The University of the West of England, Bristol was awarded almost €210,000 for a two year Erasmus+ Key Action 2 Strategic Partnership project “When Looks Get in the Way” with five partners from across Europe.
The consortium includes the internationally renowned Centre for Appearance Research in the UK with university partners in Italy, Lithuania, Sweden and Turkey and the European Cleft Organisation in the Netherlands. The partners formed strategic regional working groups and work on the tasks best suited to their strengths and expertise. Together they are developing an academic programme, producing extensive and culturally specific materials, for health professionals from a variety of specialist areas. This will provide training to enable them to identify and support patients with appearance-related issues and body image concerns.
In the short term this project will provide a unique, cost-effective, widely available and internationally transferable course, informed by the expertise of a range of partners. Gareth Davis, European Cleft Organisation, Netherlands explains:
We are delighted to be involved in this project because we are able to team up with other organisations working in overlapping fields to find a common way of addressing issues that affect people with a visible difference. The educational programme we are developing together has drawn from all our strengths and I feel ECO has benefited working alongside people coming from different perspectives. The quality of the educational material the project produces will thus be of a far higher standard than any of our institutions could produce on their own. This has to be the key strength of the Erasmus+ partnership philosophy.
Body image dissatisfaction, resulting from disfigurement or the consequence of perceived social pressure to conform to unrealistic and narrow beauty (and ageist) ideals, indiscriminately affects the mental and physical health of a significant and growing proportion of the European population. Those with disfigurement also experience social discrimination that negatively impacts on personal aspirations, education and work opportunities. As medical advances improve the survival rates of those born with or who acquire a disfigurement, and the demand for cosmetic interventions and psychological support increases, professionals from diverse health and social care areas are increasingly being exposed to the challenges of identifying and addressing the needs of patients burdened by complex and unique psychosocial issues. These professionals are perfectly placed to address these issues but report that they often lack the necessary expertise to help and therefore patient access to expert support is inadequate.
University partners surveyed around 100 multidisciplinary health professionals in each partner country to determine the current state of training for health professionals involved in the care of people with any disfigurement. The survey aimed to establish their awareness and understanding of the issues facing those affected, their confidence in supporting patients with appearance-related concerns, their training needs and views on the best way to deliver and promote educational materials.
“It is quite important to participate in this project because it is the first of its kind in this particular field for our institution. There is also a lack of studies and projects in this field in Turkey, where most health carers do not know how to address the problems and psychosocial difficulties of the patients with a disfigurement, when to offer support or medical interventions to them and their families and even how to manage talking about their disfigurements. In this regard there is a need for a designed course for the health care professionals from different specialities and it is exciting for us to be part of a comprehensive and multicultural project like this.” says Dilara Yalçin, Kocaeli University, Turkey.
With partners spread across Europe and a complex course to build, it was vital that good communications and coordination were put in place. Each partner was responsible for one module with input from a strategic working group of peers in their own country to help review materials. Each team also had a ‘buddy’ team to provide feedback, so UWE teamed up with Lithuania. As the lead partner, UWE also had overall responsibility for then evaluating all the modules. Meetings were held across Europe as face-to-face discussions were deemed essential due to the differences among the institutions, both cultural and pedagogical. Managing such a project is not without its difficulties - learning how to manage the difference in quality rating was one such unexpected challenge that the team had to overcome. However, the team have successfully worked through these challenges and the project is very much on track with final materials almost completed.
Results so far
The reports from each partner form the basis of multilingual material for a six module course. The materials and their mode of delivery are being pilot tested in each country by potential users and will be reviewed by the European Cleft Organisation and, if necessary, adapted further. It is also producing a European report on health professionals' current awareness of appearance issues and training needs.
The project was selected by the British Council, who manages this part of Key Action 2 as part of the UK National Agency, as it recognised that the project will develop a training course to fill a gap that exists in the professional training of health care professionals across all disciplines. The envisaged outputs have the potential to add value to the field of undergraduate and postgraduate education and continuing professional development for the health care sector and will strengthen the link between higher education and the world of work.
Martin Persson, Centre for Appearance Research, UWE Bristol comments:
We expect this expertise will improve health care provision for people affected by disfigurement and more general body image dissatisfaction, which in the longer term has the potential to improve associated physical and mental health-related outcomes. It will also challenge poorly informed attitudes that can lead to discrimination, by raising awareness of these issues to health professionals and contributing to a social dialogue about stigmatization and the social exclusion of individuals/families with disfiguring conditions and appearance-related concerns.