May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the US and one thing that suffers greatly under religion is our mental health.
I spent years believing that my mind was filled with demons. As soon as I stopped praying, the demons left. Almost like they were never real.
One doesn’t have to believe in demons to be manipulated and harmed by religion. Here are some online resources that have helped me and others. They’re resources for anyone who’s left religion, whether you’re “spiritual but not religious” or an atheist.
Whether you’re still a believer or you’ve moved far from your fundamentalist roots, mental health is important. When you need help, seek out help.
Having a community also makes a difference. If you’re in need of community, consider joining the Deconversion Anonymous private Facebook group. It isn’t professional therapy, but knowing you aren’t alone can go a long way.
My guest this week is Colin. Colin absorbed his mother’s Evangelical Christianity. He has mostly good memories of the people in church. He bounced from his mother’s to his father’s families never quite fitting in. He hung on to his Christianity long after he recognized it no longer brought him “positive results” out of fear of losing everything: salvation, community and identity.
My first and only real religion is inclusion.
Colin’s doubts began young with a dynamic Sunday school teacher who was not allowed to preach in church and a gay uncle he was not supposed to approve of. Colin recognized that love demands inclusion. He felt it was his moral obligation to be inclusive.
That to me is love, for lack of a better word. I was being totally authentic and I was being totally accepted.
In his late twenties, in therapy, he experienced true acceptance. Even while he was explaining to his therapist he was still a virgin, having been a part of the purity culture of the ’90s.
I found unconditional acceptance immediately outside of religion whereas I often found highly conditional acceptance within it. Imagine my surprise!
Colin’s story takes a dramatic turn of self-discovery. He discovers himself and discovers his voice. He then experienced more acceptance telling his story of recovering from growing up Evangelical to non-christian audiences. Colin tells his story with rawness, honesty and a great deal of humor.
My guest this week is Suandria Hall. Suandria is a trauma informed counselor specializing in faith transitions. Her practice, My Choice My Power, is online and she offers mental health counseling to residents in Colorado and life coaching sessions online, by phone, and email for anyone.
What is more important to me than anything is being honest and being authentic about who I am and who I choose to be in this world. While pretending for a moment seemed easy. I really had no concept about how much I was about to unravel. Once I make this choice to say this out loud that I don’t believe this any more. What does that even mean? But I took a leap and I started to say out loud that I don’t believe this any more.
Suandria tells her story of being groomed for ministry in a very Charismatic community with rigorous honesty. In her early adulthood she began to question and eventually deconverted. She had a positive experience with a therapist who “held space” for her shifting faith positions. She then went on to become a secular counselor to help others through the same process.
What they are looking for is someone who doesn’t force any type of spirituality in the practice. They just want to show up and say let me just talk through some stuff.
We talk about the power of parents to influence children. And the damage that can occur when parents pass that responsibility on to an invisible god.
The child learns that the love the adoration the loyalty the devotion that a mother and a child would share with each other is now shifted. So now god becomes the number one.
Her approach to counseling is trauma informed and acknowledges Adverse Religious Experiences and religious trauma. She helps people going through the process of deconstruction and deconversion while being open to all faith positions.
Trauma is when our bodies our systems becomes overwhelmed, flooded with emotions, flooded with bodily sensations. It gets stuck.
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
David Ames 0:11
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. As always, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast in the Apple podcast store and telling your friends about the podcast. I know a number of you have sent in questions for the episode with my wife and I we have actually now recorded that. I do suspect that it will come out a little bit later, probably in December. It was a compelling conversation for both of us. I think it was intense and pretty raw and honest. So I'm hoping that it comes across when we share this in December. I also have done just a number of interviews that I am excited to share with you. So you can look forward to some really interesting conversations over the next few weeks. onto today's show. My guest today is Suandria Hall. Sindri is a psychologist. She's a nationally certified counselor, a Board Certified tele mental health counselor and also a life coach. She's based out of Denver. Cynthia has a counseling practice called my choice, my power and you can find her at my choice, my power.com she grew up a preacher's kid and went through a deconversion process in her early adulthood. She has just a really powerful story that I think you're going to find compelling. I'll also recommend here, Suandria's Instagram account, my choice, my power counseling. on her Instagram account. She has a number of pearls of wisdom, just things to keep in mind and the craziness of 2020 to keep your mental health and I think it's well worth while checking that out. And without further ado, here's my conversation with Suandria Hall.
Suandria Hall, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Suandria Hall 2:10
Thank you so much. I'm excited to be here.
David Ames 2:12
Thank you for saying yes. And come in and chat with me. Yeah. So I want to go over just a little bit about your credentials, the work that you do. I'll let you fill in the details here. But you are a national certified counselor, you're a board certified tele mental health counselor. And you do a lot of online work as well. But you're you're focused in in Denver, is that correct?
Suandria Hall 2:34
Yep, I'm home based in Denver. But my practice is virtual. So I see clients actually all over the world. In addition to being a clinical practitioner here in Colorado, I'm also a life coach. So that kind of broadens the scope. And yeah, it makes it makes for a very diverse group of clients, I can imagine.
David Ames 2:56
Yeah. And the name of your, your practices, my choice, my power. I wonder if you would talk about that just a little bit like that name.
Suandria Hall 3:07
Sure. So I focused on life transitions, religious trauma, and I do a lot of work with women. So the name of my practice, my choice, my power came from me been a preacher's kid, and experiencing how the power of choice became powerful for me. And I mean, it's a little bit corny, but it's, it's the truth. I couldn't think of anything else that was be fitting and I wanted that to resonate with my clients as much as it does for me.
David Ames 3:40
Right. So that is a good segue. I want to hear about your story. Let's start with what was your faith experience, like?
Suandria Hall 3:49
Sure. So I'm a preacher's kid from the south. Huge family. I didn't identify as a black woman. And long line of preachers, my father, uncles, aunts, my mother's like a prayer warrior and my brother. And like, that was life for us. Right? I was. I was introduced as a child actually, my parents. They're from a really small town in Alabama. I'm from a small town. They're from an even smaller town. Okay. And this tent revival came through eons ago, saw does floors and all of that came to their little town and it was led by a black couple. The woman was actually the main preacher. husband was the pastor but she was the main preacher and charismatic, gorgeous, confident strong, and this is like this 60s In the rural south, so can you imagine the impact? Yeah, she had on these at that. My parents were teenagers, right? So she came through preaching the word and it's amazing music and change their lives. When you when you come to a group of people who maybe don't have so much, and you see someone that represents wow, I can be that I can be there financially, I could be that in my level of competence and experience and exposure that was really life changing for my parents, and they were all in right and later married and gave birth to me. And I was raised in that environment myself, my brother and my sister.
