By Eva Raggio, April 23, 2020
Thanks to Netflix series Unorthodox, religious trauma is a topic that’s fresh on people’s minds, even if we haven't identified the show's takeaway message in that exact term. The drama details a young bride's life and subsequent escape from a deeply orthodox Hasidic community in Brooklyn.
The show became a hit in part for its main character’s gripping story arc — based on a true tale — and because of the profound interest in the curiously foreign ways of the Satmar community, which exists in stark contrast with the modern New York City where its members live.
The kind of trauma specific to religious indoctrination isn’t, for most people, a frequently occurring topic of discussion — except when a sect is discovered with sister wives or a former Scientologist goes rogue with a tell-all — but it's the subject of Kathryn Keller’s lifework.
The therapist has a chic turquoise-blue office in Dallas with her business partner Justine Kallaugher. Keller earned a doctorate in counseling psychology from Texas Woman’s University. Now she specializes in trauma and religious and spiritual abuse.
"It’s essentially when religion or spirituality is used to inflict harm on someone, whether intentionally or not," the therapist explains. "It involves an abuse of power and often results in shame. It could be perpetrated by an individual, family or religious group. It happens on a continuum ranging from mild manipulation or disempowering cultural norms to extreme coercion that robs the person of a true sense of self."
Keller's clients are primarily adults who have experienced trauma of any sort: "Childhood abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, emotional or psychological abuse," she says.
While working her first post-graduation job at the University of Arkansas, doing hourlong psychotherapy sessions with students, Keller began to see a recurring pattern and became interested in a particular type of abuse: the one instilled through religion.