One of my specialties is working with people who struggle with repetitive hair pulling (called trichotillomania) and/or skin picking (called dermatillomania or excoriation). Individuals with these conditions often do damage to their appearance.
In the case of hair pulling, some people pull enough to create thinning in their hair and sometimes bald patches. They may be noticeably missing eye lashes or eye brows. People with excoriation may create noticeable marks, scabs, or scarring from frequent picking. Everyone I’ve worked with has experienced some degree of embarrassment or shame about their appearance. Many are able to hide the damage through cosmetic means so that most people are unaware or do not notice, but others cannot.
One of the saddest experiences I’ve observed is that many people struggle with these problems for years without realizing they: 1. Have a recognized problem, 2. That they are not alone, that others struggle with similar problems, and 3. That there are proven treatment options. Even many trained therapists are not familiar with what are collectively known as body-focused repetitive behaviors, let alone how to effectively treat these problems.
Because these are not well-known phenomena, I was particularly excited to see an excellent article in the Huffington Post about skin picking and hair pulling disorders. As the article notes:
There are very few resources for people who suffer from body-focused repetitive behaviors (although the Trichtillomania Learning Center is one good one), and no psychotropic medications that have been deemed effective treatments thus far. According to Science of Us, the results of trials of the most thoroughly tested medication, Prozac, were inconclusive. And for such a common disorder, practitioners specializing in behavioral therapy for hair-pulling, and especially for skin-picking, are few and far between.
I will second the article’s recommendation of the Trichotillomania Learning Center as a great resource about hair pulling and skin picking.
The Huffington Post is not always a great resource for mental health information, in my experience, as it sometimes gives spotlights to fringe ideas, pseudoscience, and opinions or anecdotes that don’t necessarily reflect the research literature. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this article and think it is spot on.
Author: Brian Thompson Ph.D.
Brian is a licensed psychologist and Director of the Portland Psychotherapy Anxiety Clinic. His specialties include generalized anxiety, OCD, hair pulling, and skin picking.