Praying for Help
OCD and Religion
"As for the birds, so for my soul,
The Cross is a resting place.
His Body, His Blood, His Spirit,
They were all poured out for me."
- Obsessed With The Cross
Buddhism and OCD
Christianity and OCD
Hinduism and OCD
Islam and OCD
Judaism and OCD
"There's lots of OCD Christians ... even Jesus had a thing about foot
washing (BG!)" - KW on alt.support.ocd
Religion is an important or the primary factor in many people's lives and,
not surprisingly, the same is true, with a twist, for many who suffer from
OCD. For some, unfortunately, their religion is an integral part of their
obsessions (e.g., scrupulosity) and/or compulsions. For others, fortunately,
their faith provides a means of dealing with and/or overcoming their OCD and
its attendant problems. Below you will find links to religion-related OCD
The largely Christian focus of this page is simply a matter of my not yet
encountering many web sites dealing with OCD in the context of non-Christian
religions and cultures. I am very interested in learning how OCD
manifests itself in other religions and cultures; if you can provide some
links, please let me know!
Dr. Lee Baer addresses much the same question in his book, The Imp of
the Mind (emphasis in the original):
Why has this chapter focused on the religious obsessions of Christians? ...
Do Jews, followers of Islam, and members of other organized religions have
religious obsessions like these? Yes, although they often take a different
Apparently, in religious bad thoughts, as with all others, the Imp of the
Perverse operates in his usual way, tormenting the sufferer with bad
thoughts of doing whatever the surrounding culture considers the most
inappropriate thing he or she could possibly do. Since what is
considered most inappropriate varies from culture to culture and religion
to religion, so do the thoughts the imp seizes upon to cause his mischief.
And in a 2004 academic paper, "OCD in Egyptian
Adolescents: The Effect of Culture and Religion" (PDF), Dr. Ahmed Okasha
summarizes studies of OCD in the Moslem, Jewish, Christian, and Hindu religions.
(Scanned images of the pages in this paper were very kindly E-mailed to me by
Kristie in 2005 - thank you!)
The role of religious upbringing has been evident in the phenomenology of
OCD in Egypt. The psychosociocultural factors are so varied that they can
affect the onset, phenomenology and outcome of OCD. They can even affect
response to treatment. The emphasis on religious rituals and the
warding-off of blasphemous thoughts through repeated religious phrases
could explain the high prevalence of religious obsessions and repeating
compulsions among our Egyptian sample.
The emphasis on cleanliness or ritual purity is the cornerstone of most of
the compulsive rituals. The number of prayers and their verbal content can
be the subject of scrupulousness, checking and repetition. The ritualistic
cleansing procedures can also be a source of obsessions and compulsions
about religious purity. Other evidence of the religious connotation
inherent in OCD in Moslem culture lies in the term weswas. This
term is used in reference to the devil and, at the same time, is used as a
name for obsessions. It is also characteristic of a conservative society
like Egypt to expect sexual obsessions to be among the most frequent in
female patients. Although it is accepted socially (but prohibited
religiously) for Egyptian males to have a wide range of sexual freedom in
all stages of their lives, sexual matters remain an issue of prohibition,
sin, impurity and shame for Egyptian women. The female gender is
surrounded by so many religious and sexual taboos that the issue becomes
a rich pool for worries, ruminations and cleansing compulsions in women
susceptible to developing OCD.
A comparison was also drawn between the most prevalent symptoms in our
sample and those of other studies performed in India, England and
Jerusalem. Contamination obsessions were the most frequent in all studies.
However, the similarities of the contents of obsessions between Moslems and
Jews, as compared with Hindus and Christians, signify the role played by
cultural and religious factors in the presentation of OCD. The obsessional
contents of the samples from Egypt and Jerusalem were similar, dealing
mainly with matters of religion, cleanliness and dirt. Common themes
between the Indian and British samples, on the other hand, were mostly
related to orderliness and aggressive issues.
