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Q&A with

Susan Hepburn

Psychotherapist, Hypnotherapist and Author

136 Harley Street

London W1G 7JZ

Tel 07961 434828

What is Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) ?

BDD is an anxiety disorder whereby a person has a distorted view of how they look and they obsessively worry about their appearance. BDD is complex and much more than simply saying ‘I hate my body’ and can be linked with depression, eating disorders, shame and low self esteem and can therefore negatively affect the person’s life.

Do you think there has been a rise in body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and low body confidence in recent years? And If so what would you pin as the key contributing factors?

There certainly has been a rise in body dysmorphic disorder and low body confidence in recent years. As with eating disorders, it is seen mostly in girls, but women of all ages and men suffer from the disorder too.

During early childhood, we begin to form our perceptions of our body’s attractiveness and this body image continues to form as we grow and receive positive feedback from family, teachers, peers etc. Therefore it is crucial in these formative years that we give our children love, encouragement, praise and not criticism and never negativity or insults.

In my experience of over 30 years, intense jealousy by peers of perceived ‘pretty girls and ‘handsome guys’ makes them more likely to develop BDD, as they are often called ‘ugly’ and they begin to believe this.

What are the most common body hang ups you see in your clinic?

The most common body hangups that I see in my clinics are where the person has an unrealistic view of their overall body image and they think they are bigger than they actually are, particularly their thighs and tummy. They obsessively compare themselves with the body image of a friend, or particular celebrity or magazine images, and can become obsessed with that person and with constant self-scrutiny and body shaming. Conversely, it can be the opposite, where they perceive their body as much smaller, until they see a photograph, which shocks and upsets them.

How can hypnotherapy help to overcome these issues?

Hypnotherapy is an invaluable tool. Nobody is born to have body dysmorphic disorder, so it has become a learned behaviour. This is where hypnosis comes into play, to help change those negative thoughts into positives. I use psychotherapy in order to locate where these irrational thoughts come from and then through hypnosis, I endeavour to ‘delete’ the negative files (just like deleting files from a computer) and subsequently the body dysmorphia and associated thoughts.

To what extent do you think the use of social media and filters has contributed to this trend?

Social media has contributed enormously to the rise in BDD, as most young people are on these sites and they are bullied into believing they are ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’. Personally, I object to these words, or indeed labels of any kind, but these words are certainly widely used. There are so many ways in which the media and social media promote unhealthy messages about how beauty equates to photoshopped and distorted body images. Young people, in particular, are often very impressionable as they are still learning from mentors, and take on board these messages which can in turn overtake their thought process and affect their work at school and university. They can become reclusive and spend hours and hours on social media. Just writing this piece makes me upset for all the people I have helped over the years, as they are traumatised. I shall continue to do everything in my power to make a difference and stamp this out.

What advice would you give to anyone suffering from these kind of negative thoughts and behaviours? Getting treatment for distorted body image is a critical step to recovery. The problem won’t just go away by itself. With hypnosis, I teach you to begin a journey towards self acceptance and to rise above destructive thoughts and behaviours, which enables a fundamental change in the way you see and think about yourself. Young children and teenagers go through a rollercoaster of intense emotions and body changes, and this is, for some, a very painful and difficult time. Fortunately, parents have the opportunity to play a major role in influencing their child’s developing body image and self esteem. When parents and teachers focus on the child’s unique talents and attributes, coupled with unconditional love, this offers a strong foundation for a lifelong positive body image. I hear too many times how this is damaged by careless words. This has to stop. It’s very easy for parents, teachers and elders to say, ‘ignore these bullies’. However this is easier said than done with young people who are impressionable and look up to their contemporaries.

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