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Growing Your Career: Dealing With Disfigurements

By Victoria L. Rayner
Posted: April 23, 2008, from the May 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
Disfigurement challenges the whole of a person’s constitution.In meeting this challenge, individuals who suffer from alterations in their appearance must view themselves and their identities differently.
     Taking the time to reflect on the potential responses of someone who is sensitive about her appearance because of a newly acquired change can provide a more empathetic idea about what she might be going through. After doing this, you can start to recognize your client’s unique concerns, and her implicit need for self-trust, resilience and greater resolve.
      There is no doubt that a person with a disfigurement encounters a variety of social burdens. There is an adjustment process that accompanies an altered appearance. People who are physically scarred need to readjust, and come to terms with unexpected and devastating changes to not just their appearance, but also to their lives.
     Carrying on after experiencing a changed appearance is an emotional task that has to be performed at a person’s own pace. There is no set approach or time line that works for everyone. The circumstances that caused the disfigurement also influence healing. Physical alterations sustained from injuries that occurred in a violent manner intensify reactions. If you approach these clients while keeping in mind that these and other variables can interfere with your treatment, then you are more likely to make their process of recovery a more positive and active experience.
     Those who are trying to reclaim their physical identity require a multilayered treatment approach. It is a unique, caregiving situation that deserves special consideration, and demands a plan for reflecting and appropriate action.
     You have to be open to altering your traditional role for these and other out-of-the-ordinary treatment circumstances. Assisting clients with serious appearance issues can offer an enormous amount of personal and professional satisfaction.

Social anxiety
     The first hint that more will be required of you as an esthetic caregiver will come from the information captured on the disfigured clients’ charts. Obviously, some of their image development needs can be addressed simply and immediately with conventional esthetic service measures, but other issues, such as social anxiety, require more thought and effort, and should take up a good measure of your energy and attention during the session.
     The success of your treatment rests on the complete satisfaction of your clients. Strong social skills are the foundation for high performance in the esthetic profession. You use your personality to energetically engage clients in your services and, when necessary, to counteract the social complexities that arise on the job. These skills and social tools are the cornerstones for helping disfigured clients with social anxiety. By encouraging these clients to contribute their thoughts, express their opinions and share their concerns, you can begin to help free them from some of their inhibitions.
     Your brief exchanges can become the starting points that give rise to moments of self-awareness and inspire self-acceptance. By showing your respect and upholding their dignity, you can help these vulnerable clients to express themselves. This can be easily accomplished just by listening intently to what they are trying to say about their circumstances.
     As these clients speak, they begin to recognize a sense of their own social identity by what they choose to share with you. By creating a forum where individual insights can be gained, recognized and verbalized—and where differences can be accepted and not ridiculed—then you inspire personal growth and positive image development. 
     In some situations, you may find yourself wanting to guide, prompt and even influence them, but you must resist such temptations for the good of your clients, who need to be in control of their sessions. Listening combined with the other social skills you possess provides the ability to introduce a solid framework from which clients can continue to decrease their anxiety regarding their interactions with others.

Restoring comfort
     Unprepared responses to abnormalities can stimulate feelings of insecurity. How relieved and relaxed you make your clients feel depends on you. Even if you have never been exposed to disfigured clients before, it is important to behave professionally. In the esthetic field, you can prepare for most things, but you can never be completely prepared for the sight of an extreme abnormality. It is important to consider your clients’ expectations of you—be sure that what they think you can do for them is not more than can actually be provided.

Additional training
      Although esthetic professionals are well-versed in artistic and technical skills that relate to personal transformation, you are not prepared at all for teaching appearance-conscious, disfigured clients about what they need to know to assertively and confidently cope. Many skin care and esthetic professionals are the first to admit that they need more knowledge in this area of caregiving.
There are courses available, including graduate and undergraduate programs in psychology, classes on rehabilitation and special training workshops available to learn more about sociology. If you are a very special type of provider that wants to help appearance-sensitive clients to worry less, think less negatively and be less intimidated by social situations, then you may wish to continue your studies. Doing so will expand your capabilities, allowing you to carry out your intentions.