian religious communities, emphasize the Baptists from Harlem, who distance themselves from such messages as here from Texas:

"Sex between a man and a man is unnatural. It violates not only natural law, but the righteous laws of God."

Sex between men violated God's laws, this Baptist minister from the south of the country railed.

"Religious Trauma Syndrome"

"Religious Trauma Syndrome" - the term coined by the American therapist Marlene Winell, is not part of the official diagnosis catalog of doctors and health insurance companies. But the "Religious Trauma Syndrome" has long since arrived on the radar of psychotherapists in the US and around the world.

At Suzanne Goodwin in Atlanta, for example. She specializes in patients with religious trauma. What are the typical symptoms?

"A big one is cognitive delays. That involves confusion, poor critical thinking ..."

On the one hand, there are cognitive delays. Many people traumatized by religion have difficulty thinking independently and critically, they have low self-esteem and, moreover, very practical information and education gaps. Their perception follows an inoculated black and white thinking.

"And when they come out of that world, they realize that the world is full of shades of gray. And they don’t know what to do with that."

And when they left the narrow, isolated cosmos of their religious community, they noticed that the world outside was full of shades of gray, says Goodwin. And they couldn't handle that.

Depression, aggression and anxiety

There are also emotional disorders: depression, aggression, grief and above all: fear.

"People are instilled with a great deal of fear, be it fear of hell or fear of pregnancy. Fear is the basis of religious indoctrination, and many patients find it difficult to shake it off."

Another symptom: social alienation. People who step out of a strict religious community often lose their entire social network, are rejected by their family and friends, feel helpless and lost without the familiar grid of their religion, Goodwin continues.

"It is that kind of fish-out-of-the-water feeling."

Mostly former members of extremely conservative or fundamentalist religious communities are affected. These can be evangelical churches, religious groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons. Or the Church of Scientology, which is observed in Germany by the protection of the constitution. Or also Orthodox Jews and Muslims.

LGBTQ people have a particularly difficult time

Suzanne Goodwin, the Atlanta psychotherapist, doesn't want to lump all religious communities together. But certain currents made it particularly difficult for members of the LGBTQ community to feel accepted in their respective parishes.

"There's no such thing as transgender. God made men male and female. This is reality. This is a war on God."

There is no such thing as transgender, said the pastor of Grace Community Church, a mega-church in California. Anyone who says otherwise, declare war on God.

But there are also less spectacular cases where religion wounds people, says Reverend Michael Walrond. He is called "Pastor Mike" by his parishioners and is the senior pastor of the First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem. He talks about his wife's experience over Skype.

"My wife and I had our first child when we were both very young - 19 years old - and not yet married. We were both studying at the time, and my wife had a small scholarship from the church she grew up in, where she sang in a choir, where her family had held leading positions for generations, in short: where she felt at home. And this very church withdrew her scholarship when she became pregnant and also explained to her: It was not God's plan to that women preached. "

Today, LaKeesha Walrond, his wife, leads a non-denominational theological seminary: the "New York Theological Seminary". But it took a long time until it got that far and she was able to overcome her injuries, says Walrond.

"It bothered her for a long time, and she still talks about it."

Therapy offers from liberal churches

The Baptist Church in Harlem belongs to a small but growing group of liberal church congregations in the USA that offers help to people who have been traumatized by religion.

However, therapist Suzanne Goodwin believes that churches should be part of the solution.

"Religious trauma should be treated by a neutral person. Any form of religious therapy is biased because it does not necessarily approach treatment from a clinical perspective. Also, the place of therapy - a church, whatever church - can be negative for patients Trigger memories. There is a conflict of interest. "

Pastor Walrond understands Goodwin's concerns. But he also points out that many people visited his church - namely: visited voluntarily - who actually had finished with the topic of religion.

"But there is something about our church that they apparently find inviting and warm and authentic. A place where they can have their very own spiritual experience, a place that integrates them instead of excluding them. A completely different church experience."

In his sermons Walrond emphasizes again and again: There is a big difference between Christians, the adherents of a partially dogmatic institution, and the disciples of Jesus.

"If you read the Gospels, it becomes clear that Jesus did things that were socially and culturally extremely unconventional in his day, that violated the prevailing rules. For example, talking to women during the day and in public, or the sick and touching the dead. I want to say to my parishioners: God wants you to be authentic, that you don't have to wear a mask, that you don't have to hide who you are. "

Never missionary

More than 1000 people with mental illnesses, including religious traumatized people, have sought help at the HOPE Center since it opened two and a half years ago.

In addition to Frazier, there is another clinical therapist working at the facility. There are also collaborations with several renowned universities in and around New York, including Columbia University.

The church and the HOPE Center are an offer, says Frazier. Nothing more, nothing less.

"I'm not trying to convince people to return to an institution that has abused their trust, that has caused them suffering and pain. I don't tell anyone who has been traumatized by religion: go back to the perpetrator."

Unideological, inclusive and never missionary: Pastor and therapist Kyndra Frazier has very pragmatic advice for people who have been traumatized by religion:

"I invite everyone to our church who is looking for a loving, warm and positive community. But I also say: this may not be the right place for you. Perhaps it is better to chill out at home until you have the strength and have built up the courage to venture out into the world again. "