While I originally focused on coaching adults age 18 and over to stop skin picking, three requests in a single week last summer from parents of 13-15 year old girls prompted me to change my mind and try out coaching teenagers as well. Coaching teens has been an enjoyable and rewarding experience for me and something I plan to continue. Here’s a story from the mother of one of the first girls I’ve coached about her daughter’s skin picking and recovery. (Names are changed.)
“When my daughter, Ali, was in eighth grade, she started squeezing the pores on her face, which created red marks and scabs where “perfect” skin had been. She did not have acne, but, rather, had always had beautiful, smooth skin on her face and her entire body. I would admonish her to leave her face alone, but she continued to squeeze and pick until her face looked as if she suffered from severe acne. She would tell me she “couldn’t” stop picking her face. I told her I understood, that as a teenager I also had spent time in front of the mirror, squeezing out blackheads and whiteheads (doesn’t everyone?), but that she had to stop. I even threatened to take away her concealer, so that everyone would see what her face looked like. To my surprise, she thought this was a great idea and hoped it would motivate her to stop picking. It didn’t.
By the beginning of Ali’s freshman year, we knew she needed help. She was diagnosed with OCD and was suffering from severe anxiety and depression. She started seeing a therapist on a regular basis and taking an antidepressant to help with her anxiety, depression and OCD. The medication worked wonders for Ali’s emotional state, but did nothing to stop, or even reduce, her picking. The picking became the focus of all of her therapy sessions. Under the guidance of her therapist, Ali tried fidget toys, journaling, employed strategies for spending less time in the bathroom and less time in front of a mirror and other methods that we hoped would keep her from picking. We implemented various types of reward systems. Ultimately, all of these tactics failed.
Ali continued picking her face through most of ninth grade. By the spring of her freshman year, she had started picking the skin on her arms, and shortly thereafter her legs, and had created dozens of red marks, which marred the beautiful skin of her limbs. She would disappear into the bathroom for long periods of time, during which we suspected she was picking. We would ask her to come out of the bathroom, but, when someone is determined to pick, she is going to pick.
I became consumed with Ali’s skin picking and determined to find a way to stop it. One night, I sat down at the computer and, after perusing, yet again, all of the articles and websites I could find relating to BFRB’s, I decided to check Amazon to see if any books had been published on the subject. Fortunately, I found and immediately ordered Annette’s book. Once the book arrived, I read the first few chapters and immediately felt that Annette would be able to help Ali. Her personal story was inspirational, and she described techniques for reducing picking that were based on her personal experience and grounded in solid scientific principles.
I then emailed Annette to ask her if she would be willing to work with Ali, who was fifteen years old at the time. Annette replied that she had never worked with a teenager, but if Ali were willing to do the work that would be required of her, she would give it a try. We scheduled an introductory Skype session so that Ali and I could “meet” Annette and decide whether we wanted to go forward with her program. We spoke with Annette together for a few minutes, and then Ali spoke to her alone. I rejoined them at the end of the session to find out the details about how the program worked. I told Annette that we would get back to her. After the call, I asked Ali if she was interested in working with Annette. She looked at me and said “Mom, if there’s anything that can work, this is it.”
Given that Ali, not I, participated in Annette’s program, I have very little knowledge of what was discussed during their Skype sessions, what Ali revealed, and what Annette advised. From the beginning, I made a conscious effort to let Ali take ownership of the program and her efforts to stop picking. I do know that Ali logs the number of minutes she spends picking online every night, and that Annette reviews her log to note her progress or any periods of increased picking. I know that Annette had Ali start listening to a guided meditation every night when she went to sleep, and that Ali found this to be helpful. I also know that Annette had Ali experiment with cutting sugar out of her diet and that this helped reduce Ali’s anxiety and urge to pick. Most importantly, I know that the number of minutes Ali spends picking each day has decreased dramatically since she started working with Annette.
When I described some of Annette’s techniques to Ali’s therapist, she commented on the fact that she, herself, had tried to get Ali to try some of the very same techniques. The difference is, as Annette had pointed out to me in our initial email conversation, there is no way that a therapist can demand the same amount of accountability as a coach. The fact that Ali knows that Annette is monitoring her progress has been central to her improvement.
Ali still picks, but the amount of time she spends picking has decreased dramatically. Thanks to Annette, she has an arsenal of tools at her disposal. Although she still has a way to go, with Annette’s help, Ali has made tremendous progress and we are both optimistic that she will continue to reduce the time she spends picking until she reaches her goal of zero minutes a day, day after day. Without Annette, that would be an almost unthinkable possibility.”
-Ellen from Connecticut, mother of Ali, age 16
Read more personal success stories from clients on my testimonials page.
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Results may vary.