David Ames 5:34
Wow, the first thing that just popped into my head there is that it almost seems like the church and I mean, this in the broad sense has gone backwards. We had some fairly dynamic female preachers, evangelists, thinking of Aimee Semple McPherson of the Foursquare fame. Somebody like you're describing there, it feels like, it's interesting. Where are those preachers and evangelists today?
Suandria Hall 5:59
That's such a good question. I visited my mom a couple of months ago, and we were talking about just everything that's going on in the world right now, specifically in America, and how the Church used to be like home base for these movements. And it wasn't so much about, you know, getting money and building these huge mega churches and filling up space. But it was, you know, the work of the community. And I asked you that same question like, what's, what's happening? What's going on? I think there's just been, you know, this inward, turn, like, make us better make us grow, but not so much in the community. And it's disheartening. Yeah, sure.
David Ames 6:44
We're going to talk a bit about community and your work here a little bit, but I want to focus in on again, your personal experience, that you feel like you had a personal relationship with God, that was something that was a phrase it this way, what was your experience of God?
Suandria Hall 7:00
So like I said, I was born into this Pentecostal Holiness environment. And it was like, I didn't know anything different. Yeah, right. No other ways of thinking and being. But it wasn't until I was about I think, 25 When I got for real estate. I had moved from my small town in Alabama, to Atlanta, Georgia. And one of my cousins, like I said, might use our family. We were just about that life. My cousin introduced me to a church there. mega church, a black minister. He and his wife, again, were just amazing. They took the experience that my parents had with that phenomenal, charismatic woman, pastor to the next level. Right, right. And I thought, wow, I can be sold out for Jesus, I can be rich. Yeah, like God's a party that big, too. And they really changed that experience. For me. I like real estate and, you know, just dived into this spirit led environment.
David Ames 8:13
Yeah. It strikes me again, this was the point you were making with your parents. And now here as well, that just having representatives, somebody that looks like you somebody that you can identify with who is showing some success showing, like you say, confidence, ability, talent there are putting on display, and that must be really profoundly impacting.
Suandria Hall 8:36
Absolutely. I mean, I was groomed for it. Yeah, sure. For sure. But that was definitely the warmth on the hook, because they looked like me. Yeah. And it was an easy transition to really just dive in and follow that church that that ministry those those leaders, for sure, right.
David Ames 8:58
Well, you and I wouldn't be talking if that was the end of the story. So describe a little bit about when and how did things start to fall apart? Or was it sudden was it did it take a long time? What were some of the doubts that you experienced?
Suandria Hall 9:13
So I just started to question things. I've always been a reader, my dad had, you know, tons of books in his reading space, and I would thumb through those. So it was important to read, although with Jesus in the Bible, I didn't read in the way of questioning, right? I just read what was given to me. In any other, you know, author that kind of supported these thoughts. I kind of stayed in there. But I started to read more and more and just question some of the teachings that were given at that church and I, I've always had a little bit of a rebellious streak. Um, so So I will push that envelope and say, you know, this sounds like another way to get money from us, you know, that was a big part of it. Tons of things. There were things around, you know, sexuality. Yeah. Things around who I am as a woman, right that was defined by this book and by these men, and it didn't really sit well with me. And it's just like I said, I started to question I started to read, and it slowly just started to crumble. Okay, what used to be life for me, like I said, something that I could just I was grown for, I could easily step in, just started to crumble fall apart, I started to see the cracks. And then I started to study religion in general. Like, okay, all I know, is pushing me. Let's see what else is out there. And you see this
David Ames 10:50
thread? Interesting. Yes, I'm
Suandria Hall 10:53
familiar stories and concepts. It's like, well, who owns this stuff? From? And I tell you read enough books, and you start to expand your circle of influence, right? Because everyone around me was Christian. Whether you live in you know, that super clean Christian or not,
David Ames 11:12
yes, yes. ostensively. Christian, yes.
Suandria Hall 11:17
But But that's where we were right. But when you start to introduce other people here, have your thoughts. It's like, oh, wait a minute. I don't, I don't think I believe this anymore. Yeah.
David Ames 11:29
I did listen to a couple of interviews you've done on podcasts previously. And one statement that you made that really, really struck me was that you had a moment of contemplating pretending kind of staying staying in? Can you expand on that?
Suandria Hall 11:45
Yeah, um, so you start to question right, you start to doubt. it crumbles even further. And then you get to a place where you have to make that decision. It was I felt like I had to make a decision on is this what I believe? Or is it not? What's more important to me than anything is being honest, and being authentic about who I am and who I choose to be in this world. And while pretending for a moment seemed easy, because I really had no concept of how much I was about to unravel. Right, right. Once I made this choice to really say out loud that I don't believe this anymore. What does that even mean? Right. So so that was the struggle. But I took the leap. And, and I started to say that out loud, that I don't believe this anymore. I didn't know what I believed in that moment. But I knew what was happening right now. Is something very real for me. And I needed to give myself the space and the time and the energy, the courtesy, right, to explore it and figure it out.
David Ames 12:59
Wow, I relate to so many things you've said there. The first of which is, you know, you read the Bible with a particular filter on. And I talk a lot about in my deconversion story that did another read through of the Bible about a year before I no longer believe. And I was angry. I was like, my wife was pointing out to me, like, why are you why are you angry? Yeah. And I was completely unaware of this, right. But I would, you know, be for at that, you know, after reading. And it was that the rose colored glasses had started to fall. And I was really just reading the text as it is. And then just kind of being fed, how it ought to be interpreted a little bit, and always seeing things within that lens. Let's talk some about your your work. So what led you to decide to pursue psychology and then to what extent is deconstruction, loss of faith a part of your work?
