The Doubting Disease (book review)

“If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk.”­ – Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the scouting movement

I’m still working at this occupation at age 53. Certainly hope I’m better than at 23.

A while back during staff meeting, a colleague mentioned a book on a subject I’d never heard of-scrupulosity. I downloaded the Kindle sample. After reading that, I couldn’t help but buy it and see what I could gain.

Ciarrocchi defines scrupulosity as seeing sin where there is none, a “phobia concerning sin.” The title of his book comes from a label the French give to the emotional condition which is sometimes part of scrupulosity.

Having been in church life since I was born in a pastor’s home and then serving over 20 years on church staffs, I have witnessed this phobia. But reading the connection Ciarrocchi makes to OCD was eye-opening to exactly how doubters struggle. With this knowledge, one can see a variety of ways to navigate life while struggling with deep emotional and spiritual challenges.

He quotes Dr. Judith Rapoport of the National Institute of Mental Health as describing OCD as losing the ability “to know if you know something.” This description paints a picture of OCD as being as much about doubt as it is about anxiety. Quite a different view of what an OCD patient is enduring. Dealing with their compulsions and obsessions can lead to depression therefore challenging everything they believe and think they know. To show the severity of it, he shares historical examples in chapter three through the lives of John Bunyan and St. Ignatius Loyola. Both considered suicide. Ignatius prayed, “Show me, Lord, where I can obtain help: and if I have to follow a little dog to obtain the cure I need, I am ready to do just that.”

The hope Ciarrocchi provides begins in chapter 4 and continues through the rest of the book. This hope is directed to both professional and pastoral counselors. Unfortunately, those living like Bunyan and Ignatius often feel like they’ve tried everything and have failed, nothing is available to help. He provides worksheets (chapters 5-7) and techniques for counselors to use to send this message to their clients: “Past failure does not mean you are weak-willed or hopeless. You have simply lacked some essential ingredients for effective change. You can learn skills with patience and proper direction.” Chapter 8 is where he provides those ingredients. One of the most helpful directions by Ciarrocchi is his listing and explanations of three types of scrupulous behavior in chapter 9:

  • Developmental, prominent during adolescence and following a religious conversion in adulthood
  • Milieu-influenced, as taught by family and religious educators
  • Clinical, the version associated with OCD symptoms

He ends the book encouraging those in religion and psychology that they can learn from one another.

Clinical work also requires validation of counseling methods that make explicit use of clients’ religious perspective. This research is long overdue, and some preliminary work indicates the utility of this approach. Researchers studied treating depressed patients who had a religious orientation. They found that incorporating the clients’ religious beliefs through either cognitive-behavior counseling strategies or standard pastoral counseling methods led to more rapid recovery than standard counseling methods without using the clients’ religious beliefs. What is even more intriguing is that using the clients’ religious beliefs was effective even if the counselors were agnostic themselves.

I’m thankful I was listening in that staff meeting and have read this book. Had I read this during my church ministry days, I know of at least one lady I would have ministered to better. My encouragement to all those remotely touched by this review, get your copy and gain.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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