Update August 2023: The results of this study were published in the Journal of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy. For a plain English summary, please see this newspost

Alopecia UK funds invested:  £9840

When:  April 2017-March 2020 (completed)

Project type:  Psychology single case series

Project Lead:  Dr Andrew Thompson

Length of project: 16 months

Research Institute:  Sheffield University

Condition of interest:  Alopecia Areata (including totalis and universalis)

Funds being used for:  Research Associate (staff costs), Accredited Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy sessions, travel expenses, dissemination costs, and trial registration with ISRCTN.

Research question:

The main aim of the proposed study is to provide an initial test of the effectiveness of Mindfulness based cognitive group therapy (MBCT) in reducing clinically significant levels of social anxiety in people living with alopecia areata (AA).  The proposed research will also examine whether the intervention impacts on depression, generalised anxiety and quality of life.

Justification for research project:

Whilst AA has few physical health consequences, it can lead to psychological consequences. A recent study found that 42.4% of respondents reported clinically significant social anxiety symptoms. The prognosis for AA is highly variable leading to frustration and uncertainty for the patient, and health care professionals may feel ‘stuck’ with how to support patients. Currently, there is a lack of psychological support for people with AA, despite the clear need. Mindfulness based cognitive group therapy (MBCT) has been found to be helpful in reducing distress in other conditions but has not been tested with people with AA. 

The Hair Loss Priority Setting Partnership identified the need for psychological interventions as a top ten priority for patients and clinicians.  The proposed research will provide initial evidence on the effectiveness of MBCT for people with AA who experience social anxiety. The data provided from single case research will give (i) a detailed insight into the process of change which can inform intervention development and (ii) detailed information on the types of difficulties people with AA experience.

Who is leading the project:

Dr Andrew Thompson will lead the project.  Dr Thompson has specialist expertise within psychodermatology and has conducted research in this area for the last 15 years. Dr Thompson has developed skin specific self-help using randomised control trials and qualitative methods.  He will be working alongside a team of people including psychologists, PhD students, therapists, and dermatologists. 

Project Outcomes: 

This was a small-scale study to see whether there is promise in using MBCT to help reduce social anxiety in individuals with alopecia. Five participants took part in an 8-week MBCT group. All participants found some improvement in social anxiety (as defined by themselves), suggesting MBCT is a useful intervention for some individuals with alopecia. Larger scale studies should be carried out to test the impact of MBCT more thoroughly in individuals with alopecia and social anxiety.