The Best Books on OCD

Choosing a book on OCD isn’t always easy, especially if you’re one of the millions of people living with it. While the normal brain simply grabs a book and begins to read, the OCD brain poses all sorts of questions: Will this book offer good advice? Is it evidence-based? Will the pages give me a paper cut, eventually causing sepsis and resulting in amputation of my hand?

Yep, OCD is a real pain in the butt. The only good thing about it is that it’s treatable.

The first step in treating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is the same as the first step in treating anything: Know thy enemy. There are lots of ways to become familiar with OCD and, unfortunately, the best way is to have it. But whether you’re a sufferer, a loved one of a sufferer, a clinician who treats OCD, or you’re simply curious about this disease, there are numerous books available. Of course, some of these are better than others and include evidence-based treatment, case studies, and solid information on what OCD truly looks like.

OCD books tend to fall into two categories, resources written by clinicians that aim to serve as “how-to” guides and memoirs written by sufferers that, in general, aim to reveal the truly devastating nature of the disorder. Additionally, some are written for children rather than adults.

Content

Books on OCD Written by Clinicians

On the clinical side, some of the best books to read include:

The Imp of the Mind by Dr. Lee Baer (Reissue edition published in 2001, 176 pages): If there is a book that belongs on the shelf of every therapist’s office across the globe, it’s this one. Originally published almost twenty years ago, the Imp of the Mind has the unique characteristic of being the first book to truly examine the concept of terrible, anxiety-provoking, and intrusive thoughts.

As the name insinuates, this book describes OCD as an imp inside the mind, a monster who toys with the emotions, thoughts, and fears of the sufferer by forcing them to think of things that go against their true desires, values, and morals. The title, in itself, is quite helpful to those with OCD, as sufferers benefit from viewing OCD as something that is a part from them rather than a reflection of who they are.

A few of the things covered in this book include:

  • Research on bad thoughts
  • Examples of how these thoughts manifest (including several example of the lesser known types of OCD)
  • Why trying to suppress these thoughts makes them stronger and more frequent
  • Where bad thoughts come from and what to do about them
  • The difference between harmless OCD thoughts and thoughts that are truly dangerous
  • What OCD treatment looks like
  • The medications most often used for OCD

Tormenting Thoughts and Secret Rituals: The Hidden Epidemic of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Dr. Ian Osborn (Published in 1999, 336 pages): Dr. Osborn is a psychiatrist specializing in OCD while also exploring the role of faith and Christianity as it manifests inside the disorder. This makes his books a good fit for those suffering from Scrupulosity OCD, a type of OCD defined by religiously-themed intrusive thoughts.

A few of the things covered in this book include:

  • Stories of OCD sufferers dealing with several types of disturbing thoughts, including thoughts of violence, stabbing babies, and having sex with animals.
  • A look at historical figures who either had OCD or who are believed to have had it (including Howard Hughes, Martin Luther, and Charles Darwin)
  • The biological nature of OCD
  • The treatments, medications, and therapies used to treat OCD
  • A self-test for OCD
  • Six steps of conquering OCD
  • OCD symptoms in children
  • Guidelines for family members of sufferers
  • A list of OCD resources

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders: A Complete Guide to Getting Well and Staying Well by Dr. Fred Penzel (Second edition published in 2016, 528 pages): Dr. Penzel is a clinician well-known in OCD circles. In his book, he discusses some of the classical symptoms of OCD (such as a preoccupation with germs) as well as those not as often discussed (such as sexually intrusive thoughts). This book also includes discussion of illnesses that fall under the “obsessive compulsive” umbrella, including hoarding, body dysmorphia, skin picking, nail biting, and trichotillomania (a condition characterized by excessive and compulsive hair pulling).

A few of the things covered in this book include:

  • A description of and discussion on the full-spectrum of OCD disorders
  • A step-by-step description of the best treatment modalities
  • How to look for and move toward progress while avoiding relapse
  • What medication to take, how to know when it’s working, and the use of medication in pregnancy
  • How OCD and related disorders manifest in children
  • How families can support their loved one with OCD
  • A list of OCD resources

Freedom from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty by Dr. Jonathan Grayson (Published in 2004, 320 pages): The idea that OCD is about uncertainty (more than anything) is a bit novel and, once upon a time, treatment didn’t focus on it the way it does now. Dr. Grayson is among those who first shined a spotlight on uncertainty as the condition’s crux.

In 2010, Freedom from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty won the Self-Help Book of Merit Award from the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. Dr. Grayson is also credited with starting the first support group in the nation for OCD sufferers, which he began back in 1981.

