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Elliott, LPCC, NCC
Elliott, LPCC, NCC, Psychotherapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 7664
Experience:  35 years of experience as a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, National Certified Counselor and a college professor.
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I could really use some advice about talking with my mother

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I could really use some advice about talking with my mother who is 85 years old and won't let me get rid of anything out of her house. She keeps buying DVDs, and is up to about 1500 of them. All her bookshelves are also full of books but she keeps buying those as well. There are just stacks everywhere. She has an e-reader but she'll still buy the hardcopy. Yesterday, I was folding clothes for her and asked her where the rags go because there were some threadbare towels in the load. She said those weren't rags. She wants to keep them because they remind her of her old home, even though she has new ones. (These were plain old white towels -- not even monogrammed or anything.)
I don't know how to talk to her without upsetting her and also don't know what kind of help to get her. I got her to see a psychologist a few months back but I'm not sure how to bring up the question of whether she's still seeing her and whether it is doing any good. That was for depression. She is now on Welbutrin and told my sister it is working quite well, though she hasn't mentioned it to me at all even though we usually talk about those kinds of things.
Mother is clearly depressed. She doesn't participate in any activities and doesn't socialize much. She doesn't like strangers, and is such a know-it-all that most of her family doesn't want to be around her. I know it is my responsibility to try to help her, but I don't know where to start. Any ideas?
Seeking expert counseling is a sign of strength. A personal relationship with a caring professional is proven clinically effective.

Dear concerned daughter,

Your mother is still suffering from some depression, it seems, but if she feels that the Wellbutrin in helping her, then this definitely progress. Wellbutrin (bupropion) has less side effects than many other antidepressants (as long as she isn't already prone to seizures).

She is a hoarder, which means that she has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Other than having a big clutter, this OCD probably serves to lessen her anxiety and it would probably be more harmful to her to try to make her change than to just let her continue to hold on to the old mementos and shards of her life that give her comfort through famliarility. To most people, these are old rags, but to her the towels are reassuring remnants of the past.

It seems that you are already very helpful to her, with housework and the like. She is, at her age, very set in her ways. This compulsion to collect seems silly, at best, ***** ***** is probably helping her to deal with the unique problems of old age, including a memory not as sharp as it used to be.

I urge you to consider accepting this behavior, as it does not seem to threaten her health of safety in any substantial way.

I wish you continued good relations with your mother.

Warm regards,

Elliott Sewell, LPCC, NCC, CCMHC
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

Thanks for the response. I agree with much of it. At what point do I put my foot down about the fact that her house can't be cleaned, or her bookshelves could topple on her? This time last summer she tripped over the exercise bike she never uses and broke her hip. She does use the treadmill -- for stacking trash on that she doesn't want to take out (cardboard boxes). She collects these for months at a time so I can remove them when I come to town. Do you have any idea of what kind of third party I could engage to act as a go-between? Someone who would objectively look at her behaviors as well as my (potential over-) reactions? She doesn't believe in God so a clergy isn't an option.

Dear *****a,

Than you for getting back to me. Your mother has obviously crossed the danger line on several occasions and has put herself at risk. You will have to protect her, but when you put your foot down, my must tread lightly. You will have to quietly spirit away some of the trash when she is away or sleeping, and you might have to hire someone or use other family members to clear space enough to increase the safety.

A Licensed Marriage and Family Counselor would probably be the best intermediary, since this is a family affair. Hopefully, you can enlist your sister's help as well. If you have a family member who is closer than you, that person can look in on her and spirit away some of the trash and make sure that there is no fire or other safety issues.

You will have to do your best to cater to her unreasonable needs, for you will not change her. She cannot adapt to you, and you will have to be the flexible one, which is the role you have inherited at this stage of her life and yours.

I wish you great perseverance, patience, and continued unconditional love.

Warm regards,

Elliott Sewell, LPCC, NCC, CCMHC
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