Category Archives: Treatment

A Beginner’s Guide to Treating Trichotillomania

Clinical Psychologist

I often tell my colleagues that trichotillomania (hair pulling disorder) represents the wild west of psychological disorders. Unfortunately, it remains one of the least researched and most misunderstood disorders in the DSM. Additionally, there is a lot of pseudoscience, snake oil, and plain old quackery on the internet about the best way to treat it.

In this article, I will highlight what we do know about scientifically supported treatments for trichotillomania. As a disclaimer, this is only an introduction to treating trichotillomania and is not intended to formally train clinicians. Lastly, I will not be reviewing medical treatments for trichotillomania (you can learn more about those here).

Historical Treatments

hands.jpg

Photo by Gregory Parker

The first scientifically based treatment for trichotillomania was Habit Reversal Training (HRT) (Azrin, Nunn, & Frantz, 1980; Duke, Keeley, Geffken, & Storch, 2010). During HRT, individuals become more aware of their hair pulling behavior and practice interrupting the behavior by engaging in incompatible behaviors. For example, people who use their hands to pull from their scalp might practice reaching down towards one’s knees. While HRT has been effective in the treatment of tics and Tourette’s Disorder, it doesn’t work for everyone who has trichotillomania and also has a high rate of relapse. Why? As I described in a previous article, trichotillomania is a very heterogeneous disorder and affects each person differently. A “one size fits all” treatment just won’t work for trichotillomania.

Modern Treatments

Recently, researchers have developed more comprehensive approaches to treating trichotillomania. Dr. Charles Mansueto pioneered the Comprehensive Behavioral Model (ComB) for trichotillomania (Mansueto, Stemberger, Thomas, & Golomb, 1997). In ComB, clinicians first understand the function of hair pulling. Does it relieve stress? Does it end boredom? Does it reduce anger and frustration? Next, clinicians identify the main types of hair pulling. Some individuals pull for sensory stimulation (trying to find the hair that feels just right), others due to specific thoughts (I have to get rid of all the grey hairs), etc. Lastly, clinicians create treatments that address all aspects of trichotillomania including emotional regulation (learning more adaptive ways of dealing with stress, anger, boredom), physical habits (using HRT and objects to stop motor behavior), and environmental interventions (covering mirrors, getting rid of tweezers).

While research is underway to evaluate Mansueto’s ComB model, other researchers have found support for this approach to treating trichotillomania. In a recent pilot study, Dr. Nancy Keuthen and her colleagues found that Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was effective at reducing trichotillomania symptoms for at least 3 months (Keuthen et al., 2010). DBT is a form of cognitive behavior therapy that focuses on learning new ways of regulating one’s emotions. Additionally, in a review of all published scientific treatment studies on trichotillomania, Dr. Michael Walther and his colleagues concluded that behavior therapy (HRT), emotional regulation, and acceptance together represent the most promising treatment for trichotillomania (Walther, Ricketts, Conelea, & Woods, 2010). Furthermore, Dr. Martin Franklin and his colleagues have demonstrated that this comprehensive approach to behavior therapy not only works for adults, but it can help children as young as 7 (Franklin, Edson, & Freeman, 2010).

So what does this all mean? To the best of our scientific knowledge, effective trichotillomania treatment includes three things:

  1. An increased awareness of when, where, and why hair pulling occurs.
  2. An effort to control or change hair pulling behavior.
  3. Emotional regulation training to find alternative ways of dealing with negative feelings.

Here’s how I use these scientific findings to treat trichotillomania.

Increasing Awareness

Photo by Wim Mulder

Before creating a treatment plan, I collaborate with my clients to understand the unique patterns of their hair pulling. This usually includes a 1-2 week record of all hair pulling episodes. I ask each client to record the following information after each hair pulling episode:

  • What part of the body was the hair pulled from?
  • Where was the person when they pulled their hair?
  • What time was it when the person pulled their hair?
  • Was an instrument (e.g. tweezers) used to help pull hair?
  • What was the person doing while they pulled their hair?
  • What was the person feeling before, during, and after the hair pulling?
  • What was the person thinking before, during, and after the hair pulling?
  • Was anyone else present during the hair pulling?
  • What did the person do with their hair after they pulled it? (Sidenote: You’ll want to look out for individuals who swallow their hair, this could lead to a potentially lethal condition known as a trichobezoar and will need immediate medical attention).

Changing Hair Pulling Behavior & Emotional Regulation

Photo by Aimee Quiggle

A key component of Dr. Manysueto’s ComB model is the SCAMP Intervention. SCAMP stands for Sensory, Cognitive, Affective, Motor, and Place. Once my client and I have a firm understanding of the hair pulling behavior, I use the SCAMP Intervention to create a customized treatment plan.

Sensory: For individuals who seek sensory activation on their scalp, we might use brushes, combs, pens, massages, or ice to ease sensations. For hands, individuals can get manicures, use lotions, or file their nails. For the face, bath oils, baths, facial scrubs, or a loofah could be used.

Cognitive: Often specific thoughts can lead to hair pulling. Common thoughts include, “My hair has to look perfect”, “I need to get rid of that blemish”, “I’ll just pull a little”, “I’ve already pulled once, so why try holding back?” Here, individuals practice thinking in more realistic way (e.g. “It’s okay to be imperfect”, “The best way to fix it is to let it heal”, and “A slip-up is not a failure, any progress is helpful”).

Affective: When specific emotions lead one to pull their hair, the best way to address this problem is learn more effective ways of regulating your nervous system. To become more relaxed, individuals can use diaphragmatic (belly) breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, practice meditation, listen to white noise, use a heating pad, drink a warm beverage, take a slow relaxing walk, use an eye/face gel mask, or take a long bath. To address intensity and pain, individuals can stick their fingers in frozen ice cream, put their face in a bowl of ice water, suck on a lemon, snap a rubber band on your wrist, take a cold shower, go for a fast run, or chew a large wad of gum. To deal with boredom, individuals can learn about a topic of interest on the internet, write in a journal, draw, play a musical instrument, read a book, paint, take photographs, do a crossword puzzle, and garden.

Motor: In addition to HRT, physical barriers can often help reduce hair pulling. For example, rubber fingers, band-aids, sleep masks, head wraps, glasses, hats, gloves, thumb braces, and tape can all be used to create barriers to hair pulling. Also, changing the condition of your hair and hands can help (e.g. wetting hair, placing Vaseline on your eyelids/brows, wearing false nails, using hand lotion). Objects such as loud bracelets, elbow braces, and perfume can increase awareness of hair pulling. Fiddling toys can sometimes provide alternatives to hair pulling (e.g. koosh balls, silly putty, clay, knitting). For oral rituals, chewing gum, eating sunflower seeds, chewing raw pasta, chewing a toothpick, and eating gummy bears can help.

Place: Comprehensive interventions should also target the environment in which hair pulling takes place. Individuals can try changing light levels, covering mirrors, getting rid of tweezers (or placing them in the freezer), using sticky notes, keeping certain doors open (to decrease privacy), rearranging furniture, and sitting in different positions.

