The final day of OCD Con was a bit shorter than the rest, and we left to pack up and check out of our hotel room during one of the sessions and left early from the final one to go to the airport, so this post may be a bit shorter than the previous ones. Still, we really enjoyed two of the sessions we attended on Sunday so maybe it will still be long 🙂
We started the morning with “Developing Effective Treatment Plans for Religious Scrupulosity Across the Lifespan” with Ted Witzig, Jr. and Kathleen Norris. This was a great session for a Sunday morning, and I learned even more about religious scrupulosity (including aspects of how “altruism” and feeling the need to share the gospel with everyone or helping everyone now can be related to scrupulosity and OCD).
I loved how Witzig said that for religious people, doubt often equals danger, but really “uncertainty is inherent in matters of faith.” He said at one point that faith is really “trusting God through uncertainty.”
They mentioned certain compulsions or common neutralizations for people with religious scrupulosity, including avoidance of church, scripture reading, etc. as well as reassurance seeking (including through confession), repetitive prayers or thought control.
One of the goals of treatment for scrupulosity is “to be able to practice what is normative” in your own faith, or what 85% of people in your religion would say is appropriate to do.
I think it was Witzig who said that we should frame our OCD as an “affliction” and then remind ourselves how God and Christ feel about and treat “the afflicted.” They spoke about how OCD changes or distorts our view of God and His nature and that we need to “create dissonance between God’s voice and OCD’s voice,” with our goal being to “disempower our thoughts” by removing their significance to us.
According to Witzig, we don’t have to do “evil” things or acts that go against our value system in order to treat religious scrupulosity. Instead, we need “to be able to do normative things and let thoughts (we) fear come and pass through without neutralizing” them.
He said we need to “follow the tenets of (our) faith but not OCD’s skewed version of (our) faith.”
After packing up our room and checking out, we headed back to the conference for a talk by Jon Herschfield and Patrick McGrath entitled, “My OCD says I’m a Bad Person: Tackling Moral Scrupulosity.”
This talk was hilarious and so well done, and I’m sad we had to leave early to go to the airport because I would’ve loved to have stayed for the Q&A. I guess I hadn’t realized prior to this talk that there were different types of scrupulosity. I had previously considered scrupulosity as one big category, but I now know that I really fall more on the moral scrupulosity spectrum rather than the purely religious scrupulosity spectrum.
Moral scrupulosity deals with honesty, feeling that past things you’ve done might have been wrong or immoral, false memory, copyright worries, etc. Common compulsions according to McGrath and Herschfield are reassurance seeking, mental reviewing of what was said and done, avoidance of any situations that might be morally ambiguous, washing or checking that are related to moral concerns (for instance, I think my contamination fears really started because I didn’t want to get other people sick and then have it be my fault that they had to miss work or go to the doctor and spend their money on medicine or whatever), and mental rituals.
Herschfield mentioned that compulsions feel like a need, but they are always a choice. They also talked about how thoughts are not equal to actions and went over the various cognitive errors that those with moral scrupulosity often fall into, including catastrophizing, absolutist thinking, emotional reasoning, moral perfectionism, etc.
In regards to exposure response prevention for moral scrupulosity, it follows the same theme as all other ERP: living with uncertainty. Of course, they talked about how we shouldn’t “violate” our “moral framework” but that we should “do exposures walking near the line without checking” and “risk the potential that the line could or even has been stepped on or crossed.”
Herschfield said at one point that “a lot of beating OCD is reclaiming what was taken.” I think that is so true. OCD steals so much of our behavior, thoughts, and dreams. It tries to tell us that we cannot take risks or do the things that we want to do. For me, my moral scrupulosity prevented me from trying to get books published and hounded me when I taught courses at UVU. It hasn’t really left, and I thought it was interesting that they mentioned that moral scrupulosity can “ride” along with other obsessions, including contamination, checking, harm, religious, and relationship OCD.
All in all, this was a really fascinating session (filled with a lot of humor thanks to McGrath), and I really want and need to do some more research on moral scrupulosity specifically.
Overall, OCD Con was worth it. It was so fascinating and almost comforting to be in a place with other people who you knew and understood what you were going through. So much of the time, people with OCD feel isolated and like people don’t really get us or what our mind is doing or telling us. To be in a place for a few days where people understood and you didn’t have to feel strange or different was a new experience and one that was so valuable. In addition, this conference is so unique because not only is it people with OCD but also family members, professionals, researchers, etc. Sometimes I wished there were special colors or marks on the name tags so I could tell if someone had OCD, was a family member, or a professional just by looking at it 🙂
I hope to go next year to OCD CON—you should come too! It is in Washington DC at the end of July. See you there?