Religious trauma & healing the sacred wounds with Julia Schetky, Associate Mental Health Counselor

LHC: Hey there, welcome to Let's Make a Health Connection. In this podcast we introduce the interview and showcase the many healthcare providers and resources that we feature on our website, I'm Jennifer Barber, and I'm a licensed clinical social worker in Washington and Oregon, and I'm happy to be part of the local Health Connect provider community. Julia Shetke is an associate licensed mental health counselor from Vancouver, Washington. Her main focus is on trauma, and even more specifically, on religious spiritual trauma and cult work. She enjoys working with clients who have a long history of being in groups that were not healthy spiritually and helping them to find their way to wholeness. She works for BREATHE Mental Health. When she's not working, you can find her with her two golden doodles in the backyard in her hammock, and she loves spending time with her husband and her son. She recently picked up the craft of macramé with the intention of bringing back the 70s. 70s in your heart, huh?

JS: Wouldn't it be nice if I could make a Mac or my hammock? I haven't really thought of that. until just this moment.

LHC: You can do it. You can do anything.

JS: Yes, I can.

LHC: Hello. I'd like to just kind of dive in and talk about spiritual trauma. This is your niche, and I just wonder how you might explain it.

JS: At its core, spiritual trauma is characterized by a loss of meaning.of a sense of self. of a person's view of the higher power and damages the core of who a person is, basically when love and fear come from the same place. so when somebody is in a group and they have found that that group is no longer healthy because of one of those things. That's how spiritual trauma is defined.

LHC: Tell me how specifically that might affect someone?

JS: So it can affect people in a lot of different ways, but it can affect people by breaking down both. Someone's spiritual beliefs, which they may have held on to or part of their life. If they've just entered it or if they've been in that group for their entire life, that whole structure may have broken down. It may affect a married couple if only one person is leaving and one person is staying. It can affect their basic sense of who they are in the universe. their feelings about the afterlife. Where do I go? Do I go somewhere after I die? It can affect their family systems If their family is within a group and they leave, that family may no longer be allowed to speak to a family member that has left, and that may fracture that whole family. Also, when someone leaves a group, their whole community could have been that group, and now they have no one and it's very isolating. I just thought of one more. Many times, people's entire resources. Their basic needs may have been taken care of by a group, and they do not have those any longer, so how do they survive outside of that group? It's a completely rebuilding process, so there are so many different ways that somebody can be affected. By leaving a group or having spiritual trauma. It was just brought into my awareness the other day that this kind of trauma can come not only from, say, a church setting. Somebody was explaining to me that it could be like a yoga setting.

LHC: Tell us a little bit about how that could possibly happen.

JS: For sure, I think it was even a conversation we were having.

LHC:... maybe.

JS: It can come from all sorts of places. It can come from either mainstream or fundamentalist churches, groups, cults. It can also come from yoga studios where people are following a certain teacher or doctrine within their yoga studios. When you're participating in a yoga studio, someone is really opening up their body and their soul to growth and to what their higher power is and really connecting to the movement into the source. People are vulnerable in that state and people have been violated in that state by their teachers, both within their bodies and by having people touched in ways that shouldn't be touched. They are violated in that way. Or having doctrine given to them that crosses a line and yet because of their ultimate trust in the person, they absorb it and only after they leave or start to question it do they understand that it could have been abusive. This includes things like retreat centers, where people go to be separated from the outside world for a while and immersed in an isolated teaching.until they leave that isolated area start to be able to question and ask, "Is this right for me? Is this person the person I want to follow? They may not realize that something traumatic may have happened because this is not something I feel is healthy. Is this correct? Does this resonate with me? Has this person led me in the way that I feel is appropriate? This can be extremely important. Do I freely ask questions? Do I have autonomy as an agent or go out of agency to come and go? This is critical to a healthy relationship with spiritual groups.

LHC: How is spiritual trauma different from any other type of trauma? Can you speak to that a little bit?

JS: Yeah, it can be a statement in many ways, but because I think the big difference that I see is that it transcends and encompasses all areas of self, I see psychological trauma. I see spirits. I see physical trauma. I see emotional trauma all mixed together. When we're looking at trauma that's not religious or spiritual, it encompasses several of those areas, not necessarily all of them. It's a really big core loss of self issue rather than just several of the other areas, not just like several of the other areas. It really rocks somebody's eternal world, and that is just a core wound that may take for the rest of their life to rebuild again.

LHC: When you mention the core, I think of the soul.right?is just that deep. A deep, deep betrayal. Some of this that I'm hearing you talk about really hits on that word betrayal. Right from someone, we hear about soul wounds, like within the military structure, right? You've got someone in power that may have done something that you never could have conceived of. A person would never do that, and that is such a deep soul wound, right? Because there's significant betrayal that happens?

JS: Yeah, and I think part of that is that that's a great point, Jennifer. It just brought up the thought that oftentimes the person in charge is that voice of source, the voice of God. To have that person betray you is so close to having Source or God betray you, and it is very hard to disentangle. I will untangle those threads for people. So, having that betrayal by almost God is so hard. Did you work through what was the source? Right? Where was God when these things were happening to me?

LHC: This is deep stuff Julia.

JS: Yeah, it's like super deep stuff.

