Sometimes people with religious scrupulosity fear that ERP therapy itself is sinful. It’s true that ERP therapy will definitely ask you to do things outside of your comfort zone, things that will probably make you sick. (This is how ERP works, and it is crafted specifically around your own deepest anxieties.)
But once embarked on this ERP journey, I think it’s unwise and counterproductive to try to convince yourself (or convince others … or let others convince you …) that your therapy is not sinful. (After all, the whole point of this therapy is to embrace the uncertainty!)
If you are a Christian and concerned about ERP therapy, I suggest you say a prayer like this then dive in headfirst:
Lord, I am terrified about what I am being asked to do through this therapy, and I worry that it might be sinful. But there is at least some part of me that believes this is connected to OCD, so please cover over all I have to do with your grace. I am doing these things in the hopes of restoring my right and healthy relationship with you. Please be honored by my therapy and my choice to fight for my freedom (which you won on the cross) and my relationship with you (again, made possible by the cross). Be glorified in my therapy, and cover anything sinful with your incredible grace. Make me strong enough to complete my exposures. Provide the strength I need to press through this scary therapy, and let these hard exposures and choices (that may sometimes seem wrong to me) glorify you. Amen.
Are you aware of Ian Osborne, the Christian psychiatrist who suffers from OCD and wrote books about it? You are so on target, as here is his blog for today. Thanks for all you do, Jackie. I frequently print out your articles to give to my OCD clients, so you are reaching and helping many needy people.
Dear Jackie Lea, I have my first session just three days away now. There’s something that doesn’t feel right about ERP where I am telling myself a ‘lie’ or not ‘speaking the truth over my life.’ Especially as many of my OCD thoughts are half-formed – I’m scared of ‘forcing’ them to be fully formed. What helped you reconcile these things?
Thank you 🙂
Hmmm. That’s a good question, Anna. For me, I rephrased things so that I would say, “My OCD is making me think X right now.” Learning to separate ME from the disorder was HUGE in my recovery!
Oh thanks. So you didn’t make yourself say, for example, ‘I just might harm X, there’s no way to be certain’ (as some ERP books suggest)? Did you say instead ‘My OCD is making me think I’d harm X right now.’
If so, I’m much happier about that 🙂
I would say, “My OCD is making me think [insert horrible thought].” But I would let myself think it, you know? Instead of prohibiting it or trying to steer away from it with a compulsion. Does that make sense?
Yes, it does. Thank you!
Jackie, I really liked your post, but what about HOCD treatment where I’m asked to do some exposures to some sensual material? Don’t you think it’s sinful? I really want to get rid of my obsessions, but I’m afraid some things regarding gay content I must face in ERP are against my faith.
It’s a good question, Jack. You will have to decide where to draw the line. Perhaps you’re willing to read LGBT literature but not look at gay porn, which is totally understandable. Talk it out with your therapist and trust each other!
Hi Jackie! I have the same issue at Jack. Well HAD! I stopped going to ERP Therapy. I struggle with religious and HOCD. I did not feel okay looking at naked pictures of women or pornographic images. I’m a Christian and they’re certain things that I refuse to do! So it was REALLY hard for me to the point of tears at each session. I’m considering going back to therapy but I’m not sure. I keep checking, feeling aroused and getting these REALLY bad tension headaches and at times I feel like I’m going to just not make it.
Hi friend, just replied to your other comment!
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Thanks a lot for this article. It is really motivational.
Thanks for this really motivating article.
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I’ve had OCD for awhile now but its flared up so bad the last 2 or so months I had to quit my job and have been in faiky turmoil with only small moments of relief.
I started therapy and will be doing ERP soon with an OCD specialist.
I’m terrified! I’m so afraid of committing the unforgivable sin, that’s my main fear. I have terrible blasphemous thoughts and fear “Did I cause that?” “Did I want that?” “Did I do that on purpose?”
Anyway, I’m scared to start ERP because I cannot and will not on purpose think something bad about the Holy Spirit I just won’t. And I’m afraid that somehow triggering them and then not repenting is sinful…
Are my fears true?
Kristina, I was in the same exact scenario. For me, I had to approach those scariest of thoughts about the Holy Spirit sideways. Let me find a link to describe what I mean.
Thank you so much.