USU researchers treating religious, moral obsessions

Treatment eyed for excessive activity

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 3 2011 12:52 a.m. MST

LOGAN — A Utah State University psychology professor is studying a treatment for a disorder that causes an obsession with morality and religion.

Michael Twohig, an assistant psychology professor, is focusing the study on people who have excessive immoral thoughts, confessions or religious activity. Their obsession can be debilitating, forcing them to spend hours every day just trying to strictly adhere to their values.

The underlying faith does not play a role, Twohig said. Some of the people who suffer from the disorder, called scurpulosity, don't even attend church regularly.

The treatment being studied at USU involves medication and cognitive-behavior therapy. The goal is to teach patients how to live within their religious and moral code without worrying about every thought.

The study began in April and is ongoing. Treatment last 10 weeks. So far, two people have been successfully treated.

"What we try to do with people is help them see that trying to regulate these thoughts is part of what makes them so out of control and so disturbing," Twohig said.

Researchers do not try to change the morals or religious values of a patient, Twohig said.

The disorder can cause people to pray for hours or confess sins they only imagine they committed, said John Dehlin, a doctoral student in psychology who's assisting Twohig.

"(They) have this very severe desire to follow their religion (or moral beliefs) with integrity and exactness," Dehlin said. "Their conscience is kind of heightened."

The researchers are studying a new treatment because current treatments only work about 40 percent of the time, he said.

The most common treatment is to repeatedly confront patients with their obsessions. Many patients suffering from scrupulosity drop out, however, because hearing about sin — even if it's a sin they only imagine committing — violates their religious or moral beliefs.

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