Mirror Therapy: Definition And Efficacy

Mirror therapy is especially useful for preventing eating disorders: it promotes positive body acceptance and the development of a healthy emotional approach.
Mirror therapy: definition and effectiveness

Mirror therapy is a psychological technique for the body and soul. It helps to intervene on a negative perception of the image of one’s body, to reduce anxiety, to untie those knots that amplify depression. In short, a really effective strategy to love and to reconcile with that person – often neglected – who is reflected in the mirror.

It might seem strange to us, but there are many women (but also men) who, seeing their own reflection, perceive an unwelcome and unpleasant being. There are those who see accumulation of fat where there is none, others see wrinkles, physical defects, ugliness and despise themselves. Almost without knowing how, the mirror is transformed into that space of torture where one can undermine one’s identity and self-esteem.

These psychological realities often translate into clinical disorders, such as eating disorders and dysmorphic disorders. While a healthy person observes himself every day proudly accepting every detail of his or her body, those with these ailments are sick of details that are not real. All this translates into severe suffering.

In cases where dissatisfaction with one’s appearance is more severe, it has been noted that the use of mirror therapy , combined with the management of negative emotions and thoughts, gives excellent results. Let’s explore the topic below.

Man looks in the mirror

What is mirror therapy?

Mirror therapy is highly effective. However, experts still do not know exactly what are the mechanisms by which the patient is ultimately able to accept the image of his own body. This technique uses different therapeutic tools that can vary according to the needs of each patient.

In 2016, the University of Maastricht conducted a study in which we wonder about the mechanisms that favor the improvement, in just over a month, of patients suffering from bulimia or with low physical acceptance. Working on prejudices, labels and the emotional aspect is particularly significant. 

The University of Granada also published an interesting study in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry , in which it was scientifically proven that patients also experienced lower cortisol levels following mirror therapy. 

Both research studies help us better understand the processes involved in this technique. Here they are to follow.

The three techniques of mirror therapy

Mirror therapy is based on two techniques:

  • Guided exhibition. The specialized psychologist guides the patient in order to make him describe his own body while observing himself in front of the mirror. He has to do it in a neutral and objective way, as if he were describing a painting.
  • Pure exposure. The patient will freely and authentically express all the feelings he experiences when seeing his own body. In this case he will feel embarrassed by revealing the perception he has of his own body: ugly, unpleasant and even deformed. However, this stage is necessary for the therapeutic process.
Seeing only your own flaws

At the same time, Griffen, TC, Naumann, E., and Hildebrandt T (2018) report that these two techniques are not always effective for all patients.

In these cases a third one applies:

  • Mirror exposure with a positive approach. This tool helps the person to reduce distress. The therapist guides the patient to indicate the parts of his body he prefers. You are asked to describe them in positive language. In the event that the patient does not see them or does not appreciate anything about his body, the professional can intervene to his aid with phrases such as: “I think you have a beautiful face. Your complexion has a healthy and delicate complexion. Your hands are beautiful too ”.

For mirror therapy to be effective …

How is it possible that at the end of the 6 sessions the patients show evident signs of improvement? As a rule, stress is reduced, self-esteem improves, and the patient is able to identify the parts of his body that he considers most problematic. The success of mirror therapy is due to the following.

The 4 pillars of the effectiveness of mirror therapy

  • Modification of self-interpretations. A person with a dysmorphic or eating disorder tends to associate any adverse situation in their daily life with their body image. If she makes a mistake, if she is given “no” as an answer, if someone does her wrong, etc .., she will attribute it to her physical appearance. Thanks to this therapy, these interpretations are reduced.
  • Confirmation bias. Aquiline nose, thick ankles, curved shoulders, small breasts, too many freckles … the confirmation bias leads to see only what is interpreted as a “defect”. With this clinical approach, this bias loses strength.
  • Reduction of fear and anxiety. Like any therapy based on exposure to the focus of anxiety, also in this case negative emotions are reduced and it is possible to relate positively to the problematic stimulus: one’s physical appearance.
  • Cognitive recycling. This strategy causes the patient to stop seeing their own image through the filter of negativity and rejection. It helps him to recycle and heal his approach, to see himself with greater respect and, above all, to appreciate himself.

This technique may be the answer that many people need. Especially for those who are in the phase in which, without having yet shown signs of eating disorders, they begin to reject their reflection in the mirror. This is precisely the time when you should seek help from a professional. Think about it.

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