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Understanding and Treating Religious OCD


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Obsessive-compulsive disorder is frequently researched and discussed by those in the mental health community. Characterized by disturbing and intrusive thoughts, those who suffer from OCD struggle with both obsessions and compulsions. Treatments and therapies are widely available, and individuals who undergo both have a fairly high chance of improving. However, there are other subgroups of disorders under OCD that don’t receive as much attention. One of these is religious OCD. Here is what the experts have to say about religious OCD, otherwise known as Scrupulosity.


What is Religious OCD?

Someone who suffers from religious OCD bases compulsions and obsessions on a set of religious beliefs, or beliefs pertaining to morality. Those who struggle with this type of disorder grapple with recurring doubts, intrusive and unwanted “blasphemous” thinking, or other intrusive thoughts. The individual then seeks to gain control or compensate for these disturbing thoughts by engaging in several religious rituals, seeking reassurance from other individuals, or avoiding the situation altogether.


Those with religious OCD typically have a warped view of God or what they view as a moral authority figure. They fear being punished for their “blasphemous” thoughts and/or actions, either in this lifetime or the next. Examples of scrupulosity or religious OCD include:


  • Fear of not having enough faith

  • Fear of going to hell

  • Fear of contamination or eating incorrect food items

  • Fear of committing a sin

  • Unwanted sexual or inappropriate thoughts about religious leaders/God

  • Rituals include obsessive cleaning, praying, fighting intrusive thoughts, going to church excessively, etc.

  • Asking others if you behaved correctly

  • Analyzing behavior over and over again

  • Excessive apologizing to God or asking for forgiveness


There is not one single religion that causes OCD. The individual may be a true believer in said religion, but has a difficult time grappling with his/her imperfections. The individual has an inflated sense of personal responsibility. Traditional treatments have failed because the individual does not trust secular therapies and/or traditional therapists are not fully knowledgeable on the specific religion. Faith-based therapies can also fail because they often focus on only the spiritual health of the person, rather than the mental health.


Treatment for Religious OCD

A holistic approach is best for treating religious OCD symptoms. Utilizing a combination of secular methods and faith-based counseling can treat the entire person. For example, a faith-based counselor can point out verses in the Bible that put this person’s fears to rest. Because the individual wants to maintain faith without obsessions, this can be enormously helpful.


At the same time, regular therapy is required to treat the OCD symptoms. Treatments include:


  • Exposure Response Prevention Therapy – The individual exposes oneself to the fear repeatedly without acting out compulsions. For example, he/she abstains from praying for 3 hours if afraid of being punished from God.

  • Mindfulness – OCD-based fears are anticipatory. They are full of what-if thoughts and scenarios that don’t usually come to fruition. Practicing mindfulness can be enormously beneficial to minimize intrusive thoughts.

  • CBT – Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches individuals to pinpoint and understand negative behavior. Problem-solving skills are taught to increase a person’s positive habits.

  • Medication – Medications are beneficial for those in therapy for OCD. It can take time and a few trial and error periods to get it just right.


It’s important to note that the person is not required to give up his/her religion to overcome religious OCD. Rather, the patient must gain a healthier and more realistic understanding of religious beliefs by using a combination of faith-based and traditional therapies.


Do you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.


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