Scrupulosity; Religious OCD

scrupulosity written on open moodsmith book
Dr Elaine Ryan
Written by Dr Elaine Ryan Psychologist and Founder of MoodSmith® Elaine obtained her Dr in Psychology from the University of Surrey and has worked in psychology for 20 years. Dr Ryan specialises in Intrusive Thoughts, OCD and anxiety-related conditions.

Scrupulosity or Religious OCD is a subset of OCD. It occurs when a person experiences unwanted religious or immoral thoughts against their sincerely held religious beliefs.

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What is Scrupulosity?

Scrupulosity was first used in a religious context by the Catholic Church to represent a preoccupation with sin and an accompanying act of contrition. The term now is more broadly associated with OCD that has a religious theme.


Does it mean that I have lost my faith?

No. It might feel this way, but your faith is still intact. The thoughts you are experiencing are out of your control and result from the obsessions that occur within OCD. They do not reflect on you as a person.

Doubt and uncertainty are typical of OCD. Throughout this article, I intend to explain what is happening if you think you are suffering from this type of OCD.

It can be challenging to recognise that your religious thoughts and practices are, in fact, Religious OCD. Often people do not talk about what is happening to them as they feel shame, guilt and worry they are losing their faith.

To others, you may appear devout, praying more than others or attending your place of worship more often than before. However, you may also become absent, as you fear the places and practices that you believe may result in, for example, sinful thoughts. This is a symptom of OCD, where people avoid people, places and things out of fear.

You might speak with Church leaders to discuss your fears, seeking reassurance. Still, unless your confidant is also a trained therapist, they may miss what is happening to you and lack the skill to help you. It is not your faith that needs restoring; rather, your symptoms need treatment.

Are there signs and symptoms of religious OCD?

Like all forms of OCD, scrupulosity will have both obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are thoughts, and compulsions are the things you do. When you see your thoughts and behaviours in terms of obsessions and compulsions, you see these as symptoms of something other than losing your faith.

Obsessions include

  • Having blasphemous thoughts
  • Fear of losing control and shouting things out in your place of worship

Compulsions can include

  • Excessive prayer
  • Excessive confession
  • Seeking reassurance
  • Avoiding areas of worship.

How is Religious OCD treated?

Can my minister help me?
Often at the start, people seek help from the minister. Still, you need an OCD therapist, as your faith is as strong as ever, but you need a therapist trained in OCD to help you with your symptoms.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Exposure Response Prevention will help you recover.


Cefalu, P. The Doubting Disease: Religious Scrupulosity and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Historical Context. J Med Humanit 31, 111–125 (2010).


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