This is a memoir featuring Jeff Bell, a well-known California radio personality. To most people, Bell appears confident and successful, but in reality, Jeff's world is filled with doubt--or, as Bell comes to think of it, "Doubt" with a capital D. Bell suffers from severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a potentially debilitating form of mental illness. As the title of the book suggests, Bell's OCD manifests mainly in the form of repetitive behaviors--such as checking the same thing over and over and over again to a ludicrous degree.
Bell carries out the tape metaphor throughout his book, using the "rewind" button to begin his story with his earliest memory of obsessive-like thinking at age seven or eight. He then fast-forwards through his "normal" years of adolescence, high school, and college, coming to a stop at the time of early marriage/young fatherhood. At this point, Bell describes in detail the single, seemingly minor incident which unfortunately serves to rekindle his obsessional tendencies, setting him off into a devastating downward spiral. Over the course of the next year, Bell continues to decompensate as his obsessions expand and his compulsive behaviors increase. Finally, Bell's wife, Sam, convinces him that he needs to seek help. Regrettably, the first two therapists with whom Bell meets fail to recognize his symptoms as OCD; Bell himself identifies this diagnosis after combing through a bookstore's self-help book selection and finally stumbling across The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing--it was the "couldn't stop" of this title which caught his attention.
At this point, Bell was finally able to obtain appropriate treatment, as he scheduled an appointment with a cognitive behavior therapist. Although cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is very effective in treating OCD, Bell's story does not end here. Using a combination of CBT and medication--a treatment option which Bell had been very reluctant to pursue--Bell does make significant progress. In fact, he is feeling so well that he undergoes a major job change, moves with his family to another city, and goes off his medication, believing he is done with OCD for good. As one might expect, the latter turns out not to be the case, and Bell finds that his symptoms return with a vengeance. Although he does resume work with his CBT therapist, he comes to realize a need to develop a more comprehensive, personalized approach to his own recovery. Therefore, he embarks on a year-long project which begins with simply recording all of his obsessions and compulsions on index cards; eventually, these cards form an outline for this very book, and it is the book itself which becomes therapeutic. Bell also discovers many other components that are vital to his healing process, including trust and faith. The book's Epilogue, which takes place seven years after the conclusion of Bell's project, portrays a man whose inner state of mind finally matches his outward veneer of self-assurance. Bell admits that he will always have OCD, but for the most part, he has reached a point where he is the one controlling his life, not the disorder of Doubt.
Overall, this book provides a fascinating portrait of OCD. As a psychologist, I found it particularly intriguing to view this disorder from the patient's perspective, although I sometimes found myself frustrated by Bell's resistance to treatment. Still, I eagerly devoured Bell's captivating story and quickly made my way through this entire book. Rewind, Replay, Repeat would be particularly appropriate for those suffering from OCD, as it would provide both kinship and comfort, but I would highly recommend this mesmerizing book to anyone who is curious about this disorder.
© 2008 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students at SUNY Geneseo. She is also a Top 100 Reviewer at Amazon.com and the official yoga media reviewer for iHanuman.com.
Comment on this review