top of page

Understanding Religious Trauma in Australia: Signs, Symptoms & Support

Religious trauma is often not addressed in society. It is often not talked about because of taboo, stigma and shame around it. It is challenging for someone to approach a family member or a member of the faith with such a topic in hopes of reprieve and healing from it. But religious trauma, just like any other forms of trauma resulting from other adverse life events like abuse, bullying, tragedy and loss, is real.

It is important to address religious trauma because it can significantly affect people across various aspects of their lives, encompassing emotional, psychological, social, cognitive, and physical dimensions. Religious trauma stems from harmful religious experiences that often (but not always) begin early in life.

The impact of religious trauma often manifests as anxiety, depression, PTSD symptoms, and deep-seated feelings of shame and guilt. People may steer away from religion, and/or develop powerful negative constructs towards organized religion or people of (a certain) faith. That being said, it does not seem like it can severely impact one's life.

However, in social settings, people may face isolation and strained relationships. Meanwhile, cognitive effects of religious trauma can include challenges with critical thinking and shifts in worldview. Just like any form of trauma, religious trauma can also affect one's physiology. Chronic stress from religious trauma can lead to various somatic symptoms, self-harm or suicidal ideation.

What is Religious Trauma or RTS (Religious Trauma Syndrome)?

Simply speaking, religious trauma is a form of psychological distress that can arise from various negative religious experiences such as:

  • authoritarianism within religious institutions,

  • strict dogmas,

  • personal experiences of guilt and fear instilled by religious practices,

  • or conflicts with religious leaders.

Just like any other trauma, religious trauma often leads to symptoms like anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Basically, religious trauma happens when someone's involvement in a religious group or belief system causes significant harm to their mental health.
This harm can come from rigid teachings, abusive practices, or feeling ostracized for not conforming to religious norms.

Take a moment to consider your exposure to religious trauma in your life.

Have you experienced any adverse life events as a result of religious trauma? Do you know anyone that might have been through something like this?

Now let us take a look at some research on religious trauma or RTS.

What a U.S. Study Found

A study conducted in the U.S. surveyed 1,581 adults and revealed some eye-opening statistics:

- Around 27-33% have experienced religious trauma at some point in their lives.

- 10-15% are currently dealing with symptoms of religious trauma.

- 37% know someone suffering from religious trauma, and most of them know between one and ten people affected by it.

Some pretty shocking statistics.

What About Australia?

While we don't have a study in Australia that's exactly like the U.S. one, which brings to home this unaddressed topic that is highly prevalent in our contemporary transcultural society.

But... let's make some educated guesses. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), more Australians are identifying as having no religion. In 2021, 39% of Australians reported no religious affiliation, up from 30% in 2016. This shift might mean changes in how religious trauma is experienced and recognized.

Estimating Religious Trauma in Australia

If we assume similar patterns between the U.S. and Australia:

- About 27-33% of Australian adults could have experienced religious trauma.

- Around 10-15% might be currently suffering from symptoms of religious trauma.

- Many Australians probably know someone affected by religious trauma, reflecting how interconnected our communities are.

The Australian Context

A bird's eye view of Australia's unique transcultural landscape boasts rich cultural hybridity along with its growing secularity and diverse religious practices. This social landscape might influence how religious trauma manifests and is addressed. Transculturally informed mental health services and community networks are crucial.

Meanwhile, other qualitative studies highlight the impact of religious trauma in other groups such as for LGBTQIA+ individuals. A study found that LGBTQIA+ individuals experience microaggressions, mischaracterizations, and relational distancing in evangelical churches contributing to profound trauma. Moreover, spiritual abuse experienced within intimate partner violence contexts has shown how patriarchal religious ideologies can perpetuate control and abuse, resulting in religious trauma for victims.

Raising awareness about religious trauma and providing targeted support can make a big difference

Identifying Religious Trauma.

There are three key aspects of religious trauma or RTS:

  • Dysfunctional Beliefs: Teaching that independent and/or critical thinking is condemned and deemed as defiance against the divine - and that obedience to an external authority is paramount.

  • Psychological Distress: The rigid and repetitive enforcement of the doctrines of sin, judgment, and eternal damnation can cause severe anxiety and a sense of hopelessness.

