Motivating Family Members and Friends to Participate in Treatment

Phyllis Duarte discusses the positive benefits of having the whole family involved in Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) therapy in order to learn new techniques to help their loved one.

A majority of people suffering from BDD are reluctant to seek psychological therapy or psychiatric medication. Your loved one may be torn between viewing their problem as physical versus psychological. They may believe that cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists can offer more hope than a mental health professional. Encouraging your loved one to seek treatment can be difficult and challenging. It requires building a compassionate and trusting alliance in which you can gradually encourage positive change.

BDD is a complex psychological condition, which leads many family members and friends to be confused. The physical flaw that individuals with BDD are concerned with is not visible to others, or is so slight that family members have difficulty understanding the emotional pain and behaviors in BDD. In addition, individuals with BDD often struggle with high levels of depression and suicidal thoughts, leading to more fear and confusion for those watching the struggle and feeling helpless to change it. 

Finding ways to motivate your loved one to seek help is like walking a tightrope. Discussing it too much can create stress in your relationship and end up shutting down all further conversations about treatment. On the other hand, not mentioning it at all may be extremely difficult especially if you are watching your loved one’s suffering day to day.

Here are some strategies to guide you in supporting your loved one to find the motivation to seek help.

  • Educate yourself about BDD. If you are on this website, then you have already taken the first step in understanding this complex disorder.
  • Recognize that seeking mental health treatment is intimidating. Many people, regardless of diagnosis, struggle for years before taking the first step. Be patient and empathize with the difficulty in making the choice to get help. Try not to beg, plead, or force treatment.
  • Create a positive and supportive environment in your relationship or household to support recovery. Spend time with your loved one and reassure them that you genuinely care. Many people with BDD are struggling with low self-esteem, shame, and guilt. Your words of encouragement, even if they don’t seem to be heard, will make a positive difference.
  • Try to introduce the idea of mental health treatment gently and not too often. Suggest that your loved one may benefit from help in improving the depression or the anxiety associated with their appearance dissatisfaction. It may be less intimidating for your loved one to seek help to address their depression and the impact BDD has on their life rather than addressing the BDD directly. 
  • Expressing your concern for your loved one can be a motivation to seek help, but can also increase guilt. Keep the focus on how your loved one would benefit from the support of a professional who truly understands the condition, rather than expressing how their illness negatively affects you.
  • Being a good listener is the key to developing healthy communication in all relationships. Sometimes just offering an ear to listen can make your loved one feel understood.
  • Recognize that BDD, like any other condition, will have good days and not-so-good days. Take the more difficult days in stride and provide encouragement.
  • Take stock of your own behaviors and reactions to your loved one’s symptoms. Are there ways you can change your responses and behaviors? Do you respond with increasing anger? Do you over-accommodate your loved one by doing things for them? Try to achieve a balance in providing support and empathy without doing things for them that they may be capable of doing for themselves.
  • Seek support through your own therapy or support group. Watching your loved one suffer can be very painful and lead to feelings of anxiety, anger, hopelessness, and sadness.

by Sony Khemlani-Patel, PhD