Monday, March 23, 2015

Book review: Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery. By Janet Singer with Seth J. Gillihan.

Today I have the pleasure of reviewing a book written by a woman who I met through blogging and who has inspired me with her advocacy for educating others about OCD.

The book is Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery, by Janet Singer with Seth J. Gillihan.
Janet writes a blog called ocdtalk, where she discusses her experiences as a parent of a son with OCD and their journey to find help. She also keeps readers updated on research being done on OCD. And she is an advocate for Exposure and Response Prevention therapy, the leading therapy for OCD.
In her book, Janet writes about Dan’s journey from being unable to eat, from lying on the floor for days at a time, caught in the snares of OCD, to reaching a diagnosis of “mild” OCD and being able to have a fulfilling life.
Dr. Seth J. Gillihan is an expert in treating patients with OCD and other anxiety disorders. In addition to having a clinical practice, he is a clinical assistant professor of psychology in the Psychiatry Department of the University of Pennsylvania and a visiting assistant professor of psychology at Haverford College.
Gillihan gives readers the “facts” about OCD: what it is, what the symptoms are, what treatments are available, what problems people seeking treatment might face, and more.
The abiding theme of Overcoming OCD is hope. But Janet isn’t feeling much hope when her story begins. Her son Dan has struggled during his first year of college, and Janet visits him to try to help.
She is shocked by his haggard appearance and his obvious anxiety. And she is shocked when they reach the motel where she is staying, and he is unable to climb the concrete steps up to the second floor.
Step by step, slowly, she helps him up the steps. Then he says he’s unable to come into the motel room. She pulls him into the room.
“And so our journey began,” she writes (p. 2).
Janet knew her son had OCD, but she had never seen it manifested in such debilitating ways. Dan couldn’t eat, couldn’t use his cell phone, couldn’t drive, and couldn’t go to certain places. His promising future in animation—a dream that he had had for years—seemed in jeopardy.
Janet and her husband Gary and the rest of their family rallied around Dan and supported him on his road to recovery, which was never linear and never easy.
Dan spent about nine weeks in a residential OCD treatment center, and Janet and her husband struggled with staff who seemed to be leading Dan to a life of lower expectations. The treatment center did give Dan a good foundation in ERP therapy, providing him with tools to fight his OCD.
The family moved to Dan’s college town so that they could be there to support him. He saw a number of doctors and was on a number of medications. Side effects of some of those medications put Dan into a medical crisis and delayed his recovery.
Janet learned to speak up and ask questions of Dan’s caregivers. She did her own research. She interviewed perspective doctors to find the right fit for Dan. She supported Dan in the tenuous dance of being independent but getting the help he needed to fight the OCD.
And she and Gary remained Dan’s cheerleaders and advocates, supporting him unconditionally without enabling him in his OCD.
I read Janet’s blog, so I know that Dan is now doing great, with mild OCD. He graduated from college and has a job that he once dreamed of.
But as I read her book, I felt a taste of the anxiety that Janet and her husband felt as they watched their son sink so low that they never thought he’d come back. I felt the anger at the lack of caring and lack of knowledge that some so-called experts displayed in treating Dan.
I also wanted to reach into the book and tell Dan, It’s going to be OK. I guess that comes from my own experiences with having OCD and having to fight my way to better health.
Janet’s story makes it clear that ERP therapy, sometimes with, sometimes without medication and other therapy, can help those with OCD become more than their OCD. They can live fulfilling lives despite having OCD.
But she shows that one must search for and sometimes fight for good mental health care. Her story makes it clear that there’s still so much education needed of even medical professionals about how to best diagnose and treat OCD.
Gillihan’s explanations are very helpful, especially for those not familiar with OCD.
I really didn’t want to put this book down after I started it. It’s inspirational, absorbing, and just a plain good story.
Parents with children who have OCD would particularly benefit and would be reminded that they are not alone in their journey. The beneficial role that family support can play is well illustrated.
I would also highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about OCD and to those with OCD. I found myself relating to so much of what Dan experienced.
Throughout the journey that Janet and her family took with Dan, family friend and clinical psychologist Mark was a godsend, a person who offered information and hope to the family. In her book, Janet writes, “If you are going to have a mental health crisis in your family, I recommend having a close friend who is an amazing clinical psychologist” (p. 25).
I would add that having a family like Dan’s would help those suffering through a mental health crisis see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery is published by Rowman & Littlefield. 2015. For information about ordering the book, go HERE.


  1. she sounds like a great mother and a true warrior for her son. moving to his college town to be near him - that speaks volumes on its own. so glad that dan is doing well, now, and has found treatments and ways to cope with and overcome his ocd.

  2. This sounds like a must-read for me. I love to read books like this - it keeps me current in the field and gives me more examples for my psychology classes.

  3. I'll have to read this! Thanks, Tina!

  4. Thanks, Tina. I will bear in mind and also pass along your post to a couple of people I know.

  5. such a sensitive subject to share with the world. what a dedicated woman and mom, sounds like she is now and always has been fully committed. i am always happy to hear of people finding their way and living in and with extreme circumstances!!!!

  6. There's still not enough of everything. People go undiagnosed and there are people who will not accept that they have OCD and refuse any treatment.

  7. Great review! I love reading what other people think about the same book. I had a hard time putting the book down too. And I loved that it came from a different viewpoint than the standard OCD memoir - that of a parent instead of the sufferer him or herself.


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