Research Roundup

Razor and shaving cream

When does male body-hair removal become problematic?

Men are shaving more than their faces these days, finds research by University of South Florida clinical psychology doctoral student Michael Boroughs. In a study of 360 USF students ages 18 to 44, Boroughs found that 84 percent of male participants had removed or reduced hair on their bodies. They reported they were spurred by dissatisfaction with their own appearances and noticing other men with groomed body hair. Although many studies have investigated body depilation among women, few such studies have focused on men, according to Boroughs, who says the habit may indicate psychological problems for some. In fact, several men in his study had symptoms consistent with body dysmorphic disorder, the condition in which a person sees a body flaw that nobody else does.

Men who excessively shave and wax may also have higher rates of staph infections and sexually transmitted diseases than women who remove their body hair, perhaps because they are irritating and disrupting their skin. "Young women are likely taught by mothers about body hair removal, but men aren't," says Boroughs, who plans to continue research in this area and possibly develop a problematic-hair-removal assessment.

E-therapy found effective for depressed older adults

For some older adults, psychotherapy for depression isn't available where they live. For others, it remains stigmatized. That's why University of Alabama clinical psychology doctoral students Martin Morthland and Avani Shah spent two years designing a self-administered cognitive behavioral therapy program for adults age 55 and older that's delivered through a slate PC—a computer with a stylus and interactive screen instead of a keyboard—or audio CDs and a workbook.

Using either method, mildly depressed adults complete mood and tension diaries and self-administer cognitive behavioral therapy exercises that teach them to relax and think positively. Preliminary data suggest that, after a month, the intervention reduced participants' depression. Some of the participants even recruited friends to join the study.

The next step, says Morthland, should be another randomized controlled trial that will compare standard psychotherapy sessions with the self-paced program.

Cancer survivors still suffer

Long-term cancer survivors may experience levels of distress similar to those currently undergoing treatment, says Errol J. Philip, a counseling psychology doctoral student at Notre Dame. Philip surveyed 100 cancer survivors an average of 10 years post-treatment about their depression symptoms, social support level, and self-efficacy—the belief that one has the power to handle adversity.

"There's an idea in the media and public sphere that once you survive cancer and finish your treatment that the clouds pass, the sun comes out and your life goes back to normal," says Philip.

That doesn't appear to be the case: 30 percent of the cancer survivors in Philip's study reported distress levels indicative of clinical depression. In comparison, past research found that about 30 percent of people undergoing cancer treatment report clinically significant levels of distress at some point during treatment.

Surprisingly, Philip found that social support was not a significant predictor for distress, but feelings of self-efficacy around coping were strongly related to survivors' mental health. Women's self-efficacy depended largely on their confidence in handling emotions. For men, it was confidence in their ability to receive and understand medical information.

Philip hopes his research will raise awareness about the importance of providing mental health services during and after cancer treatment and that it will encourage cancer survivors to seek the tools and support services they need to manage their distress.

Students work to identify the source of bladder pain

Interstitial cystitis, also known as painful bladder syndrome, is characterized by persistent pain and urgent or frequent urination. Though it affects as many as 1.3 million Americans, the medical community has yet to pinpoint its cause. As a result, many physicians treat the bladder symptoms of interstitial cystitis while dismissing patients' complaints of persistent pain as a psychosomatic symptom, says Rachel Fazio, of the School of Professional Psychology at Forest Institute, in Springfield, Mo.

To better understand the origins of interstitial cystitis's pain symptoms, Fazio gave the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 to 46 women and two men with the syndrome. She found that 48 percent of participants exhibited normal profiles, suggesting their pain was largely physiological in origin. Another 38 percent appeared to match with profiles of chronic pain sufferers, such as accident victims and amputees, whose symptoms often result from a complex interaction between physical pain signals and heightened psychological interpretations. The profiles of the remaining 14 percent matched those of people prone to exaggerating pain symptoms.

The fact that 86 percent of participants had normal or chronic pain profiles validates patients' claims that their pain has physiological underpinnings, says Fazio.

"Doctors who have no other chronic pain patents end up thinking these patients are crazy because they don't understand how chronic pain patients act," Fazio says. She hopes her research will encourage physicians to treat interstitial cystitis patients' pain, as well as their other symptoms.

By Jared C. Clark
gradPSYCH Staff