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Body image therapy is a type of psychotherapy generally intended to improve body image, or the way someone feels about her physical appearance. People who suffer from eating disorders, or body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), often suffer from a poor body image. Body image and low self-esteem are often linked, such that people who struggle with poor self-esteem may be more likely to suffer from poor body image or vice versa. A poor body image does not always lead to mental illness, but it can nevertheless cause the sufferer a fair amount of distress. Body image therapy typically involves the use of various cognitive-behavioral and expressiveness techniques to help patients develop more accurate, healthy, and positive views of their own bodies.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used as a key part of body image therapy. This type of therapy works to treat negative body image by helping patients change the way they think about themselves. CBT generally asks patients to analyze their thoughts and feelings, and to understand the root causes of these thoughts and feelings. Once the patient understands how her thoughts influence her body image, she can begin to change these thoughts to reach a healthier level of self-perception.
This type of body image therapy is generally done in stages. The patient first explores the origins of her negative self-perception. Armed with this understanding, the patient can record and understand instances of particularly poor body image in daily life. With this information, the therapist can help inure the patient to those circumstances that trigger negative feelings about the body. As the patient becomes increasingly desensitized to these triggers, the therapist can help her develop a healthier body image.
Expressive techniques are also sometimes used as part of body image therapy. Patients may be encouraged to perform various exercises, to make art, or to repeat positive affirmations. Some of those suffering from poor body image have problems recognizing, expressing, and generally coping with their emotions. For these patients, learning to identify and express emotions can be a key part of body image therapy.
Treating negative body image is generally considered crucial to successfully treating bulimia, anorexia and binge eating disorder. People suffering from bulimia and anorexia often mistakenly believe themselves to be overweight. Those with binge eating disorder often are overweight, because they feel compelled to binge on large amounts of high-calorie foods. These people often suffer from poor body image and low self-esteem because, though they may be unhappy about their size, they may also feel powerless to control their eating habits and lose weight.