The Psychology of Hoarding

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The Psychology of Hoarding

By Ken Shapiro, Ph.D., Animals and Society Institute
June 2010

Hoarding is the second most common form of animal abuse, after neglect. It is also the only form of animal abuse in which women are more commonly the perpetrator than are men. Hoarding raises several as yet unresolved policy problems - disposition of the animals, public relations (media often side with the hoarder as rescuer), and, the, perpetrator recidivism. This last, which is also the problem of the assessment and treatment of animal hoarders, is among the most knotty and the focus of the study featured here: "A theoretical perspective to inform assessment and treatment strategies for animal hoarders" (Patronek & Nathanson, Clinical Psychology Review, 29, 2009, 274-281).

Study Summary

The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium at Tufts University has produced much of the research on hoarding. Although it is generally agreed that most hoarders suffer from some form of behavioral disorder, there is no consensus as to the appropriate diagnosis or diagnoses. For some time, it was thought that hoarders, like collectors of inanimate objects, had some form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, Patronek and Nathanson propose the application of attachment theory, in which an individual is affected by a primary attachment experience in childhood that results, it is proposed for the hoarder, in a disorganized style of attachment. In response to the subsequent chronic problematic relationships with humans, the hoarder attempts to meet interpersonal needs through multiple relationships with animals. In this context, the hoarder's attempts to meet needs for esteem and control ultimately have catastrophic results for the animals.

Policy Implications

This theoretical reformulation of hoarding by the authors strongly implies the need for full psychological assessment and suggests the use of treatment approaches that focus on "exploring issues of loss, complicated grief, vulnerability, isolation, and attachment." To date, there are no published studies on such interventions. However, it is our intention at the ASI to amend the current AniCare treatment program to more specifically address hoarding in the future.