Of all the various types of anxiety disorders, we’ve always found Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) to be the most interesting. Most people with OCD have both obsessions (extremely upsetting or worrisome thoughts and images) and compulsions (behaviors that help reduce distress by engaging in them). However, the stress reduction that compulsions provide prove to be quite fleeting and so a cycle ensues in which the person feels distressed by thoughts (such as I may have gotten germs from touching that doorknob) followed by compulsions (such as hand washing) which only briefly alleviate their difficult emotions.
OCD comes in a variety of different subtypes (such as fears of contamination, checking and doubting, superstitious OCD, and concerns about symmetry). However, Hoarding OCD is a subtype that is particularly curious and distinctly different from other forms of OCD. In fact, it’s so different that some psychologists believe Hoarding OCD should be given its own diagnostic category, separate from OCD in general.
Briefly, Hoarding OCD involves three major characteristics according to those who have studied the phenomenon most intensively:
1. An accumulation of huge quantities of possessions that have little or no real value (old newspapers, paperclips, bits of string, rubber bands, lint, old wrapping, staples, catalogs, shoes, cleaning supplies, and so on). Sometimes the collected items are bizarre such as urine, feces, blood, or saliva. Other times hoarders collect cats, dogs, or other types of animals in huge abundance.
2. Living spaces become clogged to the point that significant areas can no longer be used.
3. Those who hoard generally show signs of impaired ability to carry out their lives in a normal fashion. However, it’s not unusual for hoarders to have little or no motivation for changing their behavior (quite unlike most people with other types of OCD).
People with Hoarding OCD also seem to have problems with their thinking processes that are relatively less common with other types of OCD. These problems include:
• Difficulty sustaining attention
• Inability to file and organize things in a logical way
• Trouble with decision making, even when the decisions are trivial
• Lack of confidence that they could remember where things are unless they’re in plain view as opposed to out of sight in a filing cabinet
Even the treatment for Hoarding OCD is different than for other types of OCD. The treatment takes longer and involves more than exposure and response prevention that is usually the focus of treatment for other forms of OCD. But that’s the subject of another blog in the near future.
Photo by Portable Antiquities, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.