Joan Mack has struggled with hoarding for most of her married life.
She finds it very difficult to part with possessions.
“I do believe in ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’," she said.
My problem is that I have too many ‘everythings’ and not enough ‘places’.
“Of course, this could be solved by discarding some of the ‘everythings’, but I find this very challenging.”
Mrs Mack joined the Lifeline Compulsive Hoarding Treatment Program on a friend’s recommendation. She said it has helped her by identifying her “bad guys.”
“My main ‘bad guy’ is an overly zealous sense of responsibility. I feel wasteful if I throw something away that someone else could possibly use. However, I often can't find the right person or place, and so, the cycle continues.”
“Now that I’m aware that it’s not my personal responsibility to save the world, I can focus on the basic problem - me - and start looking after my own well-being,” she said.
Mrs Mack said she enjoyed Lifeline’s group format because it allowed her to hear other people’s experiences, successes and struggles. She has faith that if she keeps working with the program, she will eventually have order in her life.
“One day I would like to have an orderly house with just my most precious and meaningful possessions in places where I can enjoy them. My goal is to have a house where every door can be opened and I would have no fear or embarrassment.”
“I still have many days when I don't do any discarding - however I am hopeful that if I continue to focus. One day this goal will be achievable,” she said.
Jeanette Svehla is a clinical psychologist at Lifeline. She leads the Compulsive Hoarding Treatment Program which has had positive results.
“We measure things like difficulty discarding, the amount of clutter people have, whether they are acquiring, and the beliefs people have about their things. These are then analysed by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) to see whether we are making progress.”
“Recently we were told our results are better than anyone’s around the world,” she said.
Dr Jessica Grisham is a clinical and research psychologist from UNSW who works with Lifeline.
“It’s one of the best treatment programs in the world when you combine the low drop out rate with the great symptom reduction.”
Dr Grisham believes the results can be attributed to dedicated clinicians, distress tolerance education and discarding exposure therapy.
“People think if they throw this thing away, they will be devastated, anxious or sad. By giving them the opportunity to test out those predictions, and start practicing throwing things away in an environment where they feel safe and supported, I think that’s one of the most powerful things that happens in the group.”
Dr Grisham said at the completion of treatment, group members attended a fortnightly support group, followed by a monthly forum.
“Lifeline is one of the only treatment programs that I am aware of that has follow up meetings. They don’t just drop people at the end of treatment.”