Ep. 38: Jon Hershfield — How to Find Relief from Unwanted Violent Thoughts in Harm OCD

My guest this week is therapist and OCD specialist Jon Hershfield. Jon is doing an incredible amount of work to improve the lives of those who struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder through his therapy practice, writing, and public talks. In this episode we discussed his excellent new book, Overcoming Harm OCD: Mindfulness and CBT Tools for Coping with Unwanted Violent Thoughts.

The form of Harm OCD that the book and our conversation focus on is what I’ve referred to as “Malevolence OCD,” because it involves the fear not just of harming someone, but of being an evil person. (See this related blog post: Am I a Monster?) Topics we covered included:

  • What Harm OCD is, and how it’s relatively common
  • The relief in knowing that what one is dealing with is a form of OCD
  • The right treatment for Harm OCD
  • Fears in Harm OCD: violence against others, self-harm, violence against children, and having a violent identity
  • Common compulsions in Harm OCD
  • The problem with trying to prove that obsessive fears are untrue, vs. the power of accepting uncertainty
  • The role of avoidance and compulsive confessing in OCD
  • The triggering effect of news about violent events and #metoo
  • Distinguishing fear of self-harm from desire to harm oneself or others
  • Fear of going insane
  • Learning to live with the “spam email of the mind”
  • False memory OCD
  • What our brain learns from avoidance and reassurance
  • Inhibitory learning versus habituation
  • How Exposure and Response/Ritual prevention (ERP) works
  • The role of mindfulness in OCD treatment
  • Flooding scripts as a way to practice not doing compulsions
  • The possibility of reassurance from exposures
  • Lack of public awareness about Harm OCD

Here’s the Vice article that Jon mentioned: The Many Obsessions That Can Haunt a Person with OCD.

Jon also said he has several blog posts on his website about Harm OCD; here’s Part 1 of a series: Harm OCD Part 1.

Jon is the co-author of Everyday Mindfulness for OCD and The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD, and author of When a Family Member Has OCD and Overcoming Harm OCD(A portion of each sale made through these affiliate links will be used to support the podcast, at no additional cost to you.)

about-hershfield2Jon Hershfield, MFT, is the director of The OCD and Anxiety Center of Greater Baltimore in Hunt Valley, MD. He specializes in the mindfulness-based and cognitive behavioral treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder and is licensed in the states of Maryland, Virginia, and California.

Jon has authored or co-authored four well-reviewed books on treating OCD. He is a frequent presenter at the annual conferences of both the International OCD Foundation and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and a professional contributor to multiple online OCD-related support groups and blogs.

Find Jon on his website, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


If you’re struggling with Harm OCD, also consider joining our Malevolence OCD Facebook group.

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