Many of us have some tendencies towards compulsive checking: needing to double or triple check the gas cooker before we leave the house or checking that our hands are not dirty, and we have fears about possibly having offended people, fears about dirt and germs, or fears that we have lost some possessions. Most of us are able to overcome those fears and feelings about wanting to double check, and we move on with our lives. But some people find these fears so strong and urgent that they have stop everything until they have resolved them, and this can seriously interfere with the rest of their lives.
There are various treatments available for this problem, and Paul Munford's book focuses on behavior therapy, in which people expose themselves to the fears a little more with each exercise and learn to cope with them. Munford says that these methods have been scientifically tested, and they have, but not when used from a self-help book. When scientists test these behavioral therapy methods, they done in conjunction with a therapist. That's not to say that this book will not be useful: it might be. It is certainly one of the cheapest possible solutions to dealing with a serious problem, so it could be worth trying. If it does not work, then people suffering from these fears and checking tendencies would do well to consult a mental health professional to get help.
The book is well written with clear language and with each chapter divided up into sections. He uses many real life examples of people who have experienced these problems, the effects that the problems have had on their lives, and how they resolved them. Munford's basic approach is to think of this cluster of problems as disorders of fear: checking can be very useful and reasonable, but in some people the fears that people experience go beyond what is merited by reality. He explains what we know about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and its links to other problems such as depression. He provides ways to self-diagnose and to see how severe the problem is. Then there are exercises for people to expose themselves to what they fear, get used to it, and thus learn to stop their checking behavior. One chapter deals with safety fears, one with fears of harming others, and a third with embarrassment fears. There is a final chapter on problems that can arise in the treatment and ways to make sure the effects of the treatment are long-lasting. This includes getting support from the people who are affected by the person's OCD.
Overcoming Compulsive Checking is a nicely produced book, well organized and easy to use. It provides hope that the problems of OCD are treatable in relatively straightforward ways. For people with these problems, this book could be a useful resource.
© 2009 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.