I love watching the show Hoarders as much as I love watching Intervention. But both are based on the idea that these types of behavior are the result of diseases – and by disseminating this view they may be causing more harm than good. 
Unfortunately, substance abusers are already doomed – the idea that their problems stem from disease is already believed throughout the country, and has a multibillion dollar industry relying on the furtherance of that lie, along with countless government workers and regulatory agencies which rely on it as well, and enforce a monopoly on “treating” these poor souls. So for the foreseeable future, substance abusers will be filled with self-defeating lies and self-fulfilling prophecies of an incurable disease, powerlessness, and relapse which leads them to more misery and more treatment for a behavior which they could choose to end at any given time.
Fortunately for hoarders, there is still time for us to save them from the same fate of substance abusers. There is no institutionalized hoarding treatment industry and associated government dollars and jobs at stake yet (or at least if there is, it’s not as significant). The idea of hoarding has been around for a while, but little known to the public. I worry though, that just as AA member Marty Mann launched a publicity/propaganda campaign to gain acceptance of the idea that substance abuse is the result of a disease rather than poor choices, there is someone or some organization currently pushing for public acceptance of hoarding as a disease. If this campaign is successful, we will have a new class of lifelong victims on our hands. Don’t doubt that it’s a campaign – 2 weekly television shows dedicated to hoarders have popped up in the last year and people are talking about it everywhere.
Hoarding is no doubt a puzzling problem. There are certainly psychological issues involved in it. But it’s probably more a philosophical and value based issue than anything else – as is addiction. The danger I see coming is identical to the addiction issue – the “experts” on hoarding don’t know what kind of treatment is effective, yet they insist that treatment is needed. They don’t know what causes it, yet they spread theories about the amygdala and other parts of the brain being the cause. What set me off about this was an episode of Dr Oz I watched a few weeks ago and the disease theory he offered was identical to one I’ve heard about addiction (the ‘learning’ theory). The amazing part is that after offering up this “medical” explanation he continued on by showing that the way to treat a hoarder is to go through their things with them, one by one, question whether they need these things, and push them to make the decision to part with things. What is it about this treatment that requires a doctor? NOTHING. Is there a surgery involved? What is it that will change the hoarder’s habits? Thoughts. Decisions. Value based choices. Moving on to other, more fulfilling behaviors. You can’t get rid of cancer like that.
Please resist the idea that hoarding is a disease. Please resist the fallacious arguments that will be presented about it. For ANYTHING that a human being does, we can scan the brain, and see some activity in a certain region. Such information alone does not amount to a sound argument that the behavior is the result of a disease and beyond our volitional control. Hoarders can improve their lives the same way everyone else does – by choosing and acting upon proper values. That is the truth and we must not let it be lost to the medical authorities who seek to expand their markets by monopolizing every human problem one by one.
-Steven Slate
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