What is body dysmorphia?

Symptoms include an excessive preoccupation with a specific area of your body and that of others, looking at yourself in mirrors a lot or avoiding them altogether, and going to great lengths to conceal flaws. You may also find yourself seeking out numerous cosmetic “fixes” to try to solve your perceived flaw, resulting in temporary satisfaction followed by further self loathing.

Body dysmorphia can seriously affect your daily life, including work, relationships, school and socialising. Preoccupation with appearance, excessive thoughts and repetitive behaviours can start consuming lots of time, causing distress or problems in regular areas of functioning. It can also lead to depression, self harm and, in extreme cases, suicide.

Who’s affected by body dysmorphia?

People from any age and background can be affected by body dysmorphia. However, a recent UK study found that it is more likely to affect young girls, with rates of the condition most prevalent in girls aged 17 to 19 years old.

The reasons for a higher rate of body dysmorphia within this demographic remain unclear. However, they are thought to be due to a mix of biological, psychological and social factors, including the negative effects of social media on young people. 

When to seek help

Mild concerns about the development of your body are often a natural part of growing up. But when these thoughts start to dominate your life and affect your daily activities, it’s a good idea to seek outside help.

Body dysmorphia doesn’t tend to get better on its own and speaking to a trained professional is an effective way of facing the problem head on. If left untreated, the condition can worsen, leading to greater anxiety, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. 

How can body dysmorphia be treated?

With treatment, the symptoms of body dysmorphia will usually start to improve. 

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talk therapy with a notable success rate when dealing with body dysmorphia. Based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and actions are interconnected, CBT aims to tackle problems by breaking them down into smaller parts.

It can help you manage the symptoms of body dysmorphia by changing the way you think and behave, as well as getting to grips with what triggers feelings of anxiety around your body. While CBT is used to treat a range of conditions, with body dysmorphia the focus is usually on a technique known as exposure and response prevention (ERP).

ERP involves confronting items and situations that cause anxiety and finding new ways to deal with these feelings. The idea is that, over time, repeated confrontation with the anxiety will cause it to diminish.

CBT is most effective under the guidance of a trained psychotherapist who will be able to walk you through the appropriate steps at a pace that suits you. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, the therapist may also suggest involvement in group work with the patient’s permission.

Sometimes, CBT will be combined with the prescription of antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Philippe Jacquet & Associates is a psychotherapy practice based in Harley Street, London. Backed by decades of experience in the field, we are well equipped to deal with people affected by body dysmorphia. We offer a safe and completely confidential environment in which to help clients overcome anxiety about their appearance. Using a combination of CBT and ERP, we can help reduce the symptoms of body dysmorphia and explore ways of preventing their return.


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