Recovery from Harmful Religion

The effects of authoritarian religious training can last a long time and run deep, seriously impacting your ability to enjoy life. Often people have intense feelings and are not sure about how to move forward with a new framework for living.  A person knowledgeable in human development can guide you through steps to rebuild your life and strengthen areas of personal development.

As a "recovering fundamentalist" myself, and with years of experience working with people coming out of many dogmatic religious traditions, I have written a self-help book called Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. For some time now, I have consulted with people of many backgrounds – evangelical and Pentecostal Christian, Mormon, Jehovah Witness, Seventh-Day Adventist, Scientology, Eastern groups, and any organizations of a cultish nature.

I have also put together a companion website that focuses on recovery from harmful religion:

Here is a clip of an interview I gave with Dr. Valerie Tarico, in which I outline what I see to be the abusive effects of indoctrination by authoritarian religion.


Talk delivered at the Texas Free Thought Convention: "It’s Time to Recognize RTS (Religious Trauma Syndrome) — Causes, Symptoms, and Steps in Recovery."


Recommendations from Linkedin

Richard Rossi (client)

“Dr Winell is the foremost expert at assisting those who have been damaged by toxic religious groups and cults to recover from spiritual abuse and rigid religious indoctrination. Her book and retreats are the best in the field.” October 13, 2011

Valerie Tarico, Ph.D., Psychologist, Writer and Speaker (colleague)

“Marlene Winell's depth of experience with religious trauma and recovery is unparalleled. She has worked remotely and in person with hundreds of clients, each struggling to cleanse his or her mind and emotions of toxic residue from authoritarian religion. Her book, written materials, and insightful questions have helped many to move forward in the process of healing.” October 24, 2011

Rebecca Rosen Lum, Regional reporter, Bay Area News Group-East Bay (colleague) 

“Marlene Winell is an intelligent person with a quiet strength and clarity of purpose -- a natural leader. She is both an analyst and a visionary; on one hand, deeply compassionate, on the other, a consummate and methodical organizer. I've seen her plan and conduct complex events, in the process meeting the needs of multiple clients, dealing deftly with surprises, and keeping the ball rolling toward its planned outcome. She is a lively thinker and a clear communicator.” October 13, 2011

Heina Dadabhoy (client)

“Marlene is an expert in helping people to recover from the harmful effects of fundamentalist religion. In addition, she provides excellent advice and guidance in handling family relationships.” October 13, 2011

Richard Irwin (client)

“I read Marlene's book "Leaving the Fold" because of recommendations I found online and because we share similar backgrounds, and I profited greatly from it. She had deep insight into my issues as an ex-fundamentalist, helped me through a difficult time, and provided me effective tools/techniques that I've continued to use regularly .” October 13, 2011

MaryKris Mcilwaine, Ph.D. (client)

“Marlene has in-depth expertise in the specialized (but crucial) area of recovery from harmful religious indoctrination. She is generous, creative and good-humored in deploying her knowledge to help clients re-gain their equilibrium and begin to step out of toxic imprinting.” October 16, 2011

Rob Steiner, Co-Founder, Recovering Fundamentalists (colleague)

“Many people who are suffering from the affects of oppressive religious abuse seek help through our organization. Many times, the impact far exceed our capacity and requires professional attention. I am very grateful to have someone like Marlene. I can trust Marlene to sympathize with our community while also providing consultation. She's the best in the world at what she does. I have no doubt about that. Thank you, Marlene!” February 23, 2012

Janet Heimlich, Student, Stanford University, Author (colleague)

“Dr. Winell has done a great deal to reach out to those who are emotionally struggling after having emerged from oppressive faith environments. I believe her book and website would be helpful to anyone in this situation, whether they grew up in an abusive religious culture or joined as an adult. As I was impressed with her work, I recommended her book on my website.” October 28, 2011

Jim Moyers, Psychotherapy Private Practice, Jim Moyers, MF (colleague)

