Skin Deep: The Psychology Behind Plastic Surgery

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Plastic surgery has experienced a boom of over 700% in the past decade. More and more men and women have accepted plastic surgery as a quick-fix method to attain physical beauty. In today's hectic, fast-paced lifestyle, most people simply don't have the time to really work on whatever part of their body they're not entirely satisfied with. Instead, they turn to the so-called miracles of science for help.

Many of those who opted to undergo plastic surgery were driven to take extreme measures because of their obsession with youth. For them, remaining as youthful as possible was the main goal to be attained, regardless of the cost. Today, cosmetic surgery is also seen as a way for people with facial deformities to regain or improve their appearance. In essence, it is a field of medicine dedicated to relieving anxiety disorders and mental health problems caused by perceived “imperfections” in the body. So, why exactly do most cosmetic surgery offices have an in-house psychologist?

The answer is deceptively simple, if one takes the time to look at the nature of the field. Cosmetic surgery may not appear to touch upon any aspect of mental health aside from the obvious effects on self-esteem, but the reality begs to differ. Cosmetic surgery is closely tied to a person's psychology, particularly during the period before the patient goes under the knife. The presence of a psychologist in the offices of a cosmetic surgeon is because when people ask for a cosmetic procedure, there is often a psychological reason behind it. This does not mean everyone that asks for a liposuction or breast augmentation has problems with their mental health. Rather, this means that the psychologist is there to evaluate whether the surgery will satisfy the person's desire for improvement or if it is merely a sign of a deeper problem.

Some people might not take the possibility of mental health being tied to cosmetic surgery seriously, but people who have seen the effects of body dismorphic disorder beg to argue. For people who have realistic expectations on what cosmetic surgery can do for them, an improvement here and there is generally enough. However, some people have become psychologically conditioned to see themselves as “imperfect” or “ugly” regardless of their appearance. It is these people that may end up coming back to a cosmetic surgeon's office again and again. It is these people that a resident psychologist has to spot before the procedure is agreed upon, to avoid further damaging the mental health of the patient.

Psychologists are also there to evaluate the reasons behind a person's decision to undergo surgery, particularly if the procedure is one that can produce drastic changes. In most countries, a person will only be allowed to undergo a gender reassignment surgery only after a detailed and prolonged psychological evaluation. For drastic procedures, it is often best that the surgeons have an understanding of the various reasons why a person is asking for something to be done. This is necessary to avoid cases where the surgery did more harm to a person's self-esteem and mental health than good.

In cases where the surgery is more re-constructive than cosmetic, the psychologist may be called upon to evaluate the patient's mental health and readiness to return to a normal life. Some people who have undergone great physical trauma that requires plastic surgery may not be psychologically ready to resume a normal life. It is difficult to ascertain whether having re-constructive surgery done will help a person recover from the trauma they have suffered, or it it will only make things worse.

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