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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 23:57 GMT 00:57 UK
Counselling benefit to psoriasis sufferers
Michael Gambon
Psoriasis: The condition famously portrayed by Michael Gambon in the Singing Detective
People with disfiguring medical conditions could benefit from psychological treatment, say scientists.

The researchers found that some psoriasis sufferers had such severe skin problems that their lives were made a complete misery.

They said they had been stigmatised and treated like lepers, by people who wrongly thought they could catch the disease from them.

The anxiety often led to their condition worsening.

When I was young at school, children were so horrible that my skin got worse

Psoriasis sufferer

Some people said their condition had driven them to the brink of suicide as they were ostracised by society.

The scientists quizzed 141 sufferers of the skin disorder psoriasis about the damaging effect it could have on their quality of life and their social acceptance.

But Drs Gerry Kent and Steve Keohane found that using psychological approaches designed specifically to reduce social anxiety could help psoriasis sufferers boost their self-esteem and help their acceptance of the condition.

Social stigma

The condition causes the skin to become very inflamed producing red, thickened areas with silvery scales, mainly on the scalp, elbows, knees and lower back.

The researchers found that the extent to which psoriasis was visible, such as on the hand or the face, could be a very important factor on affecting the quality of life for patients who were also very socially anxious.

Dr Kent, from the department of psychology at Sheffield University and Dr Keohane, from the department of dermatology, Portsmouth Hospitals, asked patients about the way they had been treated by the public and the way it made them feel.

People said their condition had stopped them from wearing the clothes they liked, stopped them going swimming and made them feel socially excluded.

The social stigma even had the effect of making some patients' condition worse.

One woman with psoriasis told the researchers: "When I was young at school, children were so horrible that my skin got worse. Saying that I was scabby and had diseases."


But the researchers warn that their study, in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology, might be flawed, because it looked at such a small sample of sufferers.

"Because only 24% of the total sample completed the questionnaire package, it may be that these findings are not generalisable to the general population of people with psoriasis: perhaps only those whose psoriasis was both currently active and bothersome responded."

But Gladys Edwards, chief executive of The Psoriasis Association, said it did believe psychological treatments could help some patients.

She said patients telephoned saying their condition had left their self-esteem in tatters.

Some even contemplated suicide after being dubbed "lepers" and shunned by people.

She said boosting self-esteem would help to combat this.

"I think any treatment that has a positive outcome can only be beneficial.

"But the problem is that you could then be labelling people with a psychological problem as well.

"People are judged so much by their appearance.

"We had one patient who had got to the point where she said she was driven to contemplating suicide," she said.

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