Monitoring Progress and Revising Treatment

As a client and clinician begin treatment, it’s important to keep a daily log of the hair pulling episodes and the attempted interventions. Some interventions will work right away, others will need to be fine tuned, and some will lose their effectiveness over time. The client and clinician must work together, constantly monitoring and reevaluating the treatment until a plan is developed that fits the needs of the client. This process could take weeks or months. Additionally, since trichotillomania changes as we age, treatments that worked at one phase of life may not work in another.

Advice for Treatment Seekers and Treatment Providers

As you can tell, treating trichotillomania is a complex and long process. It takes a lot of time, courage, and motivation on the part of the individual and a lot of training and experience on the part of the clinician. If you are someone who is suffering from trichotillomania, make sure that your clinician is using scientifically supported treatments. Ask them about the type of treatment they are using. If you don’t hear anything about increasing awareness, changing behaviors, or emotional regulation, their treatment may not be based on science. If they start using personal testimonials and wild theories to backup their treatment, or say their treatment cannot be evaluated by science, run away – they’re probably selling you snake oil.

I recommend using the Trichotillomania Learning Center’s list of health care providers to find individuals trained in scientifically supported treatments. If you are a health care provider wanting to learn more about these treatments, I highly recommend attending a Trichotillomania Learning Center Professional Training Institute and browsing through their clinical resources.

References:

Azrin, N. H., Nunn, R. G., & Frantz, S. E. (1980). Treatment of hair-pulling (trichotillomania): A comparative study of habit reversal and negative practice training. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 11, 13-20.

Duke, D., Keeley, M., Geffken, G., & Storch, E. (2010). Trichotillomania: a current review. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 181-193.

Franklin, M. E., Edson, A. L., & Freeman, J. B. (2010). Behavior therapy for pediatric trichotillomania: Exploring the effects of age on treatment outcome. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 4, 18.

Keuthen, N. J., Rothbaum, B. O., Welch, S. S., Taylor, C., Falkenstein, M., Heekin, M., Jordan, C. A., et al. (2010). Pilot trial of dialectical behavior therapy-enhanced habit reversal for trichotillomania. Depression and Anxiety, 27(10), 953-959.

Mansueto, C. S., Townsley-Stemberger, R. M., McCombs-Thomas, A., & Goldfinger-Golomb, R. (1997). Trichotillomania: A comprehensive behavioral model. Clinical Psychology Review, 17, 567-577.

Walther, M. R., Ricketts, E. J., Conelea, C. A., & Woods, D. W. (2010). Recent Advances in the Understanding and Treatment of Trichotillomania. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 24(1), 46-64.

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Inositol

Studies show that Inositol helps many Trichotillomania suffers. I find that it reduces the urge to pull, which helps with my focused pulling. The Inositol also increases my awareness, which decreases my unfocused pulling.

Leading Trichotillomania specialist Dr. Penzel’s wrote, Inositol and OCD. He recommends the following regimen to begin Inositol: 

(1 teaspoon=2 grams, and be sure to use a measuring spoon) for an adult:

Week 1 – 1 teaspoon/2x per day
Week 2 – 1 teaspoon/3x per day
Week 3 – 1.5 teaspoons/3x per day
Week 4 – 2 teaspoons/3x per day
Week 5 – 2.5 teaspoons/3x per day
Week 6 – 3 teaspoons/3x per day

Following this regimen, I worked my way up and now take 18g each day. I do this by mixing 3 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) of inositol in water 3 times a day. I have found the Jarrow brand powder (shown above) to dissolve well. It is available on amazon for reasonable price. I mix it with warm water as it dissolves better that way. You can add it to fruit juice or other sweetened drink. I simply mix the powder with ~3oz of warm water and drink plain as it has a mild sweet taste that I actually like. In addition to Inositol, l I take 1800mg of  NAC, which I started several months before the Inositol. I did not see much progress with that alone, therefore I added the Inositol. If you are considering both supplements, choose one to start with, otherwise you will not know which is helping and or causing side effects.

I have taken Inositol on and off for 2 years. When I first started the recommended regimen over 6 weeks, I noticed many GI side effects. When I unexpectedly became pregnant a couple months later, I had to lower my dose because it increased my nausea. That did not help so I discontinued the Inositol until my morning sickness passed. Reassured by my OB that Inositol is safe while pregnant and breastfeeding, I slowly reintroduced the Inositol. I only took 1-2 because it aggravated epigastric pain I had while pregnant. The lower dose helped a bit, but not nearly as well as the recommended 3 TBSP. Now that I am back to 3 TBSP per day (which I take in one large dose at night to help my insomnia), I am definitely feeling the benefits. It decreases my urges and makes me more aware of pulling.

Here’s more details information I copied from the article about Inositol use for trich sufferers, written by trich specialist Fred Penzel:

“Obviously, before you run out and try anything new, you should always consult your physician. If your physician recommends trying this, you might also want to mention the following information to him or her:

  1. It cannot be taken together with Lithium, as it seems to block its action.
  2. The chief side effects of inositol are gas and diarrhea. Some people get this for the first few days and then it clears up. Many of those taking it never have this side effect, and some only get it when they take more than a particular amount.
  3. I have heard reports that caffeine lowers inositol levels in the body, so if you are a heavy coffee drinker, you might consider cutting down or eliminating this from your diet. Actually, stimulants such as caffeine can sometimes contribute to anxiety, jitteriness, etc.
  4. It should be purchased in powdered form, and taken dissolved in water or fruit juice. It has a sweet taste, and is chemically related to sugar. If it is allowed to stand for about 10 minutes after mixing it, it seems to dissolve better. Vigorous mixing for a few minutes also helps. If it still doesn’t dissolve well (not all brands do), stir it up and drink it quickly before it settles. The use of powder is recommended, as the larger doses required could require taking as many as 36, 500 mg. capsules per day.
  5. Inositol is a water-soluble vitamin, so although the doses appear to be large, it will not build up to toxic levels in the body. Whatever the body doesn’t use is excreted. The average person normally takes in about 1 gram of inositol each day via the food they eat. There are no reports of any harm associated with the long-term use of inositol. Some of our patients have been taking it as long as eight years now, with no problems.6. It can be built up according to the following schedule (1 teaspoon=2 grams, and be

sure to use a measuring spoon) for an adult:

  • Week 1 – 1 teaspoon/2x per day
  • Week 2 – 1 teaspoon/3x per day
  • Week 3 – 1.5 teaspoons/3x per day
  • Week 4 – 2 teaspoons/3x per day
  • Week 5 – 2.5 teaspoons/3x per day
  • Week 6 – 3 teaspoons/3x per day

A child can be built up to 3 teaspoons per day over the same six-week period. Dosages for adolescents can be adjusted according to weight. In either case, it is best to allow side effects to be the guide. If they begin to occur, it is not considered wise to increase the dosage unless they subside.

