How To Heal From Toxic Religion, With Dr. Katie Blake

deconstruction

Today I got to talk with Dr. Katie Blake, a psychologist and spiritual activist who works with women going through the process of religious deconstruction. No worries if you don’t know what that is — that’s why Katie’s here! Read our full interview below.

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Q: Thanks for joining me, Dr. Katie! Give us a basic rundown of the type of women you work with and what you work through together.

A: I work with women who are deconstructing faith, church, or religion. I really think of deconstruction as three things: Asking hard questions about religion, church, or faith (and women could fall into one or all of those buckets), examining inherited tradition and dismantling the things that don’t make sense, and lastly, the most important and exciting piece for me is making space to build an authentic belief system. So it’s not just the tearing down, it’s also the building up. So I work with women who are experiencing that in their lives and going through those three processes. 

Q: What does that look like in practice? 

I’m a psychologist, but I’m really an academic, researcher, and educator. So less a therapist and more a nerd really, who likes to talk about things and teach people things and get people excited about things. I’m really excited about teaching women how to deconstruct — not the “what” of deconstruction or where to land. I’m not a minister, I’m not a theologian. I always like to say I’m zero percent interested in or committed to where someone lands; in fact, I find it more beautiful if everyone is landing somewhere different because we can learn from each other. So that’s the first passion I have when working in these spaces with women.

Secondly, for me, the secret sauce is community. Allowing women to feel seen and known and giving them that invitation of affirmation and validation. I know for me, my story was I did deconstruction alone for a very long time, and it felt like I was the only one. There’s a real gift in inviting women into ready-made friendships and ready-made affirmation, where they get to say, “Wow, I’m not the only person doing this.” When working with them, there’s an element of talking about emotional agility and spiritual bypassing and these really heady topics, but there’s also this interesting experience of community — just coming in and discussing, listening, letting things out, being heard, and being seen in their authentic selves. 

 
 
 
 
 
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Q: Do you work with women in groups or one-on-one?

A: I really like the group experience. I have an immersion that’s six weeks long and we go through different topics every week. There are six modules, and we learn concepts like identity development, how to set healthy boundaries, what is emotional agility, how to let ourselves feel and not spiritually bypass ourselves. We also talk about embodiment. I want people to come in and have a holistic experience and not just an intellectual debate about theological ideas. All of that is good and important, but I want to teach them how to be in their bodies — how to be embodied and listen to their bodies. So it’s really intellectual, experiential, and communal. We have six week modules and there are also practices that I offer, like meditations and yoga. Every week we meet for 90 minutes, and I kind of sit back and let the women talk and listen and share with each other. Really to me the most beautiful piece of that six weeks are those weekly talks, where I get to sit back and listen and watch them connect. 

I do these small group immersions about every 8 weeks. I also have a self-guided two-week course that allows women to get their feet wet. It’s also a good option for women who aren’t ready to “come out” in their deconstruction; they’re feeling very private and protected and just not ready. The two-week course is less communal and more intellectual/experiential, with content, a workbook, journaling practices, meditations, and some other similar practices. There is a communal piece but we don’t meet weekly via Zoom. So that’s a way for people to come in and feel out if this is their jam. But deconstruction is such a lonely path that I really do think the community aspect is vital.

 
 
 
 
 
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Q: Tell us a little more about faith deconstruction. How did that movement come about?

A: This has been my story for quite a while, but when I started deconstructing I didn’t have this language for it. It was quite some time before I stumbled upon a podcast — The Liturgists — that was using this language. I started listening to that podcast and it was one of those moments where I figured I was just destined to show up in that space. 

I really feel like it started in the last year, with COVID and time for self-reflection and people being forced to step away from in person church — people would do church sitting in front of a computer and ask, “Why am I watching this?” I think deconstruction is really just a current of the culture. Phyllis Tickle has a book called The Great Emergence, and in it she talks about how the Church has a “great rummage sale” every 500 years where it essentially reinvents itself and emerges into something else. She wrote the book many years ago and argued that we were on the cusp of that next emergence. I feel like now, it’s here, it’s happening. There are a lot of societal issues and cultural issues that have made way for deconstruction to be something that’s happening at large rather than something that’s happening individually. There is a tremor here, and I think it’s a beautiful one. When there’s real societal change and we’re propelling ourselves forward, it takes these big movements where everyone is individually feeling similar things, and we come together and it’s the collective story that makes the real change and the real beauty happen.

 
 
 
 
 
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Q: Tell us more about your personal journey through faith deconstruction

A: I’m a 5 on the Enneagram and a rule-follower, but I really think I’ve always been a little deconstructer. I was always sitting back and just kind of processing, questioning, and critiquing whatever system I was in, specifically with church. I was in but not all in, and willing to question but not publicly. I always held things loosely. Even as a child, I really had this ability to see that religion was a man-made system. So my big story is that throughout my life I realized that church was the one space I couldn’t do things. My parents were always encouraging me to be the best version of myself and follow my dreams, and I always realized it was church where I couldn’t show up fully and authentically. I never really internalized that as being “God’s law” — I was able to see that these were man-made rules and it was a man-made institution, so I could really always separate all that out on some level.

