OCD subtypes
Scrupulosity OCD

Can A Therapist That Doesn’t Share My Faith Treat Me Effectively?

5 min read
Patrick McGrath, PhD
By Patrick McGrath, PhD
All types of OCD include obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted and intrusive thoughts, feelings, urges and doubts, while compulsions are repetitive physical or mental actions performed in an attempt to relieve distress and anxiety

When a member is dealing with OCD themes related to scrupulosity or religion, one question I often get asked is, “How can my therapist treat my OCD if they do not share my faith?” I hear these types of concerns a lot, so I wanted to address them and related questions. 

What if my therapist does not share the same faith as I do – how can they treat my scrupulosity?

This is a great opportunity for a member and their therapist to really get to know each other and discuss what faith means to the member. I have worked with hundreds of scrupulosity cases and did not share the same faith as my members in the majority of cases. I was able to learn a great deal about the Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Christian, and Buddist faiths from them so that I could tailor the therapy to them.  

While I may or may not share the same belief system as my members (I will not be giving away my faith/spirituality background and will address this later on in this article), I was able to work with them with one shared goal: to help them to get back into living in their faith in a way that OCD did not interfere with it. 

Not sharing the faith of my members was an opportunity to really learn about their belief system and to truly understand how OCD was interfering with their ability to live the life that they wanted to live. I was able to take an outside view to truly see how OCD was causing them to see their faith through obsessions rather than through their belief system. Once they were able to recognize how OCD warped their view of their faith, and began doing specific exposure and response prevention (ERP) exercises to challenge the message that OCD was sending to them, they were able to start to get their faith and life back to what they wanted instead of what OCD wanted for them. 

What if my therapist does not share my faith – how will I be able to work with someone who has a different worldview?

The fact is that most therapists and their members do not share the same worldview or faith. A therapist is not there to push their worldview onto their patients. Frankly, that would be quite unethical. A therapist is there to help a person best live in the world in the way that they want to and not in the way that OCD wants them to. 

My differences in faith background have not led to difficulties working with my members. In fact, I have found it to be a positive in that it has allowed me to learn more about my members. I have never once challenged a person’s faith or told them that I thought it was wrong. Instead, I have attempted to learn how their faith has played a role in their development, their decisions, and their experience of OCD, even if the problem is not scrupulosity. 

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I would contend that if you want to get help with OCD, your best bet is to first find a therapist who specializes in OCD and is specialty-trained in ERP – as that will be the best predictor of how well therapy will work for you – rather than specifically seeking a therapist whose belief system matches yours. When I need to see a doctor, I want to know that they are specialized in the issues I need care for, and not what their faith is. Even if a therapist does match your belief system, there is no guarantee that they approach that system in the same way that you do. I say all of this because OCD can use anything to try to convince you that therapy will not be helpful for you based on variables that do not have to actually interfere with therapy. 

Why don’t you share your faith view with your members?

Many therapists have varying degrees of what they choose to self-disclose to their members. Some are open books and others are not. There is no right or wrong answer as to what a therapist chooses to disclose or not to disclose. And, while I have disclosed a lot about my life, I choose not to disclose my faith or belief system because I have seen how some members with scrupulosity OCD refused to work with a therapist/chaplain of a different faith, even when that therapist/chaplain was part of a multidisciplinary team at a residential treatment center I opened. 

I do not want my belief system to be judged and therefore become an impediment to the treatment of someone with OCD, so I do not share it. If I said I was a Muslim, but Shia and not Sunni, or a Christian, but Episcopalian and not Born Again, or Jewish, but Reform and not Conservative, then all of those various denominations and sects could be used against me to tell me why I could not treat someone’s scrupulosity. 

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And yet, I have treated people of all of the above faith traditions successfully, and I may (or may not) share one of those faiths. I will not let the judgment that OCD will make on my belief system at the beginning of treatment prevent me from achieving what I, and my members, hope to achieve at the end of treatment. 

I hope that these questions and answers have helped you in making some decisions around your OCD treatment and who can provide that treatment. At NOCD we affirm all faith traditions, and we hope that you will see that your therapist, even if they do not share your beliefs, will work with you to challenge your OCD, all the while respecting your beliefs. If you have other questions or would like to learn more about getting treatment at NOCD, please schedule a free 15-minute call with our care team. You can also join our religious OCD community and get 24/7 access to personalized self-management tools built by people who have been through OCD and successfully recovered.

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Taylor Newendorp

Taylor Newendorp

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I started as a therapist over 14 years ago, working in different mental health environments. Many people with OCD that weren't being treated for it crossed my path and weren't getting better. I decided that I wanted to help people with OCD, so I became an OCD therapist, and eventually, a clinical supervisor. I treated people using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and saw people get better day in and day out. I continue to use ERP because nothing is more effective in treating OCD.

Madina Alam

Madina Alam

Licensed Therapist, LCMHC

When I started treating OCD, I quickly realized how much this type of work means to me because I had to learn how to be okay with discomfort and uncertainty myself. I’ve been practicing as a licensed therapist since 2016. My graduate work is in mental health counseling, and I use Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy because it’s the gold standard of OCD treatment.

Tamara Harrison

Tamara Harrison

Licensed Therapist, MA

I have personally struggled with OCD and know what it's like to feel controlled by intrusive thoughts and compulsions, and to also overcome it using the proper therapy. I’ve been a licensed therapist since 2017. I have an M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and practice Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. I know by experience how effective ERP is in treating OCD symptoms.

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