Today, the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) launched a multi-pronged response to the irresponsible reporting by The New York Post (The Post.)
We will not stand by passively as The Post continues to spread inaccurate and damaging misinformation regarding obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and related disorders. We feel it is our responsibility to firmly admonish the recent reporting conducted by The Post and, for educational purposes, outline the breadth and depth of their flawed reporting.
We have issued the following letter to the editor, requesting a retraction and apology from The New York Post. It has been co-signed by over 30 members of our Scientific & Clinical Advisory Board.
To the Editor:
The recent articles connecting obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) with extremist behavior (Opinion, Feb 4, 2023) and murderous actions (News Exclusive, Dec 30, 2022) are grossly inaccurate characterizations of a serious disorder.
OCD is marked by intrusive and unwanted thoughts that are typically accompanied by rituals to alleviate distress. While sufferers of OCD may experience thoughts of harm, these thoughts provoke intense anxiety, which they aim to diminish through their compulsions. People with OCD have no increased likelihood of causing actual harm and do not engage in the feared, harmful actions.
Falsely connecting OCD to criminality and other extremist behavior is harmful to people who suffer from this disorder as it decreases the likelihood OCD sufferers will seek out treatment out of fear providers will incorrectly view them as a risk to the public. Moreover, it falsely equates criminality with OCD, creating a misconception in the general public about what OCD really is.
It is your responsibility as a media outlet to avoid creating these types of false impressions. Therefore, we expect you would want to correct your record on such matters by issuing a retraction of this egregious article and issuing an apology to the larger OCD community for any damage this false reporting may have already caused.
Given The Post’s propensity for shorter content, we are aware you may be unable or unwilling to give our concerns the space they require to be heard. As such, we are posting our full thoughts to this blog. We hope that in doing so we will be able to educate the public on OCD symptomology in a space where The Post has failed to do so.
Please keep our contact information on hand so that you can reach out to us for reference when reporting on this subject in the future. We are and have always been a resource for providing factual information surrounding OCD. It would be our pleasure to educate you in order to avoid further missteps in the future.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Jeff Szymanski, PhD, Executive Director, International OCD Foundation
Michael Jenike, MD, Chair, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; Founder, OCD Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA; Founder, OCD Institute McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA
Sabine Wilhelm, PhD, Vice Chair, Chair, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; Chief of Psychology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA; Director, OCD Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA
Jonathan S. Abramowitz, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Director, Clinical Psychology PhD Program, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Susanne Ahmari, MD, PhD, Chair, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Associate Professor of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh; Director, Translational OCD Laboratory, University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychiatry
Kevin Chapman, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Founder and Director, Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, Louisville, KY
National Social Anxiety Center, Louisville, KY; Official Psychologist for Louisville City FC
Lisa Coyne, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Founder and Senior Clinical Consultant, McLean OCD Institute for Children and Adolescents; Director and Founder, New England Center for OCD and Anxiety, Boston, MA
Past President, Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS)
Darin Dougherty, MD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; Director, Division of Neurotherapeutics, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA
Denise Egan Stack, LMHC, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Director, Atlantic Center for Behavioral Health, Boston, MA
Edna B. Foa, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Emeritus
Professor of Psychiatry Founding Director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety Perelman School of Medicine University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Martin E. Franklin, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Associate Professor Emeritus of Clinical Psychology in Psychiatry University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA; Clinical Director, Rogers Behavioral Health, Philadelphia, PA
Jennifer Freeman, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior and Associate Director of Research Fellowship Program, Clinical Psychology Training Consortium, Alpert Medical School of Brown University; Director, Pediatric Anxiety Research Center, Bradley Hospital; Associate Director of Research, Bradley Hospital
Randy Frost, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board;
Harold Edward and Elsa Siipola Israel Professor Emeritus at Smith College, Northampton, MA
Wayne K. Goodman, MD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Chair, Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX
Jonathan Grayson, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; The Grayson LA Treatment. Center for Anxiety & OCD, Los Angeles, CA
Benjamin Greenberg, MD, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University, Providence, RI; Director, COBRE Center for Neuromodulation, Butler Hospital, Providence RI
Jon Hershfield, LCMFT, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Director, Center for OCD and Anxiety, Sheppard Pratt
Jonathan Hoffman, PhD, ABPP, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Chief Clinical Officer and Founder, NeuroBehavioral Institute (NBI), Founder and Director at NBI Ranch
Robert Hudak, MD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Associate Professor of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Nancy Keuthen, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Associate Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; Director, Trichotillomania and Excoriation Disorder Clinic and Research Unit; Chief Psychologist, Obsessive Compulsive Clinic, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA
Sony Khemlani-Patel, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board;
Clinical Director, Bio Behavioral Institute, Great Neck, NY
Lorrin M. Koran, MD, Emeritus, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, CA
Adam B. Lewin, PhD, ABPP, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor of Pediatrics & Psychiatry Division Chief; USF Pediatric Neuropsychiatry Director; USF Rothman Center & Tourette Center of Excellence
