18 May 2012

On hoarding

There have been a number of recent TV programmes in the UK on compulsive hoarders. The programme template is simple; show us the grotesque extent of the subject's hoarding compulsion (including revealing pest infestations and their by-products...); dramatise their struggles to throw out their stuff, with the alleged help of therapists [discounting the potentially much more potent and prolonged presence of a TV crew with a clear story to tell, backed up of course with a legal contract...]

Eventually, the former hoarder is shown in their now uncluttered and cleaned up house, protesting their relief at having room to move, and being able once again to access their bathroom and kitchen.

The formula raises a host of issues. Let's leave aside the question of the status of compulsive hoarding as a psychiatric disorder (a very live issue since we are currently in the consultation period for an [or even the] authoritative manual on this), important though it is.

Instead, let's return to the former hoarder, consider how long she or he remains free of the problem and a rather more venerable way of describing what happens:
Luke 11:24-26:
24 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out.
25 And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished.
26 Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
Unsurprisingly, treatment is very difficult and uncertain. Without necessarily adopting any kind of religious discourse, it's all about taking something which served some psychological purpose--however bizarrely and counter-productively--and often not offering anything in exchange. One of the few frameworks which addresses this explicitly is drama therapy, in particular the Magic Shop exercise.

Its principles are applicable not only in cases of pathology, but also in teaching, wherever learning or change is experienced as loss.

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