Director, Dr. Marlene Winell, Ph.D., is the founder of Journey Free.

Born and raised overseas by missionary parents, Marlene was immersed in fundamentalist Christianity from childhood. She moved away from that religion during college and found the transition process so difficult and intriguing that she began to research it professionally. In 1994 she published Leaving the Fold: a Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion which has become a leading self-help book in the field of religious recovery. In 2011, she named Religious Trauma Syndrome.

Her undergraduate studies were in Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine, where she focused on mental health and juvenile justice. She went on to earn a Masters in Social Ecology, with a special study of marriage and family relations. After a few years of working with adolescent programs, she earned her doctorate from Penn State in Human Development and Family Studies. Her area of special study was adult development – the changes people experience from late adolescence to old age. The division of the program was Human Development Intervention, which is the study and development of programs to enhance human development in adulthood.

Dr. Winell’s academic teaching began at Penn State and continued at Colorado State University, where she taught courses in adult development. At Boulder Graduate School and University of California, Santa Cruz, she taught communication skills for personal relationships and skills for living in a diverse society.  She was licensed as a psychologist in Colorado where she had a private therapy practice. She also worked as a psychologist in Australia for seven years before relocating to California. It has been her privilege over the years to supervise other therapists and teach subjects in psychotherapy.

At present, Marlene is based in Western Massachusetts. She does individual consultation, facilitates groups, teaches, and trains professionals in the field of religious trauma.

Summary of professional background

  • B.A. and M.A. in Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine, 1975, 1977
  • Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies, Penn State University, 1983
  • Licensed psychologist in Colorado, 1987
  • Registered psychologist in Australia, 1994
  • University teaching and research
  • Social work and residential programs for adolescents
  • Psychotherapy: individual, couples, group, family
  • Human Development consulting and programs
  • Religious Recovery training and coaching
  • Author and speaker on religious trauma
  • Certified Clinical Trauma Professional


Religious Recovery Consultant, Christine Chenitz

Christine has a master’s degree in Social Work and currently has a psychotherapy practice where she works with those who have experienced trauma of various types including religious and spiritual trauma and adverse religious experiences.

Christine was raised in a strict form of conservative christianity within an insular community structure and has lived experience with religious trauma. In her 20s, she deconverted from christianity and began a journey of discovery. Her own struggles encouraged her to help those who have had negative experiences in religion. As she furthered her research and understanding of the experiences of religious trauma, Christine stumbled upon Marlene’s articles on Religious Trauma Syndrome and immediately felt seen. From there Christine joined Marlene’s Helping Professionals Group and joined Journey Free to further support folks recovering from adverse religious experiences.


Religious Recovery Consultant, Janice Selbie RPC, founder of CORT

Janice was born and raised in a Canadian evangelical Christian home with parents who believed the Bible was literal and inerrant. She married a man who became a pastor and they were married for nearly 20 years, raising two daughters.

In her late 30s, Janice experienced a series of tragedies which caused her sufficient doubt in the God of the Bible that it shook her loose from her cognitive dissonance and prompted her to start researching other religions and exploring all that she had denied herself. After her divorce, she went back to school to become a Registered Professional Counsellor. She was thrilled to discover Marlene online and attend some of her retreats in San Francisco. Interacting with others who could relate to her own painful transition out of religious life prompted Janice to develop the Divorcing Religion Workshop, found the Conference on Religious Trauma, and become part of Journey Free.


Religious Recovery Consultant, Coco Owen

Coco Owen grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She left after a crisis of faith at age 21, and began a deconstruction journey that led her to pursue graduate degrees in comparative literature and clinical psychology.

She is now a licensed psychologist in Los Angeles, CA, and has an all-telehealth private practice. She has two young-adult children, loves animals, and is happy to have joined the Journey Free community. Coco moderates the “Creativity” group on Release & Reclaim.



Board of Advisers

Valerie Tarico smiling copyValerie Tarico, Ph.D. is a psychologist and author. Formerly, she was the director of the Children’s Behavior and Learning Clinic in Bellevue, Washington. Valerie is also the founder of, an interactive library of quotes, stories, proverbs and poems that showcase humanity’s shared moral core. Look for her articles regularly published in the Green and Religion sections of Huffington Post.

In her effort to heal a world that she believes is continually fractured by cultural and religious zealots, Valerie wrote Trusting Doubt (formerly titled The Dark Side), a book about her encounter with religious fundamentalism and her spiritual journey in search of love and truth. Informed by her clinical practice and personal experiences, Valerie developed a series of lectures to provide parents and educators tools to understand and nurture the character virtues and moral instincts innate in children.

Valerie brings her professional insights about harmful religious indoctrination and her passion for real justice and love to Journey Free.

John Shook bricks bigJohn Shook, Ph.D. received his Ph.D. in philosophy at Buffalo. He was a professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University from 2000 to 2006. John left OSU to become Research Associate in Philosophy, and Instructor of Science Education at the University of Buffalo. He teaches courses entirely online for the Science and the Public EdM program at Buffalo. John has also worked with several secular organizations, including the Center for Inquiry, the American Humanist Association, the Institute for Humanist Studies, the Humanist Institute, and the Society of Humanist Philosophers. Dr. Shook is the author of The God Debates: A 21st Century Guide for Atheists and Believers (and Everyone in Between). His teachings can be found on many Center for Inquiry podcast interviews. John states: “My work is mainly inspired by pragmatism, a tradition of American Philosophy. I’m writing about naturalism, philosophy of science, and philosophical psychology. I also write about religion vs atheism, humanist ethics, political theory, and secularism.” John works with Journey Free to provide educational material online for people recovering from traumatic religion or learning about religious harm.

Darrel RayDarrel Ray, Ph.D. is the founder of Recovering from Religion, a network of self-help support groups around the United States. He is also the author of the best-selling book The God Virus, and a popular speaker on the subject. Darrel’s latest book is Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality. He has been a psychologist for over 30 years. Darrel practiced counseling and clinical psychology for 10 years before moving into organizational psychology and consulting. He has been a student of religion most of his life, holding a M.A. degree in Religion, a B.A. in Sociology/Anthropology, and a Ph.D. in Psychology.

Born into a fundamentalist family and raised in Wichita, Kansas, Dr. Ray grew up surrounded by religion. He had a grandfather who preached for 40 years, cousins who were preachers and missionaries, and parents who became missionaries when they retired.