Scrupulosity: When religion and morality become impairing
Although most people are familiar with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)—or at least have a general idea and may even feel that they personally have some OCD tendencies—a lesser known form of OCD exists called scrupulosity. Scrupulosity involves obsessions related to religious or moral ideals which cause an individual to be overly concerned that their actions are sinful or are violating religious or moral doctrine (International OCD Foundation, 2010). This concern is so great that it often leads to excessive praying or trips to confession, repeating rituals involving cleansing and purifying, and avoiding situations where some religious or moral error may occur (IOCDF, 2010). One effective and recommended treatment for scrupulosity is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP); however, another form of treatment, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) was shown to be another effective form of treatment in a recent study by Dehlin, Morrison, and Twohig (2013). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy traditionally involves accepting undesirable thoughts and feelings, reducing the meaning of and attachment to these thoughts and feelings, and working toward acting in a way that fulfills one’s values in life and has been used in the treatment of OCD.
Dehlin and colleagues (2013) evaluated the effects of ACT on scrupulosity with five adults (three females and two males) across eight treatment sessions. In order to measure the effects of treatment, researchers tracked the participants’ compulsive behaviors as well as engagement with valued activities. In addition, researchers had participants complete assessment questionnaires. Treatment sessions were 1-1.5 hours each week and consisted of activities that helped the participants incorporate the core processes of ACT. Participants also completed weekly homework assignments. Throughout treatment, participants learned to accept unwanted thoughts, separate themselves from obsessive thoughts, view the self as a context in which thoughts occur, contact the present moment, and commit to actions in alignment with values. Results of the study showed a 74% reduction in compulsions and a 79% reduction in avoided valued behaviors, and these reductions were maintained during a 3-month follow up. In addition, participants reported high levels of treatment acceptability which, combined with the positive results of treatment, makes this a promising treatment for individuals with scrupulosity.
Dehlin, J. P., Morrison, K. L., & Twohig, M. P. (2013). Acceptance and commitment therapy as a treatment for scrupulosity in obsessive compulsive disorder. Behavior Modification. DOI: 10.1177/0145445512475134
International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation (2010). Retrieved from https://iocdf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/IOCDF-Scrupulosity-Fact-Sheet.pdf