Book Review: When a Family Member Has OCD

Since I have OCD myself, I’m not the target audience of When a Family Member Has OCD: Mindfulness & Cognitive Behavioral Skills to Help Families Affected by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (New Harbinger Publications, December 2015) by Jon Hershfield. Loved ones are. That said, I highly recommend this book for both family members and individuals with OCD.

Using anecdotes, charts, and bulleted lists, Hershfield does an incredible job breaking down this often infuriating and confusing disorder into terms family members and loved ones can understand. In fact, Part 1: Understanding OCD is devoted to explaining what OCD is. Hershfield illustrates for the non-OCD reader what having OCD feels like, with passages such as the following, in which he invites the reader to imagine her worst fear in detail:

Put yourself right at the edge of your fear coming true. How would you feel? How would you know that you felt that way? Consider what your body would tell you. Would your heart be pounding furiously? Would your skin feel clammy or right? How would your stomach feel in that moment? …

Consider now that what you may have felt for that moment is what your family member with OCD feels on a regular basis—anywhere from one hour a day (the OCD diagnostic minimum) to not just every waking moment but also in his dreams.

Wow. This is why this book is so important for loved ones to read — an essentially neutral third party is helping them put themselves in a sufferer’s shoes, without any of the history or baggage of the relationship. You’ll also find Mindfulness Tips peppered throughout the book, and each chapter of parts 1 and 2 ends with two sidebars, Consider This, which helps the reader see obsessions and compulsions through his loved one’s eyes, and Your Struggle, which pinpoints how OCD affects the reader as well as the sufferer.

Hershfield is an expert OCD therapist who gets what his patients go through, but he acknowledges — again and again — how difficult OCD is for the reader, the family member. And with this in mind, he offers concrete tips for not only helping people with OCD cope, but also their loved ones. What should you do, for example, when your spouse asks you to check to make sure the stove is off? Are you helping by taking over this compulsion, or are you hurting? (Spoiler: You’re not helping.) Hershfield feels compassion for everyone in the OCD cycle, and it shows.

While the book is organized in such a way that you can hop around and read a section here and a section there, Hershfield recommends that you read it from beginning to end — and I agree with this recommendation. You may come across a tip in Part 2 that will make more sense if you’ve read Part 1, and you don’t have to page back through trying to find an explanation you’d otherwise already have. And it’s a joy to read! I know I’m a little biased in that I have OCD and consider it an interesting topic, but Hershfield is so engaging you’ll be pulled in and will want to soak up all of his wisdom.