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Do you find it really difficult to get rid of things? Does it cause distress and affect your daily life? It may be collector's syndrome. Here we explain what the problem is and the treatment available.

What is collector’s syndrome?

Collector’s syndrome occurs when people have considerable difficulty getting rid of things, partly because they feel uncomfortable and think they need to keep them. They may collect different types of things, some of which may have objective value but others may seem less valuable to an outsider. The syndrome is similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder, which involves different types of compulsive behaviours.

Collector’s syndrome causes

Collector’s syndrome usually develops early in life, according to studies showing symptoms presenting in childhood. It can be distressing and worsen with age, with about 6% of the population over the age of 70 having it. Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of the syndrome. Many people with it have experienced trauma, but it is difficult to link trauma specifically as the cause of the syndrome because a lot of factors are involved.

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Symptoms of collector’s syndrome

Collector’s syndrome is a separate diagnosis in the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, but the symptoms are similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Only when the behaviour causes great suffering and affects how you function in everyday life can a diagnosis be made. Sufferer’s homes are often messy and cluttered, making it difficult for them to do everyday things like using the bathroom and cooking. They may collect things by looking for free stuff, buying or stealing. They may not always be aware of their behaviour but others around them might point it out to them. Some people in their circle make recovery more difficult by perpetuating the problems. Collector’s syndrome can lead to feelings of shame and stigma, so it is important to get the right help. If diagnosed, these symptoms can be reviewed:

  • Presence of extreme collecting
  • Degree of insight

If you have collector’s syndrome, depression, anxiety and ADHD are often also present. It is also common in OCD, Prader-Willi syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. It is possible to get treatment for these problems as well.

Treatment for collector’s syndrome

What can you do if you have collector’s syndrome? The only researched treatment for the problem is CBT for adults. There are few studies on children and adolescents, so it is not yet known which treatment is most helpful for them. The different levels of collector’s syndrome have either mild, moderate or severe symptoms, and treatment is adapted accordingly.

Treatment with CBT for collector’s syndrome is usually between 16-26 sessions and can be given individually or in groups. The treatment includes techniques to work on motivation and thoughts and feelings related to things you own. It also includes training skills to organise, sort and make decisions about what to do with the stuff you have accumulated. There are few studies on drug treatment, so it is unclear whether it helps with the syndrome.

Seeking help can change your life

Collector’s syndrome is not something you need to deal with on your own. Talking to a licensed psychotherapist or psychologist can help you understand your condition better and offer effective ways to move forward. You are not alone, it is okay to ask for help. On our website, we have qualified therapists and psychologists who are happy to help you get out of compulsive behaviours.

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Your next step

If you or someone you know is struggling with collector’s syndrome, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional therapist or psychologist. Lavendla’s experienced therapists and psychologists are qualified and your conversations are always strictly confidential. Don’t be afraid to take the first step.

Living with collector’s syndrome can be difficult but there is help available. With the right support and tools, you can significantly improve your quality of life. If you are ready to take the step, we are here to support you. Book your first session today and start your journey towards a better future.

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12 frequently asked questions about collector’s syndrome

What is collector’s syndrome?

Collector’s syndrome means that people have considerable difficulty getting rid of things, partly because they feel uncomfortable and believe they have a need to keep them. People may collect different types of things, some of which may have objective value but others may seem less valuable to an outsider.

How is collector’s syndrome diagnosed?

A diagnosis of collector’s syndrome is usually made by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist through various tests and assessments. This may include questionnaires and clinical interviews.

Is collector’s syndrome hereditary?

Research shows that collector’s syndrome may have a genetic component but there are other factors. Environment and upbringing also play a role.

What are the symptoms of collector’s syndrome?

Symptoms often include having a messy and cluttered home, causing difficulty doing everyday things like using the bathroom and cooking. They may acquire things by seeking out free stuff, buying, or stealing.

How is collector’s syndrome treated?

Treatment often involves Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Is there a cure for collector’s syndrome?

There is treatment for collector’s syndrome that can be helpful for many people, although it may not help everyone.

Can children get collector’s syndrome?

It has been found that people with collector’s syndrome often have had symptoms since childhood. It is important to seek professional help as soon as possible for the best possible treatment outcome.

How common is collector’s syndrome?

Collector’s syndrome increases with age and for people over 70 years old, about 6% of people suffer.

Does it affect everyday life?

In severe cases, collector’s syndrome can lead to disability caused by difficulties in hygiene and cooking. However, it is possible to return to normal function with proper treatment.

How is collector’s syndrome different from regular habits?

Unlike regular habits and saving of memorabilia, collector’s syndrome involves large numbers of items that cause distress and affect normal living.

Can you have other problems at the same time as having collector’s syndrome?

It is common to have other psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and OCD. It is important to get an assessment by a professional to get the right treatment.

How do I get help with my collector’s syndrome?

Lavendla’s experienced psychologists and therapists work with CBT and can help you improve if you have mild symptoms. If you have more severe symptoms, you should contact your GP for a referral to a specialist psychiatrist. In the case of the an acute mental health crisis, call 111 or visit 111.nhs.uk immediately.

What does treatment for involve?

Seeking help is a big step towards better health, it’s a positive thing to decide to take control of how you feel. Here is an overview of the steps usually involved in CBT treatment.

Step 1: An initial assessment session

The first meeting with your psychologist or therapist is an assessment to review your mental and physical health. You may be asked questions about your life situation, feelings, thoughts and behaviours. You may also be asked to complete assessment forms.

Step 2: Goal setting

This is where you and your therapist set concrete goals for the therapy, both short and long term. It can define which areas of your life are most affected by your well-being and how you would like to change them.

Step 4: Treatment with different techniques and tools

This is the start of the actual treatment phase, which involves exercises aimed at providing tools for overcoming and working through your problem. Often, you will work on motivation to get rid of things, and practice this with the therapist. CBT also works with thoughts and feelings about the problem behaviour.

Step 5: Monitoring and evaluation

Treatment is monitored regularly to see how well the therapy is working. If necessary, the treatment plan can be adjusted or renewed.

Step 6: Ending and looking ahead

As the therapy comes to an end, it is time to reflect on the progress made. You will also receive a maintenance plan for how to use the tools and strategies you have learned in the future. It is also important to monitor the results over time.

If you or someone close to you is looking for professional help, don’t hesitate to book a session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists.

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Written by dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.