By Emily Bailey, Psy.D.
On Monday, May 1st, the International OCD Foundation will host our third annual Faith & OCD Conference! Faith leaders, mental health professionals, and the OCD Community will come together to talk about the impact of scrupulosity, how to integrate faith-based practices into treatment, and ways to support those in the faith-community living with OCD.
Faith and OCD are intertwined. One of the most significant commonalities between the practice of faith and the treatment of OCD is embracing the unknown and uncertainty in life directly. “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” This quote by Martin Luther King Jr. highlights that when we have faith, we don’t always see the complete picture. Therefore, we need to embrace the unknown and uncertainty-one step at a time. Treating OCD, including a subtype of OCD known as religious scrupulosity, can be enhanced by integrating an individual’s values- including faith.
Religious scrupulosity occurs when an individual experiences intrusive thoughts that latch onto beliefs, faith practices, or spirituality. The obsessions that individuals engage in are not reflective of a values-driven faith, rather- it is reflective of a practice that OCD hijacked. To relieve the distress and anxiety associated with these thoughts, individuals engage in compulsions ranging from avoidance of church to reassurance from faith leaders. Compulsions are often misinterpreted as devout practice; however, unlike devout practice, these behaviors are not driven by meaning, connection, and comfort that define more normative religious practices.
So, why come to the Faith and OCD conference this year?
For those with Lived Experience: For individuals diagnosed with OCD and struggling with scrupulosity, this will be a great opportunity to take another step to embracing uncertainty and connecting with faith in a more meaningful way. This Faith and OCD conference also wants to foster the integration of faith into everyday life for individuals who struggle with other subtypes of OCD, as well. For so many of us, faith is a huge value, and integration of faith into our lives and treatment can have a positive impact. Come to the Faith and OCD conference and enjoy discussion of the co-existence of faith and OCD and various break out sessions and discussion groups that will enhance feelings of support from the community.
For those who support a loved one with OCD: It can be so tough supporting someone with OCD while also continuing to integrate faith practices in daily life! Break-out sessions will focus on how to best support your loved one, your role in their treatment, and the importance of self-care. There will be opportunities to discuss faith and OCD with children and how parents play such an important role in the treatment journey!
For Faith Leaders: Faith leaders- you are so important. Often, people seek comfort and guidance from their faith communities. Sharing intrusive thoughts is a vulnerable thing. We created this conference to help provide faith leaders with resources on how to properly direct someone to help and identify symptoms of OCD. It is important to emphasize that the intrusive thoughts that individuals with OCD experience are not reflective of who they are as people. This conference will also provide information about treatment and how to collaborate with mental health professionals. Mental health professionals and faith leaders should be moving toward the same goal- healing an individual struggling to learn to practice faith in a way that aligns with their values versus OCD!
For Mental Health Professionals: Treatment of OCD and scrupulosity can be challenging for patients and clinicians. This can be especially true when individuals have concealed their obsessions out of shame, guilt, or fear of judgment. This conference provides breakout sessions that discuss correct identification of OCD symptomology, treatment planning, and development of effective exposures with some of the leading clinicians in the field: including Ted Witzig, Jon Abramowitz, Jon Hershfield, Alec Pollard, and Jon Grayson!
For Anyone: Part of breaking the stigma of mental illness is to become well-informed. We would love to help provide information and knowledge about OCD and the integration of faith practices. It is our hope that you will begin feeling comfortable talking openly about OCD, educating others, and showing compassion to those who are struggling. Help us open up a new avenue for more conversations about mental health and faith!
Emily Bailey, Psy.D. is currently working at the Anxiety Treatment Clinic in Atlanta, Georgia where she treats children, adolescents, and adults who present with OCD and anxiety disorders. She obtained her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Mercer University. Her research interests include social anxiety disorders and attentional disengagement, therapeutic alliance, treatment-seeking behaviors, and parental influence on child psychopathology. While her clinical focus is individuals diagnosed with OCD and other anxiety disorders, she has experience working with diverse populations using evidence-based treatment including CBT and ERP. Emily is passionate about helping her patients achieve a more meaningful, satisfying, and valued life.