Suandria Hall 13:57
Sure. So you know, like I said, I raised in a family of ministers, and, you know, I saw them do beautiful things in our community. I watched my mom and dad take people in and just always helping people to this day. That's, that's who my family is. So I think there's just this natural part of me that wants to help people. So so that was an easy part of my decision to become a therapist, but with religion starting to just unravel. I saw a therapist when I was going through this. And I saw a few actually. I finally met one that just held space for me, right? She was a Christian as well. She didn't quite understand what was happening and where I would land and all of that. She just held space. But what I learned in that journey was that wow, what would it have been like to have someone Walk me through that in a very specific way, again, not to tell me who to be how to be. But the right question. So the right context, kind of validate these feelings that I was having. And why can't that be me?
David Ames 15:21
Absolutely. What I find interesting is there's people like Brian pack, and the religious trauma Institute and those that group of people, but it seems like such a small group of people. And this seems to me like a huge growth opportunity for counselors that, you know, we have the, the era of the nuns, the N O N. E. 's, the people who Mark none of the above. Like, there's a lot of people out there who are going to need to walk through that process.
Suandria Hall 15:51
Absolutely. Yeah, the religious trauma Institute is doing some really great work. Brian is actually a friend of mine. We Yeah, we do some work together as well. And, you know, I think we share that we know that this is a niche, and but it's needed. You know, the moment I started to say it out loud, that I was a secular therapist, it was on one hand terrifying. But on the other hand, like, this is this is necessary, I need to say that I need that to be distinguished, right? So that people can find me again, I thought about me, and my journey, just wanted to really make that available. So my clients, it's a wide range, I still see believers. So I have believers, and then I have atheists and everything in between. Yeah, you know, what they're looking for is someone that doesn't force any type of spirituality. In practice, they just want to show up and say, let me just talk through some stuff.
David Ames 16:52
Yeah. You have a an Instagram page, that is just a wealth of wisdom, I recommend everyone go and read your posts. And one of them kind of addresses this, you talked about, initially, after your deconstruction, deconversion process, you had some anger? Yeah, that it's important as a counselor that you do your own work, and you don't bring that to the counseling session? Do you want to expound on that?
Suandria Hall 17:18
Sure, um, you know, that's, that's part of, you know, our education is we're learning about theories and people and communities and all of that. But you're, you're challenged often to dig within your own heart, your own mind, to see what is happening so that you can show up, healed, it gives you a level of experience that's very personal and very real. asked that empathy that you can have with people. So I start with development, right? When we think about counseling, in general, we know how important development is our caregivers, our parents, this is where we learn love and safety and what it means to be nurtured in connection. These are fundamentals who are growth, right. So to put that in the context of this religious deconversion, or adverse religious experience, so parents are that powerful, right? It's a gift. But then that parent gives that power away to God, to religious, strict religious teachings to charismatic leaders. And so then the child learns that, Oh, okay. So the love the adoration, the loyalty, the devotion, that maybe a mother and a child would share with each other is now shifted. Hmm, interesting. Yeah. So now God becomes the number one. But here's this being that is to be our source of love. Right? But can't be touched. Right, can't be held, can't hold you remains distant, and then has all these requirements, right? requirements to be loved, and to be blessed and to be to be safe and protected. There's a list of requirements. Yeah. And back to me being a therapist that can help clients walk through this. We're in America, where 90% of the population believes in God, some form, and that bleeds over into the counseling world, right? So it really does make a difference when you walk into a room. So while we understand as the counseling community, how important these foundational relationships are, we miss that shift when all of that power, all of that influence is now God's Right,
David Ames 19:54
right. You have in a way, a deeper insight into the people who you are working with then maybe a religious counselor? They would?
Suandria Hall 20:04
Yes. Yeah, there are things I'm going to say yes. That a religious counselor might not or might not be able to validate or it may be extremely uncomfortable, right. So in essence, what we're talking about here is, is trauma. And I'll tell you why. So trauma, it's when our bodies our system becomes overwhelmed, flooded with emotions, flooded physically, like in our bodily sensations and things like that. So it gets stuck, right, and we're unable to move through it. Okay. And here's, and someone will say, Well, what does that mean? As it relates to religious trauma? So we have these strict religious teachings, right? And they're given to us. So a natural development, a child is able to explore, to be curious to learn by experience, it's a beautiful thing happening. Yeah. But when these young children are, as soon as they can think, told who they are, who to be, how to be your man, you're this way, you're a woman this way. These are your roles. This is what we do. This is what we believe. That natural process is stolen. Emotions are stifled. Learning is stifled. We don't see it that way. We think we're doing the best. I know, my parents who didn't have much to give this was the best they had to give. It was their way, right? of giving us a better life. So I understand it from that perspective. But having gone through this transformation, it's like, Oh, I miss, I miss some stuff. And I understand why now as an adult, having left religion, I'm struggling with things that are very seemingly very fundamental and and basic, it's like an Arrested Development. Yes.
David Ames 22:02
And it strikes me like you say, the curiosity that children are incredibly attuned to the reactions from their parents, they want to make their parents smile, they want to have a sense of being proud of them. And so if their curiosity is asking questions that hit those boundaries that are start to be uncomfortable, they get that clear message, you don't get to ask those questions, and that definitely would stifle their their growth.
Suandria Hall 22:28
No, there's a scripture that says, and, you know, it's been a while, but I'm sure I hear
David Ames 22:36
I'm a bit rusty, don't worry.
