Body Dysmorphic Disorder: Definition, Causes and Treatment

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  • 0:05 Body Dysmorphic Disorder
  • 1:07 Diagnosis
  • 2:26 Causes & Treatment
  • 5:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

For some people, the person in the mirror is not aligned with reality. In this lesson, we'll look closer at body dysmorphic disorder, its symptoms, causes, and treatment.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Leslie is obsessed with her nose. Her family and friends assure her that it looks normal to them, but she knows they're just being nice. After all, whenever she looks in the mirror, she can see a huge bump right in the middle of it. She's had surgery three times to get rid of the bump, but it's still there. She's so embarrassed by it that sometimes she doesn't even want to go out of her house.

What Leslie is experiencing is, in some ways, not unusual. Most people have one or two things about their physical appearance that they do not like. But Leslie and people like her take this insecurity to a new level. When a person has an obsession with a perceived physical flaw to the point that it interferes with their life, it is called body dysmorphic disorder. Patients who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD for short, often go to extreme lengths to fix their physical appearance. This can take the form of many elective surgeries and/or eating disorders.


Imagine that you are a psychologist and Leslie comes to see you. As you talk to her, you think that she might have BDD. To be sure, you run down a brief checklist of symptoms for BDD.

1. Obsession with a perceived physical flaw.

Leslie just can't get over the bump on her nose. No one else even notices it, but to Leslie, it appears that her nose is completely taken over by the bump.

2. Their obsession causes distress or impairment.

Distress is when a patient is upset in some way, while impairment is anything that keeps the patient from being able to live a normal life. Leslie is anxious and upset about her nose, which is a sign of distress, and sometimes she ends up staying in her house because of it, which impairs her social life and ability to hold a job.

3. The symptoms can't be explained by another mental illness.

As we'll see in a minute, the symptoms of BDD are similar to those of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Furthermore, some people with anorexia nervosa show signs of BDD. But Leslie doesn't have the symptoms of either OCD or anorexia, and there is no indication that she has any other psychological disorders, so we can diagnose her with BDD.

Causes and Treatment

So, now you've diagnosed Leslie with BDD. But what could cause something like that? Psychologists aren't sure what causes BDD, but there are some theories as to how it develops. Things like low self-esteem, societal pressures and being related to someone with BDD can all increase a person's risk for it.

The best hint as to the cause of BDD, though, comes from its treatment. It might sound odd that psychologists would look for the cause from the treatment instead of the other way around, but that's just what happens with some mental disorders, including BDD.

There are two treatments that are particularly effective for treating BDD, especially when they are used together. The first is a specific type of antidepressant, called an SRI, and the second treatment is a type of therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, that focuses on changing thought patterns and behaviors.

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