A phenomenological investigation of the role of guilt in obsessive-compulsive disorder
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The current study takes a phenomenological approach to investigating the role of guilt in a sample of persons diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The role of guilt in OCD has been frequently noted in the literature, although infrequently studied as a significant factor in its own right. Typically, those studying OCD have found positive correlations between questionnaire measures of guilt and self-reported symptoms of the disorder. Those working with sufferers have also found that OC clients in therapy report feelings of guilt with respect to their symptoms, although the particular phenomenology of the relationship between guilt and symptoms is not especially clear in the clinical literature. The present work investigates in a qualitative way, the meaning of guilt for those with OCD. The presumed role of guilt in OCD is examined in a descriptive fashion, with an eye to developing a fuller, more complete understanding of the relationship between feelings of guilt and OC symptoms in a sample of sufferers. Nine participants (N=9) were recruited, and were interviewed using an unstructured approach. In terms of analysis, emphasis was placed on understanding the experience of guilt and OC symptoms as both were lived by sufferers, with a focus on the personal significance of guilt for study participants. Fifteen descriptive guilt/OCD themes were derived from interviews across the nine participants. Themes revealed the variety of connections that subjects made between feelings of guilt and symptoms of OCD. As well, the specific patterns of themes within the context of individual participants' lives were also described. The results suggest that the role of guilt in OCD is highly interpersonal in nature, and that feelings of guilt may precede and motivate, as well as follow and be a consequence of, the expression of OC symptoms. The particular role of guilt for any given sufferer may also be highly idiosyncratic. Research and clinical contributions, as well as limitations of the research, are discussed.