Does God Forgive OCD Thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts about taboo or blasphemous topics can plague OCD sufferers. For those who are religiously inclined, it raises a critical question — does God forgive OCD thoughts?

Defining OCD Thoughts

OCD is a condition that is marked by the presence of obsessions or compulsions. Obsessions are thoughts, images, or impulses that cause immediate anxiety. Often obsessions are about a taboo topic, such as sex, sexuality, violence, blasphemy, or increasingly in recent years, racism. These are often called “intrusive thoughts.” Compulsions are things we do in response to an obsession in order to reduce anxiety or discomfort.

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6 Important Reasons Why People Don’t Get Mental Health Treatment

The Scope of the Problem

Barriers to mental health treatment abound in the United States. The nature of these barriers is varied. Some involve people seeking but unable to obtain services. Others involve a failure to seek services. In combination, these obstacles result in a large proportion of those in need of mental healthcare not getting it.

For example, a 2008 study examined mental health problems in a large sample of military members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The study found that only around half of those veterans with depression and PTSD sought help for these problems. Unfortunately, the corresponding statistics for non-veterans are no better. Why is that?

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Buddhism and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT)

Buddhism and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are very different ways of understanding people. They were developed thousands of years apart, in different hemispheres. Yet they don’t conflict as much as you would think.

“In the words of the Buddha, … ’We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.’ It’s an idea that’s in line with current thinking in psychology. In fact, this simple philosophy – that changing the way we think can change the way we feel – underpins the practice of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), an approach widely used in clinical psychology and counseling, as well as stress management programs.” So writes Kathy Graham, in a thoughtful article on Buddhism and happiness.

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The Psychology of Hoarding

By special guest writer, Allison Gamble

Many people find it difficult to understand what goes on in the mind of a hoarder. Most people can look at a broken appliance and throw it away without a second thought. To a hoarder, however, throwing away that broken appliance is an unthinkable as throwing out away a brand new appliance that was purchased yesterday. If you think you might be a hoarder, or are trying to help someone recover, here is some information that can help you.

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Book review: The Emperor of All Maladies

The recent history of cancer and its treatment, The Emperor of All Maladies, is an excellent read for several audiences. Those interested in the history of medicine will not find a more compelling treatment of oncology’s development over the past hundred years.  Similarly, for those affected by cancer who would like to better understand the use and history of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgical treatments for cancer, there is no better resource.  It is very well written and — astoundingly — makes cellular biology a fascinating read.  For these reasons and more, the book won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction for 2011.

The author’s unique perspective

The author, Siddhartha Mukherjee, a Rhodes scholar, is an oncologist currently at the medical school of Columbia University.  He wrote most of Emperor of All Maladies during his years in training at Massachusetts General Hospital, and he intertwines accounts of his work with patients there with his historical account of mankind’s understanding of cancer. He terms the book “a biography” of cancer, explaining that throughout his research he felt that he was chronicling a disease as an almost human presence. 

While this comparison did not seem completely apt, the rest of the book is masterful.  Mukherjee gives as much attention to the ancient medical theories of cancer as he does to the research that led to current genetically targeted therapies such as Gleevec and Herceptin. These drugs are brought to life by his accounts of the patients they helped. They would undoubtedly have died without them.  The description of the development of new therapies in the past 40 years is well dramatized by descriptions of the patients who got the therapies just in time, or who died waiting for them. 

Activist groups such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition played a major role in helping patients with few options gain access to promising experimental treatments.  The history of these groups and the impact they have had is woven in seamlessly with the book’s description of the innovations in cancer treatment that developed in the late twentieth century.

Excellent appreciation of sociopolitical context

The book is no less impressive in its perspectives on the political and social forces that both hindered and fostered the advancement of cancer research in the twentieth century, especially in the United States. Cancer treatment and cancer research are national health priorities requiring billions of dollars in investment.  As such they are part of America’s political discussion, as we see in Congressional budgeting decisions on Medicare and the National Institutes of Health. 

In the book’s pages we learn the story of the U.S. senators and other politicians who were allies in the fight against cancer.  We learn about the critical roles that Mary Lasker, Sidney Farber, the American Cancer Society, and many others played in devoting more national resources to the fight against cancer.  The book is equally skillful in covering the fight against cancer on these macroscopic fronts as well as on its microscopic levels such as its explanation of how genetic mutations lead to tumors.

Science portrayed realistically, warts and all

Perhaps most impressively, Emperor of All Maladies is a story of innovation and scientific discovery as a process that was not always characterized by “Eureka!” moments.  At least as often, groundbreaking discoveries were arrived at by accident or were made without realizing their significance (sometimes for many years afterward), or were derided by the scientific establishment. The book is duly reverential toward science and the scientific establishment but has a healthy perspective on how that establishment would sometimes stifle innovation due to inaccurate but prevailing understandings about cancer and carcinogenesis.

Overall this book is written for an intelligent lay audience and has a lot to teach.  That it makes those lessons engrossing is impressive.

Meditation and Your Brain

A recent and important research study out of neuro-imaging researcher Sara Lazar’s lab (my old lab) at Massachusetts General Hospital was published in late January.  The study found changes in the structure of the brains in people who completed an eight-week class in mindfulness meditation.  This result is another piece of evidence that that the adult brain can experience far more physical changes than previously thought.

MRI of the brain
MRI scan of the human brain

This study suggests that we can change our brains in just eight weeks!  The authors of the study tell us that in their study, people who completed the eight-week mindfulness meditation program experienced changes in parts of their brains “responsible for learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.”

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