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Case Files: Sara and her Hair Pulling (Trichotillomania)

Sara pulls the woven, green hat from her head to show her nearly bald scalp, with only a few tufts of long, thin hair surrounding her crown. Sara has trichotillomania. She pulls her own hair out.

This is not the first time I met with Sara. In fact, we’d been working together for months, but this is the first time she felt comfortable enough to show me what she’s done to herself.“This is where I pull from, Dr. Deibler,” she explains. I nod and say nothing, not because it’s unimportant, but because it’s important to react as if this discussion is like any other discussion, even though she has never before revealed her trichotillomania to anyone.It hadn’t always been this way for Sara.

She began pulling her eyelashes and eyebrows at age 7. Now, at age 14, she’s pulled nearly all of the hair from her head and wears a cap so that no one can see. It’s not that she’s never sought help. She’d been to therapist after therapist, each one helping her cope with her parents’ divorce and family problems, but none of whom knew how to help Sara with her hair.

Now, she was working hard in her treatment to develop awareness, build coping skills, and develop new behavior patterns. She and her mother attended our trichotillomania support group to meet others who were struggling. And, over time, Sara improved, not just her pulling, but her happiness, confidence and self-acceptance.

That was three years ago. She doesn’t come by much anymore because she doesn’t need to. She no longer struggles, but she remembers what it was like to struggle. Earlier this year, she spoke to our support group for those who struggle with hair pulling. Many who attended wore head coverings, hairstyles, or makeup to hide their hair loss too, but not Sara. She was able to tell them what trichotillomania was like for her, as she sat in front of them with her long, beautiful, blonde hair and showed them how this struggle can change. In Sara, they saw themselves and they saw hope.

I often tell my patients that aside from treatment itself, an important thing unfolds in recovery: When people stop hiding, they start getting better. And this is what has happened for Sara; she stopped hiding and started living.

 

Dr. Deibler

Photo available at R123RF

Case Files: Sara and her Hair Pulling (Trichotillomania)


Marla W. Deibler, PsyD

Marla W. Deibler, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist and nationally-recognized expert in anxiety disorders and the obsessive-compulsive spectrum, including trichotillomania and other body-focused repetitive behaviors, obsessive-compulsive disorder, hoarding, and tic disorders. She is the Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia in New Jersey, an outpatient facility specialized in providing evaluation and evidence-based, cognitive-behavioral therapies for these and other difficulties. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of OCD-NJ, the New Jersey affiliate of the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF). Dr. Deibler gained her formative clinical experiences at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Children’s National Medical Center, and the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. She gained specialized behavior therapy experience in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders at the nationally-recognized Behavior Therapy Center of Greater Washington. Dr. Deibler served as a clinician at the National Center for Phobias, Anxiety, and Depression. She also served as Director of Behavioral Sciences at the Temple University School of Dentistry and served on the clinical faculty at Temple University Schools of Medicine and Allied Health as well as Temple University Children’s Medical Center. Dr. Deibler has published scientific research in peer-reviewed journals and has presented clinical training seminars and research findings at national and international meetings. She has appeared on the Dr. Oz Show, A&E’s “Hoarders”, TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive”, CBS News, ABC News, FOX News, It’s Your Call with Lynn Doyle (CN8, Retirement TV), and CBS’s “Swift Justice with Nancy Grace”. She has been quoted by media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and the Connecticut Post, among others. Dr. Deibler holds licenses to practice psychology in New Jersey (Lic. No. 35S100438000) and Pennsylvania (Lic. No. PS0157790). She is an active member of the American Psychological Association, Trichotillomania Learning Center, International OCD Foundation, OCD-New Jersey, Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Dr. Deibler resides in suburban Philadelphia with her husband (who is also a psychologist) and three children.


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APA Reference
Deibler, M. (2012). Case Files: Sara and her Hair Pulling (Trichotillomania). Psych Central. Retrieved on April 5, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/therapy-that-works/2012/11/case-files-sara-and-her-hair-pulling-trichotillomania/

 

Last updated: 9 Dec 2012
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