An Open Letter to Mental Health Providers

To Whom It May Concern:

It has come to my attention that many of you have been contacted or seen a patient whose parent is a hoarder. Many of you are treating hoarders although you have not been through the training recommended by the OCD Foundation and the researchers who are treating this.

I believe that you are well-meaning. I'm a glass half full kind of gal. Until proven otherwise, I will believe that your intention is to help people. But inadvertently, you are hurting a block of society.

When the adult child of a hoarder comes to you and describes the filth and hell that they grew up in, no matter how surprised you are, please do NOT say, "Oh my goodness!" with a look of shock and horror plastered across your face. It is a very difficult thing to show up in someone's office and talk about this family secret. This is exactly what we fear the most--shock and horror.

Please understand that our parents are mentally ill. The large accumulation of stuff is ONLY a symptom of the mental illness. Also, recognize that hoarding does not happen in a vacuum by itself. Co-morbidity rates for those who hoard is very high. One study indicates that more than 50% of those who hoard have major depression. Ask the adult children of hoarders and many will tell you that their parents are narcissistic, borderline, or even bipolar. The large accumulation of stuff is almost insignificant compared to the emotional, mental, and sometimes physical abuse and neglect that go on inside of these homes.

Imagine for a moment that you place an 18 month old child in the hoard. Where does this child play? Does he/she do so safely? Are they limited to small areas of the house? Is nutritious food easily accessible? Is normal personal hygiene practiced?

Now, imagine that 18 month old has grown up some. She's now 15 years old. Her own bedroom has long ago become packed with things that belong to her hoarding parent. She cannot close her door. She has no desk to sit at to study, no place that is uniquely hers--a refuge during the turbulent years of adolescence. Also consider that the bathroom, if functional at all, is disgusting. Mom and Dad may control her access and usage of the facilities. Likely, if she is using them, there is still no privacy; Mom may barge in at any moment.

She has no friends over to the house. How could she? If she were allowed, which she isn't, she would be mortified to let the kids at school know how she lived. She has learned the fine art of dodging the truth--telling half-truths and becoming a split-personality. She never tells her friends how she really lives, feels, or dreams. Those truths are not safe. She learned this long ago.

When you get the opportunity to hear a speaker on the issue of hoarding, please take it. Ask questions. Real questions, even the ones that are embarrassing to ask. The only dumb question is the one that remains unasked. And if you don't have the opportunity to do this, find a way. Contact the Children of Hoarders' website and find out if there is someone local who would speak to you in person, and if not, by phone. I personally have no issue talking about all the nitty-gritty, dirty, shameful, and embarrassing stuff. I am happy to do presentations for CEUs. But I'm not the only one who does this.

Please be aware that this is not a new issue. But awareness is still very new. Think of the child of an alcoholic back in the 1960s. They were terrified to talk about the family secret. They longed to be heard, acknowledged, and encouraged. We, as children of hoarders, are much the same.

Thank you for letting me share this with you.
Ceci G


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