It is interesting to ponder what role OCD (in the form of scrupulosity) might
have played in instigating the Protestant Reformation. In
History of the Life and Acts of the Very Reverend Martin Luther" (1549),
Luther's protégé, Philip
But the occasion of [Martin Luther] entering on this course of life which
he considered more particularly adapted to the attainment of piety and the
knowledge of God, as he himself has related, and as many are already aware,
was the following; often when contemplating the wrath of God, as
exhibited in striking instances of His avenging hand, suddenly such
terrors have overwhelmed his mind, as almost to deprive him of
consciousness; and I myself have seen him whilst engaged in some doctrinal
discussion, involuntarily affected in this manner, when he has
thrown himself on a bed in an adjoining room, and repeatedly mingled
with his prayers the following passage "God has concluded them all in
unbelief that he might have mercy upon all." These terrors he experienced
either for the first time, or in the most acute manner, during the year in
which he was deprived of a favorite friend, who lost his life by some
accident of which I am ignorant.
On the other hand, Karl Adam
a Catholic theologian, wrote in
The Roots of the
In reaching a judgment on his development it is necessary to remember that
Luther, doubtless very strictly brought up in his father's house at
Eisleben, was early imbued with a strong central experience of fear, an
extraordinary terror of sin and judgment. This alone accounts for the fact
that when he was caught in a thunderstorm near Stotternheim and nearly
struck by lightning he cried out: "Help me, Saint Anne! I will become a
monk." He was overcome by a similar spiritual crisis at his first Mass.
It was so violent that he almost had to leave the celebration unfinished.
It is also significant that once, when at the conventual Mass the Gospel of
the man possessed by the devil was being read, he cried out: "It is not I!"
and fell down like a dead man (Lortz, vol. i, p. 161, n.).
These accesses of terror betray an unusual degree of sensitivity,
stimulated by his deeply rooted fear in the face of the tremendum
mysterium of God, which for him reached its most shattering clarity
in the Crucifixion of the Son of God ... From the start [his religious
thought] was thought overcharged with feeling, enveloped by a secret fear
and labouring under the tormenting question: how am I to find a merciful
God? From the start the primary object of his thought was to release the
tension in his own soul, to deliver himself, to bring tranquillity to his
distraught spirit ... On the other hand, it cannot be doubted, in face
of Luther's tremendous achievements in thought, decision and action, that
despite this tension he was psychically healthy to the core. In
everything that he thought, preached and wrote Luther betrays a robust
vitality, an overflowing energy, an inexhaustible originality, an elemental
creative power which raised him far above the level of common humanity.
Luther's first years in the priory were thus a time of interior
tension, spiritual struggle and suffering. The hopeless feeling that he
was not numbered among the elect but among the reprobate overcame him and
grew stronger as he grew more and more conscious that he did not fulfil
God's commandments in all things. Since he began early to condemn as
sin every movement of natural appetite, even though unwilling, and
since, with his exuberant vitality, such movements kept recurring,
he supposed himself to be full of sin, and no prayer, fasting or
confession could free him of this terror.
For many years Luther was thus visited by scruples. "I know a man who
believes that he has often experienced the pains of Hell" (Lortz, vol. i,
p. 174) ...
From the psychological point of view, Luther's total denial of any justice
in works and his unconditional assent to grace alone constituted an act of
self-liberation from the fearful oppression which his moral life had
suffered under Ockhamist theology and its exclusive emphasis on the human
factor in the process of justification. From now on he resolutely cast
himself loose from all justice in works, from all human activity, and threw
himself upon the justifying grace of Christ, thus getting rid once and
for all of all scrupulosity and terror of sin. Now he is spiritually
free: free not only from the exaggerations of the Ockhamist School with its
overemphasis on works, but free from any form of justice in works,
including that which the Catholic Church had always taught, free,
as he was later to say, from the captivitas babylonica.
- OCD Sanctuary - "The
thoughts and musings of an OCD sufferer who is discovering how the
path of Buddhism can help in coping with the affliction of his mental
condition." (Last update in 2006.)
"But sometimes doubting isn't the opposite of having faith ...
it's a component of having faith. Doubting can mean that we
haven't forgotten the story. Doubting means that we don't have it
figured out all on our own and the best thing about doubt is that at
least it's honest."
- Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber,
on "Doubting" Thomas
- Trent Beattie is the author of a book and articles about scrupulosity
and OCD, including the following:
My father was a Catholic who probably would not have passed muster with
Mr. Beattie. I find his arguments about Luther less than compelling
and I suspect his book would be of little help to OCD sufferers. I
haven't read the book, but, judging by the tone of his articles on
Luther, I can speculate on his solution to scrupulosity. Telling
someone that they, like Luther, have been "deceived by the devil" and
further subjecting them - when they already obsess about breaking the
rules of the church - to even more orthodox rules of the church is, in
my opinion, a prescription for failure. (I did not capitalize "church"
in the previous sentence because I am not singling out any particular
denomination.) Read the quote from Dr. Lee Baer's The Imp of
the Mind in the Introduction at the
top of this page. Time to climb down off my soapbox; my apologies to
open-minded Catholics everywhere.
and Sainthood: Overcoming Scrupulosity With the Help of the
Saints (Publisher's site; "Loreto Publications is a
non-profit Catholic missionary apostolate specializing in the
publishing and distribution of Catholic books designed to aid
Catholics in their efforts to convert America to the Catholic
Scrupulosity to Lutherosity, Part 1" - "The simple rule that
a doubtful law does not bind the scrupulous conscience would have
helped Luther greatly if he had followed it." OCD is that simple
Scrupulosity to Lutherosity, Part 2" - "If only Luther had
acted like the many saints who were troubled by scruples - that is,
if only he had humbly obeyed his lawful superiors - he would have
saved himself and the world from so much confusion and misery."
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Site - formerly Robert Terwilliger's
nomadic web page and now maintained by Monnica Williams. The site
provides a general overview of OCD, its treatment, a very active
and a chat room.
There is also a section devoted to
Compulsions, and the Christian".
- Can Christianity
Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? A Psychiatrist Explores the Role
of Faith in Treatment - by Ian Obsorn, M.D., author of
Tormenting Thoughts and Secret Rituals: The Hidden Epidemic of
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and himself an OCD sufferer. The
book covers both OCD in general and OCD in Christians. For the latter,
Dr. Osborn proposes a
form of cognitive behavioral therapy that makes use of
of Responsibility", i.e., transfer the responsbility for your
obsessions to someone else, ideally God:
The book discusses
John Bunyan, and
Thérèse of Lisieux (Wikipedia) as three influential
religious figures who overcame their OCD by putting their trust in God.
- Recognize obsessions when they strike
- Transfer responsibility to God
- Prove your trust; resist compulsions
- Change Your Thinking -
Frank Morelli, LMHC is a
counselor who treats OCD and other anxiety disorders.
- Lori Riddle-Walker, MFT - is a
behavior therapist who specializes in OCD and scrupulosity. She has
compiled some short
articles on OCD,
scrupulosity, and treatment.
- Heart to Heart Ministries -
Evelyn Smith "telling my story and sharing my songs and writings
'from my heart to your heart'". In addition to her personal story
of struggling with OCD, her web site includes samples of her music
and excerpts from her books.
- A Layman's Guide to
Managing Fear Using Psychology, Christianity and Non-Resistant
Methods - is a book and web site by Stanley Popovich.
The web site includes a number of
articles by him.
- OCD Hope - "Hope for a full and
happy life if you have OCD!" A well-written web site about an OCD
sufferer's trials and tribulations, and about how her Christian beliefs
have helped her through. Very encouraging, but I wouldn't go as far as
suffering when things were going well because it is so much easier
to see God moving in my life during my struggles"!
- OCD Insight - "Overcome by
Christ the Divine: The Christian approach to OCD, other anxiety
disorders & depression".
- OCD-Plus - "From about the age
of six or seven I was beset by religious ruminations ..."
- OCD & Poetry - Kimberly's
story of OCD, depression, and attempted suicide, told in prose and
poetry, from a Christian perspective. Very moving.
Scrupe Group - "God is God. OCD is just bad wiring." Sponsored
by Pastor Bob Waters (AKA RevH20!), a Lutheran minister, this
scrupulosity web page seems to be eternally in search of a home!
Age-Old Problems, Holistic Responses" - by Paul Duckro and Jason
Williams, is an excellent summary of the history, diagnosis, and
treatment of scrupulosity.
Anonymous is a monthly newsletter published by Liguori
Publications. The current issue and
issues are available on-line in PDF format. Also see Rev. Thomas
M. Santa's commentary on Father Don Miller's
Commandments For the Scrupulous".
