A Resource: Therapy for ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses

By Richard E. Kelly

While reading Exiting the JW Cult: A Healing Handbook, I had this exhilarating feeling of being gifted with a talented and compassionate therapist – just for me – packaged in an amazingly well-written book. The fact is that the book is filled with timely advice for all ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses who want to feel good about themselves.

If someone is being shunned and/or shamed while trying to exit a “totalist cult,” coming out of an abusive relationship, or as a current Jehovah’s Witness trying to leave, they should also enjoy reading this book. In fact, like all ex-JWs, these kinds of people will most likely read, re-read and refer to the book many times in future years to help them reclaim and maintain their meaningful and happy lives.

Bonnie Zieman, the author, is a recently retired psychotherapist who was in private practice for over twenty years in Montreal, Canada. During the first thirty years of her life, she was a member of the Jehovah’s Witness organization.

As I read her book (twice in fact) I had this strange impression that she had been listening to me. Somehow she seemed to know me personally and was somehow aware of my history as a Jehovah’s Witness – even though I have been free from the cult for the last 51 years.

In her book, Bonnie often refers to JWs as a “cult” and not a “religion.” She does this to remind readers that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the victims of undue influence, mind control, brainwashing – or however one chooses to describe Watchtower’s process of control over the thoughts and emotions of its members. That is why most ex-JWs should hire a good therapist to help them fully recover from that unnatural experience.


A common denominator for all cults is the practice of Shunning.

She makes a convincing case that in order to heal from the abuse they’ve suffered, they must learn to love and accept themselves as they really are. Bonnie does a magnificent job of showing how it can be done.

While Bonnie frequently reminds readers about the value of a personal therapist, she showers us with free advice on how to salvage and exercise our critical thinking skills. She also offers poignant sound bites from experts to help us rid ourselves of the toxic residue and phobias we have acquired from years spent in the cult.

Bonnie warns current JW readers of her book that if they seriously consider and take her qualified advice, “You will no longer be temporarily cushioned and comforted by Watchtower’s false promises and deluded thinking.”

On the positive side, readers will learn about many interesting and helpful things:

  • The power of looking up
  • the “Butterfly Hug”
  • Reclaiming your breath
  • Staying in “the now”
  • Reframing your experiences
  • Guilt versus shame
  • Repressed rage
  • Relating to TO and not from FROM
  • “Journaling”
  • Debriefing
  • Self-acceptance
  • Creative visualization
  • Eliminating self-hate, and
  • “Fake it, til’ you make it”

I would like to sum up my admiration of the book by quoting Bonnie on page 131:

“Many therapists believe that it is not the particular school of therapy, not the techniques, the methods, interpretations, the topics of conversation, the release of pent-up emotion that do the main work of healing in therapy. Rather they hypothesize it is the actual relationship of the client with the therapist.

“It is the therapist offering presence, acceptance and unconditional positive regard throughout the course of therapy that seems to truly effect the healing. When a psychotherapist offers unconditional acceptance and non-judgmental presence, it acts as a mirror for the client and they see themselves, perhaps for the first time, as good enough, as likeable, lovable, as worthy.”

I realize that it’s just a book, but I suspect readers will develop a very comfortable relationship with Bonnie during the course of their read. She is an exceptional writer who has actually been there, done that, and even heard “that” a hundred times.  And, if someone is being shunned and shamed as an ex- Jehovah’s Witness (no matter how many years they’ve been out), as they read Bonnie’s …Healing Handbook they will thoroughly enjoy her presence, acceptance, and positive regard for others. All it will cost them is the price of her book.

Here is a link to her book on Amazon.com : http://www.amazon.com/EXiting-JW-Cult-Handbook-Witnesses/dp/1508477132


A Resource: Therapy for ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses — 21 Comments

  1. Thank you for the information about this book. I had no idea that there are books from therapists directly related to J.W.s I wished this book was written about 20 years ago when I tried to relate what I had been through to my therapist, but he just didn’t get it! I think one had to be in this organization to understand what we ex J
    w.s go through when we leave.

    • My theaprist did not get it either….he said I may be exaggerating, or maybe I was paranoid…..putting the blame on me. He said these are modern times, and no church disowns anyone for being inactive. Then I felt more defeated…he did not understand cults. I’m out of the woods now, there is life after the cult experience…..you just have to get your balance again. It is difficult, but very rewarding.

  2. June, this book is definitely a first for ex-JWs, and it is written so well. Wish my sister could have read it when she left the Watchtower in the mid-90s. I think she would be alive today if she had.

  3. *** w96 9/1 p. 30 Questions From Readers ***
    Would it be wise for a Christian to consult a mental-health practitioner?
    Reports from some lands indicate that there has been an increase in emotional and mental illnesses in these “last days.” (2 Timothy 3:1) Christians feel deep compassion when fellow believers are affected, but they recognize that each one must decide for himself whether to seek treatment for his illness and, if so, what kind of treatment. “Each one will carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:5) Some, suffering severely from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, deep clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, self-mutilation, and other distressing disorders, have been able to live fairly normal lives after obtaining the right professional help.

    I think both sides of Watchtower, those inside and ex-JW need psychological assisatance.

  4. Thank you, Richard Kelly for the generous thought that my book could have helped your sister. Would that it were so … Thank you, too, for this amazingly generous review of my book. I hope it inspires those still suffering from the effects of JW indoctrination and undue influence to get the help they need.I may be biased, but I do believe there is help to be found in this book.

