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Orthodox Compulsive Disorder?

On February 18, 2010 by Sharon

Orthodox Compulsive Disorder?

“You see a lot of compulsive behaviors with the intention of undoing something that has been done wrong,” said Dr. Jeff Szymanski, the executive director of the International OCD Foundation. “I have to repeat it until it’s done perfectly.”

“You see a lot of compulsive behaviors with the intention of undoing something that has been done wrong,” said Dr. Jeff Szymanski, the executive director of the International OCD Foundation. “I have to repeat it until it’s done perfectly.”

by Sharon Udasin
Staff Writer

‘Mr. A” is a 43-year-old chasidic man who is so afraid to make mistakes in his daily prayers that he cannot bring himself to get out of bed until noon or 1 p.m. The reason? Obsessions he’s faced since his days in yeshiva, when he was consistently the last person to finish praying each morning.

“He thought he was just more religious than everyone in the class,” said Dr. Steven Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at SUNY Downstate, who was addressing a group of fellow therapists. “Patients who have religious obsessions often don’t recognize or admit that they have symptoms.”

Friedman was speaking to a group of 30 therapists — at least 20 of them Orthodox Jews — who had gathered for a three-day conference this week at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn sponsored by the Behavior Therapy Training Institute of the International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation. While the Institute holds about three of these meetings annually, this was the first conference tailored specifically to the needs of Orthodox Jewish therapists, who had been unable to attend regular Saturday programming.

Sessions last weekend were largely the same as any other Behavior Therapy Training curriculum, aside from Friedman’s Sunday afternoon lecture about “Religious Scrupulosity,” which targeted obsessions and compulsions rooted in Jewish ritual. In addition to discussing these specific behaviors and treatment techniques, the doctors focused on the unwillingness of many Orthodox Jews to even seek treatment, in a community where mental health issues are somewhat taboo.

“You can speak Yiddish like I do and you’ll still find that that won’t get you access to certain populations,” Friedman said. “Since the community is so small, most of them you know and it’s one degree of separation. If you give me the name of an Orthodox person in the United States, I can find someone who knows something all about them.”

“This is problematic when you do therapy,” he added.

OCD is a genetic disorder that equally affects men, women and children of all backgrounds, typically appearing between the ages of 10 to 12 or in late adolescence or early adulthood, according to the Foundation. On average, OCD inflicts 1 in 100 adults and 1 in 200 kids and teens, amounting to about 2 to 3 million adult cases and 500,000 childhood cases in the United States alone. Because OCD runs in families, there is a 15 percent chance that a patient’s child will also exhibit OCD, though not necessarily in exactly the same form, Friedman explained. For example, he said, a parent might be an incessant hand-washer, while the child might become a compulsive checker.   Continue reading…

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This article was also reposted on the blog FailedMessiah, and has many interesting comments below it.

Also reprinted on VosIzNeias, with additional comments.

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