Trichotillomania: Diagnosis and Treatment

Trichotillomania, a known psychiatric disorder characterized by excessive pulling of one’s own hair, has recently received much focus as cognitive and behavioral proponents search for effective interventions to help individuals with the disorder.

Psychiatric Treatment
Among all therapies that have been considered in the treatment of trichotillomania, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has shown the most promising results. Treatment may include the major involvement of a therapist, while in some cases, members of the family or even friends may assist the patient during the course of the therapy.

Results of Trichotillomania
Trichotillomania tends to develop and progress gradually over a long period, usually years. The duration of therapy may require years as well. While the impulsive urge to pull one’s hair may be alleviated by certain medications, a number of engrained habits may still remain, which leads the therapist to use CBT.

Individuals who have the urge to pull their own hair may eventually realize the effects of gradual hair loss to their self-esteem and social lifestyle. In addition, there is the enormous amount of unproductive time spent doing the undesired behavior.

Teaching Intervention Behaviors
During the course of therapy, the therapist will ask the patient to list all of the affects of their impulsive hair pulling. This may involve occupational, physical, emotional, and even economic aspects. This stage of the therapy is essential for guiding the patient to a stage of self-awareness, encouraging the patient to distract oneself from the behavior when reminded of the consequences.

To show progress of the treatment to the individual, a photograph is taken on a regular basis to record the improvements of the physical condition of the patient’s scalp. The therapist may also recommend other activities to distract the patient from the recurring urge to pull their hair. Activities such as physical exercises and even socializing with friends can help the individual focus on other aspects of their life.

During the course of therapy, it is important that realistic goals be set to avoid the possibility of regressing into the old, unwanted habit. Rewarding the patient after every completion of a desired behavior may be a good start. Wearing a hat, rubber gloves, and even playing with a stress ball are good examples of stimulus control – methods applied by changing an aspect of the environment of an individual to avoid the unwanted urge to pull one’s hair.

Just like other psychological disorders, trichotillomania can be reversed as long as realistic goals are set and professional help is sought to address the disorder in a more efficient and productive approach.

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