On March 10th, I released a podcast episode called, Behold the Power of Children. This is a partial transcript of the first segment of that episode. Please keep in mind that my writing in this post reflects my speaking style, and therefore contains some imprefect sentence structure.
In the episode, I discussed a show called Hoarding: Buried Alive — and something interesting that transpired in a certain episode:
I like the show (Hoarding) because I have a background in counseling. And one of the most effective ways of counseling I believe is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is what is typically used on hoarders and other people with OCD. What it amounts to is exposing the person to whatever it is that makes them anxious, making them sit there with their anxiety, and reporting on their anxiety level as they go on. It’s very similar to the pain scale that they use in hospitals. They’ll ask you to rate your pain on a 1-10 scale, and 10 is like the worst you’ve ever experienced in your life and then 1 is just like whatever, nothing. So doctors and nurses will come in every now and then and ask you about your pain level and they’re trying to gauge how your medication is working and how the treatment is progressing, and so on.
These behavioral therapists do this with the people’s anxiety level. So these hoarders have a mental disability that causes them extreme anxiety when they go to throw something away. It manifests slightly differently from one person to another, but that’s the basic gist of it.The therapist will take and handle this person’s belongings and say, “I am going to take this item home with me, how do you feel about that?” And they’ll say, “Oh that makes me so nervous.” That’s like a 9 or a 10 on their anxiety and they just sit there. And they ask in a minute or two and they receive a similar response only it’s like maybe a 7 or a 8. And they sit there and they let their anxiety run its course. They realize eventually that their anxiety goes down. Typically, they’re eventually able to get rid of things knowing that their anxiety about it will go away; they’ve just never allowed themselves to sit with the anxiety that long.
I believe it’s an effective therapy. Really it’s one of the more scientifically-based therapies out there because it has a procedure, and it has a rationale to it. One of the most interesting things happened in an episode I watched the other day. This is episode 1 of season 2. There is a woman who takes her children into their grandfather’s hoarded home to see the severe hoarding situation. Keep in mind this man does not even have plumbing or anything like that, because when things break in these houses are hoarded there is no way to get a repair person in there whether they can afford it or not. They’re either too embarrassed or their pipes aren’t even accessible. So when the house becomes so cluttered that you can’t even get workmen in there, you know you obviously have a problem.
But I thought bringing her children in was an exceptional method of therapy. For one thing, we always question whether we should expose our children to anything negative or uncomfortable. And this woman specifically said that she likes to teach her kids about reality. This man, their grandfather, doesn’t even have paths to walk through. He’s literally walking on top of things. Now I’ve seen hoarding and I’ve watched the show Hoarders and I’ve seen a variety of different severity levels of hoarding. This one was pretty bad, to not even have a path. Most people even if they have to shimmy down or turn sideways, they can have a path where they can see the floor. This guy didn’t even have that.
Sshe did her best to prepare her kids for what they were going to see but then she just hasd to expose them to reality. And I love that; I love that we cannot plan our teachable moments for our children. If we could just plan them out conveniently into our schedule, there would be no such thing as a true teachable moment. It has to be based on reality in real time for it to really be effective.
Secondly the impact that those kids had on the grandfather was amazing. Kids just say what they’re thinking, they break it down into simple terms , and they’re honest. And so even if they say the exact same thing that a 35 year old or a 45 year old would say- it means something different. Because you know they don’t have all this clutter in their mind about what needs to be said or about how not to hurt someone’s feelings and so on. And so the kids went into the situation and said thing like, “Grandpa why did you start saving all of this stuff?” This is obviously something that all of us want to know, but we might not say it like that. It was the innocence that the children bring to the situation that was so profound.
Our tendency to protect and shelter our children form everything negative- first of all it’s not healthy for them to be sheltered in that way. Secondly, we are underestimating the difference that our children can make to other people when they are exposed to that negativity if they are allowed to process it. The title of that episode is called “Everything’s Junk” and like I said it’s available on Netflix. Season 2, episode 1 of Hoarding: Buried Alive. I really recommend that you guys check that out if you have an opportunity. A lot of that TV can be very just sensational and ridiculous but I do find interesting tidbits regarding therapy, and human behavior, and psychology in shows like this. And getting the kids involved in someone’s’ therapy I thought that was remarkable. And it just speaks to our tendency to shelter them. And makes me really want to emphasize that we need to second guess that strategy with our kids.