Newbridge House is collaborating with St George’s Hospital in a study to evaluate a body image programme. The research will help to establish how feasible and accepted the programme, called “Teen BodyWise”, is for young people. Teen BodyWise is a low intensity, psycho-educational group about body image designed for an early stage after admission. The aim is to provide education and the foundation for individual body image work at a later stage in treatment.

The body image taboo

“We know that young people with anorexia have a negative body image and an enormous amount of anxiety about it,” explains Cat Houlihan, assistant psychologist who is leading the research for Newbridge House.

“At an early stage, even the term ‘body image’ can be very taboo and painful for young people to discuss. It would be far too soon to do more behavioural work, as a lot of the young people admitted at this stage will be severely underweight. Teen BodyWise is designed for this period – to provide a means of introducing the subject of body image and pave the way for later changes.”

The original “BodyWise” programme was created by clinical psychologists Amy Brown, Sian Lamey and Vicki Mountford and is recognised as being effective for adult patients.

Collaboration

Cat has been working with Dr Juliet Rosewall of South West London and St George’s Child and Adolescent Eating Disorders Service, to adapt BodyWise so it is appropriate, relevant and engaging for children and adolescents.

The study will provide the first evidence about the feasibility and utility of the adapted programme, which could pave the way for larger studies into how effective the programme is.

Teen BodyWise has been provided at Newbridge for three years as part of the wide-ranging group programme. Drawing on CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), Teen BodyWise can be introduced from the second week of admission and runs for eight weeks in small groups.

It begins by considering body image itself and helping participants to discuss what is often a taboo subject. The programme then moves to build greater understanding, exploring frequent body checking, body image avoidance and how our individual body image is constructed.

“The idea is that it provides the understanding for participants that they need before they can move on to make actual changes themselves with more individualised work,” says Cat.

“It has been very well received in Newbridge but by having a good size patient group here and our close links to St George’s, we are able to evaluate the programme in a full study.