Once a person has reached either the maximum dosage, or the greatest amount they are able to tolerate, it is best to try staying six weeks at that level to see if there is any noticeable improvement. If there is none by the end of that time, it should probably be discontinued. As with any treatment, those who are absolutely positive that it will help are only setting themselves up, and may wind up more than disappointed. Everything works for someone, but nothing works for everyone.”

Treating the Whole Person

imageTreating the Whole Person:

A Personal User’s Guide

By Renae M. Reinardy, PsyD., LP

There are many different ways for us to understand our experiences in life. I have not found it helpful for clients to be overly harsh or punishing in their efforts to produce the changes they want to make. Rather, it is good practice to take a comprehensive, wise and compassionate approach toward getting unstuck on the path to change. Everyone’s path is different, so I want to offer a few tips that might help you to write your own Personal User’s Guide. This includes taking care of your mind, body and spirit in a comprehensive manner, which I will briefly outline in this article. Please have a pen and paper handy for taking notes as we go along.

Before reading on, take a few minutes to write down what your pulling or picking means to you. Questions to help you start include: How did this journey start, what directions has it taken you in, what have you gained and what do you feel like you have lost, what works, what doesn’t, when did the behavior start, and what function does it serve?

The way that I conceptualize BFRBs is that they are like a friend who is trying really hard to make a person feel better, but they do not offer the best advice. Pulling and picking are often ways for one’s body to sort out sensory, emotional, cognitive, spiritual, and physical deregulation. This friend may offer some quick relief or distraction from these experiences, but often there are no lasting gains. Rather, it can lead to a vicious cycle of behavior which can feel out of control.

Somewhere along the way, many people lose track of what they need and have stopped listening to their inner core. Instead, they tried to quiet it with distracting and impermanent forms of relief or pleasure. Let’s look at a few components of the Personal User’s Guide to see if it is helpful in hearing one’s self better.

One of the first things that I work on with my clients is the “pillars of health”. This is learning how to take care of one’s body through proper nutrition, sleep, exercise and general self-care. Again, if a person has any deregulation in their body, there is a good chance that the BFRBs will pick up on that imbalance and try to fix the problem. Let’s try in a new way, by looking at what might be contributing to the problem in the first place. Please ask yourself to honestly answer the following questions:
Nutrition: What do I eat?

List some typical items you consume on a daily basis for the following meals:
Breakfast
Lunch
Dinner
Snacks
Caffeine
Vitamins:
Exercise: How and when do you exercise?

Sleep: What time do you wrap up your day?

How long does it take to fall asleep?
Do you wake up at night?
What time do I wake up in the morning?
Well, how does it look?

If you are like most of us, at least some improvement can be made in how we care for our bodies. Perhaps there are one or two things from the lists above you’ve always wanted to change, or believe if you COULD change, it would help with your BFRB management. Can you identify one small difference you could make to begin?

Over the past few years, there has been more research to support the role of nutrition in BFRBs, including sugar intake, and dietary supplements. Some people have had great success with the supplements N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and/orInositol (B- vitamin) decreasing urges to pick or pull. Work with your healthcare provider to determine if these might be appropriate for you. I have also found that my clients experience great benefit when sugar intake is reduced.

In our typical diet, we are often starving for good nutrients. Our diet must contain 5 essential items to be truly healthy: carbohydrates, proteins (1/5 of our calories), fats, water and minerals. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein which plays a role in every cellular function of the body. Out of 20 amino acids present in the body, 9 are essential, meaning that they must come from diet. Clinical nutritionists have found that deficiencies in B1, B2, B6, folate, B12, C, magnesium and zinc are related to a number of mental health conditions. Since many people do not get what they need from their diet, vitamin supplements are often needed in addition to dietary changes. Be sure to get a good natural vitamin that your doctor approves.

The “E” word. Research has proven the mental health benefits of exercise. It is believed that exercise stimulates the production of endorphins—the feel good hormone. Serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are also released during exercise. (Do these sound familiar? Yep, these are same chemicals that are targeted with many psychotropic medications.) Other benefits of exercise include improved blood flow, increased brain function, increased oxygen, and removal of toxins through breathing and sweat. Time to dust off those shoes with the laces. Start gradually and set realistic goals. For example, if you’d like to exercise more, maybe start with just ten minutes of exercise every day. Ten minutes of walking at a faster pace, ten minutes of jogging, ten minutes on the treadmill or the elliptical….then when that gets easy, add five more minutes. Before you know it, you are exercising for an hour. Talk to your doctor if you have any medical conditions that would restrict exercise.

Sleep is another thing we all know is important, yet is one of the first things to go in our busy schedules. The average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Research suggests that people who do not get adequate sleep tend to live shorter lives than those who do. Chronic sleep deprivation also leads to increased risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. When we sleep, we produce extra protein molecules to help us fight off infection, stress and toxins by helping the immune system mend our bodies. Take good care of your body and your body will take good care of you. Again, remember that picking and pulling serve a function. If any of these areas are out of whack, you may notice urges on the rise in attempts to self regulate.

Take the time to evaluate your pillars of health. When we rush things, they tend not to be effective. In working with my clients, I’ve found that focusing on the pillars of health can be a big factor in getting someone unstuck when a traditional behavioral and cognitive plan are not enough.
How I Live My Life

Another piece of the Personal User’s Guide that I want to cover in Part One is how we live our life. So many times people plow through the day, just to work toward another goal—the weekend, a long-awaited vacation, or milestones such as graduation, retirement, etc. Yikes! There is often quite a bit of time spent waiting for something good to happen!

Draw two circles in your notebook. Label one circle “real Life” and the other circle “Ideal Life.” In each circle complete a pie chart: one on how you spend your typical day and the other on how you would like to spend your day.

How do they compare? Is there anything that you can take from your ideal and build into your everyday/real life? It is important to take time now to spoil yourself a bit—listen to music, get and receive hugs, sing, pet an animal, smile, pray, make good wishes for others, take a nap, get a massage, acknowledge yourself and your accomplishments, or try to find a quiet place to rejuvenate. We often cannot live every moment in the ideal, but it is good to not get stuck in long patterns of unfulfillment.

Can you think of a few ways you can incorporate goals from your ideal life into your real life? Write them in your notebook.

Okay, one more thing to think about in Part One of your Personal User’s Guide: Spirituality.

Pretty big topic and I am not talking about religion, although that can fall into this category. Focusing on one’s spirituality involves developing an inner life to experience greater connectedness through practices such as prayer, meditation and contemplation. These practices help us to experience a more comprehensive sense of self and the interrelatedness to others, nature and/or religious experiences. Recent research has shown the medical and emotional benefits of these practices including a more complex range of brain activity, stress relief, decreased heart rate, improved lung capacity, and decreased anxiety, to name a few. Please take a few moments and think of how you might summarize your spiritual life.
My Spirit: Take some notes on the following questions

What gives me inner strength and connectedness to things outside of myself ?
How can I build on this?

In Part Two of the Personal User’s Guide, we will discuss emotions, thoughts, and behavioral strategies that can help give your body what it needs. By learning and listening to ourselves it is possible to improve one’s overall well-being and decrease undesirable behaviors and patterns. In the meantime, best wishes in reinforcing or changing any experiences that you may have realized in completing.

