Thomas DuHamel, Ph.D.Clinical Psychologist

    Dr. DuHamel is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of childhood functional constipation (encopresis). He founded ABCD, Inc. in 1977 and retired in 2015.  His practice is now limited to telephone consultations with parents and healthcare providers, which can be arranged by clicking on the “Consultations” button on his website:

    • BA in Psychology, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island (1965)


    • MS in Psychology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Massachusetts (1968)


    • Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Massachusetts (1970)

    • Medical Psychology Fellow, University of Oregon Medical School Portland, Oregon (1972)

    • Children’s Hospital & Regional Medical Center – Seattle, Washington (1974 – 1988)


    • Active Medical Staff, Departmentt of Child Psychiatry – Seattle Children’s Hospital & Regional Medical Center (1975 – 2006)

    • Childhood Asthma and the psychological effects of asthma medications

    Licensed Psychologist State of Washington PY00000437

    • Currently not taking insurance (May 2017)

    Functional Constipation/Encopresis

    Treatment and Prevention

    Functional constipation or encopresis?
    Functional constipation frequently causes children to become stool incontinent or to soil or defecate in their clothing. A medical term for stool incontinence is encopresis. However, even though encopresis is just one symptom of functional constipation, many pediatric healthcare providers and parents have come to use this term in place of functional constipation. I prefer to use the term functional constipation.


    What is functional constipation??
    Functional constipation follows a fairly predictable course. It usually begins with an uncomfortable or painful bowel movement which can occur as early as the first few months of life. Following one or more painful bowel movements, a child begins to withhold stool to avoid pain whenever he or she feels the need to poop.Initially, the decision to withhold is voluntary but as uncomfortable bowel movements continue, withholding becomes what psychologists call a conditioned avoidance response. It is no longer intentional because it happens automatically. In other words, the act of withholding develops into a habit which continues even after bowel movements no longer hurt. Withholding causes stool to be retained in the rectum. Think of the rectum as a round muscle with an empty space in the center, like a small balloon. As the rectum stretches to accommodate increasing amounts of stool, it periodically contracts in an effort to expel the excess stool. These repeated contractions cause the walls of the rectum to get thicker and stronger. As the rectum gets stronger, however, it also becomes less sensitive and less adept at signaling the need to poop. This often leads to stool incontinence. Moreover, once the rectum is stretched, it remains stretched for a long time even after the excess stool has been removed. While the onset of functional constipation can occur quickly, breaking the habit of withholding and giving the rectum sufficient time to shrink back to its normal size can take many months or years.


    How do you treat functional constipation/encopresis?
    Over the past 35 years I have successfully treated many children with these disorders, beginning in the Encopresis Clinic at Children’s Hospital in Seattle and, subsequently, here at ABCD. My approach to treatment incorporates those strategies which clinical practice and research has found to be most effective. There are six steps which must be followed to effectively manage functional constipation: educate the family, empty the rectum, end withholding, shrink the rectum, withdraw laxatives, and remain vigilant. Each of these steps and their implementation is explained in more detail in my book, The Ins and Outs of Poop: A Guide to Treating Childhood Constipation.


    For more information about functional constipation and its treatment go to: The Ins and Outs of Poop.


    How to prevent functional constipation/encopresis
    The key to preventing functional constipation is to know when a child develops occasional constipation. Most of the time pooping is easy but when occasional constipation occurs it stops being easy. If a parent is unaware that their child is constipated or does not manage it properly, occasional constipation can quickly become functional constipation.


    It is my hope that my book, “Softy the poop: Helping Families Talk About Poop” will help prevent severe childhood constipation by educating children and parents and by facilitating healthy parent-child conversations about poop.

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