Appearance Matters: The Podcast!

An offering from the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England has been well-received.

In an image-obsessed world what happens to those struggling with visible differences or fears about their body image? A new two-week training course developed by psychologists could help the next generation of health workers across Europe support patients experiencing these issues.

Working with universities across Europe, academics from the Centre for Appearance Research (based at the University of the West of England, Bristol) have created the course for everyone from dentists to plastic surgeons to improve their support for these vulnerable patients in future. The research group believe extra training is paramount because the growing popularity of social media is leaving an increasing number of people with low self-esteem over their looks.

About one in 43 people have a condition or injury affecting their appearance, with between 30 and 50 per cent of those harbouring concerns about their appearance. It is estimated 148 million Europeans have a condition resulting in a visible difference of appearance. Despite these figures academics from the centre identified a dearth of expertise among medics when it came to handling patients worried about their appearance. They said healthcare professionals are often unable to intervene when they should, leading to worsening social and psychological problems for patients including those with an altered appearance caused by health conditions, medical treatments and injuries.

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 per cent said they would benefit from further training. The internationally-transferable training, expected to be finalised in August, will be run in universities as an accredited course from 2017 but will also be available as an online resource.

The project, named ‘When Looks get in the Way: Optimising patient outcomes through the training of health care professionals’ ( received £170,000 in funding from the British Council. Also in the consortium working on the project was the European Cleft Organisation, based in the Netherlands. Health Psychologist Dr Heidi Williamson, who is working on the two-year project alongside fellow psychologists Dr Martin Persson, Professor Nichola Rumsey and Professor Diana Harcourt, said: ‘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. If they are not recognising there is a problem and not intervening appropriately, negative social and psychological consequences could develop or worsen if not addressed appropriately.’

Williamson said people working in caring professions may still hold unhelpful attitudes about some patients’ appearance and make assumptions about their care based on these. She added: ‘We know that the cause of a visible difference, its severity and its location are not always accurate predictors of psychosocial outcome. You can’t look at someone and guess what support they need. For example, you could have someone with a small, aesthetically-pleasing cleft scar who is very conscious of it or have someone with a very obvious visible difference who is coping very well.’

A podcast from psychologists at the Centre for Appearance Research (CAR: see at the University of the West of England has become a mainstay of the iTunes charts, regularly featuring in ‘what’s hot’ and ‘top Higher Education podcasts’.

‘Appearance Matters’ investigates everything related to the psychology of how we look, and Nadia Craddock and Dr Nicola Stock are leading the work on it. They told The Psychologist: ‘It aims to explore the world of appearance research, in a fun and accessible audio format. We introduce new insights and advances in current appearance research and practice, hear from leading experts in the field and discuss top tips for students, trainees and early career researchers who want to make a real impact in this area. The podcast is also a chance for us to highlight upcoming CAR events and opportunities; – recently we have been talking about our forthcoming conference, Appearance Matters 7, taking place in London 28-30 June.’

A range of clinicians, researchers, charitable organisations and individuals affected by appearance-altering conditions have appeared on the podcast to share their experiences and ideas. Co-producer and host, Nadia says: ‘Our special guests have included: Dr Eric Stice – a leading figure in eating disorder prevention research, Dr Bryn Austin – a Harvard professor specialising in eating disorder prevention as a public health priority, and James Partridge OBE - Founder and Chief Executive of Changing Faces, the leading UK charity supporting and representing people with disfiguring conditions, not to mention our very own CAR Co-Directors, Professors Diana Harcourt and Nichola Rumsey OBE.’

Reviewers have commented on the ‘great guest speakers and wide range of topics’, and described the podcast as ‘relevant to clinicians, researchers, students and charities’. Subscribe for free on iTunes or Soundcloud now.

For more on appearance, see our June 2008 special, and find more on Nichola Rumsey in our archive. 


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