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New body image training for healthcare professionals

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Healthcare workers need training for body image Experts have identified a gap in knowledge on dealing with body image fears

New training could help healthcare professionals support patients across Europe with body image fears due to appearance changes caused by surgery, injury or medical procedures.

The training was developed by academics from the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol when they identified that healthcare professionals were not always equipped to handle patients who were worried about their appearance.

'We weren’t surprised there was a gap in knowledge. We’ve been working in this field for 20 years and have become aware that healthcare professionals can lack knowledge in this area,' said Dr Heidi Williamson, who is working on the two-year project.

They said healthcare professionals are often unable to intervene when they should which could lead to worsening social and psychological problems from an altered appearance caused by health conditions, medical treatments and injuries.

Working with universities across Europe, UWE Bristol's appearance experts have created a two-week training course which could help health professionals improve their support for these vulnerable patients.

'Healthcare professionals need to know who is distressed and how to provide support. Healthcare professionals can hold attitudes about the patient’s appearance change and make assumptions about their support needs which are not helpful. We know that the cause of a visible difference, its severity and its location are not always accurate predictors of psychosocial outcome,' continued Dr Williamson. 'There are differences in the way individuals respond to appearance changes and that’s what we need to make healthcare professionals aware of. They need to raise the issue, talk about it and find out the patient’s perspective and support needs.'

The academics from the Centre for Appearance Research, based at UWE Bristol, believed the need for extra training is important due to the growing popularity of social media leaving an increasing number of people with low self-esteem over their looks.

As part of the study, 700 healthcare professionals from five European countries responded to a survey asking whether they had insufficient knowledge to effectively help patients with appearance concerns. Of the respondents, 70% said they would benefit from further training. The survey was answered by nurses, dentists, doctors, midwives and occupational therapists, from England, Turkey, Lithuania, Sweden and Italy.

The internationally-transferable training, which will be finalised in August, is expected to run in universities as an accredited course from 2017 but will also be available as an online resource.

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