This is part 1 of a two-part article. Read part 2, here >>

Dr. Renae Reinardy is the founder of the Lakeside Center for Behavioral Change in Fargo, ND. Prior to opening her own practice, Dr. Reinardy worked as a psychologist at the Behavior Therapy Center of Greater Washington in Silver Spring, Maryland. Dr. Reinardy specializes in the treatment of hair pulling and skin picking disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, compulsive hoarding, and related conditions. She has been an adjunct professor at the doctoral level and has presented numerous times at national conferences and at local meetings and trainings, including The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors’ Annual Conferences and Retreats. Dr. Reinardy has been interviewed on Good Morning America, the Joy Behar Show, Dateline NBC, and A&E’s Hoarders. For more information, visit http://www.lakesidecenter.org.

 

 

How Long Does it Take to Break a Habit?

image.jpegYes Trich is more than a ‘bad habit’. However, it is an unwanted behavior that I believe can be unlearned or changed.

My goal is to break this ‘habit’. I have been working at this since beginning this blog 2 years ago. Yes, I tried to stop pulling before that, but my mindset changed. I was willing to do everything I could, including changing my mindset.

Before a bad habit or unwanted behavior can be changed or stopped, I believe you need to change your thinking. Your thinking rules everything you do. This is why cognitive therapy is effective. The fist step of changing your thinking is to accept that you have a real disorder that causes you to pull your hair. It is not a lack of will power or discipline that keeps you in the cycle of hair pulling and self-loathing that often directly follows pulling. Click here for more information about Commitment and Acceptance Therapy.

Once you have changed your thinking, you can focus more on the unwanted behavior (hair pulling or any behavior). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy follows this approach (CBT).

According to The OCD Center of Los Angeles:

“The most effective treatment for Trichotillomania is a combination of various types of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Perhaps the most important of these is called Habit Reversal Training (HRT). HRT is based on the principle that hair pulling is a conditioned response to specific situations and events, and that the individual with Trichotillomania is frequently unaware of these triggers. HRT challenges Trichotillomania in a two-fold process. First, the individual with Trichotillomania learns how to become more consciously aware of situations and events that trigger hair-pulling episodes. Second, the individual learns to utilize alternative behaviors in response to these situations and events.

Other Cognitive-Behavior Therapy techniques can be used as adjuncts to HRT in the treatment of Trichotillomania. Among these are Stimulus Control techniques and Cognitive Restructuring. Stimulus Control techniques involve utilizing specific physical items as “habit blockers” to restrict the ability to pull hair, while Cognitive Restructuring helps an individual with Trichotillomania learn to think differently in response to the urge to pull their hair.
Skin Picking and Hair Pulling – Reflections

One of the most effective CBT developments for the treatment of Trichotillomania is Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The primary goal of Mindfulness-Based CBT is to learn to non-judgmentally accept uncomfortable psychological experiences. From a mindfulness perspective, much of our psychological distress is the result of trying to control and eliminate the discomfort of unwanted thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges. In other words, our discomfort is not the problem – our attempt to control and eliminate our discomfort is the problem. For those with Trichotillomania, the ultimate goal of mindfulness is to develop the ability to more willingly experience their uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges, without pulling their hair. To learn more about Mindfulness Based CBT for the treatment of Trichotillomania, click here.

Here’s how long it takes to break a habit, according to science
*You’re gonna need more than will power.
SIGNE DEAN 24 SEP 2015

From daily tooth-brushing to the 11am coffee, we all have dozens of habits that get us through our daily routine. Some are great – weekly gym visits are often encouraged – others not so much, like smoking a pack a day, or dialling the number of the pizza place way too often. Because we recognise our habits as useful or detrimental behaviours, we often strive to shape them accordingly.

There’s no shortage of apps out there designed to help you form a habit, and many of those are built on the assumption that all you need is 21 days. This number comes from a widely popular 1960 book called Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon who noticed his patients seemed to take about 21 days to get used to their new faces.
However, according to a 2009 study, the time it takes to form a habit really isn’t that clear-cut. Researchers from University College London examined the new habits of 96 people over the space of 12 weeks, and found that the average time it takes for a new habit to stick is actually 66 days; furthermore, individual times varied from 18 to a whopping 254 days.

The take-away message here is that if you want to develop a new behaviour, it will take at least two months, and you shouldn’t despair if three weeks doesn’t do the trick – for most people that’s simply not enough. Stick with it for longer, and you’ll end up with a habit you can keep without thinking.

But what about trying to break an unwanted habit?

It turns out the two – habit forming and breaking – can be quite closely linked. As psychologist Timothy Pychyl explains to Alison Nastasi at Hopes and Fears, they’re two sides of the same coin: “Breaking a habit really means establishing a new habit, a new pre-potent response. The old habit or pattern of responding is still there (a pattern of neuron responses in the brain), but it is less dominant (less potent).”

From daily tooth-brushing to the 11am coffee, we all have dozens of habits that get us through our daily routine. Some are great – weekly gym visits are often encouraged – others not so much, like smoking a pack a day, or dialling the number of the pizza place way too often. Because we recognise our habits as useful or detrimental behaviours, we often strive to shape them accordingly.

There’s no shortage of apps out there designed to help you form a habit, and many of those are built on the assumption that all you need is 21 days. This number comes from a widely popular 1960 book called Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon who noticed his patients seemed to take about 21 days to get used to their new faces.
However, according to a 2009 study, the time it takes to form a habit really isn’t that clear-cut. Researchers from University College London examined the new habits of 96 people over the space of 12 weeks, and found that the average time it takes for a new habit to stick is actually 66 days; furthermore, individual times varied from 18 to a whopping 254 days.

The take-away message here is that if you want to develop a new behaviour, it will take at least two months, and you shouldn’t despair if three weeks doesn’t do the trick – for most people that’s simply not enough. Stick with it for longer, and you’ll end up with a habit you can keep without thinking.

But what about trying to break an unwanted habit?

It turns out the two – habit forming and breaking – can be quite closely linked. As psychologist Timothy Pychyl explains to Alison Nastasi at Hopes and Fears, they’re two sides of the same coin: “Breaking a habit really means establishing a new habit, a new pre-potent response. The old habit or pattern of responding is still there (a pattern of neuron responses in the brain), but it is less dominant (less potent).”

“It’s much easier to start doing something new than to stop doing something habitual without a replacement behaviour,” says neuroscientist Elliot Berkman. “That’s one reason why smoking cessation aids such as nicotine gum or inhalers tend to be more effective than the nicotine patch.”

Experts agree that there’s no typical time frame for breaking a habit, and the right recipe is going to be a mix of personality, motivation, circumstances, and the habit in question. “People who want to kick their habit for reasons that are aligned with their personal values will change their behaviour faster than people who are doing it for external reasons such as pressure from others,” says Berkman.

According to psychology professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne, sometimes a habit can be broken quickly: “In extreme cases, the habit can be broken instantly, such as if you happen to become violently ill when you inhale cigarette smoke or nearly get hit by a bus when texting and walking.” But in most cases it’s going to take longer than that, and you should probably allow for at least two months.