- So Many Rituals,
So Little Time: Inspiration and Encouragement for Your Journey with
OCD is a book by Karen A. McCracken that recounts her
struggles with OCD and how she used her faith to overcome OCD. The
link takes you to information about a workshop that McCracken, now a
life coach, conducts. The book can be ordered from various booksellers
- John Sturdy's Thoughts
Pages - lead you to some interesting essays, including:
Very thoughtful essays, but he does discount the biological causes of
OCD. In the latter essay, he asks, "[W]hen did you last hear someone
you thought of as well-balanced ever dismiss their happiness as being
just a chemical state?" Well, yes, but one could make similar claims
for any number of chemically-based, physical disorders and people who
aren't afflicted with them - the chemical basis doesn't go away for
having made the claim. He's a computer scientist, though, so all is
me with hindu religious ocd(scrupulosity)?" - is a question posted
in a religious forum. The answer advocates a spiritual solution, but
shows no insight into the fact that it is OCD.
- OCD Minds - is a blog of sorts
with the detailed story of a Hindu person whose OCD interferes with
his/her worship. It is an excellent description of living with OCD.
ocd help" - is another question posted in a mental health forum.
Some of the answers are quite good, especially the 5th and 6th
responses from Geetha Gopakumar and Indumukhi A., respectively.
Gopakumar even mentions Dr. Gerald Nestadt at the Johns Hopkins OCD
Clinic and includes the same quote from Lee Baer's book found in the
introduction at the top of my page - cool!
- Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood -
by Jennifer Traig. The
Book Tour calls it "a hilariously touching look at Traig's
childhood in rural Northern California and her twin battles with
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Orthodox Judiasm." The book can be
Books. As one
reviewer said, "[Traig] struck me as being like David Sedaris -- if
he were female, Jewish and had OCD." Traig has published a second book,
Alone: A Cultural History of My Hypochondria.
- Dr. Steven J. Brodsky is an
Orthodox psychologist who treats OCD in the New York City area. He
used to list a number of articles written by him and about him, but
the only remaining article I've been able to locate is
Masks As Devotion - an "Alumni Profile" of Dr. Brodsky in The
Pennsylvania Gazette, November 2000. Dr. Brodsky provides free
advice by E-mail (for anyone anywhere) or phone (for tri-state area
residents only) via his "OCD HOTLINE of New York/New Jersey". This is
a selfless service; in an E-mail, he said only 1% of contacts eventually
an Orthodox Jewish Woman With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Maintaining
Reproductive and Psychologic Stability in the Context of Normative
Religious Rituals" - is a clinical case study by Vivien K. Burt,
M.D., Ph.D., and Maja Rudolph, M.D. "The clinician who is unaware
of religiously acceptable practices may mistake these behaviors as
evidence of OCD or paranoid psychosis. Alternatively, it is important
to be aware that symptoms of psychopathology may emerge in the context
of religious rituals. Sensitive clinicians who learn and appreciate
the nature, practice, and beliefs of patients who embrace religious
and cultural lifestyles other than their own will be able to
distinguish normative beliefs and rituals from abnormal preoccupations
and practices that are disabling and cause morbidity and dysfunction."
Intrusive Thoughts - "This research project is part of an
international study on unwanted intrusive thoughts in university
students from various countries around the world." (Dr. Randy O. Frost
at Smith College, Massachusetts, USA)
Sufferers Consumed by Religion" - a newspaper article by Tom Dunkel
in The Baltimore Sun, September 9, 2005.
of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Factor Analytic Approach"
(PDF) - by B. G. Girishchandra and Suman Khanna, M.D., is a scholarly
paper that, as I understand it, attempts to determine culturally
independent facets of OCD. The paper is not about scrupulosity,
but I think the discussion of cross-cultural aspects of OCD is useful
in understanding the nature of OCD in different religious contexts.
(Indian Journal of Psychiatry,
- "Scrupulosity: Religious
Obsessions and Compulsions" - by Carole E. Watkins, M.D., is a
brief, but excellent, article on the diagnosis and treatment of
scrupulosity, complete with links to related web sites. Dr. Watkins
practices with Northern County
Psychiatric Associates, Baltimore County, MD, USA (see
Doctors and Clinics).