The subject of hoarding has grown in prominence thanks to primetime TV programmes such as ‘Britain’s Biggest Hoarders’ and ‘How Clean is Your House’. Yet hoarding remains a very misunderstood condition, which can be approached without real awareness of how it manifests or how to talk to people who have these issues.
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, hoarding can be an illness in its own right, known as hoarding disorder, or it can be part of another health problem ranging from depression to dementia.
Dr Gregory from the Department of Psychology explains:
People with Hoarding Disorder appear to see value in objects that those without Hoarding Disorder do not. This special relationship with objects means that people experience a profound difficulty in letting go of valued possessions, which leads to an excessive quantity of possessions, often referred to as clutter. The significant number of possessions that are held onto, or saved, typically makes living spaces unusable for their intended purpose.
This can negatively impact upon the lives of people affected by hoarding difficulties, particularly with respect to emotional and physical well-being, health and safety, and finances. Whilst some people with hoarding difficulties may not seemingly be distressed by the amount of objects they own, many are. Similarly, the consequences of hoarding are often of great concern to other people, for example friends and family, and agencies, for example the fire service, housing, social services and environmental health.
Cognitive-behavioural psychological treatments (CBT) can be used to help people understand the thoughts and feelings associated with their saving and acquiring behaviours. This approach can work well for some, but not all.
Consequently, our research focusses on developing a better understanding of Hoarding Disorder, investigating the factors that are important in helping people with hoarding difficulties and developing innovations in psychological treatment.
The Bath team is currently leading work to explore the potential of immersive VR technologies in modelling treasured items, giving those with hoarding tendencies a form of exposure therapy and the opportunity to discard items in a virtual world.