Interim Maurice and Thelma Rothman Endowed Chair of Developmental Pediatrics University of South Florida College of Medicine
Charles S. Mansueto, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Founder and Director, Behavior Therapy Center of Greater Washington, Silver Spring, MD
Carol A Mathews MD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board;
Donald R. Dizney Chair in Psychiatry, Professor and Chair, Department of Psychiatry Director; Center for OCD, Anxiety and Related Disorders University of Florida
Patrick McGrath, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Chief Clinical Officer, NOCD
Dean McKay, PhD, ABPP, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor of Psychology, Fordham University; Founder and Co-Director, Institute for Cognitive-Behavior Therapy and Research; Past-President, Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology; Past President, Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies
Gerald Nestadt, MD, Emeritus, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board;
Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Director, OCD Clinic, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD
Fugen Neziroglu, Ph.D., ABBP, ABPP, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor, Hofstra Medical School; Co-Founder and Executive Director, Bio-Behavioral Institute
Bunmi O. Olatunji, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board;
Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN; Director of Clinical Training, Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University; Associate Provost for Graduate Education, Vanderbilt University; Associate Editor, Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology
Michele Pato, MD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board;
Director, Center for Genomics of Psychiatric Health and Addictions, Rutgers University; Professor of Psychiatry, Rutgers University; Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and New Jersey Medical School; Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry SUNY Downstate
David Pauls, PhD, Emeritus, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board;
Professor of Psychiatry (Genetics), Emeritus, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA
Fred Penzel, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Executive Director, Western Suffolk Psychological Services, Huntington, NY
Katharine A. Phillips, MD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor of Psychiatry, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, NY
John Piacentini, PhD, ABPP, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences; Director, Center for Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Support; Director, UCLA Child OCD, Anxiety and Tic Disorders Program; Director, UCLA Tourette Association Center of Excellence; UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior
Anthony Pinto, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Associate Professor of Psychiatry, School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, Long Island, NY; Director, Northwell Health OCD Center, Zucker Hillside Hospital, Glen Oaks, NY
Christopher Pittenger, MD, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Mears & Jameson Professor of Psychiatry, and Professor of Psychology and in the Yale Child Study Center; Deputy Chair for Translational Research, Department of Psychiatry; Director, Yale Center for Brain and Mind Health; Director, Clinical Neuroscience Research Unit and Neuroscience Research Training Program; Director, Yale OCD Research Clinic and Yale Program for Psychedelic Science Yale University School of Medicine
Alec Pollard, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor Emeritus of Family & Community Medicine, Saint Louis University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO; Founding Director, Center for OCD & Anxiety-Related Disorders, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute, St. Louis, MO
Steven J. Poskar, MD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board
OCD NYC, New York, NY
Steven Rasmussen, MD, Emeritus, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Chair, Psychiatry and Human Behavior Brown University, Providence, RI
Peggy M.A. Richter, MD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor of Psychiatry, University of Toronto; Head, Frederick W. Thompson Anxiety Disorders Centre; Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Canada
Bradley C. Riemann, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board;
President, Philanthropy, Research and Clinical Care Chief Clinical Officer Rogers Behavioral Health, Oconomowoc, WI
Carolyn Rodriguez, MD, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board;
Associate Dean, Office of Academic Affairs, Stanford University School of Medicine; Associate Chair and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine; Director, Translational OCD Research Program, Stanford University School of Medicine; Director, Stanford Hoarding Disorders Research Program, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA; Staff Psychiatrist, VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Palo Alto, CA
Sanjaya Saxena, MD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board;
Rogers Behavioral Health San Diego; Clinical Professor, UC San Diego Department of Psychiatry
Gail Steketee, PhD, Emeritus, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor and Dean Emerita, Boston University School of Social Work, Boston, MA
Evelyn Stewart, MD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, CA; Founding Director, Provincial OCD Program, BC Children's Hospital; Research Director, Child, Youth, and Reproductive Mental Health, BC Children's Hospital
Eric A. Storch, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Vice Chair and Head of Psychology, Professor and McIngvale Presidential Endowed Chair
Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX
Kiara R. Timpano, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Miami, FL; Director, Adult Division, University of Miami, FL
Odile A. van den Heuvel, MD, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Professor of Neuropsychiatry, Amsterdam UMC, Amsterdam Neuroscience, Netherlands; Chair ENIGMA-OCD consortium
Barbara L. Van Noppen, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board;
Vice Chair for Faculty Development Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Keck School of Medicine of USC; Department of Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences, University of Southern California
Aureen P. Wagner, PhD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; The Anxiety Wellness Center, Cary, NC
Allen Weg, EdD, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Director, Stress & Anxiety Services of New Jersey, East Brunswick and Florham Park, NJ
Monnica T. Williams, PhD, ABPP, IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board; Canada Research Chair, School Psychology, University of Ottawa, Ontario; Clinical & Training Director, Behavioral Wellness Clinic, LLC, Tolland, CT
Below is our full response.
