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Last year, at the 2013 annual conference of the Institute for Chronic Disorganization (ICD), Dr. Suzanne Chabaud presented an overview of her research and her experiences working with children of hoarders (COH). There was a lot of interest in the subject among the attendees, and Dr. Chabaud generously invited me to share the floor with her during the Q&A portion of her talk. In fact, there was so much interest that ICD added a special, impromptu session to the conference schedule, and they asked Children of Hoarders, Inc. to assemble a panel of COH to share their experiences at this year’s conference.
This year’s conference took place in Nashville, Tennessee on September 18-20, 2014, and it was my privilege to moderate a panel discussion on the topic of “Finding A Voice for Children of Hoarders.” The panel featured three children of hoarders who spoke about their childhood experiences, described events and interactions that made a positive difference in their lives, and offered thoughts on how outsiders can support COHs. The panelists shared deeply personal anecdotes (sometimes tragic, sometimes humorous) about what it was like to grow up in a hoarded home and how that experience continues to affect their adult lives. The panelists and I deeply appreciated having such a thoughtful and compassionate audience: we truly felt the audience was eager to understand the impact that hoarding has on family members and, specifically, children.
Many families living with hoarding disorder might never be able to engage professionals (mental health, organizing, or other) for help in coping with the problem. In the course of research and the development of treatment options, it’s crucial that leading experts learn about and understand the dynamics of hoarding in these “hidden” families. The ICD conference this year offered a unique opportunity for COH to share our experiences with fellow attendees, as well as fellow presenters. For example, over breakfast on Friday, a psychiatrist and I exchanged ideas about the place and legitimacy of COH anger in a hoarding environment. Later, during a psychologist’s presentation about integrating treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and hoarding, one of our panelists raised important concerns about how one identifies primary victims (in the therapeutic sense of the term) in a hoarding household, i.e. that even if hoarding behavior in a parent is triggered by a particular trauma, COH may be seen, in turn, as primary victims of hoarding-related trauma.
The ICD is doing extremely important work by combining their practical, in-home fieldwork with more academic mental health research. Their conference this year included lectures on topics like motivation, ADHD and executive function, post traumatic stress disorder, as well as strategies for day-to-day work with clients. We were particularly pleased to see that ICD helps to support student research, as well as fostering interactions with more established researchers.
In closing, we are especially grateful to the ICD for welcoming children of hoarders to this conference as members of the community with perspectives that should be included in any thorough, balanced conversation about compulsive hoarding. The theme of this year’s conference was “Finding a Voice,” which is particularly appropriate for children of hoarders. We at Children of Hoarders, Inc. look forward to using our “voice” more often (and in many more places) to ensure better outcomes for all involved in a hoarding situation, including the families and children of hoarders!
PS. The panelists, all of whom are COH, included the author of The Hoarder’s Daughter blog, the author of the Hoarder’s Son blog, and the CEO of a non-profit organization dedicated to ending domestic violence and sexual assault.