Vickie Johnson of Pastoral Counseling Center specializes in therapy for those whose lives have been damaged by religion


WALKING WOUNDED | Vickie Johnson helps people who have been hurt by their religious upbringing begin to heal. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Vickie Johnson said each of the 18 therapists at the Pastoral Counseling Center on Lemmon Avenue has a specialty. She concentrates on helping those who have been wounded by religion.

“It’s something I’ve been aware of most my life,” she said. “As a lesbian, growing up in the church, I was always aware of people who were very hurt, and I went through some of that myself.”

Johnson grew up in the Methodist Church. She was ordained as a minister in the church, but in 1984 the church came out with rules forbidding a lesbian from serving in that capacity.

So although she was ordained, she remains unappointable.

“When I had to leave the church, it was such a loss,” Johnson said. “I was devastated.”

But she studied to become a licensed clinical social worker instead and now attends the Unitarian Universalist Church in Oak Cliff.

“Religion and spirituality can be one of the most helpful and supportive and nurturing aspects of one’s life,” Johnson said. “Or it can be one of the most damaging.”

She said there are a number of categories of religious abuse and in various religions the issues may differ.

Because of their religion, many gay people decide to marry a person of the opposite sex. Johnson said that hurts not only the gay person, but also the straight spouse as the marriage falls apart. And children are hurt as well when the parents divorce.

Some have endured damaging reparative therapy aimed at changing their sexual orientation. With those patients, Johnson said she begins by dealing with the hurt and confusion.

“Who am I?” is the basic question that someone who has undergone reparative therapy must grapple with first, Johnson said. That is followed by, “What do I do next?”

As people come out at younger ages, Johnson said she has worked with teens who have been thrown out of their homes because of their sexual orientation. And she’s worked with older people who come to a turning point in their lives — the death of a parent or death of a spouse or an empty nest — when they realize they cannot hide their sexual orientation anymore.

Some that have come to the Pastoral Counseling Center have been raped by a priest, Johnson said. In the Catholic Church, the priest is a figure of God, she said, so the feeling may be that they have been assaulted and abused by God.

Johnson said she begins therapy by working with a client to figure out what areas of their life are most damaged and how have they gotten themselves through. Then they can figure out the best course of action — to leave, restore or repair the relationship.

Johnson said she administers a spirituality assessment to determine where a person’s support comes from. She also discusses issues of health related to a bad coming out process. People who are closeted may put themselves in unsafe or dangerous situations and abuse drugs or alcohol.

Johnson said those who’ve been subjected to reparative therapy usually come into therapy with her hurt and confused, questioning where they belong and what they should do next. And abuse by a religious figure leaves a victim with a feeling of betrayal by the church and those around who saw what was going on and didn’t stop it, she noted.

Johnson said she helps these clients accept that their victimization doesn’t say anything about who they are, but at the same time, she helps them realize that they are responsible for their healing.

To reach that healing, Johnson said, she helps clients understand their strengths and find support, discussing with them to what extent a relationship with their family can be repaired.

Sometimes, Johnson said, she has to tell her clients, “For your safety and well being, you may have to act as it that person is not in your life. Down the road? Who knows.”

Johnson said getting a healthy self-image of ones sexuality and religion is important.

“Each religion has its own sins and foibles that are inherent and their own strengths,” she said. “I see so much of how religion for some people can be one of the most helpful and affirming things around them.”

Pastoral Counseling Center, 4525 Lemmon Ave. Suite 200. 214-526-4525.


Christmas services at LGBT churches


Cathedral of Hope
5910 Cedar Springs Road, Dallas
Christmas Eve at:
• Noon. Shoppers’ Christmas Eve,
the Rev. Shelley Hamilton preaching
• 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. traditional worship,
the Rev. Jo Hudson preaching
• 7 p.m. Congregacion Latina,
Interfaith Peace Chapel, the
Rev. Alejandro de la Torre preaching
• 11 p.m. Gospel Mass,
the Rev. Dr. Steven V. Sprinkle preaching
Christmas Day at 11 a.m.
the Rev. Dawson B. Taylor, preaching

MCC of Greater Dallas
1840 Hutton Drive, No. 100, Carrollton
Christmas Eve at 7 p.m. family-friendly service
Christmas Day at 10 a.m.

Promise MCC
2527 W. Colorado Blvd., Dallas
Christmas Day at 10:30 a.m.

White Rock Community Church
9353 Garland Road, Dallas
Christmas Eve at 6:30 p.m.
Christmas Day at 10:45 a.m.


Agape MCC
4615 E. California Parkway, Fort Worth
Christmas Eve at 7 p.m.
Christmas Day at 10:30 a.m.

Cathedral of Hope Mid-cities
2400 School Lane, Bedford
Christmas Eve at 6 p.m.
Christmas Day at 11 a.m.

Celebration Community Church
908 Pennsylvania Ave., Fort Worth
Christmas Eve at 11 p.m.
Christmas Day communion
from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Trinity MCC
1846 W. Division St., Suite 305, Arlington
Christmas Day at 11 a.m.


Harvest MCC
725 N. Elm Street, Suite 18, Denton
Christmas Day at 10 a.m.

Celebration on the Lake
114 Golden Oaks Drive, Mabank
Christmas Day at 10 a.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.