OCD: Giving Hope to a Troubled Counselee

BCC StaffFor Those Giving Help, For Those Seeking Hope4 Comments

OCD: Have you ministered to someone with obsessions and compulsions?

I recently had an opportunity to speak with a young teen who suffers with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Being on the verge of tears she described the intensity of doing battle with relentless thoughts of being contaminated, 400 to 500 times an hour.

Imagine having terrifying thoughts that keep coming like an invading army, wave after wave, and you being the only one to stop it?

Spiritual and Biological Roots?

OCD is both spiritual and biological. Obsessions are thoughts, impulses, or images that are relentless. When we think about obsessions we tend to think about something we desperately want, but this is not the case with OCD. These obsessions are unwanted and are viewed as threatening. Compulsions are repeated behaviors or mental acts that are intended to prevent or stop the debilitating anxiety or worry the obsessions produce. These obsessions compel action, but the actions taken are not necessarily rational behaviors or mental acts that correspond to the obsession. With OCD seemingly on the rise, we need to understand it and know how to counsel someone with it.

The current secular method is a combination of medicine plus behavioral counseling. Interestingly, counseling alone can be just as effective, where medication alone cannot. This indicates that OCD is yet to be determined as rooted in biology. Therefore, it is appropriately described as a disorder and not a disease. However, it needs to be mentioned that OCD behavior has been linked to some strains of the strep virus and from head injuries. For the counselor this complicates the issue on how to counsel someone with OCD. Is it rooted in our biology, in our hearts or both? 

We tend to look at problems we want to solve from a cause and effect formula. However, there are some things that can’t be addressed as a simple cause and effect. Instead, we need to address issues like OCD by understanding that the heart and body are inseparable and cannot be treated separately, but in tandem.

Understanding OCD and the Heart

We need to understand that even though the body / brain can affect the way we respond from our heart, the body / brain cannot make the heart act. The reason is that the heart is the control center for our thoughts, feelings, actions, words, choices, morals and beliefs. For example, if you have ever experienced the flu with its symptoms of fever, aches, nausea, vomiting and lethargy you may have responded with something like, “Just kill me now.”

The interpretation from the heart as being unbearable establishes the desire to be dead, perceived relief. The more one contemplates how bad he feels the more the symptoms become exaggerated. Likewise with OCD, a cycle of thoughts based on how one feels begins with the symptoms being exaggerated, until temporary relief comes through compulsive behaviors. This is a simple illustration of how the person struggling with OCD cycles. 

The crux of OCD is rooted in having to be 100% certain. This means that there is a trust issue. Where there is a trust issue there is a control issue. Directing attention to Who God is and His sovereignty is going to be the battle, but the Word is living and active and has the power to demolish the strong holds that a person doesn’t. This offers hope and sets people free from their OCD. 

If you would like more detailed information about how we can help your loved one who is struggling with OCD behaviors, we would welcome the opportunity to talk with you. Since 1989, BCC has helped people find freedom and confidence in understanding who God made them to be and helping them find hope by overcoming paralyzing fear. You can contact us here.

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4 Comments on “OCD: Giving Hope to a Troubled Counselee”

  1. I’m a Christian and I’ve had ocd my whole life. All the counseling in the world couldn’t help me until I was in medication. I think it’s dangerous to imply that medication isn’t needed. My psychiatrist told me my body doesn’t produce enough serotonin. So that when I take Zoloft, it’s replacing something natural. The medication allowed me to get off the hamster wheel so that therapy could help.

    There is already such a stigma with mental illness that we need to be extra careful to not dissuade legitimate medicine protocol.

    You would never say, someone who needs eyeglasses has a spiritual issue so why would you imply that with someone who’s brain isn’t producing the right chemicals?

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      Thank you for your comment. It is certainly true that some people are helped by psychotropic medications in some situations. The article focused on a biblical response to OCD but doesn’t suggest that medicatation is never helpful. But as with any medication, psychotropics don’t always work and have side effects. We encourage that anyone who uses a medication follow their prescribing doctor’s instructions. I hope this clarification is encouraging. God bless you.

  2. Elizabeth, I too have been tormented by OCD my whole life. I am approaching 60. I agree with your comments 100%.
    bibCenter, the follow excerpt is from your article and I believe it suggests that OCD is mainly a spiritual and behavioral disorder.

    “The current secular method is a combination of medicine plus behavioral counseling. Interestingly, counseling alone can be just as effective, where medication alone cannot. This indicates that OCD is yet to be determined as rooted in biology”

    This is extremely troubling to me, because I think that approach to OCD is adding more anxiety and torment on the patient. From everything I’ve read, OCD does have a biological component and can be triggered by various events in our life, which can lead to the obsessions and compulsions.

    I suffer from the OCD subset of Scrupulosity. I am not a perfect Christian, by any means, but I daily invest in my relationship with God through prayer, Bible study and meditation. I have begged God to heal me. I live in anguish every day. I see a therapist and she has given me tools to alleviate some of the anxiety and to challenge the intrusive thoughts. I also take medication.
    Also, I am a 7+ year cancer survivor, still in treatment, which adds another layer of anxiety. Maybe I have misinterpreted what the article is saying, and if so, please accept my apologies. However, I think it adds unwarranted shame and guilt on the patient, because they aren’t spiritual enough.

    1. Scrupulosity is more common that you might imagine, we often counsel those with some form of that struggle. Like all anxiety, there is a physical response and anxious or intrusive thoughts that reflect the values of the heart. Particularly with those of faith, this form of OCD can be a difficult struggle as preaching and reading christian literature will often trigger intrusive thoughts and feelings of guilt and shame. In all reality, what your therapist is doing with you, is challenging what you heart values the most. In matters of anxiety, Jesus always addressed the heart of man and called us to turn to him in the midst of our anxious thoughts and feelings. I know this is far easier said than done and takes practice over time. However, a purely biological understanding would seem to say that our thoughts are dictated to us by our brain, not the values of the heart. Certainly our brain does impact out ability to think, and our ability to think does impact the values we hold dear, but our physical needs, sinful desires, and pass-down expectations all impact what we value most dearly as well. A purely biological understanding of OCD doesn’t really ring true with how OCD is treated in the real world. However, treating the physical responses, and teaching those who struggle how to overcome them can be a first step in overcoming intrusive thoughts.

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