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Psychotherapy is Not Just Skin Deep, it can Work on Skin Diseases

Update Date: Aug 27, 2012 08:47 AM EDT

A range of psychological treatments discovered by scientists could possibly be the answer for many skin diseased patients, new research says. These treatments can ease the physical symptoms of some of the most common skin diseases, affecting millions across the world.

According to experts at the University of Sheffield, people suffering from psoriasis, eczema, acne and vitiligo, could be helped with  treatments including relaxation sessions, meditation and cognitive behavior therapy, The Telegraph reports.

For the study, researchers analyzed the combined results of 22 previous studies involving 900 participants and concluded that 'psychodermatology', an emerging field, could be quite helpful.

"It has long been accepted that psychological interventions can help patients deal with the emotional impact of their skin diseases," said Deborah Mason of the British Association of Dermatologists. "But for the first time, this shows that they can also improve the physical symptoms."

According to the researchers, psychological therapies worked best at reversing bad habits, and especially helped patients modify behavior related to itching and scratching.

Further, cognitive behavior therapy, which generally helps patients change negative thought patterns, also works on symptoms of skin diseases.

It was found that psychological intervention was less effective in older patients; hence, medical staff would need to tailor therapies when treating older sufferers, the report said.

Meta-analysis done by researchers also revealed that group therapy was as effective as one-to-one treatment.

"This is welcome news as it adds more weight to the debate that we ought to pay more attention to psychological intervention and its benefits to managing and treating skin conditions," Bevis Man, spokesman for the British Skin Foundation charity, was quoted as saying by The Telegraph.

"It is already widely acknowledged that distress, trauma and stressful periods of a person's life are often triggers for the initial development of psoriasis and eczema, as well as subsequent flare-ups. It therefore makes sense that we attempt to tackle some of these underlying issues in addition to treating any symptomatic problems caused by the various skin diseases."

"It is interesting to see which psychological interventions are most successful and at what intervals, as this hopefully gives an insight into what treatment structures incorporating such techniques may look like in the future."

"There has been a dogged approach to treating skin disease using the more conventional and accepted methods of treatment, yet we know these are not always completely effective. Having an additional means of managing and treating common skin conditions through interventions can only be a positive step in the right direction," Man added.

Researchers say that this study emphasizes the need for further research in order to develop treatments aiming at specific complaints and to assess their effectiveness on a wider range of skin conditions.

"Hopefully this study will be a catalyst for further research looking into which of the other stress-related skin diseases may benefit from psychological intervention, as well as what other forms of intervention can be used in a similarly effective manner," Man adds.

A survey of dermatology doctors and nurses conducted last month revealed that there was a need among people to have counseling more readily available on the NHS for their patients, some of whom suffer from acute psychological distress because of their skin conditions. Skin diseases could prove extremely stressful to patients.

"Patients with skin disease often feel enormously upset about their skin condition, as it affects their confidence and self-esteem in so many different ways. All too often the impact of skin disease is underestimated. Many patients consider their skin conditions to be more psychologically damaging than diabetes or heart disease," said Dr. Anthony Bewley, a psychodermatologist, according to The Telegraph.

This study is published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

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