Please indulge me as I take a little trot down memory lane about Dr. Howard Rosenthal (shown to the side). I have personally known Howard since 1975 when I met him at a Christmas party thrown by my "significant other at the time." It turned out that Howard and Gary, my SO, had worked together as case workers for the State of Missouri.
At the time, I was just starting work on my Ph.D. Ironically Howard was already up to his eyeballs in his graduate studies. While I was definitely into business (even then), Howard had a fascinating knowledge of psychology and was an expert at hypnotherapy. We spent the entire party engrossed in a combination of business, psychology and surviving a PhD conversations that lasted for hours.
From that point on Howard and I were great friends. I am honored to say that our friendship has endured over 25 years, to the present day. Even though we went in completely different directions both geographically and professionally, Howard and I have remained in touch.
I am not surprised that he is considered a leading authority in his field or that he has published so many best selling books. I have read several of his books and they are wonderful for a number of reasons.
I am thrilled that Howard agreed to write a guest article for HairBoutique.com. I was talking to him at length recently about the issues of hair pulling. Howard graciously agreed to write an article about the topic for us. As usual, Howard had a wealth of information to share and we are very honored to share his knowledge with all of our visitors.
Thank you Howard for this great article.
Stop Pulling Your Hair Out - 7 Key Strategies For Stopping
When I first began counseling clients a woman asked me to treat her daughter Kelly for a "strange condition". During my interview with Kelly I was baffled because she appeared to be on of the brightest, most creative, and attractive 14 year old girls I had ever met. In essence, she seemed to have no emotional problems whatsoever. I thus called her mother into my consultation room and announced confidently that her daughter was normal.
Kelly's mom's eyes became misty and she shook her head to indicate that she did not agree with my clinical verdict. "She's got Kojak Complex mister."
"Kojak's Complex," I replied. "I'm afraid I'm not following you." The only Kojak I knew was the 1970s bald headed television cop played by Telly Savalas who always had a lollipop shoved into his mouth.
Kelly's mom motioned at her daughter who took off the scarf she had been wearing during the interview: Much to my chagrin, Kelly was totally bald! Her mother explained that Kelly was not the victim of a rare disease but rather that she pulled all of her own hair out and would then eat the ends.
Since I had never come across this affliction before I contacted one of my former graduate professors who seemingly shared my ignorance. "I have never heard of anything like that," he assured me, "Just treat her like you would any other client."
Year sure I thought to myself. And the moon is made of green cheese!
What Is Trichotillomania?
My own lack of knowledge, not to mention that of my mentor, caused me to do a little research. I discovered that Kelly - like about 7 or 8 million Americans - suffered from Trichotillomania. The term was coined by a French dermatologist in 1889 to describe individuals who suffer from this dis-tressing condition. Simply put: People who have trichotillomania pull their hair out.
Trichotillomaniacs usually tug at the hair on their head, nevertheless, they can concentrate on other hair such as their eye brows, or perhaps hair under their arms. These individuals often insist that they feel gratification after pulling a few strands of hair out. The good news is that trichotillomaniacs are not crazy. They merely have an impulse disorder similar to an individual who can't control his or her gambling.
How To Stop Pulling Your Hair Out
More good news: In my clinical practice, I have discovered a bevy of very simple, but highly effective strategies, that can help trichotillomaniacs stop pulling their locks. Okay, here goes. And remember: Don’t let the simplicity of the techniques lead you astray, these procedures have worked for my clients and they can work for you.
1. Make a chart of each time you pull your hair. If somebody in your family (or someone you live with) can keep you honest so much the better. Then assign a cost to each time you pull your hair (e.g., a dollar). At the end of the week you will take the total and send that amount to someone you thoroughly dislike! A staunch supporter of a political party could send the $20 or whatever to a rival party whom they vehemently resent. (Here’s a bonus tip: This strategy also works like gangbusters for smokers who wish to quit.)
2. Reward yourself whenever you go through a period of time when you don’t pull your hair. Behavioral scientists call this interval reinforcement. Tell yourself, for example, that if you can go two hours without playing with your hair you will treat yourself to a warm bath, a movie, or a new article of clothing.
3. What’s that you say? You pull your hair unconsciously? Simple enough, then wear athletic ankle weights on the arm you use to pull your hair. This one did the trick for Kelly. I have often remarked to my clients that they can either stop pulling their hair or they’ll end up with biceps like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The vast majority settle on the former option. Onward.
4. Many times trichotillomaniacs engage in their behavior when they are stressed. My advice to them is to purposely – yes I said purposely – play with their hair (but not pull it out) when they would not normally do so. When using this strategy I insist that my clients do the pulling with the hand that they would generally not use to pull their hair. This is what is known as a paradoxical strategy. Yeah I know it sounds ridiculous, but the fact is it works!
5. When you catch yourself tugging away yell STOP as loud as you can in your mind again and again. Imagine you are yelling at yourself using a 1000 watt sports stadium public address system. Then force yourself to mentally visualize yourself as beautiful or handsome sporting a dynamite head of hair.
6. Look for triggers that set off unwanted behavior and make every effort if humanly possible to avoid them. If you pull your hair out while sitting in a certain traffic jam each night, try driving the route at a different time or deliberately travel a different route. Anything you can do to break up your typical pattern will be helpful.
7. If you continue to pull your hair visit a licensed mental health professional for counseling, hypnosis, biofeedback, relaxation training or a combination of all these treatments. Moreover, as your new hair begins growing back consider taking vitamins, minerals or herbal supplements to enhance the process.
Most of all, keep an optimist attitude. All the research on mental health clearly shows that optimistic individuals overcome adversity in their lives better. Close your eyes, yes right this very minute, and imagine yourself with a terrific new head of hair. Feels great, doesn’t it.
About Dr. Rosenthal
Dr. Howard Rosenthal is the Program Coordinator of Human Services at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley and a private practice therapist.
Over 100,000 people have heard his dynamic lectures. Therapists from coast to coast use his materials to pass licensing and certification exams.
You can purchase his ultra popular lively self-improvement guide entitled: Help Yourself to Positive Mental Health and his book Not With My Life I Don’t: Preventing Your Suicide And That Of Others by visiting his web site at or by clicking on the highlighted books and buying through HairBoutique's association with Amazon.com.
Dr. Rosenthal has also written the very popular Straight A's in Thirty Days: The Shocking Truth About Getting Good Grades which is available on tape from his website.
All of Dr. Rosenthal’s books are written in his folksy, and conversational “reader-friendly” style.