    • Bonnie, I for one am eternally grateful to you for writing this Healing Handbook. I hope that by reading it, many JWs and ex-JWs will be inspired to seriously live and create a fulfilling life for themselves that will help make this world a better place to live today and for our great-grandchildren in the future.

  5. Yes, Yes, I have read many self-help books by therapist etc. Lastly read Chicken Soup Book on The Power of Fogiveness—fills in a hole, I belive in this authors Therapy for J W s or ex JWs to free themselves and build a more meaningful live. Yes, Thank You.

  6. Absolutely loved this book! I just left org. 8 or 9 months ago. I was a true believer all my life. I’m now 45. I gave you 5 stars and praised your book on amazon. Thank you so much!

    • Vincent, thank you so much for sharing your story. I suspect Bonnie’s book and kind, loving advice will comfort thousands of ex-JWs in the next few years.

  7. Just started your book and purchased an additional one for a family member. Thank you, your words are so healing. Id love to chat or email you confidentially. Is there a way for you to privately email me?

  8. i didn’t read this book, and I am thankful that I didn’t need to. I suffered all the withdrawal symptoms as have others who were booted out of this religion and it took me quite a while to come to terms with what life is really all about. Some of my family shun me and instead of being angry I just figure it is their loss as I am an alright human being. However I spend a fair bit of time reading and watching some of the poor souls on Utube and I sympathise with them. I go out of my way to support some ex jw sites and am hopeful more witnesses will discover them as they go on line and that they will ultimately find peace as they put that perverted family destroying mob out of their lives…

  9. Message for the Watchtower

    Now I’m listening to ungodly music
    what is prohibited by your organization.
    I love to listen to American pop music.
    I’m no longer afraid to be destroyed
    by your God.
    And I love to be no longer brainwashed.

    I am very sick of you!
    I am very sick of you!
    I am very sick of you!

    To drink more than a few beers is
    prohibited by your organization.
    To view sex and violence on tv
    is also prohibited by your organization.
    Premarital sex is prohibited
    by your organization too.

    I am very sick of you!
    I am very sick of you!
    I am very sick of you!

    Your organization recommends
    its sympathizers to her magazines and books
    to study every day.
    And to visit at least three meetings a week.
    And then a suit or a dress to wear.
    All based on the bible.

    I am very sick of you!
    I am very sick of you!
    I am very sick of you!

    I go to Amsterdam to visit the whores.
    And I drink then a lot of beer.
    I’m no longer afraid to be destroyed
    by your God.
    I hope that all your sympathizers are apostates.
    Bye, bye, bye, bye, bye, bye!!!

    Jack Terrible

  10. I will be ordering this book today. I left the organization about 23 years ago when I was spoken to by the elders because I had white lights hanging in my house. I was told they look too much like Christmas lights. They looked in my windows when I was gone one evening. (I had gotten the idea from an Elders daughter). I’m thankful this happened, because I am too independent for somebody telling me how to decorate my house. My family has always talked to me after that, until recently. There must have been something at the convention this summer. They all decided to shun me at once. My own Mom called to tell me she will never talk to me again, unless I came back to the organization. It’s okay, my son is gay and my daughter is very liberal. They feel judged by her, and they will no longer have to endure that. However still hurts that at 43 years old, my own mom shuns me. I’m looking forward to reading on learning a few tips on how to deal with these feelings.

    • Wendy – So sorry you are now having to endure being shunned. I’ve had a lot of good feedback about the book and am confident that you will find lots of helpful information in it. All the best to you. Bonnie

  11. Hello, Found this site by accident….I am a recent ‘convert’ but am tired of going to meetings and all the other stuff. I went to this organization thinking that it would be a refuge from ‘the world’, but am finding it has taken over my life. I want out. Some of the visiting women in my congregation (pioneers) are really horrible to me, far worse than women out there in the world. I haven’t been able to work since joining, as it was frowned upon, (am a long-time healer and therapist) but I am ready now to leave behind this mess. Any thoughts would be gratefully received. Thanks.

    • SO understand how you feel, Angela. Trust your gut … use the knowledge and skills from your previous life to help you release yourself from their arbitrary controls and false promises. Rooting for you!

  12. I was S. abused my entire childhood, and diagnosed with C-PTSD and Disassociative Disorder, along with Degenerative Osteoarthritis, that has left me barerly walking with aids and in much chronic pain. Then many in the JW organization shunned me, because I couldn’t reach or sustain the bar set, then more joined in, I think they even thought my antique piano was demonized. So got Tres off being treated unlovingly, after all the love was what attracted me, but alas I was squeezed out. More things happened that hurt my feelings, like they spied on me, false accusations, and now my best friend finally shunned me. What’s saddest is we are both dying, and now we can no longer support one another through our last days, all because I woke up, and lost faith in an organization whose elders tried to separate me Fromm my offspring, saying they’re bad association! They retraumatized an already traumatized individual, a child of God who justg wants to show love, and be loved.

    • So very sorry to read about all the abuses you have endured, Susan. While what has happened cannot be undone, I truly hope you can find some tools to help you manage your feelings in the present moment. Perhaps you can find some understanding, comfort and support in the Ex-Jehovah’s Witness recovery Group 3.

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