Interview Series: Hoarding Expert Dr. Becky Beaton
Updated: Feb 14
Over the next few months, we will be interviewing professionals who work with the hoarding population. We are asking them to share their insight on people who hoard and people who think they have the hoarding disorder.
We recently interviewed Dr. Becky Beaton. Becky is a Licensed Psychologist (PH.D) with over 25 years of clinical experience. She is also a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), a Nationally Board Certified Counselor (NBCCH) Fellow, a Certified Professional Counselors Supervision (CPCS), and the founder and clinical director of The Anxiety & Stress Management Institute, located in Atlanta, Georgia. She was the treating psychologist on over 60 episodes of TLC’s popular series “Hoarding: Buried Alive.” Becky was also on Good Morning America, The Anderson Cooper Show, CNN Headline News & Evening Express, and the Meredith Vieira Show.
With all that going on, one of her favorite things is watching a sunrise.
Questions and Responses:
Since the DSM-5 was published, have you diagnosed anyone with the hoarding disorder?
Absolutely! We were very excited to finally have the official diagnosis versus it just being part of OCD from the DSM-5 because as you know not every person who hoards has OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and not everyone who has OCD hoards. They realized the neurobiology was different in someone who hoards from someone who has straight OCD unless they have both at the same time. Every time we find someone who meets the criteria, we do the diagnosing here at the Anxiety and Stress Management Institute.
If you are working with someone with hoarding tendencies, do you designate a professional organizer to go in and work with them inside the home?
We do refer out to professional organizers, hopefully you guys are getting the referrals (we are!) but it’s sometimes difficult for people to afford a therapist and a professional organizer at the same time. There are times when we have to find someone from the community to go in and help. We really feel like the therapist needs to go in at least once to see what’s going- preferably more. We train our interns here – we teach them about hoarding and how to work with people challenged by hoarding tendencies. They are basically free labor. They can go out into the field and be our supplement to the psychotherapist.
What common comorbidity issues do you find as you start working, are there times when you discover this is something other than hoarding?
I see quite a few. It depends. I often see PTSD. I see it over and over. They have had a trauma one of the traumas sets off the hoarding. Another comorbidity I see is Major Depressive Disorder. Sometimes it’s not hoarding. They don’t have the energy to clean up. Depression can go along with hoarding. ADHD, I see constantly. Treatment for that really helps. Social anxiety disorder where they don’t want to get out and see people. The hoard becomes their bunker.
How do you treat hoarding problems?
We use memory reconsolidation. You bring up an old memory and then we can change it. That’s why memory is fallible. Researchers have found that you have 5 hours to change it before it becomes restored. It restores in its new form. You can add insights to it. You can do things to it. Emotional learning. Bring in the senses. Recreate the memory. Plant a new idea in juxtaposition to the old idea. Anything that is robust will change the memory and alter the person’s perception. The science is backing up why newer trauma treatments work. Refer out for a couple of sessions trauma treatment that helps them view the world differently so they’re more open to learning new behavior patterns. Treat the trauma first and then work on the hoard. Exercise works better than any treatment. They will think more clearly. Exercise will help depression and ADHD.
Do groups like Clutters Anonymous or Overcoming Hoarding Together help patients?
My personal experience is yes for the most part. Sometimes there is a personality disorder in addition to the hoarding disorder and they do not do well in support groups. They can derail the whole group. For the most part they can become a cheering team. The support group help each other clearing out their things.
What do you think about task forces on Compulsive Hoarding – like one in San Francisco?
I think they are great. They provide resources and support.
What was your most difficult hoarding situation on the show: Buried Alive?
I have several that were pretty difficult. I’m a big animal lover. They learned not to send me on those shoots. There was one where there was a dog who was in bad shape, he was obviously neglected. That was one show where I cried. We took it to the vet and one of the vet techs ended up keeping it. The family was ok with it because they recognized they couldn’t take care of the dog. We also had to report the mother to the Department of Family and Child Services because of the condition of the home and what was happening with the kids. There was a whole wing of the home where there was no electricity. It’s really difficult when there is someone who can’t take care of themselves and who is being harmed as a result of the hoard.
Do you usually work alone or with a team? If you work with a team, who do you want on your team?
I tried a couple of times to work with a team, but I have found that trust and instinct are critical and very personal, so I prefer to work alone.
Can you tell us some of the big take-aways from doing the television show?
I learned a lot from the organizers I worked with on the show. For instance; about the Ideal self as opposed to the real self. The ideal self says I want to clean up the hoard to have the grandchildren over; the real self says I don’t want anyone in here touching my stuff so I’m going to continue hoarding. I’m happy that the show didn’t try to take on too much. We tried to do just one room. I learned about the Importance of being very respectful of pacing – slower is faster otherwise you can be hurtful. Be true to your word. If you promise not to touch something, don’t touch it otherwise you lose the clients’ trust. You will also traumatize the person. Be clear and stick to what you will do and not do. It’s important to teach clients how to organize. Prior to the show I didn’t have any training in organization. I learned how important it is that the organizational systems work for the clients. Really tapping into how that individual’s mind works and work with them even if their way to organize is not conventional. Celebrate the small things. Don’t mess with what’s working.
Thank you very much for this fabulous time spent together learning more about the work you do.
If you are or if you know a professional who works with people with hoarding tendencies, please feel free to get in touch with us. We’d love the opportunity to talk with you, too!
Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, ICD Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people affected by ADHD, Hoarding, and Chronic Disorganization.
Jonda S. Beattie is a Professional Organizer and owner of Time Space Organization based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, author of three books as well as a retired special education teacher, she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients tackle the toughest organizational issues. Jonda does hands on organizing, virtual organizing, and moderates a Zone Plan Teleclass for those who prefer to work on their own with organizational coaching.