Hoarding disorder is characterized by the presence of (1) clutter that significantly affects use of one’s home, (2) difficulty discarding and/or excessive acquisition of objects, and (3) significant distress or problems in one’s life as a result of their hoarding behavior and/or clutter. Hoarding is often a chronic condition that does not improve without treatment.
Treatment works, but many people are reluctant to seek it
There are a number of scientifically-validated approaches that can help a person who is hoarding – if they are willing to participate in treatment. In particular, a specific kind of peer-led skills group has been shown to work, as well as particular kinds of Individual and group therapy that have been designed to address hoarding. Generic talk therapy doesn’t usually help.
Unfortunately, those who have hoarding disorder may often be reluctant to seek help for several reasons including:
- Shame, guilt, and embarrassment
- That they see acquiring items as rewarding, not problematic
- Discomfort caused by letting go of items
- Lack of insight into the problem
Family members can lead the way
As the person who is hoarding often doesn’t fully appreciate their problems, it’s common for loved ones to seek help first. In this case, the therapist starts by working with the loved one, followed by engaging the person who is hoarding. This team approach (therapist, individual with hoarding disorder, loved ones) can often be successful in decreasing clutter and problematic hoarding behaviors.
In this approach, therapy starts with education on hoarding disorder and teaching the loved one skills for:
- Compassion and empathy building
- Development of contracts/agreements to use with the individual with hoarding issues
These skills are then applied to help the person with hoarding issues take steps towards recovery from their hoarding problem. These steps could be taken with the support of a mental health professional or other helper, such as a decluttering coach, professional organizer, or support group. If you need help dealing with a family member who is hoarding, our anxiety disorders clinic has experience with these issues. Some people just want a one time consultation, but others feel like they could use ongoing support to help their family member change. If your loved one suffers from hoarding disorder, feel free to contact us at the Portland Psychotherapy Anxiety Clinic to find out more about our treatment and consultation services.