Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Summary of Part 1 of The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD by Jon Hershfield and Tom Corboy.

New Harbinger Publications offered to send a review copy of The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD by Jon Hershfield and Tom Corboy(2013).  Since I was in the middle of taking a mindfulness class, it was interesting to read this book with specific connections to OCD.

I am familiar with the writing of Jon Hershfield, as he was the moderator of the online support group PureO for many years, and he had a way of describing obsessive thoughts and ways to face them that was very helpful.

Part 1 covers definition of mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy(CBT) terms.

The authors define mindfulness as, "the state of acknowledging and accepting whatever is happening in the present moment exactly as it is(p. 8)."  In my experience, when I have an anxious thought or sensation, I race way ahead of the present moment in trying to figure out what it is or what it means.

The authors argue that, "The problem of OCD isn't that you think too much.  It's that you confuse the intensity, volume or visibility of your thoughts with their importance(p. 12)."  Practicing hanging in there with the intensity or stickiness of the thoughts can allow your mindful self to choose what you want to do with your life, rather than listening to the loudest voice.

The book provides a cognitive behavioral therapy background on distortions of thinking that you can identify in your own thoughts, not as a way to "solve" or "figure out" the thoughts, but to practice seeing them as thoughts.  One of the things that really helped me when I was in therapy for OCD was writing down my thoughts as they happened, as if it were a transcript, but then labeling the distortions in the margin, so I got better at identifying what my mind was up to.

One such distortion is Catastrophizing/Predicting/Jumping to Conclusions.  Accepting I can't predict the future is a bedrock of mindfulness.   As scary as the uncertainty can be, the racing ahead brings forth even more fear.

The book does an overview of Exposure and Response Prevention therapy, and the use of Imaginal Exposure Scripts, another component that helped me in therapy.

Part 2 of the book addresses mindfulness and CBT for specific obsessions with a 3 step process.

  1. Acceptance of the presence of OCD thoughts and feelings.  You are accepting that the thoughts are there, not any meaning that you attribute to those thoughts.
  2. Assessment using CBT to assess the value of the OCD thoughts, as a nonpartial observer, labeling possible distortions, and returning to the present.
  3. Action using behavioral skills to expose yourself to OCD thoughts in order to habituate to them and overcome your fears.
I suspect many readers will turn immediately to Part 2 in hopes of clues to particular obsessions, as the authors say, "The reason we separate obsessions into categories is that for every obsessive-compulsive cycle, there's a way to break it.  There's a way in, and knowing the way in is important  When you understand the mechanics of an obsession can identify the compulsions that hold it in place, you can begin the process of letting both of them go(p. 84)."

I will discuss some of these chapters in future posts, as well as some thoughts on the book as a whole.  


  1. Thanks for this great overview. I have heard of this workbook and have been wanting to check it out. Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts about it!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I've seen this book, and as I'm very interested in mindfulness, too, it intrigued me. I might give it a go myself.

  3. Interesting. I'm going to try to pick this up at my library. For myself right now, I'm using The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, which helps with mindfulness as well as breaking my creative blockage. Thanks for the review!

  4. Learning to let go seems to be a very helpful approach. I liken it to muscle tension. If you get a muscle cramp in your leg you don't immediately tense the rest of your leg muscles in order to fight off the cramp. Yet, many people mental and emotionally do this very thing when they experience intrusive thoughts.

    1. Mark ~ this reminds me of the first time I had a leg cramp as a teenager, and my mother told me to step into the cramp, which was totally counterintuitive but it worked!

  5. Hi! I just come across your blog when I search OCD. I read some of your posts and would like to read those books when I have time (indeed I'm a student and I have an urgent need to deal with my academic work, but you know how we keep on wasting our time because of the disorders...) I have scrupulosity and anxiety disorder. One habitual ritual of mine is to look into the mirror for so many times in different angles to check out how my eye bags have worsened, because eye bags are irrecoverable as I know. I suffer seriously from insomnia that when I was fourteen I started to sleep late maybe at 1am, and sometimes I didn't sleep for a whole night; later, I slept at two or three. Now I'm twenty-one and continuously live with insomnia, and seriously I am afraid of the development of double eye bags, which would make me look extremely weary, especially when I have small eyes and my skin is pale white. I always look into the mirror to see traits of double eye bags developing, and to see how worse the situation is (or as what I learn from your posts, to tell myself "it's not that worse" in order to reduce my anxiety). Have you ever experienced this problem? Do you have any suggestions to deal with this problem? How I want to tell myself appearance doesn't matter but I just find it unconvincing -- people really judge people on look.

  6. Hi Daisy,
    I highly recommend going to the International OCD Foundation site, and looking at their resources, such as therapist trained in Exposure Therapy. I would also say that it's not about reassuring yourself that "it's not that worse" but in letting yourself sit with the anxiety that you might have double eye bags forever and it will reduce the quality of your life ~ the more you flee from this thought, the more likely your brain interprets that it really is dangerous to have the thought and pays even more attention to it. That is easier said than done, which is why I suggest find an Exposure Therapist to help you.