The following deals with matters of Faith as they relate to OCD. If you are curious about further exploring these topics, we recommend you attend our upcoming Faith and OCD Conference. Details are available here: iocdf.org/faithcon.
By Rev. Dr. Christopher McKee, Jr.
OCD is often misunderstood and stigmatized in our society, and even more so within Faith communities. Any opportunity for clinicians, faith leaders and those with lived experience, to engage in dialogue regarding the ways in which we all can work to identify and address symptoms of OCD is a step forward in our collective knowledge of how to live with and walk alongside those living with OCD. Information, visibility, and ongoing collective witness can be gained by those who make the decision to participate in this important gathering.
As a faith leader with lived experience, I know firsthand the complex ways in which faith relates to OCD. So many people living with OCD have symptoms or obsessions connected to their faith, compulsions tied to their faith, and in some cases feel stigmatized because of their faith. Clinicians and faith leaders must work together to ensure that those who live with OCD and those in a relationship with them can effectively support the nuanced ways in which faith and OCD intersect. For example, those who live with faith-based obsessions might seek constant reassurance from a faith leader and or feel afraid to discuss their obsessions or intrusive thoughts with a clinician because of their content. A faith leader recommends that a person who seems to be “stuck” in thoughts that they cannot seem to “shake” might not just need prayer or spiritual counseling, but they very well might need the assistance of a clinician who can help them to identify OCD symptoms and work toward effective ERP and treatment strategies.
From my own OCD lived experience, I am all too aware that scrupulosity can often be missed as an indicator of OCD. When many people think of OCD, they think of orderliness, neatness, and seldom do people unfamiliar with scrupulosity’s tie to OCD understand it as an indicator of a potential OCD diagnosis, even some clinicians; I sadly learned this firsthand as a college student unknowingly living with OCD. Additionally, scrupulosity, for example, presenting as a compulsive need to pray, might be thought of as hyper-faithfulness or deep commitment by members of a faith community instead of a symptom of potential mental/emotional unwellness.
My personal journey as both a person of faith and later as a faith leader has proven that often my scrupulosity was rewarded as proof of my faith commitments instead of the harmful illness OCD is for those who live every day managing it. I was unwell, yet, because of the ways in which my scrupulosity presented itself, no one knew it. This is why ongoing conversations between faith leaders, people of faith with OCD lived experience, clinicians and those impacted by OCD in any way must continue, mental wellness, wholeness, and for many, lives, hang in the balance.