Can hypnotherapy help with hoarding?
Hoarding is a disorder that can present on its own, or as a symptom or result of other disorders or conditions, for instance in dementia. Not everyone diagnosed with dementia will display hoarding behaviours, and definitely, not all hoarders have dementia or other cognitive decline issues. Other linked disorders could be obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, or depression. It could also be the result of trauma, such as bereavement, or a general inability to cope with loneliness, or relationship difficulties within a person’s social, work or family life.
Why do people hoard?
The archetypal image of a hoarder is a loner who lives in a home that is in a state of disrepair on the outside, and rooms filled with junk. It is also often associated with the person being 'dirty, lazy, eccentric or socially inept.' These views can cause a lot of damage, and make the person feel even more isolated.
The behavioural definitions of hoarding can include but are not limited to the following:
- Low impulse control: impulsive acquiring or buying of items without really needing them or thinking through how the items will be stored.
- The 'rush' of finding a bargain in say a charity shop where the real or imagined worth of the item might be exaggerated in the person’s mind.
- The sense of completing or working towards the completion of a collection of items.
- The imagined need for 'back-up' items, for instance having several television sets already, but unable to resist buying more.
- Difficulty in waiting for things, i.e., instant gratification.
Hypnotherapy can assist the hoarder in identifying their impulsive behaviours, give them the tools to scale down or cease these behaviours and help them see a clear connection between impulsive behaviour and negative consequences
Many hoarders report a rush or pleasant sensation upon finding a bargain in a shop and effectively buying it 'before anyone else sees it'. There is also a tendency for acting out too quickly without careful deliberation of the consequences, such as finding or buying a large or bulky object that would not fit in their home, or real thought about transporting the large or heavy object home with them. Which often results in the initial 'bargain find' becoming more expensive as delivery need to be paid for as well.
There is often a history of acting out in two or more areas that could be potentially self-damaging such as excessive money spending or addictive behaviour in other areas of the person’s life.
Different types of hoarding
Hoarding disorder is classed as a psychological disorder, as with any disorder there are many levels on the spectrum and that is why some hoarders or collectors find it difficult to identify these tendencies or behaviours within themselves.
They might be 'neat hoarders', the polar opposite of what is portrayed in the media. Yet, their collections might restrict normal living activities or access to one or more rooms of their homes. For instance, a porcelain doll collection that started out as a few dolls on the mantelpiece now takes up every available raised surface in a dining room. Therefore, they cannot invite anyone over for dinner as there is no place for them to sit at the table or chairs.
Not all hoarders have dirty or dusty homes either, some might spend hours of repetitive cleaning and maintaining their collections which in itself may isolate them as they do not have the time to interact with friends or family. There might also be a fixation on saving and scrimping because the person has experienced severe financial difficulties, or was raised in an excessively frugal way which can lead to learned behaviour from a parent or caregiver.
Generational hoarding can include three or more generations worth of items the hoarder cannot discard or face giving to family members. To some extent most of us have at least one item that belonged to a deceased family member, it might be a much-loved tea set from an adored grandmother or a lovely old chest of drawers.
On the other or excessive side of the spectrum, there is no rhyme or reason in the acquiring of items, anything from a single old discarded shoe, out of date newspapers or even rotten food from a bin might be taken home and added to a jumbled pile.
The impact of hoarding on self-care
The implications on the mental and physical health and well-being of a severe hoarder can be very detrimental. Self-care could become excessively poor due to the inability to use the kitchen to cook or prepare meals, or no safe or hygienic storage for food or medicines. Or the inability to take a bath or shower because of the hoard and state of a bathroom. Poor rest or broken sleep can occur because of having to sleep on the floor, or unsafe burrowing into a heap of items.
The physical/health dangers that can present with hoarding can be but are not limited to the following:
- fire and trip hazards
- vermin such as disease-carrying rats or insect infestations
- mould that can affect respiratory health
- the eating of out of date or spoiled unsafely prepared food.
The worse the level of hoarding, the more ashamed, emotionally distanced and isolated a lot of hoarders become. These behaviours can often be confusing to family and friends who wonder how their friend or family member can live in squalor and why they cannot just clean up and discard items in order to sort out their homes, lives and relationships.
Many hoarders will defend their behaviour or make empty promises of cleaning up or clearing out their hoards which never materialize. This can make friends or family members feel that the hoarder value these items or 'junk' more than they value them. Eventually, there might be a complete breakdown in relationships when friends or family cannot bear to see their friend or relative living like that anymore. It can also become increasingly difficult to visit hoarders in their homes as the homes might become inaccessible or even structurally unsafe thus adding to the isolation and lack of interaction.
Hypnotherapy for hoarding
In the treatment for hoarding, there should be looked at mid- to long-term goals in a treatment plan.
Hypnotherapy can offer a lot as it combines therapy and hypnosis which can be a very powerful combination in treating disorders. The long-term goals would be to reduce the frequency of the acquisition and hoarding behaviours and increase the frequency of behaviour that is thought out carefully. For instance, the hoarder might have limited social interaction and find a weekly walk around the charity shops interesting and stimulating. Taking that away from them might make them feel lonely and isolated, so instead giving them the tools to essentially stop and give thorough thought as to whether they really need the item is much more conducive.
The above is a very simplistic view into only one of many aspects of treatment that will reduce triggers in impulsive hoarding behaviour. In essence, the therapeutic interventions of hypnotherapy can assist the hoarder in identifying their impulsive behaviours, give them the tools to scale down or cease these behaviours and help them see a clear connection between impulsive behaviour and negative consequences to themselves, to others and their home environment.
It is especially important to help the hoarder utilise behavioural strategies to manage anxiety or stress during the clear-out process as often at this crucial time they can feel totally overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of people helping to clear out. Often family members could also greatly benefit from talking to a therapist about their own emotions, fears and worries around a loved one’s hoarding.