How Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help with Acne

By Dr. Becky Spelman

One of the most common and distressing skin conditions around, acne is the bugbear of many a teenager and, if you’re very unlucky, can last into your early to mid-twenties too. Of course some cases of acne are worse than others and people react to having a skin condition in different ways too.
Some individuals are able to shrug it off, knowing it’s typically a hormonal condition which will improve as they age. For others though they can become so obsessed by their skin that they go on to develop mental problems specifically Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) where they are continually checking the condition of their skin, or even Body Dysmorphia where their perception of their own skin (which they believe to be unsightly and therefore should be hidden away) has become unrealistic.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can help an individual cope with having acne in a number of different ways.
For a start it can help them reduce the feelings of frustration, anger and helplessness that the illness induces by introducing stress relieving techniques. One of these is to get the patient to catch their negative and stress-giving beliefs and challenge them (known as ‘Cognitive Restructuring’).
For instance the person might believe their acne is so bad that it has caused them to become ugly and no-one will want to go out with them again. The therapist would indicate how unrealistic this idea was by prompting the individual to come up with examples in their life of when they had experienced the opposite. The patient would then be encouraged to think this way (in a positive light) when bad feeling arose again. Another way of doing this is to ask the patient to ‘evidence’ their negative belief.
In this way someone who had become reclusive due to their beliefs about their anxiety (ie that people felt repulsed by it) could be encouraged to go out again (with help to challenge their negative beliefs initially and later by applying those techniques themselves).

Other behavioural tips for dealing with acne:

  • Eat as many fresh fruit and vegetables as you can, especially those high in vitamin A and beta –carotene (carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes) as these fight bacteria which is one of the triggers for acne. In addition, a study in 2002 on people in Papua New Guinea and Eastern Paraguay showed eating a plant-based and lean meat diet resulted in no acne whatsoever, prompting researchers to believe the refined carbohydrate diet of the Western world leads to clogged pores and acne.
  • Exercise doesn’t just help with the stress and frustration of having acne, it also speeds up bowel movement (drinking lots of water does this too) and gets rid of body toxins quicker
  • Instead of continually squeezing or picking at your acne ask yourself if it really will make your skin any better. Look for an alternative solution such as putting cream on the affected area.
  • If you’re reluctant to go outdoors because of what your skin looks like, do it anyway. You may feel uncomfortable but is it as bad as you believed? Experiencing the discomfort is better than compulsively closing yourself of from the world and often people quickly forget about their skin concerns when they go out and socialize as they normally would. Socializing is also an activity which is important for keeping peoples mood balanced so cutting this out could leave the people feeling much lower and at risk for suffering from depression.

With the help of the above tips it’s possible to relegate acne to a minor irritation rather than the indicator of whether you should go out that day or not. The problem is, after all, only skin deep. Don’t let it become something more insidious that ruins your days and possibly your life…
Affected by Acne? Are you interested in finding out more about how Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help?

Call our team on 020 8150 7563 or 075 1111 6565 for a free 15 minute confidential chat or to arrange an appointment with an expert who will be able to help.
If you wish to ask the writer of this article a question you can contact Dr. Rebecca Spelman here

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