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Mental Disorders

by Christine Purdon and David A. Clark
New Harbinger, 2005
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H. on Oct 17th 2006

Overcoming Obsessive Thoughts

Overcoming Obsessive Thoughts is structured as a self-help book, for readers seeking to overcome the tyranny of obsessive thoughts.  The book is crafted artfully by a duo of distinguished authors, who have been immersed, researchwise and clinically, in the choppy waters of obsessive-compulsive disorder for over a decade.  Coauthor Purdon is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Waterloo, in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; and coauthor Clark is a Professor of Psychology at the University of New Brunswick, in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.  Over the course of this relatively terse primer, Purdon and Clark prove to be highly adept craftspersons with respect to creating a fairly detailed road map for navigating the treacherous labyrinth of obsessional thinking.  Particularly for readers tormented by obsessive thoughts, the copious information proffered by the book may have immense practical value concerning the overcoming of their obsessions.

 The starting point of Purdon and Clark is that person without obsessive-compulsive disorder importantly differ from those with obsessive-compulsive disorder because those successfully eluding obsessive-compulsive disorder are able to ignore obsessional, and otherwise distressing, thoughts, without having to resort to problematic coping strategies. An integral structural component of the book's intended self-help value, for readers plagued by obsessional thinking, is the numerous exercises (or so-called "focus exercises") populating the book.  These exercises intellectually challenge readers to work hard, if they wish to successfully exorcise their obsessional demons.  Generally, regarding these exercises, readers are instructed to do some intellectually-oriented task, tethered, in some fashion, to obsessional thinking.  With principal reliance on this structural mechanism, Purdon and Clark, in an understandable, useful way, seek to illumine a path which may helpfully lead to a better quality of life for persons afflicted with obsessive thoughts.  A dose of anecdotal-type material, injected into the textual body, provides a further source of support for the structural foundation.  The structural configuration encompasses a modest number of references.  Stylistically, the book is penned with a slant steeply towards layreaders.

 Psychological theories impinging on obsessive-compulsive disorder are variant in nature.  Purdon and Clark explain, in Chapter One, that the book employs a treatment approach called: cognitive behavioral therapy.  Bedrock components embedded in the cognitive behavioral model are further broached in Chapter Three.  The core focus of the book, as explicated in Chapter Two, is on "repugnant" obsessions, that are thematically violent or harmful, sexual, or religious.  The crux of the exercises presented in Chapter Four is to help the reader better understand the behavioral and cognitive aspects of the reader's symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  In Chapter Five, the chief focus is on helping readers contemplate why their symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder may persist.  The cardinal emphasis of Chapter Six is on assisting readers with respect to identifying and overcoming obstacles otherwise impeding relief from their obsessions.  A review of the paradox of mental control is eyed perspicaciously through the discerning lens, of Purdon and Clark, in Chapter Seven.  As explained by Purdon and Clark, mental control is paradoxical in the sense that the harder people try to control a thought, the more difficulty they may have with it.  Violent, harmful, and sexual obsessions are the cynosure of Chapter Eight, whereas religious obsessions garner the rapt attention, of Purdon and Clark, in Chapter Nine.  In order to promote long-term healing, concerning obsessional thinking, Purdon and Clark advocate the phasing out of coping strategies; this philosophic approach is the cornerstone of Chapter Ten.  In the last chapter, Purdon and Clark comment succinctly on strategies for maintaining gains, with respect to overcoming obsessive thoughts.

To their very considerable credit, Purdon and Clark have carefully constructed a multitude of exercises designed to help readers overcome obsessive thoughts.  These exercises, in fact, are the keystone of the book.  But critics may be concerned that professionally untrained layreaders may potentially fail to properly carry out the mechanics of various exercises, and that layreaders may possibly interpret the resultant findings in a faulty manner.  Furthermore, to the extent that obsessed layreaders may fail to accurately do, and interpret, the exercises prescribed by Purdon and Clark, the book's self-help value may be severely weakened.

With the important caveat that the possibility may exist that the book's contents may be misused unwittingly by layreaders with symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder in a way not consistent with the restoration of their well-being, the book is recommended highly to all persons suffering from obsessive thoughts.  Spiritual counselors, family doctors, and mental health professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists, should, as well, be edified, greatly, by the book's absorbing contents.

 

© 2006 Leo Uzych

 

Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University. His area of special professional interest is healthcare.