To successfully break a habit, you need to think of your strongest motivation, which will drive you along. Think of a ‘replacement behaviour’ for the habit, but make sure it’s a positive one – replacing smoking with snacking is a common trap, for example. And be patient. The longer you’ve had a habit, the longer it will take to get rid of it.

“Longtime habits are literally entrenched at the neural level, so they are powerful determinants of behavior,” explains Berkman. “The good news is that people are nearly always capable of doing something else when they’re made aware of the habit and are sufficiently motivated to change.”

So stay strong, you can do it.

 

 

 

Promoting Hair Growth

Essential Oil Blend Promotes  Hair Health and Growth

& Reduces Scalp Irritation and Inflammation

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Specific essential oils can promote hair growth by increasing circulation and health of your hair follicles. In addition, essential oils can calm your irritated or inflamed scalp. Depending on your particular needs, you can choose an essential oil blend to combat dandruff, yeast overgrowth, and other types of  scalp irritation. I have found that foods and hair products leading to the growth of malassezia yeast increase my urge to pull by causing my hot spots to flare up. To learn more about malassezia yeast, click on the link below.

http://malasseziayeast-mypersonal-battle.blogspot.com/

I use the recipe below for my essential oil blend. I massage it into my hair several times  a week. I often leave it in all day or night as it deters my pulling. It calms my scalp irritation thus reducing my urge to pull. In addition, it is harder to pull slippery, oily hair. This makes me more aware of any unconscious pulling; allowing me to stop before getting ‘just one’, which is my greatest downfall. If I can avoid pulling just one, it is way easier to resist a  pulling frenzy.

Directions

Combine lavender, camomile, rosemary, cedarwood, ylang-ylang, tea tree, and peppermint essential oils and add to a base of the following carrier oils: jojoba, argan, almond, and grapeseed oil.  I use a clean hair dye dispenser bottle. Massage the blend into your scalp for about 2 minutes. Massage with your finger tips rather than your nails.   You can leave it in your hair for a few minutes, hours, or all day. When I am home and having a hard time resisting the urge, I massage this blend into my scalp and leave it in all day.

For the best outcome, wrap your head in a warm towel for 30-40 minutes. The grapeseed, almond, argan, and jojoba oils work as a carrier, penetrating and sending the essential oils into your hair follicles.

Essential Oils & Carrier Oils Commonly Used for Hair Growth and Scalp Health

1. Ylang-Ylang

Ylang-Ylang (Cananga odorata), the same as with lavender, is believed to reduce stress and has been used to increase the shaft of the hair to produce hair that is thicker and more luxurious. It is able to balance scalp oil production and this could help with split ends.

2. German Chamomile

German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) is an effective agent in aromatherapy’s bag of wonders for reducing inflammation. Sometimes hair loss is due to inflammation of the hair follicles in the scalp. This can lead to less cellular function. Some think that an overheated scalp can cause hair loss. This essential oil is cooling and has an anti-inflammatory effect. The fragrance is light and has a bottom note of pineapple.

3. Lavender

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is in many hair products and hair conditioners. As an essential oil, it is used for reducing inflammation and no steroids are involved. Its anti-bacterial properties are beneficial and it has regenerative properties. It is a favorite oil for reducing stress and encouraging hair growth. Maybe you are stressed enough that your hair is falling out—try lavender for healthful benefits.

4. Rosemary

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a leading essential oil for boosting hair growth. It has seen much success in alopecia areata hair treatment. Use the Verbenone type if you seek the regenerative capabilities of the oil rosemary, found in many preparations for hair and scalp benefits. Thought to increase cellular metabolism, it thereby stimulates healthy hair growth. Used in fragrant perfumes, it is also used to emit its delightful aroma into your room environment. It is also burned as incense and used in shampoo.

5. Helichrysum

Helichrysum (Helichrysum orientale) is believed to be a regenerator for all soft tissues of the body. Helichrysum is the sunflower family and has an earthy fragrance found in blends for both the scalp and hair in commercial products. It is likely regenerative to scalp tissue as well. Some healthcare providers perceive the aging scalp to be similar to scar tissue. It increases circulation and is beneficial as an anti-inflammatory means.

6. Clary Sage

Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea) essential oil promotes hormone balance that is vital for men and women when considering the health of their hair. Clary Sage is thought to balance estrogen levels in the skin and scalp, and can be of help for women after menopause. The distilled essential oil is used in perfumes and it is used in aromatherapy for menstrual-related problems such as cramping and PMS. It helps with insomnia relieving anxiety and fear as well.

7. Jojoba**

Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis) is obtained in many natural hair care products. Jojoba is used for moisturizing and softening dry hair. It is thought to cleanse the follicles of sebum (natural oils), and promote shiny and vibrant hair.

8. Sesame**

Sesame (Sesamum indicum) is highly thought of in Ayurvedic medicine in traditional Hindu medicine to therapy for thousands of years using the oils for massage. Sesame has lignans, chemical compounds found in plants, and used in essential oils. Lignans increase the effectiveness of vitamin E, so it is thought to nurture shiny and thick hair growth. Use it as a 5-minute scalp massage each day without missing a day. Wash hands thoroughly after you are finished, since sesame will irritate mucous membranes such as the eyes and nose.

9. Tea Tree (my favorite for hair, scalp, and skin)

Antifungal – Malassezia furfur is the most common dermatophyte to cause dandruff. With only a 5% concentration, tea tree oil is a very effective treatment for Malassezia furfur.

Anti-inflammatory – Like many essential oils, tea tree oil acts to efficiently reduce inflammation due to infection or injury.These properties make tea tree oil a very useful tool in the fight against hair loss and promotion of hair growth. By disinfecting the scalp, tea tree oil reduces the build-up of residues around the hair follicles allowing for the free flow of sebum (our natural, self-produced moisturizer) into the hair shafts. In addition, by reducing the inflammation around the hair follicles, tea tree oil promotes regeneration of existing hair while promoting new growth.The nutrient dense nature of tea tree oil nourishes the hair leaving it soft, shiny and less subject to breakage which in turn gives the appearance of a fuller head of hair. It also maintains the moisture and overall health of the scalp to further encourage healthy hair growth.

**Carrier Oils 

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What are carrier oils?

The term “carrier oil” encompasses hundreds of different oils and butters. In the most basic sense, the word “carrier” serves to distinguish oils that are not “essential” oils. Common carrier oils include olive oil, coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, grapeseed oil, canola oil, sweet almond oil, walnut oil, and more. The oils in this category vary wildly in terms of texture, colour, thickness, nutritional composition, and scent, but generally they are our base oils/butters.

A Guide to Carrier Oil Substitutions

How to Use Carrier Oils

 

Final Thoughts

Essential oils are not intended to treat, prevent, or cure any disease. Essential oils are the active ingredients–the essence of the flowers and plants. Essential oils can additionally be added to your shampoo and conditioner to benefit your hair. You can try various combinations of essential oil blends and carrier oils. The recipe above is what has worked best for me. I learned through trial and error. I find the essential oil be lends most helpful for deterring pulling, calming my scalp, and improving my hair health. I am uncertain wether it actually promote growth in my case. I use Pinterest to find explanations of blends and recipes that have helped other people.