But the journey really began for me several years back. My husband decided to leave paid ministry to start a salsa company whose proceeds would be used to feed families in Kenya. Shortly after he made that decision I started my own “official” deconstruction of asking the really hard questions of church and faith. I wasn’t even one foot in and one foot out — I was almost fully out in some ways. As I’ve reflected on that, I realize that it was the permission to no longer toe the party line as a pastor’s wife — I was able to step out from that and separate my identity from this institution. Once our paycheck was no longer reliant on that, the bottom just fell out for me and I started asking those questions, researching, and spending time in silence and solitude just trying to figure it all out. I did that for a really long time all alone. And then, like I said, I stumbled upon The Liturgists podcast. It was a lifeline for me. I think that’s why I believe so strongly in online community — I devoured this podcast in secret for so long, and listened to these people I didn’t know affirming and validate my life. They gave me this freedom and helped me realize I’m not alone. 

 
 
 
 
 
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Q: What are some common themes/patterns you’ve noticed among the women you work with?

A: I like to think of myself as an intersectional ecofeminist — I’m all about women’s empowerment. As I’ve allowed my interest in deconstruction and my interest in women’s issues to intersect, I’ve discovered that deconstruction affects women differently and uniquely than men. Individuals who identify as female experience this process differently. There’s two big things I notice. One is that women have a higher sense of what social psychology calls “relational identity.” So if I were to ask you to list five things that describe your identity, a woman might say “I’m a friend, I’m a sister, I’m a daughter, I’m a teacher” — all of these things that are in relation to other people. Men, however, are less rooted in relationships in their identity. So they might list adjectives, like “I’m smart, I’m strong, I’m a doctor, I’m studious,” and things like that. So the flip side of that is that women’s self esteem is more contingent upon their relationships, because their identity is rooted in those relationships. Women are less compartmentalized in this way as well — if I have a problem in a relationship, it’s going to bleed into and affect other areas of my life, like my work life or my home life. 

As I’m listening to women who are deconstruction, I find that when they’re stepping away from these church communities, it’s rocking their identity and it’s rocking their self-esteem. I feel more often from women that now they have to go rebuild their identity and rebuild their relationships. I like to talk to women about how to tap into their authentic identity, how to show up in life-giving community and relationships, and how to set healthy boundaries in spaces that may not be as life-giving. 

 
 
 
 
 
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Q: You also have an Instagram platform you’re very active on. How has that enabled you to connect with women deconstructing? What other connections have you made through social media?

A: I am a huge proponent of online spaces. I took my teaching completely online three years ago, even pre-COVID. I was messaging someone who lives in Zambia this morning. When else would I be able to connect with women in this way? I think online community allows for more open-mindedness and open hands in deconstruction, whereas if you live somewhere that’s maybe more rural or isolated, your community options are limited. We find that people tend to think, behave, and feel the same way regionally. I’ve loved showing up on Instagram because it’s a real opportunity for me to connect with people all over the world, and then I’m able to connect those people with other people, and not only does it benefit me but I can also spur people into other relationships and friendships. So social media and Instagram in particular for me offer so much diversity. I can hear from people who have very different backgrounds, stories and views from me. 

Clubhouse is another space I’ve been dipping my toe into lately. I’m really excited about Clubhouse because it’s a real opportunity for people to show up as a person, as a human being. I love the philosophy behind why Clubhouse was started. The founders have said that it allows people to have a voice, and that the voice is one of the greatest tools we have for connection and communication. I think it allows people to let their guards down and be authentic — they’re not on camera, and because people aren’t literally seen, they don’t feel pressure to perform. I’m really excited to see what this platform could mean for our community. 

Also, with social media and Instagram, what I’ve observed a lot is that there are a lot of people who walk this path and the start of the path is the same — you’re kind of asking these questions in secret. So I can do the risky thing and show up and field all the awful DMs. And I firmly believe that vulnerability invites vulnerability and authenticity invites authenticity, so I’m able to do that publicly and people might see themselves in me, and they can DM me privately so we can talk about it. I can allow them to feel seen and heard and not alone, and they don’t have to do it publicly — they don’t have to show up to a group somewhere, they can just share their experience privately with me and allow themselves to step further down the path of showing up in their own vulnerability more publicly when they’re ready. That option to just DM someone takes some of the risk out of the equation and makes people feel more safe.

Q: How can we connect with you?

A: I’m on all the socials as drkatieblake. My website is drkatieblake.com. I love Instagram and always hang out on there, so DM me at any time! And Clubhouse is another place I’m exploring, because we can really get to know each other on some kind of level — you can find me on there under Dr. Katie Blake.

 
 
 
 
 
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We hope this interview with Dr. Katie Blake was helpful! Did you learn anything new? Let us know in the comments below!


deconstruction

About Dr. Katie Blake


Katie is a psychologist and spiritual activist specializing in spiritual agility. Katie infuses her own deconstruction experience with her formal training to help women who are on similar deconstruction journeys. Her mission is to empower women to explore the art & science of deconstruction through integrated psychology and experiential practices. She holds a Ph.D. in Social Psychology, is a 500-hour Masters-level yoga instructor, and has over 13 years of experience teaching psychology and yoga.

 

IG: drkatieblake   //   Website: drkatieblake.com   //   Courses: drkatieblake.com/deconstruct


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