Suandria Hall 22:39
To pass on thoughts and everything that that exalts itself against the knowledge of the Word of God. Right. Right. Like you're literally taught to not allow any other thought in unless it's, quote unquote, biblical, and then you have all kinds of interpretations. So even that's, you know, muddy. Yeah. But so anything that doesn't fall in line with the Scripture, you can't even receive it. Yeah. Talk about your education, your experience being limited, you have to find a scripture that validates, right? Or invalidates this new information. And that's how you receive there's a constant filter on
David Ames 23:21
Yeah. You know, I think, as I've done a lot of interviews with people on a by hear stories, as they get to tell them, I've seen a very striking difference between people who grow up in the church, particularly some form of fundamentalist theology, and people who have some conversion experience later in life. So I happen to be in the latter category, I was about 1617 years old. So I always had kind of a slightly external perspective. And so it wasn't maybe as traumatic for me in the process. But man, for the kids that grew up with hell leaning over them, as much as we as the church talks about grace is very clearly communicated that this love that you're describing is, is conditional. If not these requirements, then that love isn't there. And like what what that does to somebody, I just see my heartbreaks for the challenges that people going through that process who grew up in the church have to deal with
Suandria Hall 24:25
for sure it's, it's now in the scriptures are coming back to me and when I think about our emotions, right, natural part of the human experience, but again, when you when you look at what is for me and my interpretation, and many of my clients, scriptures, like you know, cast down fear, right? Don't even be afraid, right? Like you can't even again you're told to resist, to resist to deny, and these are natural parts of the human experience that we really need. And when people experience traumatic situations, be it child abuse and domestic violence, the tragedy of 911 what we're experiencing right now, yeah, 2020 Yeah, I won't even go down the list 2020 It's, it's psychology one on one, when we treat these people who have had traumatic experiences, the point of it is to be reconnected with what's happening in our bodies, what's happening in our emotions, what we're thinking, like, part of healing from a traumatic experience and coping while we're going through a traumatic experience is being connected with ourselves, allowing ourselves to feel allowing ourselves to let those emotions rise and fall. This is a natural part of, again, the human experience. What religion says is no, you're not going to do that we're going to stifle those emotions, we're going to cut them off. And, you know, I remember, when we do confessions, in the church I was in, I mean, screaming at the top of your lungs. And, you know, again, the casting down, and this is what I want to devil want to do this, like all of this stuff, again, you're pushing down, down, down and away what you're actually experiencing, right. And here's the thing, when we do that, we silenced the parts of our brains that, yeah, tell us about fear, alert us to fear and danger. But we also silence those parts that tell us about joy, and love, and hope. So in in my work with my religious trauma clients, we're trying to bring all those parts back together. And it's it can be very scary and uncomfortable, because with that becomes the fear, rage, the anger. But we have to open that door to receive the love and the joy and the peace and the feel safe. Yeah. within ourselves that get in our emotions again,
David Ames 27:03
yeah. For me, something I've been focusing on a lot in my description of humanism, something I call secular grace, is a lot about just embracing my own humanity, which includes all that the you know, net real imperfections here, I'm not referring to sin, just you know, we are, we are prone to error, we make mistakes, you know, and just being able to be super honest with myself about when I make a mistake, when I when I do something wrong, right? When I do something good when something is, like you say joyful, something meaningful, and just embracing the humanity for myself and embracing the humanity of others. And it seems like in many ways, that religion Christianity specifically seems to kind of try to wipe away that humanity to, you know, we have to be victorious, or, you know, like, there's almost constant living in a false reality.
Suandria Hall 28:02
Yeah. And there's so much to learn in our mistakes. Right? And not just having them but being able to truly connect with them. This is what I did. This is what I said, this is how it made me feel. This is how it made another person feel. But when you have that religion, again, that religious filter, the answers are there. People can hold so tightly to their release, and cause you extreme pain. But if they feel like God said, To do this, they don't even care. They're not even connecting to that part of humanity that says I should, I should probably care about how I'm making another human being feel right now. But again, I have this validation from God. Right? I said, it's okay to do this.
David Ames 28:50
I'm literally on a mission from God. Yes,
Suandria Hall 28:53
yes. Yeah. I was reading the study. And it looked at the well being of people in religious dominant countries, versus secular dominant countries. And what it found was that religious people in religious dominant countries fared well. They felt happy, and connected and secure. They just they just fared better. Right. And then religious people in secular countries did it. They struggled. So it wasn't about whether or not their faith was giving them the sense of well being. It was about the community, the social structure, it was about what's around that really supported what they believe or did it? Yeah. Right.
David Ames 29:53
Yeah. I mean, I really want to expound on community here. I think in particular for the black church. arch that seems like is such a central part of the black experience in America is to be connected to a church community. And then to expand beyond that to say that I often say the magic of Christianity or religion is the people is the community and that we can actually acknowledge that it's the people, you know, be able to walk into a room and have 12 People say, Oh, I missed you. I love you. You know, I'd like that we need that we're hardwired for that kind of connectivity. And but there's nothing supernatural going on there. That is, people, humans to humans loving each other. You know?
Suandria Hall 30:37
Yeah, yeah. We've attributed to supernatural though, right? Right. I remember those high high emotions of being in charge. My dad's a musician, was he passed away a couple years ago.
David Ames 30:50
Suandria Hall 30:51
thank you. He's a musician. So music was always in our house. We had it at church. And it was like, magnificent. And any kind of music, if you're into it, your emotions aren't there. Right. But if it's in charge, we call it spiritual, the Holy Spirit, this is why we dance. This is why we do all these things. So that love that force, that energy that we get from just connecting with other human beings, celebrating with other human beings, greeting with other human beings, that's available to us all the time. But we've we've said that that's only in church. And to find it outside of church, I will admit that's, that's a difficult one, because it's just not readily available, where you find a group of people coming together at the same time, every week for this purpose, right? It's a plug and play thing here. But again, as you start to unravel all of this religious doctrine and these rules and start to walk in your own identity, you start to expand social circles and groups, and you start to create those for yourself. And you can find people that you can spend this time with inexperienced, that kind of love. I mean, me and my friends will dance will dance on Marco Polo, it's similar to like, yeah, like, wherever we can find it. We connect that way. So it's available. It's different. Yeah, it's different, but it's available.
David Ames 32:21
Yeah, I'm not sure if I've told this story on my before but you know, my family are they're still believers. Everybody's a believer still. And just recently, my daughter and I, we were like cleaning the kitchen or seven. We had Snoop Dogg's gospel album. You know, I don't know for listeners if you're into gospel or not, but I mean, it's a beautiful album, just like if you'd like gospel, beautiful, just dancing. You know, like, I was, like, I stopped at one point and said, you know, your atheist dad is dancing. And just kind of the absurdity of the moment and yet, we were having so much joy, we were connecting to each other. And, you know, just was a real moment was really deep, profound moment. Really.
