Jonathan Ludi Leitch, Ph.D., is a 2023 graduate of the PhD Program in Marriage and Family Therapy at Antioch University, New England

Dissertation Committee:

  • Kevin Lyness, PhD, LMFT, Committee Chair
  • Caleb Lack, PhD, Committee Member
  • Kristi Harrison, PhD, Committee Member


family estrangement, family cutoff, nonreligion, atheism, religious trauma

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Religion fractures families, and therapists working with clients in search of healing have so far had little empirical guidance on how to help. This phenomenological study is the first to explore the experiences of nonreligious Americans using therapy as a way to address religion-related family estrangement. Seventeen participants, all self-identifying as nonreligious but raised in Christian families, were interviewed about their therapy experiences. Most had seen individual therapists and preferred an individual focus but appreciated systemic conceptualizations and interventions. Nondirective, evidence-based, and, when appropriate, trauma-informed approaches were found to be most helpful. Nonreligious, especially non-Christian, therapists were usually but not always preferred. Safety and curiosity were important factors in strong therapeutic relationships and effective therapy. Participants also stressed the harm religious ideology itself can cause. Implications for training and practice, as well as limitations and suggestions for further research, are discussed.


Jonathan Leitch

ORCID Scholar ID# 0009-0001-1777-0365