Book Club – Digging Out – Michael Thompkins
Digging Out by Michael A. Tompkins, Ph.D. and Tamara L. Hartl, Ph.D. is a comprehensive resource for individuals with family members who hoard, and an outstanding one at that. Drs. Tompkins and Hartl guide the reader through the process of helping a loved one, starting with the reader addressing her own issues with her family member’s hoard and moving on to provide a structured method for support and maintenance. This thin book manages to not only address the needs of both the reader and the hoarding individual but to bridge the gap between them so that all efforts are working towards a common goal.
Perhaps the most important section of Digging Out, and one that all organizing books should address, is the section focused on the reader acknowledging, accepting, and making peace with how the family member’s hoarding has affected the reader. Tompkins and Hartl make it clear that in order to successfully help a loved one, the reader must first forgive them. While this is by no means easy, it is essential. The importance of forgiveness and true compassion is addressed at the onset of Digging Out and reiterated many times throughout. This parallels the experience of working with a family member who hoards and having to constantly remind oneself of the love for them and the reasons why one is helping.
The strategies for helping a loved one with a hoarding problem are focused on what Tompkins and Hartl refer to as harm reduction. They make it clear that the goal of a support team is not to ‘cure’ the family member of hoarding or to create a meticulously clean environment, but rather to focus on eliminating safety hazards, reducing health risks, avoiding eviction, and creating a long term plan for the future.
The bulk of the strategies section focuses on creating what Digging Out refers to as a Harm Reduction Team. It give advice on who should be a part of the team, how the team can create a plan that will honor the hoarding family member, and also how to troubleshoot setbacks and perceived failures. Tompkins and Hartl encourage team members to communicate using the L.E.A.P. and L.E.A.R.N. method of communication which involves active listening and ensures that both parties are heard and supported by each other. Digging Out includes role playing examples and exercises for the reader to practice so that she can feel comfortable with the process before addressing her family member.
Digging Out is an invaluable resource for anyone helping a loved one who hoards and for any related professional working with hoarders. It’s ability to combine practical and objective safety needs with an emotional support structure for all members of the Harm Reduction Team is astonishing. This is a book we should all have on our shelves and one that we will undoubtedly refer to many times over as we navigate the often choppy waters of supporting an individual with a hoarding or compulsive acquiring problem.