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Do you have a lot of worry and anxiety about your appearance? Does it affect you daily? You may be suffering from dysmorphophobia. Here we explain what it is and how to seek help.

What is dysmorphophobia?

Dysmorphophobia is a psychiatric condition characterised by intense anxiety or distress over perceived flaws or defects in one’s physical appearance. This anxiety persists even when there are no obvious flaws. It can be such an intense feeling that it affects the way a person functions. Dysmorphophobia occurs in about 2% of the adult population.

Causes of dysmorphophobia

It is still not clear why people develop dysmorphophobia, but it seems genetic and environmental factors play a role. Values in the childhood environment may contribute, where appearance has been important. Societal messages can also have an influence. Bullying may have been experienced that targeted one’s body. This can lead to self-criticism and fear. People may also develop perfectionism and focus on details of their appearance in a compulsive way.

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Dysmorphophobia can take up a lot of your time and cause great suffering. It can stop you from taking part in things you want to do, reducing your quality of life in the process. 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. 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. 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, sufferers may check, compare themselves, use a lot of makeup, or wear clothes that hide their faces. 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 have an acute mental health crisis, contact 111 or visit 111.nhs.uk immediately.

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Treatment of dysmorphophobia

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

  • Get more knowledge about what dysmorphophobia is and how it manifests in your life.
  • Map your symptoms and shows what you avoid in your life because of the dysmorphophobia.
  • 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 help you understand your condition better and offer effective methods to overcome your problems. You are not alone and it is okay to ask for help. Lavendla has qualified therapists and licensed psychologists available to help you escape your compulsive behaviour.

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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. Lavendla’s therapists and psychologists are qualified and your conversations are always strictly confidential. Don’t be afraid to take that 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 characterised by people being very concerned that certain parts of their body or appearance are defective or abnormal, even though there is no evidence to support it.

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, societal values, and upbringing also play a role.

What are the symptoms of dysmorphophobia?

The most common symptoms are a preoccupation with the details of one’s appearance, causing 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?

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 people are estimated to have some form of dysmorphophobia.

Does dysmorphophobia affect my ability to work?

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 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, contact your GP for a referral to a specialist psychiatrist. In the case of an acute mental health crisis, call 111 or visit 111.nhs.uk immediately.

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 well-being and how you would like to change them.

Step 4: 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 5: 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 6: 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. 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 dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.