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Body dysmorphia is defined as a preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in appearance. Although body dysmorphia has been tricky for therapists to treat, the OCD and Anxiety Treatment Center shows positive results by using a technique called perceptual retraining. For those of you who might not know of this technique, don’t worry you are not alone! I previously worked at an eating disorder clinic and we witnessed body dysmorphia constantly. At this clinic, they primarily focused on the eating disorder, the thought was if you cure the eating disorder you cure the unhealthy body image issues. Here at the OCD & Anxiety Treatment Center, body dysmorphia is treated completely differently. Perceptual retraining is a technique used for individuals who are struggling with body dysmorphia. It is used for individuals to describe aspects of their bodies without judgment. This is used with the intent of restructuring thoughts away from negative judgements and comments about one’s self to more of a neutral version of speaking of one’s self. The thought behind this technique is to teach individuals to stop the constant negative perceptions of themselves. For those that may not know much about perceptual reframing, it is a technique in which an individual will look at themselves within a certain distance from a mirror and describe aspects or features of their bodies in a plain and non-judgmental way. It is so fascinating to watch individuals practice this technique. It’s easy to watch an individual practice this technique and not see the benefit. I have practiced this technique with clients and it can be awkward and sometimes feel as if nothing beneficial is happening. Slowly I have witness clients improve, and think of new neutral descriptions to say about themselves. Slowly their anxiety lessons and they get used to the change of negative information thoughts to neutral or positive ones. Often, BDD clients also report having an issue regarding looking at themselves in mirrors. These individuals frequently become consumed with viewing themselves in the mirror for hours on end: skin picking, scrutinizing, grooming, or focusing for hours on their perceived flaws (Wilhelm, Otto, Lohr & Deckersbach,1999). Perceptual retraining helps the individual to shed such a negative view of themselves, and helps the client to gain a positive relationship with mirrors as they practice saying normal phrases and looking at themselves multiple times a day. This exercise is often paired with a compassion statement with the intentions of helping those who are used to negative thoughts or saying destructive statements about themselves in front of a mirror to train the brain to be more positive about one’s self. BDD is hard to recognize, and often is comorbid. It is regularly linked with different issues such as OCD, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and social anxiety (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). I have learned so much about BDD and now feel as if I understand this difficult issue in a more comprehensive manner. I can see how individuals suffering with this issue are affected every day, and how treatment and proper therapy can really make a huge different for the lives of those who are directly so negatively impacted by this mental health issue.

  

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (5th Edition). Washington, DC.

Wilhelm, S., Otto, M. W., Lohr, B., & Deckersbach, T. (1999). Cognitive behavior group therapy for body dysmorphic disorder: a case series. Behavior Research and Therapy, 37, 71-75

 


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