by William Van Ornum, Ph.D. on
As professionals in the mental-health fields try harder with cognitive behavior therapy and medications, over and over, one might imagine that this is a manifestation of the same mechanism of OCD. Where might other sources of help be found, especially for those suffering with scrupulosity?
Can a Trappist monk, who is also a Georgetown-trained physician and psychiatrist, United States Navy veteran, and former Cistercian Abbot offer assistance? I posed this question to Dom John Eudes Bamberger, who currently resides in a hermitage tucked into the woods and fields of Our Lady of Genesee Abbey in Piffard, New York. John Eudes’s fascinating credentials include having been taught by Thomas Merton as a novice when he entered the Cistercian Order at Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky, in 1950. He worked closely with Merton for eighteen years, and they worked as a team to conduct mental-health and spirituality assessments on the surge of applicants to the Trappists during the 1950s.
John Eudes also had the sad task of identifying Merton’s electrocuted body in 1968.
Eudes views the treatment of OCD from the vantage points of spirituality and philosophy, not from the quantitative and empirical viewpoint of much of modern mental health. Although he was trained and practiced medicine in a rigorous scientific mode, he readily admits great weaknesses in a strictly empirical approach to life. Much of the thinking in the early Church and thereafter, says Eudes, follows Platonic and Greek philosophical thought. The Platonic view is that reality is but a shadowy reflection or mirroring of different abstract truths that cannot be comprehended immediately by our senses.
OCD, its underlying panic, anxiety, and catastrophic wordview, work precisely in the manner of Platonic philosophy. In
both cases, it is the projected abstractions and not the reality of life that are focused upon. With Plato, reality is but an image of an ideal, what the poet Yeats called “a ghostly paradigm of things.” With OCD, life is seen through the prism of an imaginary concept such as catastrophizing or some other mode of thought that overwhelms and occludes any perception of God’s gifts of life, in which we are always immersed. Will the house burn down if the gas isn’t checked 50 times? Will there be death to germs if the hands aren’t washed 100 times? Such thinking is not reality-based but it mercilessly drives the thinking and behaviors of the person with OCD.
Part 3: Direct Experience of God as an Antidote to OCD