We represent the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), a Boston-based nonprofit organization that provides up-to-date education and resources, strengthens community engagement, delivers quality professional training, and advances groundbreaking research regarding obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and related disorders since 1986.
We are writing to express strong concern with three articles that have been published by The Post: “Idaho murders suspect Bryan Kohberger had ‘OCD eating’ tendencies’,'' by Dana Kennedy and Olivia Land (12/30/22); “Bryan Kohberger visited restaurant where two of his alleged victims worked,'' by Yaron Steinbuch (1/20/23); and “OCD is increasingly the common denominator among extremist behaviors; researchers,” by John Mac Ghlionn (2/04/23). The first two present OCD as a potential contributing factor behind the alleged murders committed by Bryan Kohberger; the last suggests a link between OCD and “extremist behavior.”
Regarding the two articles about Bryan Kohberger, we are shocked that a relative’s quote regarding his dietary restrictions is enough to spur speculation regarding the role of OCD in his alleged destructive behaviors. It has not been reported that Bryan Kohberger has been diagnosed with OCD; his quoted relative is not a psychotherapist, and her remarks should not spur an authoritative discussion about how OCD may have contributed to his allegedly taking the lives of four students. Since the publication of the first article on Dec. 30, 2022, we are aware that other news outlets (The Daily Mail and Newsweek) have mentioned his dietary restrictions, quoted the relative, and connected them to OCD. This type of journalism is irresponsible and has caused justifiable concern and outrage among our community — therapists, researchers, and, most importantly, people with lived experience.
The February 4, 2023 article connects OCD with a variety of extremist and “radical beliefs”, with a “new theory put forward by psychologists Jais Adam Troian…and Jocelyn J. Bélanger [linking] what they term ‘obsessive passion’ (a key predictor of radicalism) to a much larger body of behavioral research.” We have reviewed the cited research manuscript by these authors which forms the basis of the article (“Consumed by Creed”: Obsessive-Compulsive Symptoms Underpin Ideological Obsession and Support for Political Violence; Adam-Troian and Bélanger, 2022), and found issues with its methodology, its legitimacy as a true research article, and its understanding of terminology.
First, no individuals in the samples used to conduct the analyses were known to have OCD; all filled out the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS) to determine the severity of obsessive and compulsive symptoms, but the mean scores across all samples suggest slight to mild symptoms. Although the Y-BOCS is used across research and clinical settings, its use alone is not enough to diagnose an individual with OCD; this requires focused assessment by clinicians.
Second, this research manuscript was published on PsyArxiv, a preprint repository that accepts submissions prior to peer review. For a research manuscript to be considered truly valid it must undergo a lengthy process of peer review by experts in the field. The article by Drs. Adam-Troian and Bélanger is currently not considered a valid research article by the scientific community, and it is appalling to see it used, not only to connect OCD with radical beliefs, but also to belittle and harm a vast community of children and adults who fight through a serious disorder.
Finally, Drs. Adam-Troian and Bélanger misleadingly link “obsessive passion” and “obsessive compulsive disorder.” In their introduction, the authors comment on how obsessive passion appears to have a logical connection to the symptoms of OCD. Their train of thought is, at a first glance, sound; they extensively cite research about obsessive passion and OCD, and the framework to test whether OCD symptoms are linked to various degrees of extremism (in this case, sampling environmental activists, Republicans, Democrats, and American Muslims) is set. The research article does due diligence by citing the original study that proposed the concepts of “obsessive passion” and “harmonious passion” (Vallerand et al., 2003), with obsessive passion being “controlled internalization of an activity in one’s identity that create an internal pressure to engage in the activity that the person likes”, and harmonious passion being “autonomous internalization that leads individuals to choose to engage in the activity that they like.” Here, we see the wrongful equating of the word “obsession” arise.
