Book Review - Breaking the Silence on Spiritual Abuse

ICSA Today, 9, (3), 2018, 25

Book Review - Breaking the Silence on Spiritual Abuse

By Lisa Oakley and Kathryn Kinmond

Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. ISBN-10: 113728286X; ISBN-13: 9781137282866 (hardcover).  £50.00 (; $85.31 ( 160 pages (UK); 142 pages (US).

Reviewed by Gillie Jenkinson

This book addresses the void in knowledge about spiritual abuse (SA) and, in particular, SA in the mainstream UK Christian Church. The book provides the reader with a theoretical understanding of SA and addresses the needs of survivors of SA. The chapter on Working With Individuals Who Have Been Spiritually Abused (Chapter 5) also gives some salient and helpful pointers and insights for clinical work.

The strength of this book is that it draws on both research and clinical experience. It is informative for counsellors and pastoral counsellors, and also for Church workers and those who provide pastoral carers. Survivors of SA could approach any counsellor, and the counsellors they approach need to know something about SA in the mainstream Christian Church. This book provides a helpful and informative overview of the area. That the authors have had to emphasize that SA is abuse is symptomatic of the systemic denial of this kind of abuse, thus making this book even more important to those who study these areas.

The chapters cover the following subjects:

The authors set out three categories that survivors of SA may fall into. The first category includes survivors whose religion and spirituality remain core to self and identity and so they relocate their affiliation; the second category includes those whose religion and spirituality remain fundamental but the survivors completely dissociate from any organization; and the third category includes those persons for whom “the experience will leave the meaning [of religion and spirituality] … so barbed that they reject vociferously any possible association with organised religion…” (p. 98). The authors note that survivors in the latter category are the most challenging to work with and are perhaps the ones who would particularly benefit from their counsellors having read this book.

I was disappointed that this short book was so expensive because many potential readers may feel it is not worth the investment. I suggest that the publishers consider a cheaper version so it is more accessible, and so that the voices of survivors of SA are heard and their needs attended to more accurately.

About the Reviewer

Gillie Jenkinson, PhD, MA, UKCP-accredited psychotherapist, and registered member of BACP, specializes in working with spiritual and cultic abuse, offering postcult counselling, psychotherapy, group facilitation, training, supervision, and consultancy. She is an international speaker and a published author, including coauthor of Chapter 13, Pathological Spirituality, in Spirituality and Psychiatry, RPsych Publications, 2009. She has authored a chapter entitled “Relational Psychoeducational Intensive—Time Away for Postcult Counselling” in the new ICSA book, Cult Recovery: A Clinician’s Guide to Working With Former Members and Families. She is the mental health editor for ICSA Today.

For her doctoral research, Dr. Jenkinson conducted a qualitative, constructivist, grounded-theory investigation into what helps former cult members recover from an abusive cult experience. Her dissertation is entitled Freeing the Authentic Self: Phases of Recovery and Growth From an Abusive Cult Experience. To contact Dr. Jenkinson, email or visit