Smith College professor explores the cluttered lives of habitual hoarders

If you’ve ever watched popular television shows such as A&E's Hoarders, the Learning Channel's Hoarding: Buried Alive, or Animal Planet's Confessions: Animal Hoarding, you may know something about this compulsive disorder that affects millions of Americans and is marked by the collection of mass quantities of objects, animals, and garbage. Recent media coverage has drawn attention to this and other obsessive-compulsive disorders, increasing the number of students interested in pursuing degrees in psychology.

Those who wish to launch a career in psychology and study this condition may benefit from enrolling at Smith College, where psychology professor Randy Frost and alumna Rachel Gross published the first systematic study of hoarding in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy, the school newspaper Insight reports. “Compulsive hoarding has commonly been thought of as a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder, though it is also associated with other disorders like dementia, schizophrenia, and eating disorders,” Frost told the news source. “My research on hoarding has focused on the phenomenology, cognitive behavioral theorizing, and the development of treatments for the disorder.”

Photo from A&E's "Hoarders"

Frost also teaches a seminar in advanced abnormal psychology entitled “The Meaning of Possessions.” Every semester, his research lab actively involves as many as one dozen students in a self-help project to develop treatment strategies for hoarders.

In order to understand the psychology of hoarding—and ultimately to help treat it—students must be able to identify its root causes, analyze associated personality traits, and follow the most up-to-date and effective treatment methods.

Hoarding is now the focus of two ongoing research projects into the treatment of compulsive hoarding, which are funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

The demand for medical professionals who specialize in obsessive-compulsive disorders is growing fast. In fact, the BLS reported that the employment of psychologists in general will grow at a rate of 12 percent between 2008 and 2018.