The director of hoarding support group Clouds End, Heather Matuozzo believes social workers should put their own prejudices to bed before they can help compulsive hoarders effectively. They must confront and deal with their own problems first, she says. Or else they will be unable to relate to their clients as they should.
We believe this applies logically to hoarders’ friends and family too. Hoarders are sensitive people like the rest of us. If they feel a person despises or disparages them, then they are likely to withdraw into themselves. Much the same applies to targets of other prejudice right around the world, in our opinion.
This Might Be Step Change. But It Is a Challenge Too
Heather Matuozzo acknowledges prejudice may not be easy for social workers to confront and deal with. However, she calls on them to retain their optimism and enthusiasm. She mentions as example a local news item where a landlord described a hoarding tenant as ‘not even human’.
This type of stigma is still unfortunately very real, she admits. And she blames mainstream media and reality TV shows for perpetuating the idea that hoarding is a disgusting thing that only lazy people do. She put attendees at a social conference to a test that revealed their own prejudices.
Turning the Mirror Around Towards the Social Worker
Heather Matuozzo showed her audience a picture of a hoarded house on an overhead screen. When she asked her audience – many social workers – how they responded, a typical answer was they felt disgusted and wanted clean it up.
This approach, to our way of thinking steamrollers the bond many compulsive collectors have with their hoards. We have written elsewhere about how they are emotionally connected to them, especially items relating to their personal history.
While we agree the sights and smells in a thoroughly hoarded house may shock and induce feelings of nausea, social workers should pretend not to notice in order to present themselves as unbiased persons. In this way they keep the conversation open to negotiation and compromise, and eventually, hopefully a tidier home.
“The general public, I think, have developed their own opinions and ideas about hoarding, and practitioners are not exempt because they’re also human,” Heather Matuozzo explains. “But it’s really so important to focus on the people you can help, and not get bogged down by the more difficult cases.”
Towards More Open, Caring Support for Compulsive Hoarders
Heather Matuozzo spoke out for asking questions patiently, in order to understand and empathise with an emerging hoarder. If I were in control of the world I would have support groups in every community, she said. That’s because they are inexpensive and group work is wonderful, she explained.
This is food for thought for each of us involved in one or other way with a person with hoarding difficulties. Our watchword should be one size still does not fit all. We must understand each individual’s thinking, and sensitively help them develop a plan that works in their world.