Tips for Clinicians and Counselors to Promote a Healthy Body Image
- Physical Activity
- Healthy Eating
- Media Consumption
- Positive Language
- Underlying Causes
There are several ways that counselors and clinicians can help promote a healthy body image in people. Difficulties with body image are often associated with young women. While this age group, in particular, may struggle with body image, men and women of all ages do as well.
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The point of physical activity in encouraging a healthier body image is not to lose weight. Instead, physical activity helps people become more attuned to their bodies. Rather than thinking of the body as something that they are odds with, people who engage in some physical activity can begin to think of their body as something useful that helps them do the things they need to do. This physical activity does not have to unpleasant or strenuous. Depending on a person’s interests and abilities, it may be gardening, swimming, dancing or simply taking a walk around the block in the evening.
A poor body image is often accompanied by disordered eating. While this is a condition that needs specific treatment, clinicians and counselors can help encourage a better body image by focusing on a healthier approach to food. As with physical activity, the aim is not to lose weight but to shift a person’s thinking about the body. Food should be seen as a neutral source of energy and should not carry labels such as “good” and “bad.” Outside of allergies or other dietary restrictions, people can be encouraged to aim for healthy choices while also allowing themselves indulgences. This allows people to move away from the idea of food and the body as a site of conflict.
Unhealthy body images are fed by the media, but media consumption can be shifted to reduce this. It is not practical to suggest that people give up TV or movies to improve their body images, but people may find that reducing or eliminating fashion magazines and other media that focus exclusively on appearance can help. Clinicians and counselors can encourage this as well as encourage expanding consumption to include media that shows a variety of body types. Discussing and reducing the use of social media that presents unrealistic body images, such as Instagram, may also be helpful.
Counselors and clinicians can work with people to shift their self-talk about their body in a more positive direction. A CNN article discusses how parents can set an example by avoiding words such as “fat” and “thin” to focusing on health and feelings. Clinicians and counselors with training in cognitive behavioral therapy may be able to take this further and train people on how to revise their thought patterns to be more positive than negative.
It is important for counselors and clinicians to be mindful of the underlying causes of body image issues. These issues may actually be symptoms of a condition such as anxiety, depression or another mental illness. In these cases, simply treating the symptom is ultimately not as effective as identifying the real cause and treating the person accordingly. Developmental psychology may also provide clues to the underlying cause based on the age of the person who is struggling with body image.
While improving body image may include efforts to get in better physical shape or lose weight, these are not essential elements. A healthy body image means accepting bodies of all shapes and sizes, and clinicians and counselors can help guide patients toward this acceptance.