What Is The Best Type Of Body Dysmorphic Disorder Treatment For Me?

Updated May 29, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Most people struggle with accepting their bodies from time to time. However, some individuals develop a mental health condition that causes them to incessantly worry about perceived flaws in their bodies. This is known as body dysmorphia or body dysmorphic disorder definitionWhat is body dysmorphia? It is a mental health problem marked by an obsessive fixation on one’s appearance. Different treatments are available for those living with this condition, which can help reduce symptoms and allow the individual to live a healthier lifestyle free from as many obsessions.

Do You Need Treatment For Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

The Best Type Of Treatment For BDD

Currently, there is no cure for body dysmorphic disorder. However, there are treatments that can lessen the symptoms you’re experiencing so that they’re no longer interfering with your daily life. The two forms of treatment that have been found to be effective for body dysmorphic disorder are SSRI medications and cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Most frequently, doctors suggest that you undergo both medication and psychotherapy treatment as a combined, concentrated effort. Medication can help abate some of the symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder while you are going through cognitive behavioral therapy. However, the therapy itself is what seems to have the most success. Always consult with a medical provider before deciding to take a new medication. 

The best type of treatment for you will depend on what’s most effective. You can work alongside a team of mental health and medical professionals to come up with a plan of action. You may have to try different treatments or even a combination of methods until you find which ones are right for your needs. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that aims to recognize and change thoughts and behavior consciously and mindfully. It is called CBT because during sessions you will examine your thoughts and behaviors and look at them objectively with the help of a therapist. Over time, you can learn new ways to take control of your thoughts and actions when on your own.

Part of cognitive behavioral therapy is not just to examine thoughts and behaviors objectively and mindfully, but to replace unhealthy thoughts and actions with healthier thoughts and behaviors. This can take some time to learn how to do. A licensed therapist can provide you with different tools for you to use during the process.

Cognitive behavioral therapy involves changing the way you think about yourself and the world around you. It’s about modifying your behavior and actions to support healthier thought processes. One study found that CBT eliminated symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder in 88% of patients. A total of 77% of patients retained that status and did not relapse after therapy was completed. Unlearning beliefs you’ve held for so long can be difficult, but it is possible to do.


Cognitive Strategies

Cognitive strategies are the basis for cognitive behavioral therapy. These are tailored to body dysmorphic disorder by the therapist. Cognitive strategies aim to identify maladaptive thoughts, evaluate them, and develop alternative thoughts.

To do this, the therapist may challenge the thoughts that you are having about yourself, such as thoughts of all-or-nothing attitudes and mind reading. They will challenge, for example, that you think your scar makes you completely disgusting, when in fact it is only one small aspect of your appearance. They may also challenge your thoughts about what other people are thinking, which is referred to as mind reading.

You’ll be encouraged to monitor your thoughts when you are outside of the session and identify the cognitive errors discussed in therapy. Then, when you return to the session, your therapist will work with you to examine the thoughts that you have identified. They may work with you to examine the validity of the thought, as well as the usefulness of it,

These strategies are used first to address the beliefs and thoughts about the appearance that is the object of your obsession. Then, deeper beliefs will be challenged, such as believing that because of your perceived flaws you are unlovable or undesirable in some way.

Exposure And Ritual Prevention

During this part of cognitive behavioral therapy, you will address your behavioral activities or avoidances. You and your therapist will develop a hierarchy of anxiety for different situations that make you feel uncomfortable or that you avoid. You will then commit to exposing yourself to the items on this list one at a time, starting with the least troublesome.

During this part of cognitive behavioral therapy, your therapist will likely also challenge you to stop certain rituals that you may be using to cope with your body dysmorphia. For example, if you are constantly checking yourself in the mirror, the therapist may challenge you to only look in the mirror a few times per day, decreasing as time goes on. The therapist can give you different activities that you can do instead of looking in the mirror. 

Perceptual Retraining

Perceptual retraining can be important for people who obsess about one specific part of their appearance. Many people with body dysmorphia will get very close to the mirror to closely examine the aspect of their appearance that they are worried about. By this time, your therapist may have helped you identify what exactly is the object of your obsession.