Before learning about the benefits of essential oil, I used a mix of castor oil and coconut oil to promote growth. Although these softened and moisturizer my hair, I did not love the outcome. You can read my blog about coconut oil and castor oil.

 

On pinterest I have a board with the hair and skin care recipes I use. It also contains information on carrrier oils.

http://pin.it/GTVG8dg

 

 

 

NAC for Trichotillomania

Research shows that nutritional supplements may help mental health including trichotillomania. Lately I have focused on inositol and NAC as I have heard about these supplements in many trichotillomania communities with varied success.

I started taking NAC (N-acetylcysteine) about two years ago and have noticed a decrease in my urge to pull when I take it 5-6 days per week. I take2-600mg capsules in the morning and 2-600mg capsules in the evening, giving me a total of 2400mg of NAC. Doses between 1200-3600mg may be helpful according to this article,  N-Acetylcysteine, a Glutamate Modulator, in the Treatment of Trichotillomania

I recently added inositol to increase the benefits of NAC.  It is generally agreed that a large dose is needed for inositol to be effective with trich. I worked my way up to 18g per day. I do this by mixing 3 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon of inositol in water 3 times a day. I have found the Jarrow brand powder dissolves best. It is available on amazon for a reasonable price. I mix it with warm water as it dissolves better that way. You can add it to fruit juice or other sweetened drinks.  I simply mix the powder with ~3 oz. of warm water and drink it plain as it has a mild sweet taste that I actually like.

 

NAC and Trichotillomania

By Fred Penzel, Ph.D.

**Please note the following: This advice is purely informational, and not in any way meant to be a substitute for treatment by a licensed physician. Do not try this, or anything else, without first consulting your physician. If your M.D. has not heard about it, refer them to the following article and let them decide:

Jon E. Grant, JD, MD, MPH; Brian L. Odlaug, BA; Suck Won Kim, MD, N-Acetylcysteine, a Glutamate Modulator, in the Treatment of Trichotillomania: A Double-blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Arch Gen Psychiatry/ VOL 66 (NO. 7), JULY 2009.

 

Over the years, it has become apparent that prescription medications, as remedies for trichotillomania (TTM), have proved to be somewhat of a disappointment. These meds have been employed since the early 1990’s, and although they may be seen to work occasionally for some individuals, research indicates that their overall effectiveness is not great for the majority of sufferers. When they do appear to work, it is most likely that they are actually helping with coexisting problems such as depression and anxiety that are impacting the pulling, but not directly causing it. The discovery of a new compound with a greater level of direct effectiveness would be considered a blessing to sufferers. If this compound were also an over-the-counter remedy, it would be even better.

This very thing was confirmed in 2009 with the publication of an article by Grant, Odlaug, and Kim in The Archives of General Psychiatry, titled “N-acetylcysteine, A Glutamate Modulator, In the Treatment of Trichotillomania.”This study, which lasted 12 weeks, investigated the use of the amino acid N-acetylcysteine (NAC) in 50 patients with TTM, and found that 56% of them were rated as improved or very much improved. A much smaller previous pilot study had also found positive results.

So what is this compound? NAC is a both a pharmaceutical drug and a nutritional supplement used primarily to treat Cystic Fibrosis, and also to treat individuals suffering from acetaminophen overdoses. In the former case, it thins mucus, making it easier for patients to cough it up, and in the latter case, has liver detoxifying effects. It has also been said to aid in the treatment of cocaine addiction. Some practitioners out there are also exploring the use of NAC in the treatment of OCD, although whether it is effective or not, is still unproven.

What exactly is NAC? NAC is a natural sulfur-containing amino acid that is a breakdown product of the amino acid L-cysteine, and is in turn broken down by the body and converted to a powerful antioxidant known as glutathione.Antioxidants can repair oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress occurs when cell metabolism produces an increased level of oxidants known as free radicals that tip the balance between themselves and antioxidants in the body.These free radicals can cause the breakdown of cells, damaging proteins, genes, and cell membranes. Substances known as antioxidants act by neutralizing free radicals, and some are produced naturally by the body. Some have theorized that hair-pulling may be the result of the effects of oxidative stress within the brain, and that NAC can help reverse this.

NAC is also what is known as a chelating agent. That is, it hastens the excretion of heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic from the body by binding to them. While this is of course, a positive benefit of taking it, it also causes the body to excrete copper, zinc and other essential minerals when used over time. Some research says this effect may be minimal, but others have suggested that it is necessary to take supplements containing copper, zinc, and other vital minerals when using NAC. Until this is settled, it is advisable to take a daily multivitamin plus minerals along with the NAC. It is often recommended to take extra vitamin C, itself an antioxidant, along with NAC, as it can also assist in raising glutathione levels. The amount of vitamin C one should take has been said to be in the range of 500 mg. per day.

As far as taking NAC itself for a BFRB, we have been using the following approach:

1. Start by taking one, 600 mg. capsule of NAC daily for the first two weeks along with a daily multivitamin plus minerals, in addition to 500 mg. of vitamin C. You will most likely not see any changes on this dosage.

2. If the NAC appears to be well tolerated, increase it to 1, 600 mg. capsule, 2x per day. Again, wait two to three weeks to see if there is any reduction in pulling activity.

3. If there are no changes, or only minimal changes in pulling, increase to 1 capsule, 3x per day, and again wait two to three weeks to see if there is any noticeable result.

4. If there is only little or no change, you can then increase to 4, 600 mg. capsules per day, and wait another two to three weeks. Take 2 capsules for one of the three daily doses, to make a daily total of four.

5. If there is still little or no change, you can increase up to what is the maximum of 5, 600 mg. capsules per day. A total of 3,000 mg. is the maximum you should take as a daily dose. Take 2 capsules for two of the three daily doses, to make a daily total of five.

6. If after 4 weeks at the maximum dosage there is still no result, then it is likely that it is not working, and can then be discontinued.

As with all medications and supplements, there are no sure things. It is ultimately all trial-and-error. We hope that NAC will help, but just keep in mind that it will not necessarily work for everyone. Remember that it was shown to be effective for about 56 percent of the subjects in the original research study.

NOTE: There are some very important precautions that should be observed when taking NAC.

1. It should be noted that there are some individuals who suffer from cystinuria, a genetic disorder that causes cysteine to build up in their urine. If levels of cysteine molecules become high enough, they clump together to form kidney stones. It is therefore recommended that those with this problem not take NAC.

 

2. In addition, NAC supplementation might increase the side effects associated with nitroglycerin and isosorbide, two medications commonly used to treat angina.

 

3. Using NAC at the same time as the hypertension drugs ACE-inhibitors might cause blood pressure to drop too low. It might also excessively strengthen the actions of immunosuppressant drugs.

