Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


38th Annual Convention; Seattle, WA; 2012

Event Details

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Symposium #229
Toward a Theoretically and Empirically Derived Assessment and Treatment Approach for Body Image Disturbance
Sunday, May 27, 2012
3:30 PM–4:50 PM
4C-3 (Convention Center)
Area: CBM/VRB; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Glenn M. Callaghan (San Jose State University)
Discussant: William C. Follette (University of Nevada, Reno)

Body image disturbance and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) have been understood using a conventional nosological framework. However, taxonomic considerations do not provide a way to conceptualize these behaviors in a way that allows a treatment to emerge based on more than symptom reduction. This symposium presents 3 aspects of developing a theoretically based and empirically derived intervention for body image disturbance and body dysmorphic disorder from work at multiple sites across the country. First, we present a contemporary behavior analysis of body image problems using relational frame theory to create a context in which body image disturbance can be understood as an expression of psychological inflexibility. Next, data from 2 studies will be presented on the relationship between psychological inflexibility, interpersonal repertoires, and body image disturbance as well as convergent validity data for a new measure of psychological inflexibility about body image. The final paper brings both the theory and data from these studies together, providing an empirical foundation to the development of an intervention for these behavior problems. Our discussant will highlight conceptual strengths and weaknesses to this approach and how the empirical studies and intervention correspond with contemporary behavioral interventions.

Keyword(s): assessment, behavior therapy, body image, psychological flexibility

Learning to Hate the Body: Implications of Relational Frame Theory for Understanding Body Image Inflexibility

JACQUELINE HEBERT (University of Louisiana at Lafayette), Emily Kennison Sandoz (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)

Body image disturbance has been associated with significant problems in mental health, physical health, and social functioning. Psychologists have long approached body image disturbance in terms of the rationality or accuracy of the individuals experience. Consistent with a wide trend in mental health, several emerging behavioral body image interventions focus instead on improving an individuals awareness of, openness to, and flexibility with the dynamic bodily experience. Early findings support body image inflexibility as the mechanism by which body image causes dysfunction in peoples lives and, conversely, body image flexibility as the mechanism by which interventions on body image might be successful. This theoretical paper will explore body image inflexibility from a behavior analytic perspective, emphasizing the conditions under which body image inflexibility is learned. In particular, the authors propose relational learning processes involved in body image inflexibility and subsequent dysfunction. Implications for training body image flexibility will be discussed.


Empirical Support for a Behavioral Conceptualization of Body Image and the Body Image Psychological Inflexibility Scale

SABRINA DARROW (University of California, San Francisco), Glenn M. Callaghan (San Jose State University), William C. Follette (University of Nevada, Reno), Albertina Lopez (San Jose State University), Julissa Duenas (Western Michigan University)

Data from two studies are presented in this paper. First, data from a study of over 500 participants are provided to demonstrate the empirical relationship between experiential avoidance repertoires, interpersonal problems with expressing emotions, and body image disturbance. Interestingly, these data show that, while intrapersonal difficulties can predict the diagnosis of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, only interpersonal problems predict the severity of those problems. This dynamic model suggests both factors are essential in understanding body image disturbance. Results from a second study will be presented in which 300 participants were administered a newly developed assessment of body image problems. This data demonstrate a relationship between psychological inflexibility and a variety of measures of body image satisfaction, disturbance, and general psychological distress. Overall, these data provide empirical support for a behavior analytic conceptualization of body image problems that directly corresponds to an intervention that targets both inter- and intrapersonal behavioral repertoires.

A Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Body Image Disturbance
TIMMOTHY FEENEY (San Jose State University), Glenn M. Callaghan (San Jose State University)
Abstract: This paper seeks to tie the empirical findings of the research described in the second paper with the theoretical conceptualization of body image disturbance described in the first presentation. Data support that body image disturbance has both experiential avoidance (psychological inflexibility) as well as interpersonal aspects to it. While this research is still underway, it is reasonable that developing an intervention for these difficulties would combine a focus on those factors related to one’s experience of the discomfort of self-evaluation as well as how those feelings, and even one’s need for support, would be expressed to another person. This developing intervention for body image disturbance utilizes aspects of prominent behavioral interventions, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP). However, the combination of its root in a contemporary analysis of verbal behavior, a strong unpinning in empirical support for its application, and an emphasis on both intra- and interpersonal repertoires makes it a unique behavioral intervention for body image problems. Future directions of this type of intervention will be discussed with respect to practical application and limitations in its delivery.



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