Trichotillomania Treatment: How to Stop Pulling Out Hair
Doctors have promising treatment for trichotillomania available for those who need it. As with any disorder, physical or mental, the best way to address trichotillomania (hair pulling disorder) involves becoming educated about the issue and its treatment, along with getting trichotillomania support. Although experts have not found one trichotillomania treatment approach that is effective for everyone, current approaches include medications and psychotherapy techniques.
Current Approaches to Treatment for Trichotillomania
Even though research for treatment for trichotillomania is limited at this time, experts recommend a number of approaches that include both medication and different types of psychotherapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques used in treatment for hair pulling:
- Habit reversal training (HRT) – based on experts' belief that hair pulling becomes a conditioned response to cope with certain situations and events. People with the disorder don't know how to stop pulling out hair because they often aren't aware of these triggers. Therapists teach patients awareness of their triggers and provide them with healthy, alternative behaviors to cope with these situations.
- Stimulus control techniques – this technique employs specific physical items that patients use as a sort of habit blocker that restricts their ability to engage in hair pulling.
- Cognitive restructuring – therapists frequently use this technique in conjunction with the other above. Cognitive restructuring helps patients learn how to stop pulling out hair by teaching them to think differently in response to their urges to pull hair.
- Mindfulness-Based CBT – according to the OCD Center of Los Angeles, this technique represents one of the most effective CBT approaches in successful treatment for trichotillomania. The focus of Mindfulness-Based CBT involves teaching the patient to simply accept difficult psychological experiences like stress and other complex emotions. The ultimate goal is to teach patients to stop trying to control and eliminate the discomfort that arises out of these emotions. Therapists help people learn that psychological distress is a fact of life and to non-judgmentally accept the discomfort without pulling out their hair or engaging in other unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Doctors don't agree on how to treat trichotillomania with medications. The primary treatment for trichotillomania involves various behavioral therapy approaches. However, some medications may also prove helpful in reducing trichotillomania symptoms. Some medications work only if the person takes them daily, while other medications work on an "as needed" basis.
Since research about trichotillomania is limited, experts don't yet know which brain chemicals or neurological systems are involved in hair pulling disorder, making it difficult to choose effective medications. Naltrexone and certain types of antidepressants, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have shown effectiveness in reducing trichotillomania symptoms in some people.
New research may shed more light on how to treat trichotillomania. It's important that sufferers overcome any embarrassment surrounding their disorder and seek professional help.
Last Updated: 18 November 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD