The Ray of Hope – A Teenager’s Fight Against Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
written by Ray St. John
Vermilion Press – 2011
I received a review copy of The Ray of Hope some months ago, with the best of intentions to have a look at it. I placed it on the continuously growing stack of items that I vow to read ‘when I get around to it’. I imagine you’ve done the same thing. A couple weeks ago, I got a follow-up email from the publisher. That got me back to the book. I’m glad I did.
Ray St. John is a high school student that has been dealing with episodes of OCD since childhood. Early manifestations were short-lived – and, at the time of their occurrence, seen as transitory. No special action was taken. But in his teens, Ray was hit hard with OCD symptoms. This time around, there was no chance of ignoring them. This book documents Ray’s [and Ray’s family’s] journey to identify what was going on – and how to confront it successfully.
The book is arranged in such a way as to give the reader great accessibility to the content that matters to his or her interests. Chapter titles are in the form of questions – and each corresponding chapter gives the answer. In this way, the reader can either choose to read cover-to-cover, or just seek out the specific information he or she needs at the moment. It might sound cumbersome, but here it works well.
The writing style is clear and emphatic. Ray shows courage in being explicit about the content of his obsessions and compulsive responses. We learn about the depth of his suffering, his self-doubt, and the process that he and his family went through to seek relief. He worked very hard, and it paid off for him.
Ray was troubled with sexual obsessions – they flooded his thoughts continuously. It interfered with home life and school progress. Resultant compulsions took the the family through considerable amounts of water, soap, repetition, checking, reassurance seeking and – let’s be honest – a very personal kind of hell.
A person with OCD can be triggered by lots of things – and reading this might be one of them. In the end, though, the benefits outweigh the dangers.
Ray eventually got connected to a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Two different medication trials without much relief – followed with the challenges of weening off the medications that proved unsatisfactory. The psychologist was compassionate, and knew something about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – but was not familiar with Exposure & Response Prevention [ERP] Therapy. ERP is the specific therapy – a cousin to CBT – that is the best psychotherapy approach we know about at this time.
Ray and his mother learned as much as they could about ERP, and devised their own intensive outpatient intervention. I was impressed with their courage and tenacity; it would be tough for many families to intervene in this way. However, it worked for Ray.
The lessons from Ray’s book that come to mind as I write:
- facing what is going on, what works [and what does not] is critical
- the importance of family involvement and support cannot be underestimated
- medication may be an option, but it is not the whole answer
- you must choose your therapist carefully – specialized training is essential
- ERP is a stressful process, but
- it works!