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How Do You Treat Hair Pulling with Hypnosis?

young girl in stripped shirt pulling her hair in frustration

Teenagers (and occasionally younger children) can develop a habit of pulling their hair from their scalp, eyebrows, or eyelashes.  This habit is known medically as trichotillomania, and sometimes called “trich.”  The behavior often starts around puberty and can be triggered by stress.  People affected by trichotillomania sometimes feel anxiety if they cannot pull their hair, which is relieved once the hair is pulled.  Some people even report feeling addicted to pulling their hair. 

Often, enough hair is pulled that it is visible to others, such as a bald spot on the head or missing eye lashes.  Many people with trichotillomania feel ashamed of their behavior and these causes them to have lower self-esteem. 

Treatment of trichotillomania involves teaching patients to avoid their triggers of this behavior, as well as to substitute another self-soothing behavior.  Hypnosis can be especially useful with both approaches. 

Prevention of Triggers of Hair Pulling 

Since stress is the most common trigger of trichotillomania, patients benefit from dealing better with their stress.   

Hypnosis can be used to identify the stressors in patients’ lives, including through interviewing of their subconscious.  Once patients can better define their stressors, they are in a position to address them more effectively.  For example, a 14-year-old who was pulling her hair found out that this started when her dog passed away.  After processing her grief through discussion with her therapist, her need to pull her hair resolved. 

Another trigger of trichotillomania can be a certain location, such as school or lying-in bed.  For example, a patient may have found school to be a stressful environment, and started pulling his hair there as a way of calming himself.  Thereafter, he always pulled his hair at school even when he was not stressed.  Hypnosis can be used to disrupt the association of a location with the need to pull hair. 

Introducing a New Self-Soothing Behavior 

Since hair pulling can be very soothing for some patients, it is important to teach them another way of self-soothing before asking them to stop their hair pulling. 

Hypnosis can be helpful in triggering a relaxation response that can help patients better cope with their stress.  The relaxation can be achieved when patients learn how to use hypnosis to quickly shift their mind-set to a calmer state. 

Further, slow, deep breathing (involving the diaphragm) during hypnosis can enhance the soothing response.  Such deep breathing causes the body to release soothing chemicals into the blood stream. 

Positive self-talk can also help patients feel better.  For example, patients might tell themselves, “I can be calm,” “I want to feel peaceful,” or “I will become more comfortable once I relax.” 

Take Home Message 

Trichotillomania can be resolved using hypnosis for the purpose of reducing the effects of its triggers and employment of alternative self-soothing strategies. 

About Center Point Medicine 

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Profile Photo or Ran D. Anbar, MD, FAAP Ran D. Anbar, MD Ran D. Anbar, MD, FAAP, is board certified in both pediatric pulmonology and general pediatrics, offering hypnosis and counseling services at Center Point Medicine in La Jolla, California, and Syracuse, New York. Dr. Anbar is also a fellow and approved consultant of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. Dr. Anbar is a leader in clinical hypnosis, and his 20 years of experience have allowed him to successfully treat over 5,000 children. He also served as a professor of pediatrics and medicine and the director of pediatric pulmonology at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, for 21 years.

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