Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



College of Education and Human Services


Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling & Counseling Psychology

Committee Chair

Jeffrey Daniels

Committee Co-Chair

James Bartee

Committee Member

Reagan Curtis

Committee Member

Ian Kellems

Committee Member

Christine Schimmel


The topic of spirituality has recently enjoyed increased popularity within the field of psychology (Pargament, 2007). However, there is an aspect of spirituality that the scientific literature has only started to address -- trauma that occurs through religious manipulation. The current study utilizes a qualitative research design to develop an empirical definition and preliminary model of abuse of religious authority (ARA). Seventeen former members of Christian groups were interviewed by employing a semi-structured interview, and the results were analyzed using grounded theory analysis. All participants reported that the negative aspects of their experience outweighed the positive aspects. Participants provided a definition of ARA that included misuse of power, inappropriate use of God, and excessive authority. Participants reported a range of past and current negative emotional and psychological responses. Participants also reported current positive outcomes. The results of the grounded theory analysis were utilized to construct an empirical definition and preliminary model of ARA. Clinical implications, ethical considerations, and directions for future research are discussed.