Helping People Cope With OCD
Information for Clergy

Helping People in Crisis

Clergy can play an important role in providing guidance, reassurance and recommendations to OCD sufferers.

In times of crisis, many people turn to religion and their church for help, seeking guidance and advice about their problems. When Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is the crisis, there are no easy solutions, and no easy directions anyone can follow to make this neurobiological anxiety disorder disappear. Clergy can play an important role in providing valuable guidance, reassurance and recommendations.

We want you to have the information you need to help those who seek your guidance.  People who are affected by OCD (and their spouses, families and friends) deserve to get relief from this frequently debilitating disorder.  Fortunately, effective treatment is available, so you can provide hope and optimism for those you counsel.

Effective therapy for OCD is essential - OCD won’t go away by itself.

OCD sufferers who seek your help are certainly not alone in battling this disorder.  OCD affects one in 40 adults and one in 100 school-aged children, which is between two and three percent of the U.S. population.  It affects men, women and children of all races and ethnicities, socioeconomic groups, professions and religions. It is the fourth most common psychiatric diagnosis, after phobias, substance abuse and major depression.

Although some movies and television series feature stars who are depicted as having OCD, the symptoms are usually portrayed as comedy. As any person who has OCD knows, this disorder is no laughing matter.

You are in a powerful position to help those who suffer with OCD by:

  • Understanding OCD - what it is, what it is not, causes and misinformation
  • Learning how to recognize symptoms of OCD and related disorders that may be confusing to people affected
  • Recommending and encouraging proper treatment of OCD
  • Helping sufferers get past the shame so that they can openly obtain help and relief – knowing they are not alone is very important

Where to Start

OCD is a neurobiological anxiety disorder characterized by obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts, fears, worries, and urges that cause anxiety or discomfort for the individual. Everyone has intrusive or disturbing thoughts or worries from time to time. But people who have OCD are unaable to stop these unwanted thoughts; they can’t just dismiss them like people who don’t have OCD. To reduce the anxiety or discomfort created by the obsessions, people with OCD engage in repetitive or ritualistic mental or physical actions (compulsions) that make them feel better temporarily.

Researchers have found that functioning in certain areas of the brain is different in individuals who have OCD compared to those who don’t. Abnormalities in the chemical systems that send messages between brain cells have also been found. In addition, research has indicated that genetic, behavioral, cognitive, and environmental factors may also play a role in the onset of OCD.

This web site has information that you can use to learn about the disorder and its treatment.  The sections that should be most useful to you are shown below, and link directly to those sections for your reference:

You can also refer to the site map to find specific information for family members, parents helping adult children or the sections especially written for teens.

When OCD and Religion Collide

Scrupulosity is a type of OCD focusing on religion.

One type of OCD focuses on religion.  It’s called Scrupulosity, and it is characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions concerning religious principles.  People who suffer from this form of OCD have symptoms that include overwhelming obsessions about sinning or not being holy enough, fears of committing inappropriate acts or violent acts concerning religion and compulsions involving the practice of religion, such as ritualistic praying or repeatedly attending religious services.

As clergy, it can be helpful to know when someone’s behavior is what it appears to be—a truly devout commitment to one’s faith—or when it is a more serious situation: a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Learn more about Scrupulosity

Is Effective Treatment Available?

Yes, effective treatment—Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)—is available for OCD. It involves learning new responses to the obsessive OCD “error messages” the brain sends and building up resistance to the compulsive behaviors the OCD sufferer feels compelled to perform in response to these messages. Cognitive behavior therapists use a form of therapy called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).  This special therapy puts OCD patients in situations where they are exposed to their obsessions and gradually prevented from performing the compulsions. In some cases, physicians prescribe medication to ease the symptoms of OCD.

More about CBT therapy is in the OCD Facts and Individuals sections of this web site.

Guidance for Those with OCD

A recommendation to undergo CBT therapy for OCD is taken seriously when it comes from a trusted member of clergy.

A religious leader can positively influence the life of someone who suffers with OCD.  Your recommendation and encouragement to undergo Cognitive Behavior Therapy is likely to be taken more seriously by an OCD sufferer than family or friends’ suggestions to get treatment.

When counseling people who have OCD (including Scrupulosity) or their families, your objectivity and compassion are crucial elements in helping them determine the right course of action.  People and families affected by OCD are often so consumed with the disorder that they can’t think clearly about how to overcome it.  They value the judgment and insight you can bring to their fight with OCD.

Learn more about OCD counseling

Treatment Resistance and Recovery Failure

Not every story can have a happy ending, but clergy can make a difference in how affected people and their families cope with OCD, often making a difference in the way people understand and approach their problems.  It can be frustrating when a person who suffers with OCD refuses to get treatment, or when treatment fails.  You may be called upon to give guidance when these situations occur.

Learn more about treatment resistance and recovery avoidance

When Financial Assistance is Needed

You may find that some people who seek your help are not able to afford treatment for OCD.  Those without health insurance or whose insurance policies do not fully cover mental health care sometimes struggle to get the treatment they need.

Learn more about how to counsel on financial matters concerning OCD.

More Resources for Clergy

As awareness of OCD continues to grow, more resources are becoming available to help counselors—and clergy—understand the disorder and how to get people into proper treatment programs.


A book published specifically for clergy is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Guide for Family, Friends and Pastors by Robert M. Collie.  The book includes both therapeutic and pastoral information, and could be especially useful for pastors, pastoral counselors, priests, rabbis, other ministers and lay ministers.

A book about Scrupulosity is The Doubting Disease: Help for Scrupulosity and Religious Compulsions by Joseph W. Ciarrocchi, Ph.D.


Other Resources

We have reviewed web sites and other books that may be helpful to you.  These are listed in the More Resources section of this web site.

There are also first-person accounts of living with OCD and gaining relief from CBT therapy in the Personal Stories section of this web site.  These are inspiring stories of success that might help OCD sufferers you counsel realize there is effective treatment, and hope for their own recovery, or that of a family member or friend.

In addition, some people benefit from attending support groups to hear of others’ experiences related to gaining control over OCD or to find out how to help an OCD sufferer.  Information about support groups is available in the More Resources section of this web site.

Read Personal Stories

Go to More Resources

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