Questions & Answers

How do I know if my adolescent has Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Body dysmorphic disorder can be a secretive condition and may not be immediately recognizable, even to parents or other family members. Adolescents with BDD may spend a lot of time alone in the bathroom; they may appear to be distant and self-preoccupied. Be concerned if your adolescent engages in excessive grooming rituals or asks repeatedly for assurance about appearance yet is unable to be reassured.

How do I respond to my teenager's requests for reassurance about his/her appearance?

Surprisingly, responding with reassurance will only heighten the concerns. Although it may be difficult, it is best to refrain from providing reassurance. Try to avoid commenting directly about the supposed defect; do not encourage visits to the dermatologist or plastic surgeon but instead support psychiatric treatment.

Will an adolescent with Body Dysmorphic Disorder get over it?

BDD appears to be a chronic condition and we don't yet have a good idea of the long-term course of the illness. We don't yet know if adolescents diagnosed with BDD and stabilized on medication will require the medication throughout their adult life or will outgrow the symptoms.

My 14-year-old son refuses to attend family events because of how he thinks he looks—what can I do?

Besides encouraging attendance at such events, the parents of a BDD sufferer should attempt to get the adolescent into psychiatric treatment. The combination of medication plus cognitive/behavioral therapy can be very helpful in allowing your adolescent to attend family and other social situations.

My 16-year-old wants cosmetic surgery. What should I do?

Research to date shows that surgical treatment is not helpful for adolescents and other sufferers with BDD. Individuals who have surgery are usually dissatisfied with the results, or, if satisfied, tend to re-focus their concerns on another part of the body. Remember, Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a psychiatric and not a surgical disorder.

How do I parent a teenager with Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

There are several things parents can do to alleviate their child's suffering. First, take the disorder seriously. Second, avoid reassuring your child that they look okay but instead encourage them to talk openly about their concerns. Third, encourage and support psychiatric treatment and discourage surgical treatment.