A young woman manages body dysmorphia with CBT.

A Guide to Managing Body Dysmorphia with CBT

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches people how to identify and change negative beliefs related to their body image.


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How CBT treats body dysmorphia

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) treats body dysmorphia by helping people recognize and challenge their distorted thoughts about their appearance. Through CBT, people learn to identify and change negative beliefs and behaviors related to their body image. A therapist may use techniques such as exposure therapy to help a person gradually confront their fears and appearance concerns. By addressing the underlying cognitive and behavioral patterns that contribute to body dysmorphia, CBT can help people develop a healthier and more realistic perception of themselves. Additionally, CBT can also teach people coping skills to manage distress and improve their self-esteem.

Skills taught in CBT for body dysmorphia

CBT for body dysmorphia teaches a variety of skills to help people manage their symptoms and improve their overall well-being. Some of the key skills taught in CBT for body dysmorphia include:

Cognitive restructuring

This skill involves identifying and challenging negative thought patterns related to body image. People learn to recognize distorted thoughts about a perceived flaw and replace them with more balanced and realistic thoughts about their appearance.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing a person to situations that trigger feelings of body dissatisfaction. This helps people learn to tolerate and cope with their distress, ultimately reducing the impact of their appearance concerns.

Behavioral experiments

By conducting behavioral experiments, people can test their beliefs about their appearance in a controlled and safe environment. This helps them gather evidence that challenges their negative self-perceptions and builds confidence in their ability to handle situations that trigger body dysmorphia symptoms.

Body scanning techniques

Body scanning techniques involve paying attention to bodily sensations without judgment or criticism. This skill can help people develop a more neutral and accepting attitude toward their physical appearance, reducing the impact of body dysmorphia symptoms.

Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation can help people develop awareness of the present moment without getting caught up in negative thoughts or emotions. This can be particularly helpful for managing distress related to body dysmorphia and promoting a more balanced and compassionate attitude toward the self.

Overall, these skills taught in CBT for body dysmorphia can help people gain greater control over their symptoms, reduce distress, and improve their overall quality of life.

Benefits of CBT for body dysmorphia

CBT has long-term benefits for body dysmorphia. People who engage in CBT therapy often experience reductions in symptoms such as obsessive thoughts, anxiety, and depression related to their perceived flaws. Over time, people may develop healthier attitudes toward their appearance and improved self-esteem. Additionally, CBT equips people with coping skills to manage negative thought patterns and maintain their progress in the long run.

How quickly does CBT work for body dysmorphia?

Research suggests that CBT can be effective in treating body dysmorphia relatively quickly for many people. Studies have shown that after 12 to 16 weeks of CBT, people with body dysmorphia often experience significant improvements in their symptoms, such as decreased preoccupation with perceived flaws and reduced anxiety.  Body dysmorphia can escalate into Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) if the preoccupation with perceived flaws becomes obsessive and significantly impacts daily life. CBT is an effective BDD treatment that can decrease BDD symptoms and reduce anxiety related to body image. Additionally, many people report feeling more confident and satisfied with their appearance after undergoing CBT for body dysmorphia.

Coping skills for body dysmorphia?

Physical activity

Engaging in regular physical activity such as yoga, swimming, or dance can help people with body dysmorphia focus on their body’s positive aspects and release endorphins to improve mood and self-esteem. It also provides a healthy outlet for stress and anxiety.

Mindfulness and meditation

Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help a person become more aware of and accept their body. By focusing on the present moment and letting go of negative thoughts, people can reduce their anxiety and improve their body image.

Creative expression

Engaging in creative activities such as painting, writing, or crafting can help people express and explore their feelings about their bodies in a nonjudgmental way. This can help increase self-awareness and provide a healthy outlet for emotions related to body dysmorphia.

Social support 

Connecting with friends, family, or support groups can provide a sense of belonging and understanding, reducing feelings of isolation and shame related to body dysmorphia. Finding positive and supportive relationships can help people challenge negative self-perceptions and build self-confidence.

Self-care practices

Engaging in self-care activities such as taking a relaxing bath, getting a massage, or practicing skincare routines can help people nurture and care for their bodies in a positive and loving way. This repetitive behavior of self-care can promote a sense of self-worth and self-compassion, counteracting the negative thoughts and feelings associated with body dysmorphia.

Other types of treatment for body dysmorphia

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing the person to the situations and objects that trigger their body dysmorphia, helping them to manage their anxiety and distress over time.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

ACT focuses on accepting negative thoughts and feelings about one’s body while committing to making meaningful changes in their behavior and life that align with their values.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

DBT emphasizes mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness to help people develop healthier coping strategies and improve their self-image.

IOP for body dysmorphia

Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) are often used to treat body dysmorphia in people who require more structured and frequent therapy than traditional outpatient treatment. IOP provides a more intensive level of care, typically involving several hours of supportive therapy sessions multiple times per week. It aims to address the underlying issues related to body dysmorphia through various therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), group therapy, and individual counseling. IOP also offers additional support and resources to help people manage their symptoms and work towards recovery.

Treatment for body dysmorphia at Charlie Health 

If a young person in your life is struggling with body dysmorphia, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health offers a virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) that provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with serious mental health conditions, including body dysmorphia. Our expert clinicians incorporate CBT into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With this kind of holistic treatment, managing body dysmorphia is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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