Suandria Hall 33:03
Yeah, I still listen to some of it. It's beautiful music and it's moving it some of it, it's very uplifting, like I did is nothing wrong with that. No, in in, in healing trauma. You know, one of the things that really helps clients to move through that hung up emotion and that hung up those sensations in our body is to move. Yeah, right. So it you know, I think about these, as I've learned is I just, it really helps me reflect on my experience in a different way. And we were dancers, are you going to a black church and we're going to tear the church and it feels good. Yeah, it feels good to let that go to release that way. And you go home from like, whoa, I'm healed. I got it. Yeah, well, we know that religion acts more like an ointment right just a little something on top of the scar that temporarily keeps it from getting dirty again temporarily keeps it from getting infected but the real work requires that inner deep emotional hard look at what you're really experiencing. And that's the part we miss. So sure, listen to your music dance. Like I said, I have clients that are you know, wide range people are still there. I'm just like how do we get you to a place where you feel more confident in yourself? Right Well, you haven't given away all of your power your ability to critically think your ability to enjoy sex Yeah. To you know, just live
David Ames 34:43
right. I again from some other interviews view you talked about your you will often do a walk and talk before then the before times. You strike me what you say is very true. Just the motion itself. Have Yes, in some ways allows us to connect to our inner life in a way that maybe just sitting at a desk or sitting across from somebody doesn't do. So how's that a part of your work?
Suandria Hall 35:11
Yeah. So, you know, talk therapy helps, right? But it's the intent. And it's the words that we use. And it's, it's the focus that we're bringing forward in those sessions. And part of it is the sensations in the body. Again, trauma is all of that being hung up is stuck somewhere. It's almost like it stamps that moment in time your body does. So. It's not just what you think about it. It's not even just what you feel about it, the emotions, happy, sad anger. But it's also how your body is reacting. The headaches, the tense shoulders, the stomach aches like these are also happening as we experience things in life. And through this work with trauma, we're giving language we're giving words to what has been unspeakable. Oh, right. So again, you've been silenced, right? You've been told how to be who to be when to feel what to think all of that. So there's so much silence going on. So as clients start to reconnect, it helps to loosen up the body move around a little bit. What are you feeling? What are you feeling? I'm always asking, What are you feeling? Not just emotion? Where do you feel it in your body? Let's talk about that. When we when we when we talk about that experience with that pastor? And someone kind of gets a, it's okay, where is that right now for you? Where is that we I'm very intentional on helping clients see that. And that helps to release that and you can move forward through it and move forward. Yeah.
David Ames 36:50
And I think, you know, just some form of exercise as well is important. Like, whether that's yoga. In my case, I'm a runner, and I feel like that is my meditation. I'm working stuff out. You know, I'm like, There's something about those endorphins you get from just moving your body around. And I think it's actually really beneficial.
Suandria Hall 37:12
Absolutely. For me, it's hiking. Yeah, that's my go to I can go from miles. And I enjoy the movement, the sounds, the trees, the wind, the sun, all of it. Yeah.
David Ames 37:25
And the experience in nature, just stuff all there is to recognize that, like you said earlier that all isn't that just doesn't happen in church alone. Yes, it happens in many places.
Suandria Hall 37:38
Oh, I love that the ah, yeah. Yes, that's so real. And to give ourselves the permission to do that, you know, we laugh at people and call, you know, tree huggers. I have some friends who call me a tree arbor. It's like, Yeah, I do. Magnificent. Yes.
David Ames 37:56
Yeah, I point out, like, you know, I experienced a lot, you know, in the mountains, on the river and the ocean. And it's like, these things are quite literally bigger than ourselves. And there's something very powerful about just recognizing that that is the human experience of being next to something that is more powerful than you are and just literally experiencing humility, and that again, we don't need any supernatural elements for that to be true.
Suandria Hall 38:23
Absolutely. And I like that you said that experiencing something that's greater than you also experiencing something that's the same as you. Yeah. Because again, in charge, there's so many hierarchies. Yeah. Right. And we're all serving up and worshipping up. I think one of the biggest influences on me being able to go deeper. And love is my daughter, right? She's a tiny little thing. She's four. And I'm in awe of her every day. i I'm humbled by her presence, I'm humbled by, you know, she gets this freedom to explore that I didn't have and just watching that. It's just like, oh my gosh, oh, my gosh, it's beautiful. So yeah, I'm in awe every day. Yeah.
David Ames 39:11
They're autonomous human beings that I think I was, you know, Mike, my kids are teenagers now. And it's that whole process of just watching them. Each different developmental stage as they took more autonomy on for themselves is just it's it's, it's shocking. It's humbling. It's an amazing process to watch.
Suandria Hall 39:30
It is. It's nothing like it and, and so be a part of that. Again, again, with all the humility that you're required to walk in inside of religion because nothing can belong to you, right? Yeah. If it's good as Gods if it's bad as the devil you just get to skate through and not having any responsibility. Yes, but yeah, just owning the fact that I had a part in creating her Yeah, it's it's, it's flooring to me. And I don't give that to anyone except for father. But we did that, and I get to feel the weight of that gift, but also to the weight of that responsibility. It's, it's I don't give that away. Right. It's mine, and it helps really guide me on being an intentional parent.
David Ames 40:26
Yeah, yeah. And I'm certain that your daughter will grow up syncing your ownership of that responsibility and wait.
Suandria Hall 40:34
It's I sure hope so. I sure hope so. And I give her hers like No, honey, this is yours. You get to make this choice. You feel that?
David Ames 40:43
Yeah, yeah. So I'm asking this a bit out of order. I probably should have started with this. But you've mentioned a couple of different semi technical terms religious trauma or trauma informed and adverse religious experience. Can you talk about what those are? What do they mean? And then how do they apply to the work that you do?
Suandria Hall 41:02
So like I said, trauma is it can be a one time experience, it could be something that's happened over the years or things that multiple kinds of experiences that at one time over the years things that are passed down. So we're all of us have probably had some kind of experience that was difficult, but not everyone has trauma. Right. So that's kind of the thing that you're trying to work through and an adverse religious experience. I like that term that came from the religious trauma Institute. Yeah, yeah. I like that. Because I'm not anti religion. Right. You know, in a, again, because my experience, I have beautiful memories of my time in church, specifically, when I was a little girl, just, like I said, the music and my family was there. It was wonderful. It's like no family reunion every week. So I understand what people can get from it. That can be helpful, right. But I also know the realities of adverse religious experience the pain that it can cause the sometimes intentional hurt, and sometimes they didn't know, I know, for a fact, my mother would never intentionally hurt me. Right? Right, that that wasn't her intent, her my father's intent and introducing me to Jesus and Christianity, but it happens. So I think it's important to make that distinguishment between, you know, are you anti religion? Or are you I'm pro people.
