This section is full of self-help and guidance for adults and young people living with a visible difference, as well as for parents of children who look different.
People with a visible difference or disfigurement can experience anxiety and distress due to their condition. As healthcare professionals there are many things you can do to help address your patients’ concerns.
It’s important to recognise the myths that surround visible difference and disfigurement. This will help you properly understand the affect a visible difference can have on the emotional wellbeing of your patient. It is also vital to treat the whole person and not just their condition. You can do this by using appropriate language and asking them broader questions instead of focusing on their physical condition.
On this page, we explore in more detail what you can do as a healthcare professional when supporting patients living with a visible difference or disfigurement.
When supporting patients, it is important to cut through myths about visible difference, which often act as a barrier to good treatment. Here, we bust some of the most common myths:
1. If patients can cover up their visible difference, they won’t have issues with wellbeing or mental health
A visible difference on any part of the body can cause concerns for people and prevent them from participating in sport or being intimate with another person. (Clarke 2012)
2. Medical intervention is the only solution to appearance concerns
Research shows psychosocial interventions can be effective in improving quality of life and appearance anxiety. (Di Mattei et al 2015, Norman and Moss 2015)
3. Patients who have appearance concerns must be vain. They should be grateful for receiving successful medical treatment
Patients are often grateful for successful medical treatment but recovery is more than the medical outcome. We know that the way we look can affect ways we communicate and relate to others, and so it’s understandable that physical changes after treatment can also have psychological and social effects. (Griffiths et al 2019)
4. Only psychologists can help patients with their appearance concerns
While some individuals with more marked distress will need access from specialist psychological support, it has been shown that other healthcare professionals like nurses can make significant difference to many patients’ wellbeing. (Clarke & Cooper 2001)
5. A patient’s levels of distress and ability to cope is based on how severe their visible difference is
“Perceived” severity is a better predictor of adjustment than “objective” severity. (Kleve & Robinson 1999)
6. Asking a patient about their appearance concerns will make things worse
Giving patients the opportunity to talk about how they’re feeling can help them feel understood. (Konradsen et al 2012)
7. If a patient has appearance concerns, they will tell me
Patients are often concerned about taking up health professionals’ time and can feel uncomfortable talking about appearance concerns unless they’re invited to. (Williamson & Rumsey, 2017)
We would like to thank Dr Heidi Williamson, Fabio Zucchelli and Dr Olivia Donnelly for helping with this myth-busting section.