The health effects of leaving religion (via The Atlantic). Unlearning something that was deeply held takes time and the transition can be difficult.
Ray has been a psychologist for more than 30 years and founded Recovering From Religion, an organization that connects nonbelievers with therapists and each other. According to Ray, it generally takes depressed deconverts two to three years for their health to bounce back. A few years after leaving their religion, they tend to reestablish a social community and rid themselves of guilt they may have felt over premarital sex, depression over losing God, and anxiety about death and hell.
Ray, author of The God Virus and Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality, said not all of his clients recover within the typical three years, though. Getting over a fear of death after believing in an afterlife for so long takes some of them five years or longer. And about five percent of his clients can take even more time to stop fearing hell. Ray often compares learning about hell to learning a language.
“When you were five years old and learning English, you never stopped to ask your parents why you weren’t learning German,” said Ray, who uses cognitive behavioral therapy to decatastrophize the concept of hell for clients. “You just learn it. The same is often true of religion. When you’re taught about hell and eternal damnation at ages four through seven, these strong concepts are not going to easily leave you. Just like it’s hard to unlearn English, it’s hard to unlearn the concept of hell.”