When Skin Picking Becomes an Obsession

What if a normal grooming behavior turned into a habitual and dangerous obsession?

Angela, 28, picks at her skin to the point of pain and disfigurement, and the compulsion has a severe hold over her life. She says she can’t imagine a day where she has control over her disorder. Angela says sometimes she’s not even aware she’s picking until she sees blood or feels pain. She’ll pick when she’s in the bathroom, watching TV or even in her sleep.

“I pick at my face, I pick at my upper-chest, and I pick at my legs,” Angela says.

Angela was diagnosed with trichotillomania and dermatillomania, which are both related to obsessive compulsive disorder. Trichotillomania is a disorder involving recurrent and irresistible urges to pull out hair from various parts of the body, and dermatillomania is the repetitive picking at one's skin to the extent of causing damage.

Angela has suffered from the conditions since childhood. At first she was diagnosed with acne, but she says, it got worse throughout the years. She says she was riddled with shame and went years without dating or getting close to anyone.

“Picking gives me a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of relief,” Angela says.

ER physician Dr. Travis Stork explains that since Angela’s condition is not widely known, many physicians may be insensitive when treating patients.

“I’ve gotten infections from picking," Angela says. "Once my chin flared up, and a doctor refused to treat me because he says I did it to myself. It was a humiliating experience.”

The Doctors send Angela to a top clinic that specializes in treating her disorder.

Angela sits down with psychotherapist Dr. Karen Pickett and says she feels powerless to her behavior.

“If my husband tries to stop me from picking, I immediately feel this panic," she says. "I need to learn to recover. I want to say, ‘I’ve made it through, and I’ve actually been able to manage the urges.’”

With Dr. Pickett’s help, Angela will begin therapy sessions to help her get her condition under control and find the answers she’s looking for.

For more resources for trichotillomania and OCD, visit the following websites:

 

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