I made a point of tuning in again this week to Channel 4’s “The Hoarder Next Door”, to see if the approach adopted this week was any different to that taken with Alex last week. Sadly, it was the same.
I love this programme for raising awareness about hoarding. However, it frustrates me that it makes such a mountain (no pun intended) of dealing with the issue.
Hoarding is deeply distressing for both the hoarder and their loved ones. That does not mean that any improvement must be laborious, painful and limited. This week, after 6 weeks of treatment, the only evident improvement for Margaret is some recognition of a possible cause of the hoarding behaviour, one clear room and slow progress to declutter the rest. All progress is, of course, to be celebrated but I make more progress with a client in 6 hours than was made with Margaret in those 6 weeks! As Margaret stands in the middle of her cluttered kitchen at the end of the programme and resolves to clear it, she does not strike me as a woman whose inner burden has been cleared.
Some of you have asked me to post in more detail the process that I use; please watch this space for more resources and tools. In the meantime, here is a summary explanation of my usual approach when working with a hoarder:
- To start with, all I ask is your name and age. I do not need any personal information, including why you believe you are hoarding. In fact, the less you tell me the better; I prefer to look at you without a back story, opinion or expectations.
- I do a session for you (lasting around 1 hour), where I am able to scan you energetically and locate the root cause of your hoarding. I do not meet you face to face to do this. I do it without even speaking with you. I have intuitive ability that allows me to tune in to you wherever you are in the world and see/feel/hear/experience what is going on in your energy field.
- Once I have located information in your energy field I interact with it to allow it to change. For example, in Margaret’s case, if the root cause was her relationship with her father/mother, I might locate the particular incident(s) which began her path to hoarding. I would clear these and see what else came up, and work with that too.
This is a far more accurate way to identify the root cause of the hoarding than through talking with the individual, because I bypass the mind and the fear that keeps the emotions behind the hoarding buried and inaccessible. It is also far less distressing; you are not upset or re-traumatised by having to revisit past experiences.
- After that first session, I would expect you to experience a shift in how you feel very quickly, especially after a good night’s sleep – and for many, it is a very good night’s sleep after a session, often the best sleep they have had in a long time (many hoarders do not sleep well).
Clients usually report feeling lighter and calmer, and less easily triggered by what is going on around them. Now, isn’t that a much better place from which to begin to declutter – calm enough to throw things away rather than simply move them around whilst the pain still grips you inside, reinforcing your feelings of being inadequate?
- Having shared feedback after the session, we then decide what next. Some clients start de-cluttering without further prompting. Others prefer to make a plan of action – which room to tackle first, whom to ask for practical help with clearing up, storage solutions for what they want to keep etc.
Usually, we schedule one or two more sessions to address any residual resistance to the cleaning up process. At this stage, if the client finds it useful, I teach them some techniques they can use very easily whilst they declutter if at any point they feel challenged (or they can just contact me and ask for some extra support).
This approach removes the emotional charge behind the hoarding before making any attempt to clear out the clutter. As Stelios Kiosses rightly says in the programme, hoarding reflects what is going on inside us. We might be using it to numb the pain of loss by burying our self under stuff, or we might create such overwhelm that we guarantee we cannot move forward, in our life as well as our home. By addressing the emotional causes first, we reach a place where we naturally want to move forward and feel able to do so. As we liberate ourselves emotionally, we become genuinely re-engaged in doing the same in our physical world.
At one point Margaret was so overwhelmed by what she was being asked to do that she had a meltdown. Stelios Kiosses commented that the solution for this was to compartmentalise the challenge. That makes sense to our left brain (deal with it in smaller chunks) but the fundamental flaw remains : it is not enough to say to someone XYZ caused this (how your father made you feel), and now you know that, you can release it and start clearing out. The very nature of these deeply buried feelings is that they are not rational. They steer us to places our thinking mind knows we should not be (under a mound of clutter) and their power is such that we cannot simply think or talk our way out of them.
Margaret is an intelligent woman. Her father made her say out loud that she is stupid and it seems some part of her accepted that judgement even though her rational self knows it to be untrue. Acknowledging how her father made her feel is a helpful start, but it does not untie her sufficiently from her emotions to make real progress now. Nor is the fact that a photograph of her father upsets her necessarily a reliable indication that this is the root cause of her hoarding. Some attempt is made to address the emotional issues when she works with a therapist who uses EMDR, but the limitations of EMDR are evident both from it requiring her to revisit painful memories and her subsequent limited progress.
Channel 4 is providing a great service by highlighting the issue of hoarding, but so far the solutions being offered are of limited effect and out-dated. With the right approach a lot more people could be helped much faster and much more effectively. Perhaps it is all about ratings at the end of the day and a speedy resolution of a longstanding issue is just not as engaging as witnessing an ongoing struggle.
Whilst we celebrate a wider public awareness of mental health issues such as hoarding, let us be wary of voyeurism. The programme makers may not believe they have any responsibility to share the most effective solutions as part of making good TV; I would argue that if they did, their ratings would be even higher. More of those who need help (and their families) would tune in and encourage others to do the same because they would witness what really works rather than someone left limping along the path, despite several weeks of therapy.