Approximately 5 million people in our country struggle with the habit of hair pulling, otherwise known as Trichotillomania or TM for short. TM is far from a new problem, with the first cases appearing in this country well over a century ago. For such a common and longstanding problem, it is surprising that TM has received such little attention over the years. The good news is that this trend is starting to change. Over the past decade, in an effort to better understand and treat TM, more and more attention and research dollars have been devoted to its study.
So, what do we know about TM? We know for certain that TM is a recurrent habit that gets people to pull out their own hair, usually resulting in observable hair loss. While TM can impact any part of the body that has hair, the most commonly affected areas are the scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes. TM is most often done in private so that others do not find out. It may happen while doing such ordinary activities as watching TV, reading, talking on the phone, and driving. TM sometimes is done automatically, with very little awareness or thought. At other times, it might be a completely intentional and conscious behavior.
TM sometimes occurs when people are seemingly relaxed and calm. In other instances, hair pulling may help to provide momentary relief from overwhelming emotional discomfort. One problem with this attempted solution is that it often leads to even more problems and emotional distress for both the individual and those around them. Regardless of when TM occurs, it often leads to feelings of shame and of being out of control. It can erode self-confidence and make it harder to have meaningful social and professional relationships. Most of all, struggles with TM tend to interfere with people's ability to function normally and reach their life goals.
At our Center we offer a type of cognitive behavioral therapy called habit reversal that has been shown to be effective in the treatment of TM. It is a relatively short-term treatment. For those already involved in a different type of treatment outside of our Center, this particular therapy may serve as a useful, temporary addition.