Negative body image: New treatment study

October 31, 2005

Therapies for those with a significant negative body image, which affects an individual's capacity to form close and affectionate friendships and relationships and may be associated with depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and fear, will be the focus of a new ANU study.

Mr Salih Ozgul and Ms Carolyn Deans, from the School of Psychology at ANU, are studying treatments for those with what is known as 'Body Image Disturbance' (BID) and are seeking participants from the Canberra region.

"Body Image Disturbance manifests as a significant preoccupation with a negative image of the body, or parts of the body," Mr Ozgul said.

"Without doubt negative body image is associated with a great deal of emotional distress and life disruption. It clearly impedes human happiness and well being by damaging a person's self-esteem, interfering in the person's capacity to engage meaningfully in life and develop a sense of belonging and acceptance," he said.

A 1997 body image survey of 4000 respondents found that the number of people who were dissatisfied with their overall body image had more than doubled over the past 25 years. The survey found that 56 per cent of women and 43 per cent of men were dissatisfied with their overall appearance.

In a recent study by ANU researchers on body image concern in the general public, 34 per cent of student participants indicated that they were very concerned about an aspect of their appearance, 26 per cent considered themselves misformed or misshapen, 20 per cent spent a lot of time worrying about their defect and 18 per cent spent a lot of time covering up perceived defects in appearance.

Although some level of dissatisfaction may be common, it is often only slight and transient with minimal impact on day-to-day functioning or their ability to form and maintain healthy relationships, Mr Ozgul said.

"But for some people negative body image has devastating consequences - including mental illness such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia and body dysmorphic disorder," he said.

The new study aims to examine the effectiveness of various therapeutic approaches in promoting healthy body image and reducing the emotional distress and life disruption associated with body image disturbance.

"Although these therapies have been demonstrated to be helpful in improving self-esteem, reducing depression and anxiety and enhancing interpersonal relationships, their helpfulness has yet to be clearly demonstrated with people experiencing body image disturbance," Mr Ozgul said.

According to Mr Ozgul, people with BID experience significant distress about their perceived negative image and describe their preoccupation as "intensely painful" or "tormenting".

"The nature of the negative body image might include a dissatisfaction with the shape and size of the body, but it can also involve perceived flaws of the face, hair, skin, complexion, or a wide variety of other aspects of the body - the arms, feet, hands, breasts, hips, shoulders and so on," he said.

"They may find that they spend hours each day thinking about it to the point that it dominates their lives. This often occurs despite reassurance from friends, partners or family."

Participants in the study will be asked to complete individual assessment interviews, a 12-week course of group therapy, and six months of follow-up correspondence. People interested in taking part in the research or who would like further information about the programs should contact Mr Salih Ozgul (Clinical Psychologist) or Carolyn Deans (Psychologist) at the ANU Psychology Clinic on 02 6125 0412.
-end-
Amanda Morgan
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Marketing & Communications Division
The Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200
Australia

Research Australia

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