LHC: I think about people in the community who might listen to this who have had this kind of trauma and I almost think it's hard to seek out a therapist anyway, but to have this kind of experience, I don't know that there are a lot of therapists out there who understand and can meet someone where they are regarding this, right? There's significant, almost as I hear you talk, It's like shattering…

JS: Yeah, there's a lot of shattering that happens...

LHC: So yeah. I just want to take a break just to say wow! Also, thank you! And yes, this is deep stuff. Before we can continue on because there's more I want to ask you, I would like to say one thing. I know we didn't. This wasn't a question we were going to talk about. I would also like to call out how I see a lot of our beautiful queer community in this population as well. Those who are often in the Christian church but who have never found their place there because of who they are. The deep wound of that and trying to reconcile what they believe and who they are with the way that they are treated, I would really like to just state that and how that fits so squarely into this. This is a spiritual calamity. So I'd like to just make sure that is known. I'll bet you that a lot of people out there have either known someone in the LGBTQ community who came out and was shunned or ostracized by their church. Or maybe someone's listening who is part of the LGBTQ community and absolutely knows what that feels like firsthand.

JS: Okay, thanks for bringing that to my attention.

LHC: So what are some areas that wounded people struggle with?

JS: So when people come out of a spiritually abusive root, their sense of self is rocked. It's hard. I've found it to not have a rule book anymore. There's a sense of peace and organization to having simple instructions on how to get where you need to go and how to be a good person. What is wrong? What is right? All this black and white is so confident, and when you get out of black and white, there are all these colors and that can be confusing. What should I do? There's no one to tell me what to do. Is this okay? Is this okay? The world is full of colors now and I don't know what to do with myself, and that's very hard for a lot of people coming out. overwhelming. It is overwhelming. It is so overwhelming.

LHC: Yeah, what do I do with myself?

JS: A lot of people go back to another group or another religion because there are guidelines. They struggle with afterlife beliefs. What happens to me now? What happens to my family now? Will I see them again? What are my core values now? I used to believe this about myself, but now I feel like I'm a totally different person without these sets of values that I used to have. I don't know who I am now. They struggle with their basic needs often, and then there are family connections. Are they strong because they've left? Are they weaker because the family is struggling with their new identity, or are they gone completely? Those are huge struggles that my clients end up coping with.

LHC: So, if someone isn't quite ready to reach out to a therapist to discuss this, but is working up to it, what are some resources they might be able to tap into to help kickstart the healing process, and where might they be able to find these resources?
JS: Oh there's such a thing. I'm so thankful this is starting to be talked about. There's
There are three great websites that I would direct them to. One is the Reclamation Collective. ( They have lots of resources there. There's lots. Like a data bank of all kinds of links I love them. There’s Recovering From Religion (, which also has several different religions listed there. Then go to the Religious Trauma Institute ( for more information. All three of those are some of my favorites. There's a book I love called "Sacred Wounds" ( It is a beautiful, beautiful book. It kind of discovers how you're feeling, what you're struggling with, and it's just a warm cookie of a book.

LHC: I love that. As I'm hearing you say these things, I just want people to know that we can add those to the show notes right underneath the podcast on the website so that people who are listening to this can find it on YouTube or find it on local Health Connect. Those resources will be right there. I love it.

JS: You're so great.

LHC: Oh you're so great. Where can people find you, Julia?

JS: Oh, I can be found in a couple of places. My website is I am also on the instagram account "breathe mental health"

LHC: Thank you. Are you seeing people in person or via telehealth or a combination of both?

JS: Also a good question. I am all about telehealth all the time. I see people in Washington all the time, and I have openings for religious trauma clients.

LHC: Awesome. Cool. Before we end today, do you want to tell people any new things that you're working on or involved in that they might be interested in?

JS: I certainly do. I am currently running a group on a really fantastic book. I almost held it up like that would make a difference.

LHC: Yeah, nobody can see. I'd love to see it if you have it.

JS: Sure, I'll look at it with my podcast. It’s called, “Adult children, emotionally immature parents.” It's a beautifully poignant book for people who have parents that maybe did not parent them well. So that's a book group I'm doing, and I'm going to do it again. So if that's something that interests the people who are listening,

LHC: Who's the author of that book?

JS: Oh, it's Lindsay Gibson.

LHC: Okay..”Adult children of emotionally immature parents.” I love it and is this group weekly or once a month?

JS: Yeah, it's a weekly group for five weeks.

LHC: When does your next one start?

JS: Well, that's a really good question. I'm going through October with this one, and I will probably do another group in the new year so it doesn't bump up against the holiday season.

LHC: Yeah, great Okay, Thank you so much, Julia. It's been a pleasure. I know we could talk about this topic for probably two hours. We could do an extended podcast on this, but this is just to give people a taste of what you do. Where your passions lie and where people might be able to find you. So I thank you so much for calling in today and being a part of this.

JS: Thank you very much, and have a wonderful day.

LHC: Thanks again for listening to "Let's make a health connection." You can find us online at as well as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The links and show notes for this interview are available on our podcast page. I think these interviews are really fun, and I hope you made a health connection today. We'll talk again next time."Let's make a health connection. Copyright 2022: All Rights Reserved is the exclusive property of MBS Therapy LLC, a Washington-based company. Health Connect is inclusive and does not endorse any political or religious group. Thank you again for listening, and we'll see you next time on

By Jennifer Barber, LICSW 9-29-2022