Hoarding Syndrome and Treatment: Psychotherapy
There are two main types of treatment for hoarders: medication and psychotherapy. Medication works well with some people but psychotherapy is the best way to ensure that the hoarder is cured and won’t pick up the habits again later on in life.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) for hoarders is a popular treatment and is based on the Cognitive Model of Emotional Response. According to the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists (NACBT) CBT focuses on thinking about how you feel and what you do because these ways of thinking can be changed even though life’s circumstances are not.
There are several approaches to CBT which include Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, Rational Behavior Therapy, Rational Living Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, and Dialectic Behavior Therapy. Cognitive behavior therapy helps to retrain your brain so that you no longer feel anxiety at getting rid of the clutter in your home and it helps you to focus on cleaning up your life.
CBT therapists encourage long-term healing by allowing for periodic home visits to ensure that the habits do not return. Therapy can be conducted on a one-to-one basis or via group sessions which can help you to improve your decision-making skills as well as exploring why you feel the need to save useless items.
Hoarding Syndrome and Treatment: Two-Year Rule
In addition to therapy and/or medication here are a few simple steps to declutter your life.
Implementing a two-year rule for clothing and linens can help to make more space in your home. This includes those items you have held on to for decades to remind you of a special childhood or teenage event. If you have not used or worn an item for two years then you need to get rid of it. The two-year rule is a good way to get started.
Hoarders need to be conscious shoppers. You should not buy items that you don’t immediately need and you should not buy in bulk. Hoarders often never use these items which makes them a waste of money and a waste of space. If the need to make the purchase is too great to fight off, then save the receipts and return the items the next day.
Broken and irreparable items and items that are no longer useful should be thrown in the trash. Items saved for parts should be broken down so that only the parts that are needed are kept. The rest should be thrown away. The parts that are kept should be dealt with immediately by either replacing the needed part or organizing it in a manner that will be easily accessible for the near future.
Digging Through Trash
Never get anything out of the trash. Carefully consider each item before you throw it away and then trust your decision. However, don’t be afraid to throw items away. If something important is thrown away it can most likely be replaced. A good way to solve this problem is to have a desktop “in-box" that holds incoming mail for no more than one week to be sure it is ready for the trash. After that week, however, file it in its proper place or throw it away.
To increase social interaction, a hoarder must rid their home of clutter and trash. This includes lists and records once they are no longer needed. Clip articles from newspapers and magazines rather than saving the whole publication. Recyclables should be taken to the bins weekly so as not to clutter the home further.
Animal hoarders could try to limit their number of household pets. A good rule of thumb is to not have more than two to three pets at any one time. These pets should be well groomed and kept in a clean environment for the safety of all of those who are living in the home.
Cleaning the Clutter
As a hoarder begins to rid the clutter from their lives, they will most likely need the help and support of loved ones. These individuals can help by physically going into the home and helping to trash the unneeded items or just by supporting the hoarder in the endeavor.
Do not move items from one pile to another; instead, as you approach each item decide what to do with it and then do it. This could take some time as you deal with the hoarding syndrome and treatment, but it will be worth it in the end.
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Frost, Randy, Ph.D. International OCD Foundation. 2010 https://www.ocfoundation.org/hoarding/about.aspx
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Mayo Clinic. “Hoarding." 2009. https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hoarding/DS00966
NACBT Online Headquarters. “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy." 2007. https://www.nacbt.org/whatiscbt.htm.
Penzel, Fred, Ph.D. “Saving the World." https://westsuffolkpsych.homestead.com/hoarding.html