J. Brodsky, AM'92, treats an obscure but significant disorder
Clinical psychologist Steven
J. Brodsky, AM'92, knows quite a lot about Obsessive
Compulsive Disorder (OCD). He knows that it affects about 6 million
people in the U.S.-roughly two percent of the population-and that
age 7 is the average age of onset. He also knows about one often
undetected type of OCD, in which the symptoms of both compulsions
and obsessions are tied to religion.
a staff psychotherapist at the Center for Cognitive-Behavioral
Psychotherapy in Manhattan, has been treating patients with OCD,
including those with religious manifestations, for six years.
While obtaining his doctorate in psychology at Yeshiva University's
Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, he worked in a clinic in
a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, where he
encountered patients with religious OCD and decided to make the
disorder his specialization.
discovered over time that this was a bigger problem than a lot
of people knew," says Brodsky. In recent years, however, the disorder
has been receiving more public attention, and Brodsky himself
has appeared in several New York-area newspapers to raise awareness.
OCD cuts across all socioeconomic, gender, and racial lines. Nor,
says Brodsky, do religious manifestations of OCD discriminate:
he has treated Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and OCD sufferers of
various other faiths.
called by the clinical name "overscrupulosity," OCD is composed
of two parts: the obsession and the compulsion. First, a person
mulls over a worry or an anxiety triggered by a situation such
as, in the religious manifestation, the slightest fleeting thought
of a sin. As the person becomes obsessed with the worry, he or
she tries to alleviate the awry thoughts by taking some type of
action. In the religious cases, such action might involve repeatedly
visiting the confessional booths or asking the rabbi for reassurance.
Other examples offered by Brodsky include people who, when reciting
a prayer, believe they have missed a word and so restart the prayer
again and again, agonizing over every word until their recitation
is perfected, or those who stop attending services because they
are afraid of shouting blasphemies during worship.
normal people, the action taken to counter a worrisome thought
eases the anxiety, but in OCD patients, it creates a compulsive,
vicious circle back to the anxiety. With religious OCD, however,
the cycle may appear less serious, because others may misread
the overscrupulosity for extreme religious devotion.
advises Brodsky, asking a simple question can uncover the problem:
the person, 'Do you think that this is really a serious concern,
do you think it's a little overboard at all?'" he advises. "Very
often, the person will acknowledge, 'I know it sounds silly, but
I just can't help myself.'" If a person exhibits any of these
symptoms of OCD, he strongly suggests referring the person for
the degree of severity for any type of OCD varies from mild to
extreme, Brodsky warns that the disorder should not be taken lightly
on any level. "If you can imagine what it would be like to feel
that you don't have any control over your thoughts or actions,
it's really enough to make you feel you're going crazy," he says.
"A lot of people may resort to substance abuse or go psychotic
or get depressed because they feel they're losing control of their
lives. Some even kill themselves."
is hope, however, even for the most serious cases. Cognitive behavioral
psychotherapy cures about 80% of all OCD sufferers, general and
religious, through step-by-step mental exercises that help patients
gradually learn to tolerate anxieties. According to research,
cognitive behavioral therapy offers more effective long-term results
than medication or traditional psychotherapy, or both combined.
Brodsky typically sees significant progress in about six months,
depending on the severity of the case and the patient's motivation.
no longer living in fear-many of them for the first time in their
lives are enjoying life, saving their marriages and their jobs,"
he says. Most return to their religion with no relapses, which,
according to Brodsky, is the most important part of the cure.
"They're able to regain the sincere religious fulfillment they
questions for Steven Brodsky can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.