 

How N-Acetylcysteine (N-A-C) Cured My Depression and Anxiety

The maternal side of my family contains a history of severe mental illness. My maternal grandmother suffered from schizophrenia and died in a mental ward. My mother has been institutionalized repeatedly, suffering from a decades long battle with bipolar disorder.

My younger brother is a legitimate sociopath. He is not merely “dark triad.” He has actual antisocial personality disorder. He has no feelings of empathy or kindness or decency. Lacking the vision to rob banks or become a drug kingpin, he is currently free after spending 10 years in prison for shooting his one-armed drug dealer.

In other words, there’s some funny business in my DNA.

I used to get depressed and feel anxious. I never had full-on panic attacks, but I would have severe anxiety that would leave my brain spinning. My skin would break out in rashes.

I conquered this anxiety through two means, as anxiety and other mental illnesses have two components – physical and psychological.

The psychological components of anxiety come from society and the brain washing. That is where state controlreframing techniques, and other Mindset Training comes into play.

The physical components of anxiety and depression come from a variety of sources – poor nutrition, lack of sunlight, excessive oxidative stress, high cortisol, and heavy metal poisoning.

glutathione

N-Acetylcysteine (N-A-C) has been clinically proven to help treat symptoms of anxiety and depression.

N-Acetylcysteine is a powerful nootropic with still many unstudied benefits. N-A-C has been used by visionary doctors to help treat intractable depression and anxiety.

Why haven’t you heard about the magical effects of N-A-C? Simple. Go on Amazon and see how much a bottle of N-A-C costs.

My mom was on a $1,500 a month cocktail of drugs. No one would listen when I suggested they buy a $15 bottle of N-A-C. But the science is there.

See, N-acetyl cysteine for depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder–a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial(“NAC appears a safe and effective augmentation strategy for depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder.”) (PubMed.)

See also, N-acetyl cysteine as a glutathione precursor for schizophrenia–a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. (“These data suggest that adjunctive NAC has potential as a safe and moderately effective augmentation strategy for chronic schizophrenia.”) (PubMed.)

N-A-C depression anxiety

Why does N-A-C help treat depression?

Acetylcysteine is a glutathione precursor. That is, acetylcysteine is converted into glutathione.

Glutathione is an antioxidant that used by your liver to detox your body. Emergency rooms give high doses of NAC to patients that have overdosed with Tylenol.

Resources:

  • The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine (Amazon).
  • Smash Chronic Fatigue: A Concise, Science-Based Guide to Help Your Body Heal, and Banish Fatigue Forever (Amazon).

Could mental illness be caused by toxins that your liver is unable to clear from your body, due to a glutathione deficiency?

That is not so far fetched, and in fact the cutting-edge of mental health research is on the role toxins and oxidative stress play in mental illness.

See, The efficacy of adjunctive N-acetylcysteine in major depressive disorder: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (“These data implicate the pathways influenced by NAC in depression pathogenesis, principally oxidative and inflammatory stress and glutamate, although definitive confirmation remains necessary.”) (PubMed.)

See also, The Glutathione System: A New Drug Target in Neuroimmune Disorders (“Glutathione depletion and concomitant increase in oxidative and neurological stress and mitochondrial dysfunctions play a role in the pathophysiology of diverse neuroimmune disorders, including depression, myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome and Parkinson’s disease, suggesting that depleted GSH is an integral part of these diseases.” (PudMed.)

Do you know what else boosts glutathione?

Carrot orange pomegranate juice

How much N-A-C should you take?

That would be medical advice, which I don’t give. However, participants in the studies usually used between 1 and 2 grams daily.

Why take N-A-C instead of glutathione?

If N-A-C is a precursor, wouldn’t it make more sense to take glutathione directly? That seems intuitively correct. There is some evidence to suggest that N-A-C is more bioavailable than glutathione.

I personally use N-A-C because that was the compound studied. How much glutathione would one need to take to get the same benefits that one can obtain from 1 to 2 grams of N-A-C? As I don’t know, I went with N-A-C.

You are of course free to try both for yourself to see what works best.

What brand of N-A-C is best?

As the supplement industry is unregulated, I generally prefer to use use two brands of supplements – Life Extension Foundation and Jarrow.

I personally use Jarrow’s form of N-A-C Sustain, which is time released. (Amazon).

For more information on oxidative stress, nutrition, and various maladies, watch this video.

Minding Your Mitochondria

Struggles

Reflections on Skin Picking and Hair Pulling - OCD Center of Los Angeles

Reflections on
Skin Picking and Hair Pulling

__________________________

Suffering usually relates to wanting things to be different from the way they are.

~ Allan Lokos

__________________________

Suffering

Everybody suffers. But much of our psychological suffering occurs as a result of our beliefs about how we think life “should”be, or how we would ideally like it to be. Often, it is our over-attachment to these beliefs that turns normal, everyday pain and discomfort into true suffering.

If you have Skin Picking Disorder or Trichotillomania, you may suffer needlessly as a result of this type of over-attachment to certain beliefs. An unwanted blemish or hair (or event or feeling) is not as you wish it would be, which leads to distress, which in turn leads to a picking or pulling episode. This not only worsens the physical consequences of these conditions, but leads to more psychological suffering in the form of hours (or days) of self-loathing during which you spend a great deal of time negatively evaluating yourself and your behavior.

Common negative thoughts might include “I should have been able to overcome the urge to pick or pull”, or “I look so ugly”, or “I am inadequate” or “I am hopeless”. Over time, and with much repetition, these types of thoughts become internalized into an overall negative belief system you have about yourself, which only increases your suffering.

The long-term goal of recovery is to develop more psychological flexibility by making room for all of the imperfections of real life, thus lessening the emotional suffering you experience. Life will never be 100% free of pain and suffering.  In fact, life is full of unavoidable pain, such as the pain we experience with serious illness or injury, or the death of a loved one. However, much of our psychological pain is self-created by thoughts and beliefs that are unhelpful, and which ultimately lead to picking and pulling setbacks.

If you do not measure up to what you think is acceptable, you may ultimately inhibit and prolong your recovery. Alternatively, by accepting all of life, including your imperfections, you will reduce your suffering, and move further down the road of recovery.

__________________________

1) How often do you get stuck in the trap of judging yourself and your picking and pulling behavior, and not allowing room for imperfection?

2) What specific thoughts do you have after a setback that might increase your suffering?

3) What thoughts might be more helpful in promoting your long-term recovery?

__________________________

Weekly Tip: When you experience negative self-talk, notice how this increases your suffering, and choose instead to fully accept yourself, including your imperfections.

__________________________

For a free subscription to “Reflections”, please click here.

