College of Psychology: Faculty Articles


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder with Predominantly Scrupulous Symptoms: Clinical and Religious Characteristics

Document Type


Publication Date



Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Religious Obsessions, Religion, Scrupulosity, Treatment-Seeking

Publication Title

Journal of Clinical Psychology








Objectives: Scrupulosity is a relatively common but understudied subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) characterized by religious or moral fears. It is difficult to treat and frequently disabling. We examined scrupulosity as it relates to (a) treatment-seeking behavior and perceived treatment gains, (b) the perceived effect of symptoms on religious experience, and (c) conceptions of God.

Method: Seventy-two individuals with scrupulous OCD (mean age = 36; 70% women) and 75 individuals with nonscrupulous OCD (mean age = 38; 81% women) completed an internet-based survey.

Results: The groups did not differ on demographic variables or overall OCD severity. Compared with the nonscrupulous group, the scrupulous group was (a) more religious, (b) more likely to seek pastoral counseling, (c) less likely to seek medication treatment, and (d) more likely to report that symptoms interfered with their religious experience. Indeed, most scrupulous individuals endorsed that their symptoms interfered with their religious experience. Scrupulous individuals with a more negative concept of God experienced more severe symptoms, whereas a positive description of God was unrelated to severity of scrupulosity in this group. Nearly one in five scrupulous participants reported no religious affiliation.

Conclusions: Scrupulous individuals have unique treatment-seeking preferences. Moreover, most scrupulous individuals perceive their symptoms as interfering with their religious experience. Focusing on the religious costs and benefits of scrupulous rituals might have clinical utility. Finally, scrupulous individuals with a more negative concept of God experienced more severe symptoms. Future research is necessary to evaluate whether addressing such concepts can improve treatment outcome.