Brett Higbee, a retired land surveyor who attended the ranch during the late 1970s, said that he was routinely beaten for religious infractions like failing to memorize Bible verses. These experiences made him religion-phobic for years, he said, his pain triggered by entering a church or even hearing Christmas music on the radio.
The gap between religious teachings on compassion and the ways that faith sometimes gets misused inspired Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a psychiatrist, and his colleagues at Duke University to develop “religious cognitive therapy” in 2014. The therapy uses “positive scriptures that focus on forgiveness, God’s love and divine mercy to challenge the dysfunctional thoughts that maintain trauma,” says Dr. Koenig.
The Duke team has developed workbooks that accentuate this positive content for each of the world’s major religions. Clinical trials, published in 2015, showed that religious people who received the therapy had lower rates of depression and reported more positive emotions like gratitude and optimism than those who did not receive it.
The best cure for religious trauma may be a deeper dive into the spiritual core of religious teachings, Dr. Koenig says.