A few of the things covered in this book include:

  • Self-assessment tests that help people recognize not only the symptoms of OCD but the symptoms of specific subtypes
  • Progress tracking
  • Case studies of those who have found success in treatment programs
  • Treatment geared toward OCD subtypes
  • A discussion on lesser known subtypes, including an intolerance of chewing sounds or environmental noises
  • Therapy scripts to help in treatment
  • Exposure techniques and new types of treatment
  • Tips for identifying obstacles and overcoming them
  • Tips on building a support system

The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD: A Guide to Overcoming Obsessions and Compulsions Using Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by John Hershfield (MFT) and Tom Corboy (MFT) (Published in 2013, 232 pages): John Hershfield is a familiar face at OCD conferences and seminars and a prolific author of books on the disorder (there’s more to come). His initial venture onto the sales pages of Amazon, this workbook is unique because it embraces mindfulness as a way to more effectively complete exposure response and prevention (ERP) exercises. It aims to show sufferers how to accept their intrusive thoughts as thoughts, growing aware that their fear and anxiety is purely the result of OCD.

A few of the things covered in this book include:

  • Practical tools for tapping into mindfulness as a means to manage intrusive thoughts
  • Ways to stay present in the moment rather than focusing on OCD intrusions
  • How to challenge distorted thoughts
  • How to stop viewing OCD thoughts as threats or danger
  • How to stop viewing OCD feelings as real or factual

When a Family Member has OCD: Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Skills to Help Families Affected by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by John Hershfield (MFT) (Published in 2015, 200 pages): Another book by John Hershfield, this resource is similar to the one mentioned above but it’s geared toward families rather than individual sufferers.

It’s a much-needed addition to the typical OCD library since OCD is not only greatly misunderstood by society but it’s also misunderstood by the parents, brothers, sisters, children, and spouses of those affected. This misunderstanding may lead family members to do things that unknowingly make underlying OCD worse, including criticizing the sufferer in an attempt to motivate them away from their compulsions, validating their fears, or enabling the sufferer by giving reassurance or even helping take part in rituals.

A few of the things covered in this book include:

  • A comprehensive overview of OCD: What it is and what it isn’t
  • How to understand and communicate with the OCD sufferer
  • What to do when OCD becomes part of the family
  • How to use mindfulness for self-support
  • How to use mindfulness to support the OCD sufferer
  • Advice on living with someone who has OCD

Overcoming Harm OCD: Mindfulness and CBT Tools for Coping with Unwanted Violent Thoughts by John Hershfield (MFT) (Published in 2018, 186 pages): Since the third time’s a charm (and probably an exposure for those who don’t like odd numbers), here’s one more book by John Hershfield. Like the others on this list, this book focuses on mindfulness but in the context of Harm OCD.

Harm OCD, though a common subtype of OCD, is not one that is well-known, largely due to its shameful nature and the fear sufferers possess that their OCD will be misconstrued as a legitimate desire to harm. That, in itself, makes this book crucial: Few books focus on Harm OCD and it continues to fly under the radar with most of society completely unaware that OCD ever manifests in this manner.

A few of the things covered in this book include:

  • The ins and outs of Harm OCD
  • How to manage Harm OCD
  • The causes of Harm OCD and how to view the intrusive thoughts
  • How to recognize mental compulsions
  • How to disclose violent obsessions and find the right therapist
  • How to find support in friends and family members
  • How to use mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy to manage symptoms
  • Why having Harm OCD does not mean you are a bad person

Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts: A CBT-Based Guide to Getting Over Frightening, Obsessive, or Disturbing Thoughts by Dr. Sally Winston and Dr. Martin Self (Published in 2017, 192 pages): Regardless of OCD subtype, CBT (ERP, specifically) is considered the gold-standard of treatment, though this is in no way to insinuate that it’s easy. Enter this book! ERPs still won’t be easy, but at least there’s a compassionate resource to rely on.

This title was selected as an Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Self-Help Book Recommendation,

A few of the things covered in this book include:

  • A discussion of different intrusive thoughts
  • Why the OCD brain gets “stuck”
  • Why common sense techniques backfire (e.g., telling yourself not to think about something)
  • The CBT skills necessary for healing
  • Advice designed to work as stand-alone or as a supplement to therapy

Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior by Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Beverly Beyette (Published in 1997, 219 pages): Brain Lock, while written for anyone with OCD, specifically considers the 30% of sufferers who are unresponsive to medication (as the traditional SSRIs, SNRIs, and tricyclic antidepressants only make a difference in approximately 70% of people). Because this book was published in the late nineties, it may contain some out-of-date theories, though many sufferers find much of the treatment is still applicable today.

A few of the things covered in this book include:

  • A four-step process for overcoming OCD
  • A discussion on brain imaging tests that are altered with medication-free treatment
  • How to perform cognitive behavioral self-therapy
  • Behavior modifications that sufferers can adopt
  • Case studies from OCD patients

Over and Over Again: Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Dr. Fugen Neziroglu and Dr. Jose A. Yaryura-Tobias (Published in 1997, 240 pages): Like the book above, this book must come with a caveat due to its age (several books on this list may include information that is no longer fully relevant): We’ve learned a lot more about OCD in the past 25 years and treatments have changed. Even so, the gist of the disorder stays the same, which is why this book makes this list.

