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Written Imaginal Exposure for Hoarding Disorder: A Preliminary Pilot Study.

Hoarding disorder (HD) is marked by difficulty discarding possessions. Many refuse treatment or drop out, which may be due to treatment's incorporation of in-home decluttering, which is feared and avoided. Thus, strategies to prepare patients for decluttering/discarding are needed. Imaginal exposure (IE), or imagining one's worst fears about discarding, could be one such strategy. This pilot preliminarily tested a short-duration IE intervention compared with a control intervention. Over 3 days, adults diagnosed with HD (n = 32) were randomly assigned to either write about and imagine their worst fears about discarding (IE condition) or a neutral topic (control writing [CW] condition). The IE condition showed significant improvements in HD symptoms from preintervention to 1-week follow-up, with medium to large effects; however, the CW condition did as well. Comparing change scores between conditions, the IE condition's improvements were not significantly different than the CW condition's. Overall, IE was helpful in improving HD symptoms, but this pilot did not indicate that it was more helpful than CW. This raises important questions about possible demand characteristics, placebo effects, or regression to the mean, and it has implications for the design and methodology of other studies assessing IE's utility.

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