Telehealth Treatment for Hairpulling: As Effective as In-Person Treatment

In Portland, Oregon, where I live, potential therapy clients have access to wide range of therapists who use evidence-based practices. However, this is not true for people who live in many other areas of the state. Telehealth, that is, healthcare provided through videoconferencing platforms, is one means through which people living in more rural parts of Oregon may receive evidence-based treatment. As part of the Portland Psychotherapy Anxiety Clinic, we are now offering telehealth treatment for people outside of the Portland area.

For these reasons, I read with interest a recent study on the use of telehealth for trichotillomania (aka repetitive hair pulling). People with trichotillomania compulsively pull at hair from one or more parts of their body (e.g., scalp; eyelashes; body), often causing noticeable hair loss. They frequently feel shame, guilt, or embarrassment about their pulling.

Conducted at Utah State University—another rural state— two graduate student therapists provided 10 sessions of a manualized treatment for trichotillomania that incorporates well-researched interventions for addressing pulling such as habit reversal training and stimulus control procedure, as well as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (pronounced act for short), a newer cognitive behavioral treatment. The treatment is called ACT-enhanced behavior therapy and is what I first used to learn to treat trichotillomania. It has also been shown to be effective in treating excoriation (aka repetitive skin picking).

In the study, 22 people were provided with 10 sessions of treatment through a videoconferencing platform. Results indicated that reductions in hair pulling were comparable to studies of face-to-face ACT-enhanced behavior therapy for trichotillomania. Of note: 60% of participants stated that, if it were not for the study, they would not have had access to treatment for trichotillomania because they did not live near any specialists. They reported high satisfaction with treatment. The researchers concluded that this treatment can be successfully delivered using telehealth.

If you’re interested in telehealth treatment for hair pulling and live in Oregon, Washington, or California, feel free to contact one of our Anxiety Clinic specialists.

Author: Brian Thompson Ph.D.

Brian is a licensed psychologist and Director of the Portland Psychotherapy Anxiety Clinic. His specialties include generalized anxiety, OCD, hair pulling, and skin picking.

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