Spiritual Abuse 2.0




Spiritual abuse is a form of emotional and psychological abuse and is often referred to as “Church hurt,” “religious abuse” or “spiritual emotional abuse.” It is often characterized as systematic pattern of coercive and controlling behavior in a religious context (McKnight and Barrringer, 2020.) Spiritual abuse can have a deeply damaging impact on those who experience it. Spiritual Abuse 2.0 will provide a further understanding of spiritual abuse on both the victim and perpetrator for mental health professionals relevant to clinical mental health practice for proper assessment and treatment planning with Christian clients. 

Learning Objectives 

Participants will... 

  1. Define the experience of spiritual abuse from a clinical and faith-informed perspective
  2. Identify proactive prevention strategies for those in a position of leadership or influence in Christian settings
  3. Develop proper assessment and treatment strategies for Christian clients who have experienced any form of spiritual abuse  


Chris Adams, Ph.D., recently completed 8 years as the associate campus pastor for pastoral care at APU and is serving as executive director of the Center for Vocational Ministry, which focuses on cultivating resilience in ministry leaders and students through research and formational resources. He also teaches ministry leadership and pastoral care/counseling courses in Azusa Pacific Seminary. Adams is a consultant to a number of denominations and seminaries in the areas of clergy candidate assessment, clergy health, and pastoral leadership formation, and is participating as a consultant, researcher, and writer with the Duke Clergy Health Initiative, Profiles in Ministry Project for the Association of Theological Schools, and the Flourishing in Ministry project at the University of Notre Dame. Adams is also a frequent lecturer at seminaries, retreats, and conferences. 

Terra Mattson, M.A., is a licensed marriage and family therapist who has helped thousands of women, couples, and families at every stage of their journeys over the past two decades. She is also the visionary leader of a one-of-a-kind trauma-informed women’s conference that addresses issues women face in the church today. Terra and her husband, Jeff, are the founders of Courageous Girls and the counseling and organizational development firm Living Wholehearted. Making their home just outside Portland, Oregon, they are raising their two daughters to live courageously, rooted in grace. 

Course Lessons and Descriptions 

SAB 101: Defining and Understanding Spiritual Abuse 

Chris Adams, Ph.D. 

Spiritual abuse often takes place in a religious setting or in a personal relationship. Anyone in a leadership position or position of authority that exerts power and control over someone using religion, faith, or beliefs is an example of spiritual abuse.  In this lesson, Dr. Chris Adams will provide a deeper understanding of spiritual abuse and the unhealthy systems that allow for spiritual abuse to happen. 

SAB 102: Prevention Strategies for Leaders to Flourish 

Chris Adams, Ph.D. 

Leadership identity is the key to long-term leadership well-being. Leaders with strong, stable, and positive identities do well over the long term, while leaders with weak, variable, or negative identities are more susceptible to low levels of well-being. In this session, Dr. Chris Adams will discuss a model for flourishing in ministry and strategies to help those in leadership flourish. 

SAB 103: Assessing and Treating Spiritual Abuse 

Terra Mattson, M.A. 

In this session, Terra Mattson, M.A. will provide mental health professionals with a road map to develop proper assessment and treatment strategies for Christian clients who have experienced any form of spiritual abuse.  

Continuing Education 

1.00 CE Credit available for LPC, LMFT, LSW.  

3.00 CE Credits available for IBCC Credential Holders.  

The American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) offers some psychologists, therapists, counselors, social workers and play therapists Continuing Education (CE) credit due for good standing with certain states. It remains the responsibility of each participant to be aware of state licensure and CE requirements. Participants should check their state and/or local regulations regarding required continuing education hours. For more information Light University Continuing Education programs, please visit: