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Mirror therapy may aid body image problems

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, Feb 23 (Reuters) A good look in the mirror may help women with poor body image see themselves differently, new research suggests.

The study found that a therapy known as ''mirror exposure'' eased some of the negative thoughts and behaviours of women with body image problems serious enough to put them at risk of developing an eating disorder.

Women with such body image issues often use mirrors to check their perceived flaws -- reinforcing their dim views of their appearance.

The basic idea behind mirror exposure is that learning to realistically look at one's own body in objective terms can alter the automatic, negative judgments that would normally arise in individuals with this disorder. In one main element, women look at themselves in the mirror and describe their bodies in non-judgmental, but honest, ways.

So instead of looking at herself and saying, ''I have a big belly,'' a woman might note that her lower abdomen is rounder than her upper abdomen, explained lead study author Dr. Sherrie S.

Delinsky of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The goal is to help women let go of their constant self-criticism and learn how to better respond to distressing thoughts about their bodies, according to Delinsky.

To test the effectiveness of mirror exposure, she and colleague Dr. G. Terence Wilson followed 45 women between the ages of 17 and 31 who had body image disturbance, defined as extreme concerns about weight and shape that affected their feelings of self-worth.

The women were divided into two groups: one received three sessions of mirror-exposure therapy and the other served as a comparison group, which discussed body-image issues with a therapist.

Women in the mirror-exposure group stood in front of a three-way mirror and were asked to describe themselves to a therapist using objective, realistic terms rather than criticisms.

The women were directed to focus on their whole body -- describing areas they liked as well as ones they disliked, Delinsky told Reuters. They were also given homework assignments designed to limit any routine visits to the bathroom scale or to the mirror for a ''check.'' After one month, women in the mirror-exposure group showed a general improvement in body image concerns, self-esteem, dieting and depression. The improvements were greater than those in the comparison group.

Though this study focused on women with body image disturbance, Delinsky said she believes mirror-exposure therapy could help treat women who already have an eating disorder.

She is currently studying whether the therapy is effective for women with anorexia, bulimia or both.

Body image disturbance is so common, Delinsky pointed out, especially among young women, that it's termed ''normative discontent,'' and will often go unrecognized and unaddressed unless a woman develops an eating disorder.

Reuters CS DB0835

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