A former Child Center patient shares view of her treatment experience while in residential care for hair-pulling disorder, and of how much she loves life now.
At 13 years old, with masses of beautiful hair and long eyelashes, most people would never know ”Kerri L." came to Rogers Memorial Hospital’s Child Center a year ago having dropped out of school because she couldn’t stop pulling out her hair.
The reason: a compulsion. “Trichotillomania,” an impulse control disorder often drives its sufferers to pick, pull and tear at their hair. By the time she came to Rogers, even the many hats Kerri wore to cover up her bald patches couldn’t hide the shame and frustration she felt toward herself.
“It’s hard to understand unless you have it yourself,” Kerri explains. “It didn’t hurt to pull out my hair. It relaxed me and kind of made me feel better,” she said.
Although her parents remained supportive, it was clear to both Kerri and her family that she needed professional help. The family ended up bringing Kerri to the Child Center at Rogers Memorial Hospital.
“I was, honestly, excited for it,” Kerri said. “Coming to Rogers gave me a change to help myself and to meet to other people who were going through difficult times. Everyone was so encouraging and accepted me for who I was.”
When it came time to come home, Kerri said she was excited and felt ready. “I took what I’d learned and put it in my normal life. Rogers really prepared me.”
Looking back, Kerri said at one time her compulsions to pull out her hair seemed insurmountable. “I’ve heard stories about people living with it their entire life, and eventually even giving up on life because it was just so hard.”
That’s not the case, she said. You can get better. “Keep thinking positive and keep trying your best. It’s not going to be like this forever.”
Today, Kerri lives her life free of hats and shame and ready to face the day. “I love my life now. My hair grew back, my eyelashes are back. I never wear hats anymore. I am very involved with extra curricular activities at school. My parents relationship used to be really rocky, but we’re best friends now.”
This sentiment is shared by Kerri’s mom, who acknowledged the progress her daughter has made. “I see how far she’s come and I am thrilled to see her happy and thriving and see her doing things that she never would have wanted to do before,” she said. “It’s what every mother wants for her daughter. To see that is really very humbling and very amazing.”
Kerri’s father found the support Rogers showed his daughter spread to the family as a whole. “We feel like we have some kind of relationship with Rogers. They’ve been great to our family. Everyone involved has been wonderful, welcoming and supportive.” The whole experience, he said, has helped to reunite his family, and bring his long-lost daughter home. “We’re back at the point of being the wonderful girl I’ve known her to be.”
The peak age of onset for Trichotillomania is age nine to 13. The Trichotillomania Learning Center suggests that cognitive-behavioral therapy, such as habit-reversal training, should be the initial treatment of choice. The Child Center at Rogers Memorial Hospital is the only program in the nation that provides intensive cognitive-behavioral therapy for children. If you are interested in treatment at the Child Center, you can request an initial screening online.
Kerri was a real patient at the Child Center; we’ve changed her name at her request. It is our great honor that she and her family asked us to help them share their story.