Falsely Accused Clergy in Therapy: A Case Study

Main Article Content

Erica Danya Goldblatt Hyatt


false accusation; child sexual abuse; faith-adapted cognitive behavioral therapy; clergy; religion



The purpose of this paper is to provide a case study exploring an integrated trauma-informed, cognitive, and religiously-based approach to working with clergy who have been falsely accused of child sexual abuse (CSA). In the wake of numerous reports of sexual misconduct (PBS.org), scholars have explored the factors that may contribute to this morally reprehensible behavior (Death, 2018). Research has focused on the structural and systemic issues, reporting, and clergy reactions to CSA (Death, 2018; Harper, 2018; Longwood, 2018) but does not account for how clinical social workers may approach treatment with the falsely-accused. While in no way denouncing or placing doubt upon the victims of clergy CSA, this case study attempts to contribute to the literature by providing a description of the presentation, symptoms, and treatment of a pastor seeking therapy from a similarly religiously-oriented clinician following an accusation from which the accuser recanted and no charges were pressed. 


Abstract 823 |


Aiken, M., Burgess, A.W., & Hazelwood, R.R. (1999). False rape allegations. In R.R. Hazelwood and A.W. Burgess (Eds.), Practical aspects of rape investigation: A multidisciplinary approach (2nd ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC.
Anderson, N., Heywood-Everett, S., Siddiqi, N., Wright, J., Meredith, J., & McMillan, D. (2015). Faith-adapted psychological therapies for depression and anxiety: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 176, 183-196.
Aslan, D. (2008). The psychological effects of coping with being accused of sexual offences. The British Journal of Forensic Practice, 10(4), 19-36.
Bickerton, G.R., Miner, M.H., Dowson, M., & Griffin, B. (2015). Spiritual resources as antecedents of clergy well-being: The importance of occupationally specific variables. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 87, 123-133.
Carlson, K.M., & Gonzalez-Prendes, A.A. (2016). Cognitive behavioral therapy with religious and spiritual clients: A critical perspective. Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health, 18(4), 253-282.
Cohenm J.A., Mannarino, A.P., & Deblinger, E. (2012). Trauma-focused CBT for children and adolescents: Treatment applications. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Death, J. (2018). Clergy-perpetuated child sexual abuse. In W.S DeKeseredy, C.M. Rennison, & A.K. Hall-Sanchez (Eds.), The Routledge international handbook of violence studies. New York, NY: Routledge.
Davis, D., & Leo, R.A. (2015). When exoneration seems hopeless: The special vulnerability of sexual abuse suspects to false confession. In R. Burnet (Ed.), Wrongful allegations of person abuse. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Beck, A.T. (1975). Cognitive therapy and emotional disorders. Madison, CT: International Universities Press.
Beckett, K. (1996). Culture and the politics of signification: The case of child sexual abuse. Social Problems, 43(1), 57-76.
Burnett, R., Hoyle, C., & Speechley, N.E. (2017). The context and impact of being wrongly accused of abuse in occupations of trust. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice, 56(2), 176-197.
Fogler, J.M., Shipherd, J.C., Rowe, E., Jensen, J., & Clarke, S. (2006). A theoretical foundation for understanding clergy-perpetrated sexual abuse. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 3-4, 301-328.
Gerger, H., Munder, T., Gemperli, A., Nuesch, E., Trelle, S., Juni, P., & Barth, J. (2014). Integrating fragmented evidence by network meta-analysis: Relative effectiveness of psychological interventions for adults with post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychological Medicine, 44, 3151-3164.
Harper, C.A., & Perkins, C. (2017). Reporting child sexual abuse within religious settings: Challenges and future directions. Child Abuse Review, 27(1), 30-41.
Hook, J.N., Worthington, E.L., Davis, D.E., Jennings, D.J., Gartner, A.L., & Hook, J.P. (2009). Empirically supported religious and spiritual therapies. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 66(1), 46-72.
Kanin, E. (1994). False rape allegations. Archives of Sex Behavior, 23(1), 81-92.
Longwood, M. (Ed.). (2018). Sexual abuse in the Catholic church: Trusting the clergy. New York, NY: Routledge.
O’Donohue, W., Cummings, C., & Willis, B. (2018). The frequency of false allegations of child sexual abuse: A critical review. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 27(5), 459-475.
O’Donohue, W.T., Cirlugea, O., Bennett, N., & Benuto, L.T. (2016). Psychological and investigative pathways to untrue allegations of child sexual abuse. In W.T. O’Donohue and M. Fanetti (Eds.), Forensic interviews regarding child sexual abuse (pp. 257-273). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
PBS.Org. (2018). How a Catholic sex abuse report in Pennsylvania echoed around the U.S. Retrieved March 12th, 2019, from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/how-a-catholic-sex-abuse-report-in-pennsylvania-echoed-around-the-u-s.
Porter, S. (2018). Recommended evidence-based approaches for treating PTSD. In S. Porter (Ed.), Treating PTSD: A compassion-focused CBT approach. New York, NY: Routledge.
Richards, P.S., Sanders, P.W., Lea, T., McBride, J.A., & Kawika Allen, G.E. (2015). Bringing spiritually oriented psychotherapies into the healthcare mainstream: A call for worldwide collaboration. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 2(3), 169-179.
Salwen, E.D., Underwood, L.A., Dy-Liacco, G.S., & Arveson, K.R. (2017). Self-disclosure and spiritual well-being in pastors seeking professional psychological help. Pastoral Psychology, 66, 505-521.
Schultz, L.G. (1990). Self-help groups for the erroneously charged: A proposed model. IPT Journal, 2(2), 1-12.
Siegel, D.J., & Bryson, T.P. (2012). The whole brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
Watkins, L.E., Sprang, K.R., & Rothbaum, B.O. (2018). Treating PTSD: A review of evidence-based psychotherapy interventions. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 2, 1-9.
Wildeman, J., Costelloe, M., & Schehr, R. (2011). Experiencing wrongful and unlawful conviction. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 50(7), 411-432.