David Ames 42:38
Exactly. This is something I've really been trying to communicate a lot lately, again, this idea of embracing the human beings within humanism and saying, yes, human beings are prone to answers that may not have lots of evidence. If you call yourself an atheist, you can say you, oh, well, they're being illogical or what have you, but we aren't Vulcans. We're human beings. And so embracing that is to care about the whole person, which may include religious beliefs, or what have you, and just being able to talk to that person and actually not see them as dysfunctional in some way or another. Right,
Suandria Hall 43:17
right. Right. What is what does it do for you? How is it serving you like, those are important questions that I have. With my clients. It's we're not, you know, pulling the rug from under people, like you have to work this stuff out piece by piece, and you want people to feel safe and ready to move through this process. And like I said, for some, they remain just in a different way. Some develop this new sense of spirituality. Some leave it all together, it's you know, that's, I didn't leave, you know, all this knocking on people's doors, proselytizing, for Christianity, to take on a new version of that. Right. I'm not telling you that I have the answer for your life. I believe that you have the answer for your life. Yeah, maybe you're not sure what that is just yet. Because of all of this trauma that's happened, all the silencing that's happened. But it's nothing like you getting there and feeling that and owning that and it walking in power in your life, right?
David Ames 44:19
Yeah, both the most terrifying aspect and the most joyful freeing aspect is that you suddenly realize that you're responsible for yourself for your own ethics for what you do. It can be scary, but it's also very freeing.
Suandria Hall 44:35
Oh my gosh, that is that is high on the list, like, Okay, so now that I hold all the cards, what do I do and how do I trust myself? And like I said, it's, it's a bit of Arrested Development. We're now oftentimes, these are adults who are going through this transformation. And they're like, oh my gosh, I've never done this before. I've never had to do this for myself, I have women that have been so committed to their faith into their husbands that they don't know how to live on their own. They don't own their bodies, they don't own their finances. They don't own their thoughts. They barely on their own, but have an influence in their children's like, everything's been given away. Right? So you get here, and it's like, oh, wait, it's up to me. And it's terrifying. Yeah, it's terrifying. It's a, it's a little by little unraveling a little by little build of your, your new value system or an edit that everyone doesn't throw everything away. And competence and seeing yourself and knowing yourself and becoming reacquainted or meeting for the first time, the real Yoo
David Ames 45:49
hoo, I love that. I wanted to talk a little bit about the process, from your perspective, from a psychology perspective of changing one's mind. So when I describe my deconversion, the immediate aftermath was, you know, this sense of the cognitive dissonance being gone. I was unaware of it. I was oblivious to the fatigue inducing cognitive dissonance. You know, I personally had a fairly sudden admission or recognition, and just this immediate sense of laying some burden down that I didn't know I was carrying. Is that common? Do you do when you when you are working with people? Do they suddenly become aware? Or? Or is it often a very long process? But how do you work with people that, especially when you can recognize they're carrying some cognitive dissonance?
Suandria Hall 46:45
Yeah, usually, if they come to me, and they reach out to this secular therapy, yeah. Okay. They probably work through. Yeah, quite a bit of that, or at least maybe that top layer, and then it just becomes these pieces, right? Yeah. Thinking for myself or my sexuality. What do I do with my money? What about mortality, like, it becomes like section by section, they're starting to work through these things. And we do some good old fashioned CBT we do some challenging of thoughts. We look at what's reality and what's not, you know, a part of healing trauma, trauma is to be able to see experience, observe the world and yourself and be able to label things as this is real. And this
David Ames 47:32
isn't interesting. Yes. Yeah. Right.
Suandria Hall 47:35
And I mean, the mere fact that we're talking about religion and God or gods, yeah, there's there's the struggle, which is, again, why some clinicians who aren't ready for religious trauma work, that can be difficult, because if you believe it's all real, you have someone that's not part of their healing. They need to be able to differentiate, right? what's real and what's not. Yeah.
David Ames 47:58
It's interesting. I'm sorry, this is a bit tangential. But so I grew up my dad passed away. When I was very young, it was very likely suicide. It was very likely mental health induced part of how that presented was him becoming very, very religious, knocking on doors, that kind of thing. And I remember just growing up, people talking about well, he was probably a part of a cult. Yeah. And not knowing like, how, how is this a cult? And this isn't quite being able to define that. And I find now on this side of the opposite side of faith. That's because it isn't definable. Right? If it's, if you can't point to it and show some evidence, or tangibly touch it or have something real, like you say the difference between things that are real and things that are Yeah, if you can't actually call that out, there is no way to define this as a cult. And this isn't.
Suandria Hall 48:55
Hmm. And that's the struggle in our field. Right? We are in a like I said it predominantly, God. Culture. Yeah. So it's a very thin line on what people want to say is real and not real. Right? We have people that hear voices and they're told to do things, and depends on whose name that is in Yes. You know, what I'm saying? Like, is, is this okay? You know, or is it not? It's, it's a very touchy subjects, it adds to the work that me and my colleagues are doing to bring awareness to speak truth, to validate these experiences that people are having, and not push them away. Because some people are totally returned to God. Maybe you just experienced God in a different way, a wrong way, a bad way.
David Ames 49:50
You just have the wrong version of God,
Suandria Hall 49:52
you have the wrong version and and I feel like the only you know the institutions that encourage people To return to abusers, our religion, and family, right, because these are pillars of our community. And that's when your caregiver is both your source of love and validation, but also pain and abuse, that creates some turmoil inside of a human being.
David Ames 50:21
Wow, I love that just going through the process of recognizing what is real and what isn't. Because so much of the religious experience is saying, Look at how beautiful the Emperor's clothes are. That's really kind of a daily experience and being able to let that go. Must be Yeah.