On the one hand, there is the “obsessive” of obsessive passion. Obsessive passion is a negative pursuit of an activity, goal, or theme that one likes (Vallerand et al., 2003). Although obsessive passion can lead to negative and even destructive outcomes, the object of the passion is something one actually admires, respects, and strives towards. At the start of pursuing a particular activity, the object of passion appears to be ego-syntonic — in harmony with the self-esteem, self-image, and goals of the individual.
On the other hand, there is the “obsessive” of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Research estimates that 1-3% of Americans have OCD, which is characterized by obsessive thoughts, anxiety, and compulsive actions. These are all ego-dystonic, meaning they are dissonant with the beliefs and self-image of those who have the disorder (Veale and Roberts, 2014). People with OCD typically experience intense distress due to these invasive symptoms, as they know they do not reflect their true identities. Much shame and guilt stems from the content of these intrusive thoughts and images, causing intense distress that forces them to engage in compulsive actions that can mitigate the pain of obsessions. In short, individuals with OCD have no desire to act on their obsessions — there is no positive passion, no drive for life that fuels the content of their symptoms. Drs. Adam-Troian and Bélanger used the meaning of “obsession” in one context (in this case, the positive and driving force) and transposed it to mean that individuals with OCD are positively obsessed with their symptoms. This is a logical fallacy where one definition/context of a word that has multiple is used for different contexts — the fallacy of equivocation — and it renders the foundation of the study inaccurate.
To suggest, like The Post’s articles, that OCD was a factor in the alleged behavior of a murder suspect and a factor in extremist activism is unethical and a disservice to our community. Linking OCD to what the author John Mac Ghlionn cites as extremist activism in his article — not only the Islamic fundamentalism behind certain types of terrorism, but surprisingly also the fight for social, environmental, and LGBTQ+ justice — gives off an air of political radicalization of its own.
Today, we have also leveraged our advocates to help to thwart the spread of misinformation regarding OCD. They will be reaching out to local newsrooms across the country in an effort to help correct the record regarding OCD.
If you are a media outlet interested in doing a story on the real impact of OCD, we encourage you to reach out to IOCDF Communications Manager, Amanda Ota, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Amanda will happily connect you to an expert from our network who can provide factually sound information regarding OCD.
Adam-Troian, J. & Bélanger, J.J. (2022). “Consumed by creed”: Obsessive-compulsive symptoms underpin ideological obsession and support for political violence. PsyArxiv. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/tcrd9
Vallerand, R.J., Blanchard, C., Mageau, G.A., Koestner, R., Ratelle, C., Leonard, M., Gagné, M., & Marsolais, J. (2003). Les passions de l’ame: On obsessive and harmonious passion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(4), 756-767. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2066
Veale, D. & Roberts, A. (2014). Obsessive-compulsive disorder. BMJ, 348:g2183. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g2183
Very good that the IOCDF is standing up against this. I am stunned by all the false claims and connections brought forward in these “news” articles and fully support your response.
I am an academic & researcher who is also the parent of a young adult living with severe OCD. I find the articles not only devoid of substance and scientific evidence but also wholly unacceptable, in the way they are published intended to spread false misinformation and implicate the wrong people in society. It is a callous and uncalculated act. The authors should issue a public apology and legal action be considered against such irresponsible behaviour.
Thank you for your misinformation advocacy. It is hard enough for people to have the courage to stand up to the OCD bully and access appropriate OCD treatment. It’s even harder when misinformation is spread.
Well done! I really appreciate the decision of writing the article/ standing up against misinformation and the commitment you are all making. I support the IOCDF letter from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Vanesa Aiello Rocha. Psychologist.
Thank you to everyone who have signed and asked for the writer of the New York Post stop spreading misinformation about OCD.
I support a wonderful young person with severe OCD who is not radical extremist. The article is insulting and harmful.
Thank you all for your actions against harmful opinion articles and poor research (referencing the paper which used non-OCD diagnosed participants). It’s shameful people are willing to embed society with bad information.
Excellent work on the IOCDF’s part. We are all thankful for the people behind this foundation.
Are any IOCDF affiliated health professionals going to challenge the authors of the study that “formulated an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) model of radicalization ?” – From experience – some psychologists just don’t understand OCD at all. And to me the authors of that study have got no idea.
Thank you IOCD for correcting the misinformation and for providing such an eloquent response backed by real evidence. I am a PhD student in nursing research as well as a parent of 2 children with OCD. In a recent literature review I found alarming and significant evidence that the pervasive stigma around mental health negatively influences whether an individual seeks treatment. We are in the midst of a worldwide epidemic of a mental health crisis. These editorials by sources such as The Post, are so damaging to an already vulnerable, marginalized and misunderstood group. Thank you IOCD for your efforts to set the record straight with real evidence
Excellent follow up IOCDF!