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Do you have a lot of worry and anxiety about your appearance? Does it cause problems in your everyday life? Then you may be suffering from dysmorphophobia. Here we explain what it is and how you can get help.

What is dysmorphophobia?

Dysmorphophobia is a psychiatric diagnosis where a person has a lot of anxiety about certain parts of their body or appearance being defective or abnormal, even though there is no evidence that this is the case. It can be such an intense feeling that it affects the person’s daily life and functioning. Dysmorphophobia occurs in about 2% of the adult population.

Causes of dysmorphophobia

It is still not clear why some people develop dysmorphophobia; both genetic and environmental factors play a role. For example, values in the childhood environment may contribute, where appearance has been important. Societal messages can also influence development. You may also have experienced bullying that focussed on the body in different ways. This can lead to self-criticism and fear. They may also develop perfectionism and focus on details of their appearance in a compulsive way.

According to Beyond Blue, 3 million Australians are living with anxiety. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. 1 in 4 people will experience anxiety at some stage in their life.

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Dysmorphophobia can take up a lot of your time, and whatever the cause, it is a great suffering. It allows you to withdraw from things you want to do in life, thus reducing your quality of life. But it can be helped and treated.

Symptoms of dysmorphophobia

Having dysmorphophobia can be very distressing and can take up a lot of your time. For example, you may worry about the appearance of your skin, the shape of your facial parts, how much hair you have on your body, whether you are sufficiently muscular or the wrong shape of your breasts, for example. The symptoms must be present for six months to be diagnosed. Here are some common symptoms of dysmorphophobia:

  1. Preoccupation with small or non-existent “defects”: You may focus on small details that others may not even notice in the same way.
  2. Repetitive acts of checking: To hide their “defects” and shortcomings, they may check, compare themselves, use a lot of makeup or wear clothes that hide their face, for example. They may also ask others a lot about their appearance.
  3. High anxiety and preoccupation: You may have high levels of anxiety related to the defect you are experiencing, which may affect your daily life.
  4. Avoidance behaviours: You may be afraid of being judged by others and avoid things and people.
  5. Seeking medical or cosmetic intervention: Some people with dysmorphophobia may seek medical or cosmetic intervention in an attempt to correct what they perceive as wrong, although the results rarely or never provide the desired relief.

Many people with dysmorphophobia also have other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Isolation at home is common and suicidal thoughts may develop. Dysmorphophobia can be treated, but if you feel very bad, you should call emergency services on 000 or Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 (24 hour service).

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Treatment of dysmorphophobia

Psychological treatment with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is common for dysmorphophobia, but anti-depressant medication is also often used. It is important to seek professional help if you or someone you know experiences symptoms of dysmorphophobia in order to get the right diagnosis and treatment. Treatment with CBT can help you:

  • More knowledge about what dysmorphophobia is and how it manifests itself in your life.
  • Mapping of your symptoms and what you avoid in your life because of the dysmorphophobia.
  • Exposure to work on different techniques to overcome the problems.

Seeking help can change your life

Dysmorphophobia is not something you need to deal with on your own. Talking to a professional therapist or psychologist can not only help you understand your condition better but also offer effective methods to overcome your problems. You are not alone and it is okay to ask for help. On our website, we have qualified therapists and licensed psychologists who are happy to help you get out of your compulsive behaviours.

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Your next step

If you or someone you know is struggling with dysmorphophobia, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional therapist or psychologist. We assure you that all therapists and psychologists on our platform are qualified and that your conversation is always confidential. Don’t be afraid to take the first step.

Living with dysmorphophobia can be a daily struggle but there is help available. With the right support and tools, you can significantly improve your quality of life. If you are ready to take the plunge, we are here to support you. Book your first session today and start your journey towards a better future.

12 frequently asked questions about dysmorphophobia

What is dysmorphophobia?

Dysmorphophobia is a psychiatric diagnosis where a person is very concerned that certain parts of their body or appearance are defective or abnormal, even though there is no evidence that this is the case.

How is dysmorphophobia diagnosed?

A diagnosis of dysmorphophobia is usually made by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist through various tests and assessments. This may include questionnaires and clinical interviews.

Is dysmorphophobia hereditary?

There may be a genetic component but it is not the only factor. Environment, social values in society and upbringing also play a role.

What are the symptoms of dysmorphophobia?

The most common symptoms are preoccupation with the details of one’s appearance, which causes severe anxiety. They may avoid things and try to change their appearance.

How is dysmorphophobia treated?

Treatment can include medication, such as SSRIs, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which has been shown to be particularly effective.

Is there a cure for dysmorphophobia?

With the right treatment, the symptoms can be managed and the quality of life significantly improved.

Can children get dysmorphophobia?

Yes, it can affect children and teenagers. It is important to seek professional help as soon as possible for the best possible treatment outcome.

How common is dysmorphophobia?

About 2% of the population is estimated to have some form of dysmorphophobia.

Does dysmorphophobia affect my ability to work?

Yes, in severe cases, dysmorphophobia can lead to work impairment because people start avoiding things. However, it is possible to return to normal functioning with proper treatment.

How is dysmorphophobia different from caring about one’s appearance?

Unlike taking care of oneself, dysmorphophobia is a major preoccupation that is compulsive and often leads to significant suffering.

Can you have other problems at the same time as having dysmorphophobia?

Many people with dysmorphophobia also have other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Where can I go if I need help?

At Lavendla, we have experienced psychologists and therapists working with CBT who can help you feel better if you have mild to moderate symptoms. If you have more severe symptoms, you can contact your healthcare centre to get a referral to a specialist psychiatrist. If you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, call emergency services on 000 or Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 (24 hour service).

What does treatment for dysmorphophobia involve?

Seeking help is a big step towards better health, it’s a positive thing to decide to take control of how you feel. Here is an overview of the steps usually involved in CBT treatment.

Step 1: An initial assessment session

The first meeting with your psychologist or therapist is an assessment to review your mental and physical health. You may be asked questions about your life situation, feelings, thoughts and behaviours. You may also be asked to complete assessment forms.

Step 2: Goal setting

This is where you and your therapist set concrete goals for the therapy, both short and long term.
It can define which areas of your life are most affected by your wellbeing and how you would like to change them.

Step 3: Treatment with different techniques and tools

This is the start of the actual treatment phase, which involves exercises aimed at giving you tools to overcome and work through the problem you are suffering from.

Step 4: Monitoring and evaluation

Treatment is monitored regularly to see how well the therapy is working. If necessary, the treatment plan can be adjusted or renewed.

Step 5: Ending and looking ahead

As the therapy comes to an end, it is time to reflect on the progress made. You will also receive a maintenance plan for how to use the tools and strategies you have learned in the future. It is also important to monitor the results over time.

If you or someone close to you is seeking professional help, do not hesitate to book a session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists.

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Written by melissa

Melissa is a Certified Kinesiologist who focusses on a client-centred, holistic and integrative approach to health and wellness. She has extensive experience in managing stress, anxiety, fears, phobias and trauma in her clients. Melissa uses visual and auditory feedback to directly access and solve the cause of psychological stressors in the body so that optimal well-being and balance is achieved.