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Nonpharmacologic treatments in psychodermatology.

The author believes that psychocutaneous medicine has indeed come of age and is being incorporated into mainstream medical practice. Patients presenting to dermatologists today are more sophisticated and are frequently dissatisfied with traditional medical therapies. They actively seek alternative approaches and adjuncts to standard treatments. In contrast to many other "alternative" (or) "holistic" treatments offered through non-medical venues, dermatologists can assure their patients that controlled studies support the efficacy of psychocutaneous techniques in improving many dermatologic conditions. Psoriasis, rosacea, herpes simplex, body dysmorphic disorder, acne, eczema, urticaria, neurotic excoriations, excoriated acne, trichotillomania, dysesthetic syndromes, and delusions parasitosis are included in this incomplete list. The author believes it is helpful for both the patient and therapist to define concrete and realistic goals for psychocutaneous intervention. Concrete observable or measurable goals can help the patient and clinician gauge therapeutic progress and success. Specifically, goals can include reduction in pruritus (rating severity from 1-10), decreased scratching activity, decreased plaque extent or thickness, decreased number of urticarial plaques, decreased flushing, decreased anxiety, decreased anger, decreased social embarrassment, decreased social withdrawal, and improved sleep. More global goals can include an improved sense of well-being, increased sense of control, and enhanced acceptance of some of the inevitable aspects of a given skin disease. Cure should never be a goal, because most disorders amenable to psychocutaneous techniques are chronic in nature; thus, cure as an endpoint would only lead to disappointment. The author encourages dermatologists to align themselves with what he euphemistically calls "a skin-emotion specialist." The skin-emotion specialist may be a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, biofeedback therapist, or other mental health or behavioral specialist. Patients are more likely to accept a referral to a "skin-emotion specialist," because this term destigmatizes psychologic interventions. Incorporating these techniques and specialists into a clinical practice will expand therapeutic horizons and improve the quality of life of many of the patients afflicted with chronic skin disease. A final caveat must be offered about attempting to make prognostic statements regarding the likelihood of therapeutic success. Although all patients can potentially benefit from psychocutaneous interventions, those with severe psychopathology and poor pretreatment functional status are likely to be more difficult to treat and to achieve less optimal outcomes. Patients with personality disorders such as borderline, narcissistic, and schizotypal disorders, and patients with any active psychotic process certainly constitute a more resistant and difficult population with whom therapeutic success is less likely. These patients, however, are often the ones in the greatest subjective distress and certainly can profit from any of the described interventions. Quoting W. Mitchell Sams, Jr., "although the physician is a scientist and clinician, he or she is and must be something more. A doctor is a caretaker of the patient's person--a professional advisor, guiding the patient through some of life's most difficult journeys. Only the clergy share this responsibility with us." This commitment is and must always be the guiding force in the provision of comprehensive and compatient patient care.

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