Conference on Compulsive Hoarding

On 17 October 2008, the first UK National Conference on Compulsive Hoarding was held at St. George’s Hospital in Stafford. Organized by Karen Smith, who is married to a compulsive hoarder, representatives from: social services, environmental health, clinical psychologists and the fire services were invited. Cluttergone received a personal invitation from Mrs. Smith and were the only members of the commercial sector to take part.  Many people heard her speak about her experiences on Woman’s Hour the day before the conference.

Mrs Smith has suffered a breakdown and depression from the effects of her husband’s compulsive hoarding. The conference is part of her campaign to open this often secret condition to discussion.

Compulsive hoarding doesn’t just affect partners and families, it often has a wider impact on neighbours and communities with vermin and fire risks. Because the sufferer doesn’t believe that they have a problem, professionals are often stymied as to how to deal with the situation.

We heard from:

Dr Trevor Hadfield, Mrs. Smith’s GP. He spoke movingly about what a charming intelligent man Mr. Smith is and how ‘logical’ he is.

Dr Felix Davies, Director of Psychological Services on Environmental Health Research talked about the statutory powers: mental health and environmental, together with all the various acts combine together in no clear cohesive way making any kind of legal manoeuvre incredibly difficult and complicated.

Dr Stephen Kellett, Clinical Psychologist discussed the possibilities of intervening psychologically with hoarders with the pluses and minuses of various treatment techniques. He was very interested in opening the research up to new ideas and strategies

Dr Mark Wilbram, Clinical Psychologist spoke about the effects on partners and carers.

The final speaker was Dr David Mataix-Cols, Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant Clinical Psychologist who presented his research and new data. He began as an OCD researcher. When he found that while some compulsive hoarding is OCD related, there is also hoarding which is not specifically attached to other mental illnesses. He has found some genetic contributing factors. As a discreet syndrome with its own diagnostic criteria it is being proposed for DSM-V. With this medical definition, it should be easier to apply formal and legal protocols. The next stage of his research will be on the triggers for compulsive hoarding.

Both Dr Kellett and Dr Mataix-Cols approached me and we had interesting conversations about the Wade-Bennett scale and the data we are gathering.

The universal conclusions of the conference were that to treat compulsive hoarding a team approach is vital and that it is a very difficult very complicated syndrome that needs a great deal more research.

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