Hypnotherapy for hoarding

Hoarding, also referred to as ‘compulsive hoarding’, is recognised by psychologists and psychotherapists as a psychological disorder.

It is characterised by excessive acquiring of unnecessary items and objects which are stored as unmanageable clutter, leading to obstruction and chaos in the living areas and/or around. It can affect life in many negative ways – from causing stress and upset, to putting a strain on relationships, and by limiting cleaning capacities, creating breeding conditions for pests and simply preventing someone from using important parts of their accommodation such as kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and even creating a fire hazard. Uncontrolled storage of these items can also lead to injuries as the inhabitants may trip over and fall, some people even die buried under piles of rubbish.

The NHS webpage states that “Hoarding disorders are challenging to treat because many people who hoard frequently do not see it as a problem or have little awareness of how it’s affecting their life or the lives of others. Many do realise they have a problem but are reluctant to seek help because they feel extremely ashamed, humiliated or guilty about it. It’s important to encourage a person who is hoarding to seek help, as their difficulties discarding objects can not only cause loneliness and mental health problems but also pose a health and safety risk. If not tackled, it’s a problem that will probably never go away.” https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hoarding-disorder/

How to recognise and distinguish a hoarding disorder from other typical behaviours and habits like collecting or simply being disorganised – look out for the following signs:

  • Items may be of no value or very little value because they are nothing more than what  will usually be discarded such as junk mail, plastic bags, jars, magazines, books, newspapers, empty cans, old and worn out clothes and so on or they are simply damaged and broken items which are beyond repair in reality although in the mind of the owner they can be potentially reused or repaired.
  • There is little or no organisation or classification to the way the items are stored.
  • The sufferer is struggling to decide what to do with the things. Sometimes they don’t even remember which items there are as they can’t access them easily.
  • Daily and normal regular life functions may be impaired as the result such as cleaning, cooking, washing, and so on.
  • Collectors usually organise their collections and proudly display them. They tend to swap, sell or get rid of unwanted items in their collections. Hoarders don't feel able to part with anything at all even when they can't think of any use for the item or it has no monetary value at all (eg. an empty jar or old newspapers) and they are more likely to feel too embarrassed to show their belongings to others so they might try and conceal this behaviour and ban others from seeing their place.

The latest variety of hoarding is digital where people find it impossible to delete electronic data such as emails, newsletters and other information.

When someone seeks help for hoarding it is usually in quite late stages. Some people are persuaded by their family members or friends as they themselves don’t think that they have a problem.

It is a habit that is hard to stop as it usually serves as a defence mechanism and therefore is notoriously hard to let go of. It is so deeply rooted that it can be hard to stop, also because it takes years to develop until those who suffer from its effects actively seek help.

One of the reasons people are often in denial is that it is stigmatised by association with laziness as one struggles to keep their dwelling tidy due to the sheer amount of clutter in it. The trouble is that it is not easy to sort out clutter and to organise it, because most of it is junk without any real value, so the best solution is two-fold:

1. Throw away all the items that are clutter
2. Stop acquiring things that one doesn’t need nor use.

It's important to remember that hoarding could be a symptom of other serious underlying conditions such as dementia, brain injury, psychiatric disorders, or psychological issues such as depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder as well as a stand-alone psychological condition in its own right. In any case, it needs treatment as it won’t resolve itself on its own.

NHS offers CBT and anti-depressants to treat hoarding. Professional hypnotherapists have observed that treatment for depression and trauma have also had a positive effect on hoarding behaviour so it makes sense to offer hypnotherapy for hoarding as well as other issues such as anxiety and depression,

The cause of hoarding is still not very clear. In my opinion, hoarding can start for a variety of reasons, most likely more than one. As mentioned earlier it may be a manifestation of the defence mechanism, a coping strategy or a system of beliefs which all can lead to extreme behaviour and prove difficult to change as they are usually residing at the very core of personality. As the sufferer makes attempts to discard something they go through a complex decision-making process and when they fail to throw something away the habit ends up being reinforced.

Usually the objects symbolise something very important to the owner and others cannot see this value or comprehend the attachment so when they try and persuade or force the sufferer to get rid of these objects their attempts are met with strong emotional outbursts or end of communication altogether because they are not viewed as help but intrusion and violation of their privacy and selfhood.

The best outcome is always achieved when someone realizes themselves that there is an issue and decides to change that. You can ask your GP for advice who might refer you to a therapist. Or you can find a therapist independently. Hypnotherapy is a very good shot here as it can gently change beliefs in a comparatively short period of time. It can take months to achieve the desired outcome. Consider all options before choosing the right treatment.

Your chosen therapist will help to uncover the hidden issues or beliefs that cause the sufferer to hold on to some items, change this behaviour, find a better way of coping and help to improve the decision-making and organising skills. Simply throwing stuff away won’t solve the problem if the cause of it is still there, the clutter will simply build up again. The therapist will gently guide the client on the journey to a clutter-free life.

As it is usually a life-long issue, it might be a good idea for a maintenance plan to be put in place to keep the client from slipping back to the old ways.

As clutter usually represents some sort of a life block, resolving this issue can lead to renewed energy and life enjoyment where new opportunities will have room to present themselves.

Hypnotherapy Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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