As a 23-year psychologist and expert witness in the Conejo Valley, Dr. Shannae Anderson loved her private practice and teaching at local universities — and had no interest in politics or culture wars. But when California and Ventura County enacted drastic lockdowns and mandates in 2020, she became alarmed by the significant negative effects she observed among her clients and in society at large.
“Under the strict isolation and mask mandates, a sense of powerlessness and helplessness flooded people’s lives,” she says, noting that alcoholism, self-harm, suicide, and a host of other serious problems increased and intensified. “In addition, several former patients of mine who had been discharged years before were returning due to similar stressors.”
Anderson began speaking locally about the damaging mental health effects of the lockdowns and mandates. This quickly led to invitations to speak statewide in defense of the rights of businesses, churches and schools.
Now, after taking bold stands for freedom in the public square in Ventura County for the past two years, the USC-trained psychologist is stepping onto a national stage to advance religious freedoms against attacks by unscrupulous opponents.
“I firmly believe there are many of us in the Ventura County area who have been in boot camp, and God is going to deploy us all across the country,” says Anderson. “I’m taking all the training and education I got here and bringing it to other Christian counselors nationwide to equip them to do what I’ve been doing. If God can do this with me, he can do it with anybody.”
The biggest irony is that “I’m hugely conflict-avoidant,” says the Thousand Oaks native with a laugh. “I’m a scaredy-cat.”
But something in her has always burned for justice.
Anderson was a student in the very first class at Wildwood Elementary, then attended Redwood Middle School and graduated from Thousand Oaks High School (TOHS), where she acted in drama productions, was on the gymnastics team and was copy editor of the high school yearbook. From 4th to 6th grade, she cheered for the Conejo Cowboys (now the T.O. Titans), the local peewee football team, and then cheered at Redwood and TOHS. She also danced locally for a professional troupe and was a candy striper at Los Robles hospital in preparation for the medical career she envisioned.
Her path turned instead toward psychology. After earning her bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees at the University of Southern California, she founded a private counseling practice in the Conejo Valley, specializing in the treatment of complex trauma, addictions and personality disorders. She also served the public as an expert witness in forensic psychology, working with defense attorneys to evaluate their client’s mental status and diagnosis at the time of their crimes. She taught in California Lutheran University’s (CLU) master’s program in psychology and at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena on the subject of pastoral care and addiction for 10 years.
Her family experienced their own traumas as Anderson’s son was at Borderline the night of the mass shooting and escaped through a front window. He has spoken publicly about the experience and earned a degree in criminal justice from CLU.
For most of her life, Anderson tuned out current events.
“The last place I ever thought I would be is embroiled in controversy or fighting for religious freedom,” she says. “I was happily ensconced in my practice, working with my clinical and forensic patients and teaching part-time at Fuller.”
When she began publicly criticizing California’s lockdowns and treatment of school children, churches and businesses, Anderson found herself in the unfamiliar position of being a public lightning rod.
“I started getting a ton of attacks, and I felt like God was saying, ‘I’m preparing you.’ It has continued to ramp up,” she says.
Recently, Anderson joined parents of students in the Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) who were appalled when the district, under the leadership of leftist board members and superintendent Mark McLaughlin, began promoting homosexuality and gender dysphoria at every grade level.
Public school environments have become “highly sexualized … with a new dress code created by the teenage daughter of a school board member and consisting of essentially covering your nipples and genitalia, a sex education program that is pornographic and celebrates sex acts that would censor anyone if repeated, and forcing coed sex education starting in elementary school,” Anderson says. “Teens were being traumatized and acting out in egregious ways. In addition, transgender affirmation and indoctrination was being encouraged and applauded. Amidst this controversial environment, I was brought in to address the impact this was having on children.”
She testified as an expert witness on behalf of parents who were facing child abuse charges for not calling their child by his new preferred pronouns (a case they won).
Then she accepted an invitation to speak at the CVUSD school board meeting against the promotion of gender dysphoria to third graders without parental knowledge and permission.
As small as that decision may seem, Anderson says speaking at a school board meeting and facing fresh threats and attacks helped launch her to a whole new level of leadership. Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, had been recruiting her heavily to serve full-time on the faculty of its doctoral psychology program. The national American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) wanted her to co-lead its fight for religious freedoms.
When Anderson spoke at a private, freedom-related event at Liberty this summer to an audience of top attorneys on religious freedom, university deans, provosts of doctoral programs and others in the field of Christian counseling, she simply told her story of fighting for freedom in California — and received a standing ovation.
At that moment, “God made it so clear: This is your next battle. This is what I’m calling you to do,” she says.
At Liberty and with the AACC, Anderson will take the fight for religious freedom national. California and other states led by leftists have essentially outlawed Christian counseling by making it illegal to speak against LGBTQ and related issues, although she can discuss other sexual problems in her practice.
“I was at USC for 11 years for a bachelor’s, master’s and PhD. I’ve spent years training with some of the top people in the world. I train other clinicians,” Anderson says. “The boards are telling me I can’t treat my patients according to my conscience and firmly held beliefs? Seventy-five percent of my practice comes to me because they are Christians. According to California and the Biden administration, who doubled down on this, we have to now abide by their ridiculous, nonscientific edicts. So that’s going to be my battle. I know I’m not alone.”
Therapy, she says, isn’t about affirming but about leading people to healing.
“When my anorexic patients come in and say, ‘I’m so fat,’ I’m supposed to affirm them and say, ‘Yes, you are; stop eating’?” she asks rhetorically. “Therapy is a safe place where you can talk about and explore your thoughts, feelings and questions about everything. It’s not my job to affirm. Now the state is telling me I have to counsel according to their dictates, and that is unethical on my part and unethical of our board and state licensing body to demand that. I think that’s malpractice.”
From the start, she says God called her to help the brokenhearted, the hurting and the traumatized.
“Children who have been raped and sexually abused their whole lives — these are the people who walk into my office,” she says. “If I can’t treat them the way I was trained and the way my morals and ethics dictate — if I have to succumb to a fascist ideology — I’m not going to do it, and I question any clinical psychologist who does.”
In her new role as co-director of the ethics and advocacy division of the AACC, Anderson will spearhead the fight for religious freedom for Christian counselors, educational institutions and others. She will help thousands of professionals stand against state and federal licensing entities which want to silence Christian and religious voices in the counseling profession.
“I feel like the last two-and-a-half years have been boot camp. It’s time to deploy,” she says. “A number of us in California have been trained unlike anything in the rest of the country. … God has been preparing me in my career to give me boldness to speak out where perhaps others are afraid. I have no natural courage. It is only the power of the Holy Spirit who has enabled me to fight this fight.”