Jose Alvear, LMSW, is a bilingual therapist interested in mental health, social justice and social work. In his role as a therapist, he works with children and adults using modalities that include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT) as well as trauma-informed care. Alvear has worked with clients who are diagnosed with issues such as depression and anxiety disorders, ADHD, autism, PTSD, bipolar disorder, intimate partner violence and sexual abuse. His passion is helping the most vulnerable populations including those who are homeless, living in poverty, the elderly, at-risk youth, recent immigrants and people with chronic health conditions.
Alvear became interested in mental health when he realized he had been living with an undiagnosed and unrecognized mental disorder his entire life. For over 30 years, he picked and scratched his skin often to the point of bleeding and scarring. This led to low self-esteem, poor body image and a deep sense of shame which further contributed to his anxiety and struggles with depression as a youth. In 2010, Alvear discovered that this behavior was actually called “dermatillomania” or “chronic skin picking”, a body-focused repetitive disorder (BFRB) much like trichotillomania or hair pulling disorder. Unfortunately, skin picking was not listed in the DSM-IV so it was not an officially recognized disorder. As a result, there is still very low awareness about BFRBs among the general public and mental health providers making it difficult for many to find proper treatment.
After discovering the term dermatillomania, Alvear realized that this “bad habit” was actually a treatable disorder. However more research, trained providers and treatment options were needed. According to research, BFRBs like skin picking and hair pulling affect about 5% of the population although many people have no idea they are suffering from this disorder and don’t know that there are treatment options available. Alvear decided to focus on learning as much as possible about skin picking and started an anonymous blog on Tumblr called “Diary of a Skin Picker” (http://diaryofaskinpicker.tumblr.com) dedicated to documenting his recovery and offering help and support to others.
In 2013, the DSM-5 was released and it now included skin picking (excoriation) disorder. At the same time, Alvear’s blog became more popular and he decided he wanted to dedicate his career to helping others with BFRBs and become a mental health provider. While in graduate school, he continued to advocate for those suffering from BFRBs by presenting about skin picking. In addition, he has also worked to increase the number of Latinos into social work, reducing the stigma of mental health as well as focusing on other social justice and diversity issues. In May 2016, Alvear graduated with his Master of Social Work (MSW) from the NYU Silver School of Social Work. He is currently working on various new projects related to skin picking and other BFRBs, including the upcoming launch of the BFRB Podcast.
Previously, Alvear worked as a writer and research analyst in the tech industry for about 20 years. He is now excited to enter a new career where he can bring together his intensely personal struggles into the world of social work in order to advocate for those who have no voice. His hope is to continue to raise awareness about skin picking and other disorders to reduce the stigma about mental health and help as many people as he can.