Each one of us has our own way of coping with stress; some may deal with it in a healthy way, while others don’t. According to a psychologist in Calgary, about 5 to 7% of the population deals with stress by skin picking.
Skin picking, otherwise known as “dermatillomania”, was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in May 2013. This condition is classified as a body-focused repetitive behavior, wherein those who suffer it spend a significant time of the day picking at their own skin to the extent that it causes skin damage. In fact, in most cases, they focus on their face but it may involve other body parts as well.
Dr. Corrick Woodfin, a registered psychologist, is among the 3 registered psychologists in Canada who knows how to treat hair pulling disorders. According to him, there are only few treatment methods and the shame related with skin picking disorder are what actually motivated him to learn more about how to treat the condition.
Woodfin said, “In a city the size of Calgary, we know that there are 20,000 to 30,000 people that experience skin picking disorder. That’s probably an underrepresentation, because people don’t tend to report it or seek treatment”. He said that about 25% of his clients are currently consisting of dermatillomania sufferers.
A free-lance writer based in Calgary, Danielle Roberts, suffered from this skin picking disorder for more than a decade. The condition was triggered when she was 17, when a friend pointed at a spot on her shoulder and told her to squeeze it. That came during a stressful time in her life; and for Roberts, the reward and the stress relief associated with the behavior was instant.
Robert said, “The sensations before picking can range from extreme and intense anxiety to being completely unaware of what I’m doing. While I’m picking, I am extremely focused on the task at hand. I’m remarkably determined to ‘fix’ whatever imperfection I’ve focused on. It feels so relieving when I feel that I’ve fixed something, but afterwards, I feel shameful, ugly, and frustrated. Logically, I know that I’m not fixing anything and actually making my skin worse, but impulse and belief are not ones I’ve yet been able to get away from.”
It was once thought that the origins of skin picking disorder stems from obsessive-compulsive disorder. However it still remains to be understood, according to Woodfin.
Woodfin added, “The understanding that we’ve got is that it’s far more complex than simply an impulse disorder – in terms of etiology. We know that it likely has a genetic component. With research and our understanding now, this is very much a disorder in its own right.”
He says that although those who suffer with OCD hate the process of their impulsive behaviors, those with dermatillomania, on the other hand, find pleasure in their behavior.
He further added that the most challenging thing about treating the disorder is that although therapies are directed to stress management, it can also activate a stressor.
Note that Woodfin makes use of various treatments not to cure his clients, but to help them manage their impulses. While habit reversal training was frequently used over the years, his main treatments involve cognitive behavioral therapy.
He further added, “It takes a great deal of effort from the individual to want to try and manage this, but if they’re willing then what we can work towards is effective management, so that the client is aware of their triggers, they’re aware of what maintains the problem and they’re aware of how to target it.”