Monday, February 1, 2010

A Clinical Look at Hoarding with A&E Television Psychologist Suzanne Chabaud

Awareness of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) has increased tremendously over recent years, but there’s one lesser-known condition that can be a symptom of OCD that affects more than three million Americans: it’s called hoarding, or compulsive hoarding syndrome.

Hoarding is the excessive collecting of items, along with the inability to discard them. It often creates such cramped living conditions that homes may be filled to capacity with only narrow pathways winding through stacks of clutter. Interestingly, not all people who hoard have other OCD symptoms and researchers are working hard to understand hoarding as amental health problem. To help spread awareness about hoarding and the help available to treat it, the A&E Television Network produces a real-life program called Hoarders.

Hoarders is a real-life, unscripted look inside the lives of people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis. They may encounter losing their home, custody of their children, divorce, incarceration. In a fly-on-the-wall format, the program captures the drama as experts work to put each on the road to recovery.

But, according to experts, cleaning is just the first step in the treatment of hoarding. Recovery is just as difficult as overcoming an addiction. Many people find it daunting and disturbing to discard even the most insignificant item – a cardboard toilet paper roll, old keys, even food products. In fact, most find the pain of giving up possessions, that they won’t let the cleaning crew proceed. For other hoarders, professional help and an organizer's guidance give them the strength to recover. At the end of each episode of Hoarders, viewers find out who has been able to keep their hoarding behavior at bay and who, despite help, is still lost inside this painful disease.

Clinical psychologist Suzanne Chabaud, Ph.D., works with families featured on the television program to help them understand hoarding and get on the road to recovery. She talks with BHC today for an insightful look at hoarding.

BHC: Dr. Chabaud, as a clinical psychologist, you’ve treated more than 400 patients with OCD, and so for those in our audience who don’t quite understand what hoarding is, can you give us an overview of the different sorts of hoarding and what causes it?

SC: Yes, hoarding is considered now to be compulsive in nature and we’re trying to differentiate it from OCD in general obsessive compulsive disorders. There’s a fairly large percentage of people who have OCD who do hoard, but also there’s a percentage of people who hoard who do not have an obsessive compulsive disorder. So we’re trying to really understand what the disorder is, and as it stands right now, we view compulsive hoarding as an acquisition of objects and the failure to discard those objects..." More