Emma of 'Glee' sweet, neat, petite and ailing with OCD

Emma of 'Glee' sweet, neat, petite and ailing with OCD

Tonight, the tradition continues. No, not midnight’s official calendar transition from summer to fall.

Rather, it’s the second-season premiere of Fox’s hit musical-comedy Glee – which continues prime-time TV’s long-standing custom of having a key character’s obsessive-compulsive disorder played for laughs.

Just like Seinfeld’s Jerry Seinfeld, Frasier’s Niles Crane and Monk’s Detective Adrian Monk before her, Glee’s high school guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury takes issues of hygiene and cleanliness to absurd extremes.

As all avid “Gleeks” know, Emma has been bedeviled by mysophobia (fear of germs and dirt) since childhood, when her brother pushed her into a runoff lagoon at a dairy farm.

Emma’s OCD informs much of her character’s comedic behavior (repeatedly washing her food while eating) and history (she’s a 30-something virgin). Indeed, at times, her persnicketiness virtually paralyzes her.

For viewers, she’s either a source of hilarity or – as my colleague, Leslie Gray Streeter, writes – enmity. Unless, of course, you can relate to her hang-ups. Then Emma’s condition might hit a little too close to home. OCD: When do quirks become concerns?

“We all have our obsessive and compulsive tendencies,” says Dr. Jason Spielman, a psychologist with the Neurobehavioral Institute in Weston, Florida (www.nbiweston.com) and a specialist in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorders. “It’s really just a matter of severity.”

In other words, are you in control of your fixations and behaviors – or are they in control of you?

“When repetitive thoughts and behaviors take up so much of your time and mental energy that they affect your personal and/or professional life, that’s when you have a problem,” Dr. Spielman explains.

So for those of us (like myself) who are regimented about things such as keeping in a specific order, and facing the same direction, the cash in our wallets and clothes in our closets: Our behavior is neat-freakish – but not problematic.

Conversely, the person compelled to wash his hands 40 times an hour, or recheck, repeatedly, that he locked his front door – even though he just did it – knows he’s behaving irrationally. Yet he can’t control himself.

Seeking treatment

If you suspect you have OCD and want treatment for it, Dr. Spielman recommends that you be sure that your mental- health professional specializes in OCD treatment, “because so few of us do.”

In fact, the scarcity of obsessive-compulsive-disorder specialists is why Dr. Spielman also leads an OCD Adult support-group at West Boca Medical Center (21644 State Road 7, Boca Raton) at 7:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month. In addition, he recommends logging on to the International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation’s website at www.ocfoundation.org to find specialists in your area who are trained in the uniform treatment protocols.

These methods include a technique called “exposure and ritual prevention”, which forces the patient to experience the anxiety associated with not partaking in the compulsive behavior.

Another protocol is cognitive behavioral therapy, in which the patient learns, through a systematic, goal-oriented approach, to alter or eliminate undesirable behavior.

In severe cases of OCD, says Spielman, prescriptions for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medications, such as Prozac or Luvox, might be warranted.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treating OCD,” notes Dr. Spielman. “The mental and behavioral manifestations of this disorder are as unique as a fingerprint.”

No matter where on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum you fall, try to keep some sense of perspective.

My sister, who’s a therapist, once lightheartedly described the difference between a person with OCD and one with merely an obsessive personality (like myself) with this generalization: “People with OCD usually want to be rid of it. People with obsessive personalities usually want the rest of the world to be more like them.”

Have a question/comment for Steve? E-mail him at boomerhealth@pbpost.com or write to: Boomer Health, The Palm Beach Post, 2751 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, FL 33405.


Glee’s fictional McKinley High guidance counselor (played by Jayma Mays) has a fear of germs (mysophobia) and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

She cleans every grape individually before eating it and spends an hour cleaning a pencil sharpener.

According to ‘Crazy & Sweet,’ her fan page: ‘Her interests include hand-washing, rug-fringe-straightening and local news. She is a charter member of the Western Ohio Disinfectant Society.’

Her neat retro wardrobe – which has a vast online fan base – reflects her love of order.

The actress told InStyle.com: ‘I like to call Emma’s wardrobe quirky-chic! While her outfits are always very put-together, they are still fun and flirty with bows and flowers and the colors of sorbet.’ The character wears tone-on-tone pencil skirts, blouses and vintage-inspired sweaters, all topped off with bold jewelry.


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