They can then work with you to change your perception of yourself. Often the first step in this is to look into a mirror at a conversational distance of two to three feet. The therapist may challenge you to look into the mirror at the bigger picture rather than only at that thing about your appearance that you are concerned about. They will help you point out good features that you have and recognize that the overall picture is not as ugly as your thoughts may lead you to believe.

Relapse Prevention

Once you have met your goals in cognitive behavioral therapy and symptoms have decreased significantly or vanished altogether, the therapist will work with you to ensure that you do not relapse after therapy ends. Relapse prevention strategies include going over the tools and strategies that you learned and discussing ways to apply those strategies in your everyday life. For some people, follow-up appointments every few months to go over and reinforce strategies may be helpful to prevent relapse.

Getty/Halfpoint Images
Do You Need Treatment For Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

SSRI Medications

Some people with body dysmorphic disorder benefit, at least initially, from treatment with medication. However, options are somewhat limited since there are no medications that have been specifically approved by the FDA for body dysmorphic disorder treatment. All medications used for this purpose are prescribed off-label.

However, body dysmorphia has some key characteristics that are very similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is frequently treated with SSRI antidepressant drugs. Many SSRI drugs have been approved for obsessive-compulsive disorder, and several of them are approved for use in children and teenagers. This is important because body dysmorphia usually begins in the early to late teens.

Studies have found that SSRI drugs can be very effective in the treatment of BDD. These studies have been done on several different SSRI medications, but all of them work in the same way. SSRI antidepressants allow the brain to use serotonin more effectively, not by producing more serotonin, but by making more serotonin available for longer periods.

If your doctor recommends the use of SSRI antidepressants, it’s important to take them as directed. Set reminders on your phone, tablet, or computer so that you do not miss any doses. Never stop taking SSRI drugs without talking to your doctor, as stopping them abruptly can lead to significant withdrawal symptoms that may be difficult to manage.

There are several different SSRI drugs used in body dysmorphic disorder treatment. Each has potential side effects, pros, and cons. If your doctor tries a specific medication and it does not produce results for you, it doesn’t mean you must give up on treatment that uses medication. Instead, talk to your doctor about your concerns and consider whether you’ll try other medications. Not every SSRI drug works for every patient, and it may take a few tries before you find the one that works most effectively for you.

The most prescribed SSRI drugs for body dysmorphic disorder treatment are:

  • Celexa (citalopram)
  • Lexapro (escitalopram)
  • Prozac (fluoxetine)
  • Zoloft (sertraline)
  • Luvox (fluvoxamine)
  • Paxil (paroxetine)
  • Anafranil (clomipramine)

Common side effects of SSRI drugs may include drowsiness, nausea, dry mouth, insomnia, dizziness, and sexual problems. If you experience any side effects that are troubling to you, you should discuss these with your doctor. Do not stop taking the medication abruptly.

Online Therapy With BetterHelp

If you are currently living with body dysmorphia or think you might have the condition, seeking help from a therapist may help you find relief from your symptoms. You can find a therapist through BetterHelp, an online counseling platform that lets you connect through phone calls, video chats, or messaging. 

Living with body dysmorphic disorder or any other kind of mental health condition can be challenging. It might be difficult to find people to open up to who you’re confident won’t judge you. Online therapy allows you to speak with licensed counselors who are there only to support and help you. Your identity can remain unidentified if you wish, giving you a safe space to tell whatever it is that you’re facing. 

The Efficacy Of Online Therapy

Online therapy can be an effective tool for treating a variety of mental illnesses, including body dysmorphic disorder. One study found that internet-based CBT reduced symptoms of BDD and improved existing symptoms of depression. The majority of participants also reported being pleased with their treatment, with many saying they’d use it again. 

The Takeaway

Developing a healthy body image is important, but certain conditions like body dysmorphic disorder can make this more difficult. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a leading intervention for treating BDD, which a licensed online counselor can help you through. Finding the right treatment for you may take trial and error, but there are plenty of resources available as you work toward finding the most effective option for you. 

Mental health treatment for body dysmorphic disorder is becoming increasingly available and shows success in treating the condition.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started