The OCD Center of Los Angeles is a private, outpatient clinic specializing in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for the treatment of OCD, Skin Picking Disorder, Trichotillomania, and related conditions. We offer the following services:

  • Individual Therapy
  • Low-Fee Group Therapy
  • Online Therapy
  • Phone Therapy
  • Home Visits
  • Intensive Outpatient Program
We treat adults, adolescents, and children, and offer services six days a week, including evenings and Saturdays. For more information, please contact one of our client coordinators at (310) 824-5200 (ext. 4), or click here to email us.
__________________________

OCD Center of Los Angeles
http://ocdla.com

(310) 824-5200

Written by
Kelley Franke, BA and Tom Corboy, MFT

© 2016 OCD Center of Los Angeles

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Steps to Recovery

The Path to Recovery: An Overview and Reminder

I believe the path to hair pulling and skin picking recovery includes the following steps:

1) Learn to accept & love yourself whether you’re pulling or not If you withhold self-acceptance until you have complete recovery you create a battle ground within yourself. (Read Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.) This is NOT the same as giving up, or accepting the pulling will never change. This is accepting yourself, regardless of whether you are still pulling or picking; not making your self love conditional.

2) Keep a calendar and rate each day from 0 to 10, 0 being 0 pulling or picking, 10 being your worst day. This will be your “scale” so that you can see improvement, even if you can’t see it on your head, face or body. If one month has 9s, 8s and 7s, and the next has 8s, 6s and 4s, you may not see a physical change yet, but you are on your way. This helps when you have a bad day. My blog at HelpForHairPullers.blogspot.com will expand on this.

3) People always ask, Is there a substitute for pulling or picking? Something I can do with my hands? I say, the real substitute is something you do with your MIND. If you usually go go go all day, and then suddenly sit down to watch a movie, get on the computer, read, and find yourself pulling or picking, then pulling is aiding you in the transition from doing to not-doing. Instead of trying to fight the pulling, you want to adopt a nightly ritual that will help the body release stress Before you sit down to read, watch TV, et al. I suggest before you sit down with a book or TV, SIT for FIVE minutes and either do a relaxation exercise (inhale relaxation, exhale stress, tension & tightness) or do a mindfulness meditation for five minutes. Your mind & body then get a chance to make the transition into a state of relaxation. Your urges will begin to lessen as you do this since you’ve already addressed one of the reasons you have urges.

4) Bring awareness to your conscious mind: I once worked with a 60-ish woman who had a severe cuticle picking problem. It was so bad her hands were bloody and nicked, and she was deeply ashamed. I asked her if she did this all day or at specific times. Oh it’s always the same, she said. I sit down at 5pm for an hour before my husband comes home and read the paper and have a glass of wine. That’s when I pull. So I asked her, Do you think about it before you sit down? Do you bring to mind the fact that this a dangerous time for you? She said she did not. “I guess I don’t want to think about it because I’m always hoping that I won’t do it.” When I asked her if there was ever a time in the past 35 years that she didn’t pick, she said no. I explained that what she called “hope,” I called denial. I urged her to simply acknowledge to herself before she sat down that this was a danger time for her, and it was important to be aware. This often is not always enough to make a change, but for this woman, acknowledging to herself before hand that this was a dangerous time for her allowed her to stop picking entirely.   For other people it is one small piece in the bigger puzzle of trich and CSP recovery.

5) Until you understand & accept that recovery is a gradual process, you are unlikely to be able to recover long term. Pullers and pickers often proudly tell me they are perfectionists. Here’s the problem. If you are perfectionist, you are, by definition, a failure. Humans are not perfect, cannot be. So if you set a standard for yourself that is unattainable, you will always feel bad about yourself. The reason I suggest using a daily number (#2 above) is because recovery is generally a two steps forward, one step back kind of thing. The reason it’s so tough to recover from these disorders is that it’s quite common to have a “bad day” after having several good ones. And it’s just as common to think to yourself, “Oh boy, I ruined everything. Here I was doing well, and now I’ve messed it up. I guess I’ll NEVER recover, so I MIGHT AS WELL JUST PULL (or pick). That voice–the one that tells you that you’ll “never” recover? That’s the trich or CSP addiction talking. Think about it. If you tell yourself that you’ll “never recover,” you’re free to pull or pick! If you are a perfectionist about this, you are saying that either you suddenly stop and stay stopped 100% or you are a failure. Since that’s unlikely to happen, you in fact have now made it impossible to recover. What if, in order to get to zero, you have to achieve less and less pulling first? You might say, I did so well for three weeks, and I “ruined” everything all in one day. NOPE, not true, that’s impossible in fact. If you pulled very little or none for three weeks, and had one bad day, that means 21 of 22 days were good or even great. This is a huge improvement. And yes, I understand that you pulled out a bunch of hair and picked a bunch of skin. However, you didn’t “ruin” your progress. The more days you have where you pull less, the faster overall you’ll grow back your hair or heal up your skin.

6) Change your short-term goal. If your goal is to have your hair back or to have your skin clear, that’s always six months in the future. Your short term goal must be to feel good about yourself for improving and to validate yourself for any gains made, including gains made in awareness and self-talk, as opposed to lessening of the behavior. If you often say, I was so “good” for a while; now I’ve “messed” things up again. I have so little hair, or my skin is so messed up, “what’s the point” in trying to stop now. I look terrible anyway (and I’ll probably just pull or pick tomorrow). Here’s the POINT: You will feel better about yourself later if you pull even a little bit less right now. And if you don’t, you can learn to celebrate small victories.  You have to admit you will probably feel bad if you continue to pick or to pull. So at the very least you are avoiding that. The POINT is, recovery is gradual. The hair and the clear skin come later: the small steps happen now. The POINT is, taking any step, however small, is a step toward recovery.  This is a great point! The POINT is, Hey, even though I tried to tell myself that my hair is so messed up I might as well pull, I did NOT pull. Each day that goes on, and that you pull a little less, is another day that you can remind yourself, hey, I’m doing this. I’m making small steps these will add up. Good for ME! And every day you are able to pull or pick the smallest bit less, you are closer to the long term goals around hair or skin.

Changing the way you look at this so you understand it is not your fault that you have trich (but like any other disorder you could have, it’s your responsibility to yourself to address it), encouraging and supporting yourself as you recover, becoming more mindful, taking five minutes before those transition times to relax your body and mind, keeping track of the days with a single number (so you can look back and see that, hey, overall the numbers are getting lower), and accepting yourself no matter what, these are all important pieces on the path to recovery. Everyone can get there. Congratulations. You are on the path.

Just Allergies…?

Trichy Insights

In my research I have been looking into John Kender’s idea that people with trichotillomania have a natural biochemistry irreversibly inclined towards certain allergic reactions. They are allergic to a normal yeast (Malassezia) that is found in the skin and gut of virtually everyone, but they react to it with itching and irritation and a need to remove the allergen. I have posted an insightful article below.

Trichotillomania and Dermatillomania: A root analysis

 with special thanks to Jeannette Johnson for her kind advice and attention. 

Hair roots contain sebum.  Sebum contains fatty acids and tryglycerides, and plays a role in some crucial body functions, such as hydration, inflammation, antioxidants, antimicrobial lipids, and pheromones.  Sebum levels increase during puberty and excessive levels of sebum are often associated with skin problems, making it relevant to skin picking and hair pulling.

Why is this so relevant?  You probably know that the body’s energy levels revolve around…

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