Hoarding can be a debilitating, life-threatening problem and affects roughly five percent of the U.S. population. Currently categorized as a sub-type of obsessive compulsive disorder, hoarding is a distinct mental illness made up of three connected problems: collecting too many items; difficulty getting rid of items; and problems with organization.
Because very little research existed on hoarding prior to the 1990s, many human service professionals struggle with treating hoarding and those affected by it. Treatment requires multiple components, and professionals responding to hoarding situations must find the best way to combine them.
School of Social Work Dean Gail Steketee, post-doctoral fellow Christiana Bratiotis, and psychotherapist Cristina Sorrentino Schmalisch are working to rectify this problem. Their recent publication, The Hoarding Handbook: A Guide for Human Service Professionals, is a resource for those responding to hoarding situations. This guide includes case studies, tips and strategies and suggestions for appropriate interventions.
Organized around the ways hoarding captures the attention of service providers, the handbook provides tools to help professionals assess the problem, coordinate and delegate tasks, and work directly with reluctant hoarders and others affected by the hoarding.
“There is some misunderstanding regarding hoarding, and often professionals don’t know enough about what the other professionals do when intervening with hoarding,” Bratiotis, who is also an adjunct faculty member at the School, said. “Our goal was to write a book that is used by the many diverse disciplines that assist people with the problem.”
Multi-disciplinary task forces that address hoarding-specific problems have been formed in nearly 75 communities in the United States and Canada. These task forces include members from a range of disciplines, including public health, housing, medical, mental health and animal control. The Hoarding Handbook is an outgrowth of Bratiotis’ dissertation and on-going research is this area, and it is the only current research in the U.S. that systematically examines hoarding task force efforts.
The Handbook’s third chapter, Working with Service Delivery Systems, covers how hoarding task forces are formed and includes a model for establishing a hoarding task force intervention. Concentrating on intervention with non-voluntary cases of hoarding, the chapter focuses on using task forces as a coordinated community response mechanism that can facilitate practice and policy changes at organizational and community levels.
Steketee and Bratiotis are the principle investigator and director, respectively, of The School’s Hoarding Research Team, which also includes School of Social Work Assistant Professor Jordana Muroff and Boston University graduate and undergraduate students. The team’s research activities include studying the nature of the problem of hoarding; individual, group and webcam cognitive behavioral treatment interventions and community task force responses to the problem. In addition to these research activities, the team provides resource and referrals, professional training and family consultation.