Body Image Treatment

body image treatment

The boundary between normal and abnormal concerns about appearance is difficult to define. Most health professionals would agree that some level of body dissatisfaction is normal, and that complete body satisfaction is very rare. However when body dissatisfaction starts to interfere with daily functioning, it can be considered problematic. Body Image Distress (BID) is a non diagnostic term, ie. it is not a formal psychological diagnosis. BID incorporates any severe body image anxiety, shame, dissatisfaction or preoccupation. BID is a growing problem for many youngsters and adults, and can often interfere with social functioning, mood and self esteem.

What is Body Image?

Body Image is a combination of the thoughts, feelings, attitude, expectations and perception you have of your body. Body Image changes on a constant basis and for most people fluctuates between good and bad. For people with a poor body image, their thoughts and feelings about their body are constantly negative.

When does this become a problem?

It is very easy in this day and age to access products and procedures that can change your appearance. However for some people these procedures will not help them to feel better about themselves in the long run. This is because they have underlying poor self esteem or body image that no amount of surgery or makeup will help them to overcome.

Body Image distress becomes a problem when:

  • you avoid social event because of how you feel about your body
  • you feel almost constantly anxious, distressed or dissatisfied with your body
  • you compare yourself to other people constantly and always feel worse about yourself
  • you constantly ‘check’ your body e.g. in the mirror
  • you spend a significant proportion of your money on things designed to change your appearance e.g. beauty treatments or cosmetic surgery. This rarely makes you feel better though.
  • you spend hours doing your hair, make up or changing your clothes before doing simple things like going to the supermarket

Body Image Treatment

There are no government recommended treatments for body image disorders, however there is an increasingly large body of clinical research that has shown certain treatments to be effective in lowering body image dissatisfaction and distress. Body Image Treatment is designed to help you accept and feel better about your body without having to constantly change or alter it.

The London Centre offers a number of different Body Image Treatments. Your psychologist will help you to decide which of these treatments is most suitable for you during your initial assessment.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy- Body Image (CBT-BI)

CBT-BI uses cognitive behavioural principles to help sufferers to recognise, challenge and cope with negative thinking related to their appearance. Thinking styles and behaviours that maintain a negative body image are identified and targeted in treatment to help the individual move towards a better relationship with their body. Triggers to body image distress are also identified and coping skills to help deal with these triggers are discussed and practiced.

Body Acceptance Therapy

BAT combines elements of psychoeducation and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). ACT involves identifying the reasons why body image difficulties exist, and rather than trying to change or challenge these, aims to enhance a clients willingness to face their thoughts and emotions, in order to effectively identify and respond to them. The aim is not to prevent or change thoughts or emotions, but to change the way that you respond and relate to them. You will be encouraged to explore ways in which you have previously responded to unhelpful thoughts or emotions and the impact that this has had. Rather than giving in to these thoughts, or attempting to argue against or block these thoughts from occurring, none of which are generally effective strategies to deal with powerful unrelenting negative thoughts, you will be guided by your therapist to step back from them and see them for what they are (life controlling, emotionally consuming products of previous experiences). Skills such as mindfulness and cognitive diffusion (breaking apart the cognitive links that have been built up over time, for example – that went badly therefore I must take it out on my body) are an important part of this treatment.

Imagery Rescripting

Imagery rescripting is a specific technique that involves identifying traumatic or distressing experiences that have resulted in an individual developing a negative relationship with their body (bullying, abuse, body disfigurement or scarring due to an accident). These experiences are the focus of therapy and with the support of your therapist, will be processed in a way that enables the meaning attached to your appearance or parts of your body to be changed.

Recommended Reading and Resources

The Body Image Workbook: An 8-Step Program for Learning to Like Your Looks
By Thomas F. Cash

Feeling good about the way you look: A program for overcoming body image problems by Sabine Wilhelm