Joseph A. Himle, PhD, is the Associate Dean for Research and the Howard V. Brabson Collegiate Professor of Social Work, School of Social Work, and Professor of Psychiatry, Medical School, at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
The goal of Prof. Himle’s research is to design, develop and test a inconspicuous, awareness-enhancement and monitoring device (AEMD) which will assist the treatment of trichotillomania (TTM), a disorder involving recurrent pulling of one’s hair resulting in noticeable hair loss. TTM is associated with significant impairments in social functioning and often has a profound negative impact on self-esteem and well being. Best practice treatment for TTM involves a form of behavioral therapy known as habit reversal therapy (HRT). HRT requires persons with trichotillomania to be aware of their hair pulling behaviors, yet the majority of persons with TTM pull most of their hair outside of their awareness . HRT also requires TTM sufferers to record the frequency and duration of their hair pulling behaviors yet it is obviously impossible for a person to monitor behaviors that they are unaware of. Our Phase I efforts have produced a prototype device (AEMD) that solves these two problems. The prototype AEMD signals the TTM sufferer if their hand approaches their hair, thereby bringing pulling-related behavior into awareness. The prototype AEMD also logs the time, date, duration, and user classification of hair pulling related events and can later transfer the logged data to a personal computer for analysis and data presentation. He continues to refine this device and seek to integrate it with smart-phones to better understand activities and locations associated with hair pulling or other body-focused repetitive behaviors (e.g., skin picking). In the future, he seeks to pool data from users to get a better sense of common situations and other factors associated with elevated pulling rates. He intends to develop other electronic tools to detect, monitor and intervene with other mental disorders in the future.