“I have known Marlene for a number of years primarily through her work with recovering fundamentalists, including her book, "Leaving the Fold." I have been impressed with Marlene's openess, her genuine warmth, and compassion as well as her knowledge of the complicated issues involved with outgrowing a belief system.” October 13, 2011

Bob Cowart, Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, Clear Visions Counseling (colleague)

“Marlene is the only person I know who is working in the area of RTS (Religious Trauma Syndrome). Based on her book "Leaving the Fold" and knowing Marlene for a few years, as well as attending one of her weekend RTS retreats and speaking with some of her clients/attendees, I highly recommend Marlene, especially if you suspect you may have RTS.  She's very down to earth and keeps it 'real.' She will have a real conversation with you, as well as listening attentively. ” October 13, 2011


Consultation is available in person or by telephone. 

For more information about all the types of help available,  please go to my companion website,


Divine Wanduku, Ph.D., Professor (reader)

 For someone like me  who has experienced first-hand abuse and chronic mental disorders  in a Pentecostal church environment, while you are still going through all the  confusion and gloomy experience of ignorance and indecisions about  what is wrong with you or what caused your current condition, whether to stay or not to stay in the abusive loop,  the most pressing need is to have someone who can  relate to your experience and ease your  internal turmoil; someone who can give you new hope to recover and become normal again; someone to accept you for exercising your right to no longer believe and tell you that you are not condemned or born defective as you have been indoctrinated in the system; someone who can help you understand the damage incurred in the system and show you how to undo the damage. Dr. Winnel's book "Leaving the Fold" and youtube videos provided the hope and most needed answers during the most desperate period of my life leaving the fold. 

harmful religions

As a Christian Scientist, I find it ludicrous that Christian Science be labelled a harmful religion or grouped up with things like Scientology, Mormonism or Jehova's Witnesses which it has absolutely nothing to do with. Let me explain this by pointing out that Christian Scientists do not recruit. Neither do they proselytize. They do not try to force their beliefs on to anyone which is mostly what fundamentalists do. Christian Science is out there if you want to look into it or investigate it but no one is going to come knocking at your door to talk about it to you either. On the contrary to it being harmful it has been extremely helfpful to many people all over the world by helping them overcome any problems in their life be it illness or any other inharmonious situation they might be confronted with. People should investigate things more thoroughly before labelling them harmful or being a cult. I seriously don't believe that there are many people who are trying to exit Christian Science and if you seriously want to do that, well there is no one who's going to stop you. There is no brainwashing involved in it nor are you influenced in any way to stay in it when you don't want to. One of the biggest arguments against it is a handful of people who died because of not receiving medical attention but check any hospital records of how many people will die in a hospital in one given day. And the problem there is that people should not turn to Christian Science instead of doctors when they have not fully understood this science well enough to demonstrate it. It also does not forbid you to receive medical attention if that's what you feel is best for you and Mary Baker Eddy advocated this herself. That you should pray about a situation and then listen to what God is telling you. If you feel that you must see a doctor, well then by all means do that. Christian Scientists do not forbid you doing that. I truly cannot understand how it can be labelled a harmful religion but I can understand how Fundamentalism can be given that label.

Chris Stephanos

Your Services

I watched the video with Dr. Valerie Tarico and explored your website. How sad that your experience has caused you to actively denounce religion and God. I agree that PEOPLE have misused religion to control and harm others, but God has not. He has simply stated in His Word what is true, that "if you touch the stove, you will burn your hand" in so many words. But PEOPLE have also used many other non religious means to control and harm others. This is a problem inherent with people, not with religion. You might as well wage a war against Politics as well, because it has been used MORE often to control and harm people in the world. People are apt to take any system and use it for power, control and harm. I hope that you haven't stopped your own journey of discovery, and that it will one day lead you to discover that God is Love, and all things good, and that His message is that in His Presence "there is fullness of joy and blessings forevermore." The reality too is that, because He is the only source of pure goodness, without Him and His Presence, we are at left with everything that is not good (including people who want to control and harm others). I'm sorry for the pain you experienced by mis-application of God's word in your early life, and I pray for further revelation of Jesus' immense love for you.