THE PSY­CHOL­O­GIST

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - BODY & SOUL -

Dr Eileen Brad­bury is a con­sul­tant psy­chol­o­gist who has been work­ing with cos­metic surgery pa­tients for 20 years.

Big life changes such as mar­i­tal break­down or los­ing your job are of­ten trig­gers for cos­metic surgery.

Breast aug­men­ta­tion pa­tients are a par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble group. They are much more likely to have had mul­ti­ple part­ners and a his­tory of psy­chi­atric ill­ness.

Re­search shows that if you as­sess peo­ple six months af­ter they have had cos­metic surgery, they are de­lighted (as­sum­ing all has gone well). Two years down the line, they may be more or less back to where they were pre-surgery.

But if peo­ple are self-con­scious about their nose or breasts, have a rea­son­ably sta­ble life, are clear as to ob­jec­tives, and no longer feel self-con­scious post-surgery, there is a long-term ben­e­fi­cial ef­fect.

When cos­metic surgery goes wrong, the psy­cho­log­i­cal con­se­quences can be cat­a­strophic. Pa­tients feel stupid, em­bar­rassed and guilty. They chose to have the treat­ment and when their per­ceived van­ity leads to hu­mil­i­a­tion, they see them­selves as un­de­serv­ing of sym­pa­thy. You don’t of­ten hear or read about them be­cause they are too ashamed to talk about what they are go­ing through.

Some pa­tients be­come ad­dicted to the ‘high’ of surgery. They go into a pri­vate hos­pi­tal where they are well treated. They are full of op­ti­mism and af­ter­wards they feel fab­u­lous. But that post-pro­ce­dure high fades be­cause life car­ries on and isn’t so dif­fer­ent af­ter all. Rather than change their lives by go­ing to the gym or di­et­ing, they think they’ll have some­one change it for them again by go­ing back for an­other fix.

Sur­geons worry that their pa­tients will be in­sulted if they sug­gest a psy­cho­log­i­cal as­sess­ment, but in my ex­pe­ri­ence pa­tients are glad that their doc­tors are think­ing of their psy­cho­log­i­cal well­be­ing and not just grab­bing their money.

We live in a body-con­scious cul­ture. The growth of celebrity mag­a­zines and cam­era phones have made us more nar­cis­sis­tic. A re­cent study showed the more we look at our­selves, the more dis­con­tented we be­come. That photo taken at 3am when you are not at your best might be the one that per­suades you to go for surgery. My ad­vice: Women have al­ways done things to change their ap­pear­ance. My job is to help them think those things through. If you have re­cently gone through a ma­jor life change, such as di­vorce or re­dun­dancy, and see cos­metic surgery as a way of en­hanc­ing your fu­ture re­la­tion­ship or job prospects, you need to be re­al­is­tic about what it will help you achieve. It is also im­por­tant to ques­tion whether you are con­sid­er­ing surgery for your­self, or to please some­body else. Cos­metic surgery can al­ter your ap­pear­ance, but it won’t change who you are.

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