The Clergy as Healers:
Up to the 1600s

In early centuries, OCD sufferers sought help mostly from the clergy. The clergy became quite familiar with the illness because of their day-to-day dealings with troubled parishioners.

picture of Richard Baxter
Richard Baxter gave advice on Os and Cs

In the late 1600s, several English clergymen wrote down advice about how to deal with Os and Cs. These "self-help" writings, by Richard Baxter and others,1 probably were very helpful to the OCD sufferers of that era. It is no coincidence that these writings appeared during the period in history called the Age of Enlightment. Even the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke wrote an essay on scrupulosity.2

The clergy's books emphasized that fear (anxiety) underlies Os and Cs. Anglican bishop John Moore pointed out that trying to suppress distressing thoughts can make them worse.3 The clergy's books were also heavy on practical advice, such as seeking the company of other people and keeping oneself steadily occupied.

picture of the Book of Margery Kempe
Margery Kempe's book
is still in print today

Some early autobiographical accounts of Os and Cs appeared. Ignatius of Loyola (1500s), John Bunyan (1666) and Hannah Allen (1683) wrote such accounts.4 The earliest firsthand account is by Margery Kempe (1436), whose book about her life is said to be the first autobiography ever written in English.5

Roman Catholic writers stressed that the way to overcome Os and Cs was through absolute obedience to one's spiritual advisor in matters concerning the Os and Cs. This stress on obedience became most prominent in the writings of Alphonsus de Liguori (1696-1787).6 Another Catholic theologian, Giovanni Battista Scaramelli (1687-1752), gave advice on how to overcome Os and Cs that sounds a lot like behavior therapy.7

By the late 1600s, the clergy had developed significant psychological insight into Os and Cs. But their role in treating such conditions was being challenged by the medical profession. A paradigm shift was underway.



1See Richard Baxter (late 1600s) and John Moore (1692).

2John Locke (1678).

3John Moore (1692). Later, the noted 18th-century author Samuel Johnson made a related observation. And see Giovanni Battista Scaramelli (1754).

4Ignatius of Loyola (1500s), Hannah Allen (1683), and John Bunyan (1666). For a 19th century autobiographical account, see Archibald Alexander's friend (1844), and for one from the 20th century teenager's obsessive health fears (1929).

5Margery Kempe (1436).

6Alphonsus de Liguori (1700s).

7Giovanni Battista Scaramelli (1754).


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