These pages offer an easy-to-read overview of the disorder, with a special nod to the genetics of the disease even though it was released when science was still a little on the fence in regard to OCD’s biological basis (both authors were well-established in the world of biological medicine).

A few of the things covered in this book include:

  • The definition of OCD and answers to the most common questions
  • Case histories of OCD sufferers
  • The causes of OCD
  • The risk factors of OCD and the people most likely to develop it
  • The treatment methods (these may or may not be relevant to today’s findings)

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Memoirs About Life with OCD

Anyone interested in sound clinical advice based on evidence and research is best off choosing one of the books above. But, if you want to hear other peoples’ OCD stories or you seek proof that you’re not alone in your personal struggle, sometimes it’s best to hear it from the horse’s mouth. And this is where memoirs come in.

Some of the best OCD memoirs include:

Rewind Replay Repeat: A Memoir of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Jeff Bell (Published in 2006, 368 pages): This memoir details a life dominated by OCD. The author discusses the perpetual doubt that serves as the hallmark of the disorder. Among some of the things Bell found himself doing as a result of his intrusive thoughts include driving his car around in continuous circles, washing his hands in burning water, and ruminating over minor details in his mind – rewinding, replaying, repeating.

Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life by Shala Nicely (Published in 2018, 314 pages): This book is written by a therapist who treats OCD and has it herself. Nicely describes how OCD first arrived in her childhood, forcing her into nightly rituals before she could go to sleep. She dealt with these and other compulsions for nearly 20 years before she realized she had OCD (a timeframe that is not uncommon, unfortunately).

In addition to OCD, Nicely discusses her experience with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), which often accompanies OCD and is categorized as an OCD-like condition.

Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me by Howie Mandel (Published in 2010, 256 pages): Howie Mandel was one of the first celebrities to put a face on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, though he began talking about it openly long before his memoir came out. Suffering from the more “classic” OCD that manifests as a fear of germs, Mandel describes life under the disorder’s direction.

Pure by Rose Bretencher (Published in 2018, 288 pages): Pure is one of the few memoirs that focuses on Pure-O, a type of OCD that doesn’t always come with obvious compulsions (though mental compulsions may be involved). In this book, Bretencher relays a life with intrusive sexual thoughts, a common OCD manifestation but one rarely spoken (or written) about.

This book recognizes the uncertainty that OCD feeds on, ultimately showing readers how to live, and thrive, in shades of grey.

I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD by JJ Keeler (Published in 2012, 170 pages): Okay, full disclosure: I wrote this book. I certainly recognize the self-advertising nature of including it on a list of OCD books that I would recommend but I have a purpose well outside of ego.

The reason I wrote this book was because, at the time, I couldn’t find any material on Harm OCD, which is what I suffer from. When I first began having harm obsessions, I erroneously concluded that I was some sort of monster, reasoning that I wouldn’t be having these thoughts otherwise. The fact that I had OCD didn’t even cross my mind, as I believed OCD to be a hand-washing disease and nothing more (which is how I came up with the title).

I suffered with harm obsessions for two years before a friend of mine told me that she thought I had OCD (which, though long enough, may be much less time than the average OCD sufferer stays in the dark). On her advice, I went to the library and looked up the rarer known types of OCD; reading the descriptions of Harm OCD was like looking in a mirror. But those two years of believing I was some sort of serial killer in the making were utter hell. And that’s why I wrote this memoir: So that others can recognize Harm OCD in their loved ones or themselves, stop believing that their thoughts reflect any kind of desire, and get the help they need.

As an added bonus, my mom says it’s good.

OCD Books for Kids

While adults are more likely to be diagnosed with OCD, it appears in childhood too. In fact, because the disorder is so underdiagnosed clinically, it’s not unrealistic to assume that many more kids have OCD than we realize.

There are not a ton of OCD books for children, but there are a handful. A few of the best include:

Up and Down the Worry Hill by Dr. Aureen Wagner (Revised edition published in 2013, 48 pages): Up and Down the Worry Hill uses metaphor, narrative, characters, and illustrations to show the concepts of CBT in a manner that is digestible and fun for kids.

Practice Being Brave: Owning my OCD by Mollie Gambrel (Published in 2019, 32 pages): This book harnesses a child’s ability to make believe and imagine. The main character, CJ, starts to suffer from intrusive thoughts and must use six tips to help reclaim her life.

What to do When Your Brain Gets Stuck: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming OCD by Dawn Huebner (Published in 2007, 96 pages): This book was the recipient of several awards, including the Gold National Parenting Publications Award and the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for Activity Books. It’s interactive, offering children a hands-on experience in fighting back against their monster.

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