  • Abuse: In some cultural contexts, physical and sexual abuse can be justified through patriarchal power and unhealthy sexual views. It is crucial for us to be able to separate religion from culture in these settings.

Now let us explore what religious trauma actually looks like.

Recognizing religious trauma in yourself or others can be the first step towards healing. Here are some signs to look out for:

For Yourself:

1. Emotional Distress: You experience feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt, or shame related to religious beliefs or experiences.

2. Fear and Avoidance: You avoid religious discussions or places due to fear, anger or discomfort.

3. Flashbacks and Nightmares: You relive traumatic religious experiences through flashbacks or nightmares.

4. Doubt and Confusion: You struggle with doubt about religious teachings and feeling confused about your beliefs.

5. Loss of Identity: You feel lost or uncertain about who you are outside of your religious identity.

For Others:

1. Behavioral Changes: Noticing changes in behavior, such as withdrawal from religious activities or communities. Increase use in mind-altering substances when topics around religion occur.

2. Emotional Outbursts: Sudden emotional outbursts when discussing religion or religious experiences. Look out for bouts of anger, intense frustration, fear or physiological discomfort.

3. Physical Symptoms: Unexplained physical symptoms like headaches, stomach issues, or fatigue related to stress from religious trauma.

4. Isolation: Increased isolation and reluctance to engage in social or religious gatherings.

5. Verbal Cues: Expressing feelings of guilt, shame, or fear about their religious past or current beliefs.

Seeking Support

If you recognize these signs in yourself or others, it’s important to seek support. Here are some steps you can take:

1. Talk to a Transculturally-informed Professional: Seek help from a therapist or counselor who understands cultural complexities and religious trauma.

2. Join Support Groups: Find online or in-person support groups for people who have experienced religious trauma.

3. Educate Yourself: Learn more about religious trauma from blogs such as these, and how it affects your mental health and wellbeing.

4. Set Boundaries: Establish boundaries with individuals or groups that trigger your trauma. This may include establishing boundaries with family and community members. Talk to you transculturally-informed therapist on how to navigate this safely.

Boundaries in high context cultures nuances and are not so 'clear cut.' Aspects of respect in a social hierarchy, filial piety, reputation etc often come into the picture.

5. Practice Self-Care: Engage in activities that promote your well-being and help you heal.

The road to recovery from religious trauma often involves culturally-responsive therapy, support groups, and a journey of rebuilding identity and reconstructing meaning.


Religious trauma is an important underrepresented mental health issue that affects mental and emotional well-being or individuals and communities. Even though we don't have specific Australian data yet, looking at U.S. findings and inferring from data from other groups gives us a good starting point. As our views on religion continue to evolve, it's important to understand and address the impact of religious trauma through research and supportive interventions tailored to our unique cultural context.

By acknowledging religious trauma and offering the right resources, we can help individuals heal and create more inclusive and supportive communities. Help yourselves and your communities understand and address religious trauma for a healthier society.

If you would like to connect with me for culturally responsive support, click here.


Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2022). "Census of Population and Housing: Reflecting Australia - Stories from the Census, 2021." Retrieved from []

Henderson, J. N. (2023). "Percentage of U.S. Adults Suffering from Religious Trauma: A Sociological Study." Journal of Sociological Studies, 48(2), 115-132.

Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS): Definition, Symptoms, and Recovery. (n.d.). Retrieved from [](

Tarico, V. (2014). "Religious Trauma Syndrome: How Some Organized Religion Leads to Mental Health Problems." The Journal of Religion and Health, 53(4), 1731-1759. DOI: 10.1007/s10943-014-9833-4

Winell, M. (2011)."Religious Trauma Syndrome: It's Time To Recognize It." Retrieved from [](

Adjei, S. B., & Mpiani, A. (2022). Understanding spiritual and religious abuse in the context of intimate partner violence. Australian Institute of Family Studies. Retrieved from [](

North Brisbane Psychologists. (2022). What is Religious Trauma Syndrome? Retrieved from [](

Stone, L. (2013). Mechanisms of religious trauma amongst queer people in Australia’s evangelical churches. Clinical Social Work Journal. Retrieved from []

7 views0 comments


bottom of page