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Therapy for Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Looking back on it now, it was completely my fault. I leaned in very close to my cat's face, until we were almost touching noses. Then he grew frightened and decided to really touch my nose--with his razor sharp teeth! I looked in the mirror and groaned at the deep, bleeding cut his bite had made on the end of my nose. For the next two weeks, I was more aware of my nose than I had ever been in my life. Even when I forgot about it briefly, the embarrassment would come flooding back in when I remembered. I wanted to shield my face with my hand or, better yet, a ski mask. I wanted to hide away at home and not let anyone see me. But, of course,  I had a job and other obligations, so I couldn't do that. More than anything, that experience gave me a brief window into what it must be like to have what psychologists call Body Dysmorphic disorder (BDD). It is a condition in which sufferers are often unable to work, form lasting relationships, or even leave the house because they are consumed with revulsion and embarrassment over slight or imagined defects in their physical appearance. The disorder is emotionally devastating because sufferers truly believe they are repulsive to look at and that they are ultimately unlovable. And it will not go away on its own without accurate diagnosis and treatment. This poignant BBC short documentary explains the disorder in real life terms.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder was the subject of a recent study published in the August issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. This study is discussed in this interesting NYTimes article. It reveals a "surprisingly high rate of body dysmorphic disorder among nose-job patients." Both the documentary and the article discuss the difficulty of persuading patients to seek therapy over isolation or plastic surgery. Sufferers are convinced that their distorted perception of their own appearance is reality, and that therefore therapy will not help.

This is a sad and difficult aspect of this disorder, because sufferers of BDD need therapy to achieve lasting recovery from the disorder. The Anxiety and Panic Treatment center is one of the few widely regarded providers of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) treatment BDD in Oregon. CBT--including both individual and group treatment like the APTC's Appearance Worries Group--continues to be the gold standard treatment for BDD. If you or someone you know may be suffering in silence with this difficult condition, know that CBT can help restore a person's life and functioning and don't wait to get in touch with a therapy provider.