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Dr. Murray Feingold

Dr. Murray Feingold: Cognitive-behavioral therapy shown to help hoarders

Periodically, there are stories in the media that attract a great deal of attention concerning people who are compulsive hoarders or have a hoarding disorder.

Hoarders have a great deal of difficulty getting rid of their possessions even though they may be of little value. As a result, a great deal of clutter accumulates in the home, frequently leaving very little space available for the home to function in a normal manner. For example, there may not be enough space in the kitchen to even cook food.

Hoarding may start as early as childhood but significantly increases as the person become older. Frequently, the hoarder does not appreciate that this behavior is unusual, and it can result in a variety of health problems. Not appreciating that they have a problem hinders their interest in seeking treatment.

Some people may just hoard animals, so they have a huge number of dogs or cats living in the home. Since they cannot all be properly cared for, they become sick and the house becomes a setup for the presence of various infectious diseases affecting both the animals and their owners.

Unfortunately, treatment of hoarding disorder is frequently difficult. These patients usually do not respond to medications.

A recent article describes the success rate of a newer technique to treat this condition. It is a combined intellectual or cognitive and behavioral form of therapy that concentrates on teaching ways to resist acquiring possessions in the first place, to sort out and discard most of the clutter and to intellectually restructure the person’s reasoning for hoarding.

Ten studies were evaluated to determine the effectiveness of utilizing the cognitive-behavioral therapy technique. It included 232 people diagnosed as being hoarders.

Results showed that between 25 percent and 43 percent of those receiving cognitive-behavioral therapy had significant clinical improvement. The biggest improvement was the individual’s ability to finally be able to discard their possessions.

There is still a great deal concerning hoarding disorder that is not known and more research is needed to uncover, not only the cause, but to provide better treatment.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy appears to be a good start.

Massachusetts-based Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.

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