Kirkus Reviews QR Code
COMPULSIVE ACTS by Elias Aboujaoude


A Psychiatrist’s Tales of Ritual and Obsession

by Elias Aboujaoude

Pub Date: April 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-520-25567-8
Publisher: Univ. of California

Sketchy profiles of obsessive-compulsive patients, from the director of Stanford’s Impulse Control Disorders Clinic.

During his tenure as a psychiatrist specializing in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Aboujaoude, whose work has appeared in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications, has treated numerous cases of behavioral addiction. Here, the author offers five stories of odd psychiatric conditions he has encountered, salting the narrative with breezy discussions of pertinent medical information (OCD afflicts between one and two percent of the population, males and females are equally likely to be affected, “excessive checking” is the most common form of OCD, etc.). With the steady assistance of his trusted clinic clerk Dawn (“Our schedule is like a symphony of which she is the masterful conductor”), Aboujaoude navigates the difficult psychological terrain of five unique patients, with all identifying details removed, of course. There’s George, who must maintain a certain distance between his nose and everything else; Pat, who suffers from trichotillomania, in which patients (often unconsciously) pull out their hair; Hannah, a 48-year-old kleptomaniac comparative-literature professor; Mr. Kuong, a Chinese-American who fell victim to the gambling meccas of Las Vegas and eventually committed suicide; and Alex, who’s online persona, “Sasha,” overtook his reality and led him to break up with his real girlfriend in favor of “Nadia,” his online “masterpiece girlfriend.” After relishing the opportunity to help each person, the author draws conclusions about the behavior and provides more information that may be helpful for those suffering from similar conditions. But the narrative fails to reflect Aboujaoude’s insistence that the book “is not merely a disjointed collection of research anecdotes and clinical tales.” The anecdotes transition awkwardly into the doctor’s evaluations and medical opinions, and the remembered dialogue is often stilted and riddled with excessive exclamation points.

Aboujaoude is obviously proud of his work—and he should be—but his skills as a writer are seriously lacking.