Trichotillomania Compulsive hair pulling

Hypnotherapy for Trichotillomania

Hair pulling Hypnotherapy
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This rather frightening sounding term is the name for a problem that very few people are aware of and yet trichotillomania sufferers are actually very common. It might even be likely that members of your own family are in the early stages of this compulsive disorder but its early signs appear quite harmless.So what is this behaviour that can pass relatively undetected and unoticed in its early stages yet is impossible to ignore once it is in full swing? 

  The  Trichotillomania sufferer feels a need to pull at and usually pull out, strands of their hair. In prolonged cases this can be so severe that the hair loss becomes noticeable and bald patches begin to appear. This condition is not as uncommon as one might think and as far back as 1978 research by Azrin & Nunn found that this affected as many as 8 million people.

What are the causes of Trichotillomania?

Some Psychologists believe that trichotillomania is an obsessive-compulsive disorder  and as such is a form of ‘stress anxiety’ illness. Others believe that it is a behavioural disorder learned as a reaction to prolonged periods of anxiety or stress. Whilst still others believe it  is that the root of this pernicious activity, which may begin as a form of self-grooming (stylised self carressing?), is linked to regressive and innate behaviour patterns because it has been observed in other animals under certain anxiety causing conditions. 

photograph of woman pulling hair in frustrationMost Psychologists link this disorder with anxiety and stress but while it may be that high stress levels exacerbate the disorder this may not be the root cause. It is interesting to note that in our ever-day language we often say things such as I was so angry/worried/frustrated I was “pulling my hair out!” its almost as if this was a normal reaction to stressful life situations. For many people it is more than a metaphor.

Many sufferers report that changes to diet can make the impulse to pull hair seem stronger, especially bouts of ‘junk food’ consumption. A small number of Psychological researchers are looking into this possibility that trichotillomania is linked to a potassium shortage but this research is far from conclusive. More likely A poor diet simply increases the perceived level of stress.

Many sufferers report that they get a certain feeling of comfort and even pleasure and  relief from pulling hair from their scalp. As such this has some similarity with the pleasure response of the masochist. The patient has become classically conditioned to experience pleasure from pain. Perhaps more accurately the trichotillomania sufferer seeks a feeling of deferred relief, exchanging the sense of pain/relief obtained from uprooting hair for the scratching/relief of a more concealed psychological itch.

It seems likely that the causes of this disorder will be a mixture of some or all of these theories.

Signs and Symptoms

The beginnings of trichotillomania are innocent enough. The sufferer usually begins the habit by playing with or ‘toying’ with their hair. This usually seems to occur when distracted (watching television or reading for example) or perhaps daydreaming. It’s almost as though the unconscious mind plays with or comforts itself while the conscious mind is otherwise absorbed. There is some evidence that this behaviour can be learned.

Many sufferers say that they are unaware that they are pulling out their hair until the act is accomplished. It should also be mentioned that most do not actually mind the act of hair pulling (because it is a source of perverse comfort) and would find no problem with this activity if it did not lead to unsightly bald patches on the scalp.

In extreme cases a situation can arise where the patient has become almost completely bald, save for the hairs that are fine and most painful to remove, such as at the nape of the neck.

The condition is more prevalent in young females . This may be explained by the fact that females traditionally wear their hair much longer than males and so it is more readily available to the fingers. Young females are perhaps more likely to strongly associate behavioural patterns with hair grooming as this is a more important part of parental contact to them. However  males do suffer from this disorder too.

Once they are aware that they have formed an addiction to the act of pulling out hair, they might well begin to hide this practice. They might even take steps to hide or disguise the subsequent hair loss in various ways, so parents should be watchful. I should also mention that while the focus of this problem is usually the scalp it can also generalize in time, until the sufferer pulls hair from the eyebrows, eye lashes, nasal hair, arms, hands, armpits, chest, breasts, nipples, legs, pubic areas and so on.
There are even cases  of people so severely afflicted that hair has also been pulled from wigs, soft toys and pets!

Some sufferers actually consume the hair that they remove, which can form undigested masses of hair in the stomach and require hospital treatment.

Most conventional treatment for trichotillomania have been found largely ineffective. High doses of mood altering medication has been tried and so has various diets. Another common reaction is to attempt to control the problem by shaving the head of the patient but evidence shows that the problem remains and merely waits until the hair returns to reassert itself.

Treatment with Hypnotherapy

 The general consensus is that trichotillomania is a habitual/anxiety based disorder so a strategy utilising distraction and relaxation is possible. First the patient is induced into a very relaxed state and this state is associated with a ‘favourite place of relaxation or safe place’.

Visit me at my Gateshead consulting rooms or home visits across the North East of England.

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