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ANU empowering those who have experienced significant illness

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In the digital age of constant manipulation, of blurred truths and unrealistic body expectations, it’s easy to find ourselves lamenting the ashes of misplaced self-love. Like a toddler learning to walk, social media can leave us, at times struggling to stand.

And for those suffering from medical conditions, negative feelings and attitudes about our bodies that can be triggered by bodily changes and challenges can add an extra layer of complexity to these vulnerable first steps.

It’s a sobering and, at times, silent reality that the Australian National University wants to change.

The Building Positive Body Image program is the beginning of a small but powerful revolution towards self-acceptance. A revolution that is long overdue for those who have experienced significant medical conditions.

As Dr Kristen Murray from the ANU Research School of Psychology explains, the Building Positive Body program shines the spotlight on an area that often finds itself in the dark.

“The reason that we developed the program is that adults with chronic illnesses often have impacts on the way they feel about their bodies or the way they think about their bodies, and it’s under-recognised. So, we see in research that it has these impacts on individuals, and that has potential implications for health and well-being. But it’s not necessarily widely understood, and it’s not necessarily addressed in routine care.”

The program is a partnership between the ANU Research School of Psychology and the ANU Psychology Clinic and is supported by the ACT Government under the ACT Health Promotion Grants Program, Healthy Canberra Grants. Through eight group sessions conducted over 12 weeks, participants will receive evidence-based psychological knowledge and skills to better understand and promote their body image, health, and well-being.

Through the guidance of Project Officer Jane Ma, Program Leads Dr Murray and Dr Elizabeth Rieger, and provisional psychologists undertaking placement in the ANU Psychology Clinic, participants will begin to find the parts of themselves they may have lost.

“Some of the strategies include things like focusing on what our bodies do. So, our body functionality and how our bodies enable us to do things in our life day to day and foster appreciation and gratitude for all of those wonderful thing’s bodies do for us. Also, connecting with our values and thinking about how our values might influence the way we engage in activities related to our body and why it might be important to lead from our values rather than be influenced by other factors in our environment, like the media or other people. And self-compassion is another area that we focus on,” Dr Murray explains.

By the end of the program, Jane is confident that participants will have a better understanding of their body image and, for those who find themselves in the centre of the storm, the tools to forge a new path forward.

Jane and Dr Murray have also noted the importance of formal evaluation of the program through research, with ethical aspects of the program approved by the ANU Human Research Ethics Committee.

“We’re getting feedback from participants after they complete the program to help us tailor the design. It’s an area that doesn’t receive as much attention in research as we might like. We’re really trying to get a lot of feedback from participants, so moving forward, we can make it more sensitive to their needs or concerns.”

The program is not limited to ANU students, as Dr Murray explains, “Any adults living in the ACT or in the Canberra region are eligible if they have a chronic health condition.”
The program will be targeting, but not limited, to mild arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, lung issues and osteoporosis.

The project team understands that positive body image and chronic illnesses are delicate levers that need to be moved with care and consideration. The Building Positive Body Image program is a safe space where participants can begin to heal the binding threads of self-love that keep us tautly anchored.

“I hope with this program we can help participants to learn skills and strategies so that they don’t have to feel like they don’t have control.

“Being able to be part of the process help them help themselves. That’s important,” says Jane.

The Building Positive Body Image Program is supported by the ACT Government under the ACT Health Promotion Grants Program.
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