Suandria Hall 50:38
Yeah. I mean, like we talked about a minute ago, just part of the human experience. And we make mistakes, we do bad things, wrong things, painful things. And that's part of it. But when you're an experience that doesn't allow that to be attributed to God, or the belief or the teachings, you're constantly again, you're pushing it down, pushing it down, pushing it down. I remember my condolences to you, Dad.
David Ames 51:06
Thank you. Yeah.
Suandria Hall 51:08
When my dad died, he battled cancer for a number of years. And when he finally died, I remember sitting at his funeral. The preacher was saying, we knew God would heal him. Get this, we knew God would heal him on this side or the other. Right. But we can never write we can never be mad at God. Right?
David Ames 51:35
Yeah, right. Right. When you're probably experiencing rage. Yeah, I don't know if we were bleeding at the time. But yeah, just, you know, the the loss actually, sorry, I'll send you the I lost my mom to about about eight months after my deconversion and I talked about that. That was both very hard, but also super freeing, because I could truly grieve her, there was nothing, I wasn't having to say, I get to see her again, I could experience the full weight of that loss. And say goodbye, and let go. And, you know, again, not an easy process. You know, going through it I was, you know, reminiscent of or nostalgic for a time when I could believe you know, I get to see her again. But I feel like that grief was more thorough. Yes. Was was more real was more raw, more honest. Because I could could recognize reality that she was no longer with me.
Suandria Hall 52:38
Yeah, I, I totally get that and remind that that I was long gone. was a long guy, okay. But the grief was very, very different. I knew that it was final. Right. And something about that just gave me a real sense of closure. And I really clean to the memories of him in a different way than our experienced grief when I was inside of religion, right? Those memories mean everything to me, I giggle about them. You know what I mean? They just live with you in a different way.
David Ames 53:13
Yeah. Yeah. And you feel the, my mom lives on and me, right, my job is to tell to my kids, and I'll be like, ah, your grandmother would have loved that, you know, like that lives on because she's in my memory. And, and that is the way that humanity has dealt with death for time immemorial, regardless of how we contextualized it.
Suandria Hall 53:33
Yes, yeah. You know, I was thinking about so my daughter, and I could talk about her all the time. But you know, her she doesn't have a concept of death, not for real for it's, it's insects and worms die. Right. That's, that's the extent of her concept of death. But you know, as her parent, I know, there's gonna come a day when she's going to ask me about death. Yeah, you know, and what and what that means. And it's, you know, it's probably easier on a parent to be able to say, Oh, you're just gonna go to sleep and go to this beautiful place, and then I'll see you there one day, or you'll see me like, we're gonna all be together. Like, I get why that seems like a good choice.
David Ames 54:18
Yeah, in the moment, it seems like a totally rational thing to do. Yeah,
Suandria Hall 54:22
absolutely. But the other side of that is only if you're a good person, because if you're not, yes, yes, one or both of us will be in hell for the rest of our life. And we, we miss the part about how important right now is, yeah, right, because we're living to make it to heaven, escape hell, but we miss the value, the depth, the gifts and connection and now and what we do and how we treat people. You know, again, it's about shirking responsibility. Sometimes it's, I don't have to worry about as long as I do what God said I'm going to have it Yeah, care what you people are doing. But when you don't have that your hope is right here and right now. It changes how you work how you live, how you treat people, your social engagement, all of it you just it reshapes your life.
David Ames 55:16
And every moment with your daughter is rich with meaning and joy, even in the bad times, even when I'm arguing with my, my teenagers, you know, like, I am able to step back and say this is precious time that I have with them. Because time is the thing that we have no control over.
Suandria Hall 55:35
Yes, it is the hottest commodity. Yes.
David Ames 55:42
sundry I don't want to let you go without talking about just the the kind of the moment and time we live in 2020 has been hard. And that is the understatement of the year, just literally before you and I began chatting, my best friend and I were texting each other and he said, Hey, how you doing? And I said, Oh, I'm doing good. And then I texted back about two minutes later. I was like, really? I should just say I'm coping? Because it's been hard. Yeah, I know, this is kind of impossible question. But do you have any advice for those of us who are just trying to survive? Everything that is going on right now?
Suandria Hall 56:14
Yeah, you know, I wish I had an answer that would fix everything for everybody. But I don't, what I offer, like we said a minute ago, that time is all we have right now and how we treat people and how we treat ourselves and what we're honest about. And I think it's important to lean into that to be truthful, about what we care about what we're scared of, and why it's such a, this time gives us an opportunity. Talk about challenge thinking like, if I feel this way about a person or group of people, or about what I'm hearing from, you know, this politician or that one. What about it makes me hold on to it so quickly, or resistant so quickly? Yeah. Right, because and I think about that, again, in that religious context, we've grown for certain things, we can be grown for horrible things, right. And like I said, I think this is a time that we can really dig out some of that and really see some real healing in our individual lives and our families, our communities and in our nation. But it doesn't happen without pain. And I think we're just smack dab in the middle of it. But again, opportunity for healing opportunity for connection and care and love for one another that we otherwise wouldn't experience. So I try to look at it that way doesn't make it less painful and heavy. But I find purpose. Not necessarily in it. But in this moment.
David Ames 57:56
Yeah. Thank you for that. I appreciate that. Yeah, we have each other. That's what we have. Yes. And let's make a plug here too. For, you know, people, you need a little more help contacting Cynthia or someone else that are like the secular therapy project or the religious drama Institute, getting somebody who is going to dedicate time to just listen to you be able to tell what you're feeling is super valuable. And that was looked down upon in some churches looked down upon as like, you know, maybe you're weak or your faith isn't strong enough. But on this side of faith, we can say, hey, I need some help.
Suandria Hall 58:36
Yeah, absolutely. I in this is just real quickly, I did part of my internship at a church. Oh, wow. Okay, I did. And I was intentional about that, because I wanted to work with everybody. You know, I'm not about this exclusion stuff on any level. So. So I was intentional about working at a church, it happened to be a church that they believe Jesus saved you. But you have to do some work to get cleaned up, and I was like, alright, so they had a program there for therapists. Okay. And it was interesting. So I had people from the church and people from the community, and it was just a magnificent experience. So yeah, like, if you want help, it's available, and it's available in different ways. But this work is very specific. And you know, I'm intentional about what I say what I share, because I want that to be clear about the work I'm doing Yeah.
