Psychologist, Religious Recovery Consultant


Dr. Marlene Winell is a licensed psychologist, educator, and writer in western Massachusetts. Her background includes 30 years of experience in human services, in both community and academic settings. She holds a doctorate in Human Development and Family Studies from Pennsylvania State University and is the author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion. Dr. Winell directs the organization, Journey Free, with services for recovery from harmful religion. In 2011, she named "Religious Trauma Syndrome." Marlene is also a filmmaker, photographer, mother, and grandmother.

Summary of professional background

• B.A. and M.A. in Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine, 1975, 1977
• Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies, Penn State University, 1983
• Licensed psychologist in Colorado, 1987
• Registered psychologist in Australia, 1994
• University teaching and research
• Social work and residential programs for adolescents
• Psychotherapy: individual, couples, group, family
• Religious Recovery training and coaching
• Author and speaker on religious trauma
• Writing, direction, and production of educational and social issue videos, films, and productions

Selected Publications & Presentations

Religious Trauma Syndrome (Series of 3 articles), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Today, London.The Challenge of Leaving Religion and Becoming Secular. In Zuckerman, P. and Shook, J.R. (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Secularism.The Crazy-Making in Christianity: A Look at Real Psychological Harm. In Loftus, J. (Ed.), Christianity is Not Great: How Faith Fails.How Conservative Christianity Can Warp the Mind. AlternetCNN interviews with Rick Sanchez, Out in the Open, 2007. These two segments were about the attacks by Matthew Murray on a church in Colorado Springs. Here and Here.It's Not Just Personal: The Collective Trauma of Religion, American Humanist Association.Heretic Holidays: Tips from Two Religious Renegades. With Valerie Tarico.Leaving the Fold. Presentation at the Exmormon Foundation 2011 Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah.Religious Trauma Syndrome. Presentation at the International Conference on Psychology and Religion, Bari, Italy.Religious Trauma Syndrome. Presentation at the Texas Freethought Convention. Dallas, Texas.Interview by Chris Johnson for *A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out On Joy & Meaning in a World Without God.Interview by Valerie Tarico on Recovering from Religious Trauma.RTS: An Historical Overview. Keynote presentation at the Conference on Religious Trauma, 2021.RTS: Treatment and Psychoeducation. Presentation at the Conference on Religious Trauma, 2021.Understanding the Religious Right. *Dailykos.An Open Letter to Sarah Palin. Huffington Post.Trump’s Worldview Mirrors the Most Archaic and Apocalyptic of Christian Beliefs. AlternetPersonal Goals: Key to self-direction in adulthood. In Ford, M. (Ed.), Humans as Self-Constructing Living Systems: Putting the Framework to Work.The assessment of personal goal hierarchies. Journal of Counseling Psychology.


See Filmography page.

Art Exhibitions

From Holy to Whole: Journeys of Recovery from Rigid Religion. Video tour. Exhibited at Colorado State University, University of California, Santa Cruz, and Brisbane, Australia. Curated 56 artworks by 14 artists and produced 26.Photography . Fine Art America. "Noticing" exhibition in Alameda, CA.

Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion

Leaving the Fold is a one-of-a-kind self-help book is for people recovering from the harmful effects of religious indoctrination. It provides insight into the psychological manipulations involved in authoritarian religion, and Christian fundamentalism in particular.Drawing from her own personal experience as well as clinical expertise, Dr. Winell gives step-by-step guidance for healing from confusion, fear, guilt, anger, and grief. Readers will learn to reclaim their right to think for themselves, experience freedom and self-love, develop inner resources and personal skills, and celebrate living in the here-and-now.Leaving the Fold accompanies the author's workshops and retreats.

