About Us


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 the San Francisco Bay Area. She coaches, writes, speaks, consults, and trains in the field of religious trauma. She also works with couples as a provider of “Relationship Enhancement,” a program developed at Penn State. She is ordained with the Church of Spiritual Humanism and offers services as an officiant for secular weddings and other ceremonies. Her primary focus is on developing services for recovering from religious harm. She believes this is important for individuals and for society to move forward.

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 WisdomCommons.org, 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.


Andrew Jasko, M.Div. creates and promotes supportive services for Journey Free. Andrew was previously a minister and biblical scholar before transitioning

out of fundamentalist religion. He now works to raise awareness about recovery from religious harm and to connect people and helping professionals with the


resources they need. Andrew also promotes an active, international network of helping professionals and organizations committed to recovery, as well as training and education for therapists.

Based on extensive experience with and study of various denominations, organizations, cults, and theologies, Andrew also hopes to provide specialized educational and coaching resources. He believes that the issue of religious harm is endemic and growing, with millions of people in the US and around the world presently transitioning, and struggling to find informed-care and community. The problem is primarily one of awareness, and secondarily of limited availability of supportive services. Most have not heard of trauma from harmful religions as an issue. Yet once the issue is explained, those with religious or secular convictions often voice how profoundly controlling religions have affected them or their loved ones. Andrew aims to help these people find hope and freedom by accomplishing mainstream recognition of religious harm as a prime societal and mental health issue.

Volunteers and part-time staff

Gretchen Wegner leads movement exercises at Journey Free retreats, based on her work at InterPlay where she was a student and is now a teacher. She is also an academic coach and the inventor of the MuseCubes. Gretchen’s exercises are a highlight of Journey Free retreats and her warmth and enthusiasm is hugely appreciated.

Drew Stedman is a video production industry professional with more then 7 years of experience in film, television, live events, and a variety of media projects. He lives in Columbus, Illinois, and edits Journey Free videos for the YouTube channel. Drew is also a musician and performer and his many original songs have been part of his process recovering from fundamentalist Christianity.