David Ames 59:37
Well, that's a good segue. How can people get in touch with you and your work?
Suandria Hall 59:41
Website is my choice, my power.com and you can follow me on Instagram at my choice, my power counseling.
David Ames 59:51
Excellent. And I highly recommend the Instagram is just like an oasis of hope and 2020 Thank you. I will have links in the show notes for those So, Suandria, thank you so much for sharing all of your wisdom here. Oh, you're welcome.
Suandria Hall 1:00:04
Thank you for having me.
David Ames 1:00:12
Final thoughts on the episode? Wow, I need to send a check to Suandria for that counseling session that got deepened a number of times. I really appreciate Suandria for talking about grief in such a real way allowing me to talk about grief in a real way. It's something that I don't think we address very often. So Suandria has such a very real way of communicating the process that she's gone through, you can tell that she would be completely fair, for people who are still believers who would engage with her. I want to make just a plug in general for secular counseling and sundry specifically that so many I think, have been in a church environment where counseling was off limits, and especially during 2020. If you need someone to reach out to, I definitely can recommend centria, her counseling practices at my choice, my power.com. And you can find her there also, again, I'll recommend her Instagram account, my choice, my power counseling. I want to thanks, Suandria, for being so honest and so raw and telling her story. I particularly was moved by the discussion of representation, as well as her acknowledgement of being groomed for ministry, and realizing later in life that that wasn't for her. She had too many questions. I appreciate her kindness in the way she sees her former faith community. I really appreciated our conversation about all talking about being parents and being in awe of our children. So thank you again, Xandria. For being on the show. I'm going to hint just a bit about the upcoming episodes that I have. I have had the opportunity to talk with Ian Mills, who we discussed in my conversation with Randall rouser on the topic of metaphysical naturalism, but also his expertise is in second century New Testament and the way that the New Testament was put together. It's an incredibly honest conversation been incredibly well informed, and to be totally honest, academic discussion, where Ian was talking way over my head a whole lot, but I still think it's a really valuable conversation. I'm also about to do an interview with Barrett Evans, the author of the contemplative skeptic. Barrett is very much a naturalist. He may call himself an agnostic. I'm not exactly sure, I'll have to interview him on that point. But he has written a book that is kind of a devotional that looks at kind of the deep questions of life and the answers that various philosophers and religious thinkers and secularists have come up with over the years. And anyway, it's an incredibly fair and balanced look very nuanced. Look at what it means to be secularly spiritual, however you want to define that. So that's upcoming. And then the most exciting thing for me to say is that Michelle and I did in fact, record the episode for our discussion about being unequally yoked. It was an intense conversation, I think it will be incredibly valuable. Look for that to come in December. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings. Time for some footnotes. The song is a track called waves by mkhaya beats, please check out her music links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to help support the podcast, here are the ways you can go about that. First help promote it. Podcast audience grows by word of mouth. If you found it useful, or just entertaining, please pass it on to your friends and family. post about it on social media so that others can find it. Please rate and review the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. This will help raise the visibility of our show. Join me on the podcast. Tell your story. Have you gone through a faith transition? You want to tell that to the world? Let me know and let's have you on? Do you know someone who needs to tell their story? Let them know. Do you have criticisms about atheism or humanism, but you're willing to have an honesty contest with me? Come on the show. If you have a book or blog that you want to promote, I'd like to hear from you. Also, you can contribute technical support. If you are good at graphic design, sound engineering or marketing? Please let me know and I'll let you know how you can participate. And finally financial support. There will be a link on the show notes to allow contributions which would help defray the cost of producing the show. If you want to get in touch with me you can google graceful atheist or you can send email to graceful email@example.com You can Tweet at me at graceful atheist or you can just check out my website at graceful atheists.wordpress.com Get in touch and let me know if you appreciate the podcast. Well, this has been the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheists. Grab somebody you love and tell them how much they mean to you
this has been the graceful atheist podcast
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
My guest today is Brian Peck. He is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) who specializes in religious-based trauma in his private practice and who helps guide individuals through their deconversions with evidence-based practices online. His practice is called Room to thrive and Brian describes it as “secular therapy for human well being.” It is trauma-informed therapy and coaching.
Brian has had a huge impact on me and my thinking. It was a great pleasure to get to pick his brain. You can hear me learning in real-time during our discussion.
If you have survived trauma (of any sort), your nervous system did exactly what it needed to do to survive.
My guest is Laura Anderson. We discuss religious abuse, religious trauma and the difference between them.
Abuse is the thing that happened to you. Trauma is the experience that your body or nervous system has as a response to the thing that happened to you.
Laura is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the State of Tennessee, a Professor of Psychology and an Approved Supervisor through the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). She has a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy and is in the final stages of completing my completing her Ph.D. in Mind-BodyMedicine at Saybrook University. Laura specializes in complex trauma, religious trauma, religious abuse, and purity culture.
Laura has developed a manual for mental health professionals on Adverse Religious Experiences and Religious Trauma which is available on her website. This is a resource for both mental health professionals and those who have experienced adverse religious experiences themselves. Use the discount code: RELIGIOUSTRAUMA15 for $15 off the price of the manual.
My guest today is Karen, the co-host and creator of the Deconversion Therapy Podcast. Karen is a comedian, a writer, and now a podcast host. She grew up attending Evangelical schools from grade school to Bible college.
Everyone is good at something. I was good at being a Christian.
Karen was so dedicated to Christianity she became a missionary with YWAM. After attending DTS, she and her husband moved to Thailand.
With hindsight what I got called to was adventure, meaning, purpose, travel and helping people.
Honest laughter from the Thai women she was working with shook Karen up enough to recognize maybe they were fine without her Western Jesus after all. Later after reading Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, Karen further deconstructed when she discovered the premise of her missionary work, Mark 16:15 “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” was not in the original manuscripts.
Karen’s best advice to Christians:
Don’t research. It is bad for your faith.
Along, with her co-host Bonnie, Karen uses humor, sarcasm, self-deprecation and occasional snark to eviscerate the silliness of Evangelicalism. Their podcast isDeconversion Therapy.
We can laugh at this stuff. We are OK. You can laugh at this. You are going to be OK.