"Marlene is a writer who understands the inner torment
experienced by those who take the journey from all forms of
fundamentalism to a place where they look upon their
former certainties -- often inherited from parents -- more as
of an illness to be recovered from than a way of life they
ever would have freely chosen if they knew then what they
know now. Marlene's path is one of self-forgiveness and
hope offered to those who need a guide to lead them
through the process of recovery."
— Frank Schaeffer, author of Crazy for God”

Dr. Winell has spent much of her career developing resources for those recovering from harmful religion. She founded the organization, Journey Free: Recovery from Harmful Religion, where you can find individual services, an online support group, retreats, and a program for professional development. While Dr. Winell is a licensed psychologist, her current work with individuals and groups is “religious recovery consulting,” which combines coaching and psychoeducation to promote personal healing and growth. More information can be found at the business page,


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Planet USA: World Domination or Global Community? Feature documentary about the role of the United States in the world. (Writer, director, producer). Excerpts Here and Here.American Mystique. Documentary about national self-concept and global impact. (Writer, Director, Producer).American Meme. A short film exploring the “meme” of the U.S. being the global good guy. (Writer, Director, Producer). Shown at Santa Cruz film festival.Daddy. A one-act play performed in Colorado and Australia; a dramatic piece about family tensions and religious differences (Writer, director).Myth of the Superwoman, 30-minute docudrama as part of a telecourse at Colorado State University for national broadcast (Writer, Director).Personal Change: Finding the Courage, 30-minute docudrama as part of telecourse at Colorado State University for national broadcast. This was a documentary of an artist struggling with personal blockages to becoming a professional artist. (Writer, Director).Hair Today, 25-minute comedy-drama (Writer, Director, Producer). 2000. A short film which tells four viewpoints on one story, each with different cinematography, acting style, set design, and music. Produced as part of a funded diversity project for the University of Queensland, Australia.Winning, 15-minute documentary about unusual competitions and the people who win them. (Writer, Director, Producer).What Do You Say? Styles of Questioning for Human Services, 30-minute educational video for University of Queensland. (Writer, Director, Assistant Producer).Fathertime. Feature film script (Writer). Trailer .Allacazam. Feature film script (Writer).Bless Me. Feature film script (Writer). Funded by Film Queensland's New Writers' Scheme. In development. See more information below:

Bless Me

New Film in Development
We are making a movie with the working title of Bless Me, and are currently putting together our production team!
About the film:
The fictional feature-length screenplay, written by Marlene, follows classmates of a Christian boarding school at their 20-year high school reunion. Some are still believers, while others have become totally secular “heathens.” Debates ensue between faithful and fallen, an old romance is rekindled with serious consequences, and a renowned missionary finds out his literal “call” from God was actually a prank by a classmate back at the school. The script contains drama, humor and loads of complications as the group attempts to navigate this testing of relationships.
At present, we are primarily looking for a producer for the film.If you are an experienced filmmaker and want more information, please contact us! Full synopsis and screenplay are available upon request. We’re also interested in hearing from other potential cast and crew, such as directors and cinematographers.Please email Marlene at if you think you might be a fit.Full Synopsis:Sometimes it seems like God is playing games.This is how it feels at a twenty-year high school reunion for the graduates of a Christian boarding school in Taiwan. They gather at a lodge in Hawaii, not expecting the drama that is about to take place. Years have passed and only some are still faithful to the religious dogma at the school where they were taught what to believe and what to condemn.People arrive from all over the world – the faithful, the fallen, and everything in between. Among them are: a devout reunion organizer, a new-age style Buddhist with a new sexual orientation, a lonely scientist, a dedicated missionary, a cynical hedonist, and a hopeful humanist. No longer is it obvious who is right about what. A “testimony” meeting over dinner reveals how jarringly different their realities have become.Vanessa, an environmental biologist and mother of a teenage boy, comes to the occasion hoping simply to spend time catching up with old friends. Instead she has to face her long-lost love, Jonathan, who she had expected to marry years ago - before he disappeared. Jonathan shows up, having traveled from the Philippines, where his missionary work is renowned. The spark between them is rekindled and complicated by the revelation that Jonathan’s literal “call” from God to be a missionary was actually a prank by classmates back at the school. The pranksters are at the reunion too, which prompts a range of response and confrontation. What happens when a person finds out that their life is based on a lie?In their time together, the group also has lovely moments of humor, music, and memories. However, as they pass the time comparing lives, they realize it is past time to be honest. Tempers flare, in both sinners and saints. Grown-up boys, once on a wrestling team, have a rematch and one is seriously injured. The hospitalization turns the weekend into a week for the group of seven that stays.For Vanessa, the wrestling is with Jonathan. Something locked away is out and must be answered. Jonathan has learned the devastating truth about his work, and now turns to Vanessa for a solution. But they each want a different kind of blessing.